The function of a bishop is to celebrate the eucharist. All other functions presently owned by bishops can be carried out by the laity. It is the same for priests. But priests can only celebrate the eucharist if they are given permission to by their diocesan bishop. This is because a priest "vicariously" presides at the eucharist on behalf of the bishop. A local priest's mass is always the bishop's mass.

Therefore, the primary pastoral duty of a bishop is to care for the priests in his diocese. The priest is related to the bishop organically in the same way that all Christians are organically related to Christ. The metaphor of the vine applies to the connection between priest and bishop as much as it applies to the connection between Christians and Christ. Christians are part of the body of Christ and priests are part of the body of their bishop.

Jesus stated over and over again that he cared for those who were part of his body above all else. A bishop should care for his priests above all else. For a bishop to cut off one of his priests should be as rare as the True Vine shedding one of its branches.

If a bishop is served by priests throughout his jurisdiction then his duty of care towards the laity of the diocese should, in most circumstances, be carried out through his priests. Along with the teaching task of the bishop, pastoral care of the laity is at a distance, once removed. But the pastoral care of the priesthood must be the direct responsibility of the bishop because there are no "vicars" between the bishop and his priests.

Therefore, I stick by my statement the other day that bishops should be chosen by priests and priests should be chosen by the laity and endorsed by the diocesan bishop. For the laity to insist on an equal interest in the bishop with the priesthood is unfair as this gives the laity two provisions for pastoral care and denies priests real pastoral care due to the conflict of interest the present understanding of the episcopacy seems to always give rise to.

Of course, priests may choose their bishops unwisely but bad bishops are sometimes elected in provinces where the laity are part of the electoral college. In any case, the proof is in the pudding and I have not come across any province where the priesthood is, on the whole, as close to their bishops as in Scotland. Now, Scottish people often claim they are superior to everyone else, but, in reality, they are not. It is my opinion that if it can work in Scotland it can work anywhere, but only if we copy that other Scottish tradition of keeping their bishops' feet planted firmly on the ground.



  1. I never thought of it quite that way, but you do have a point here.

    You know, I’m not sure what the breakdown of the vote was here in Oklahoma regarding the election of our current bishop but I do know that he has a doctorate in something called “church growth” and I think the people here were seduced into believing that this bishop would get our numbers up. I don’t know if said people were mostly clergy or laity but I do know that it’s a piss-poor reason to elect a bishop.

    IMHO, of course.

  2. Editorial markup:
    Change all references of “priests” to “priests and deacons”

    Just an old dog barking… but your point about the feet planted firmly on the ground gets a tail wag from here… but but but whose responsibility is it to insure that the feet are planted thusly?

  3. but whose responsibility is it to insure that the feet are planted thusly?

    In Scotland, it is embedded deep into the ethos of the church and I would guess this came from being persecuted for so long. When priests and bishops were being locked up for being Episcopalians and holding services, I expect those who went for the job of bishop did so for all the right reasons. It was certainly not for money or authority.

  4. I expect those who went for the job of bishop did so for all the right reasons. It was certainly not for money or authority.

    Oh! Like +me! I was only in it for the biscuits!

  5. So you’re saying only the call to the priesthood gives one the (necessary) call to choose a bishop? O_o

  6. No, JCF. I’m saying that it seems to be the most effective way to choose a bishop if the bishop is to be a pastor to his or her priests.

    Those members of the laity who think they should be able to choose their priests and their bishops are just being selfish.

  7. Over on our side, we have it both ways. (We’re pretty good at that!) In order to be elected bishop (by the diocesan convention or synod), one must receive the majority of votes both in the clerical order and in the lay order. The bishop-elect must then receive consents from a majority of the Standing Committees of all the dioceses (which are normally half-clergy and half-lay) and a majority of the bishops holding jurisdiction (diocesans and coadjutors). It’s not foolproof (as those of us who have been around for a while can testify!) but generally it works pretty well.

    Yes, the bishop needs to be pastor to the priests and deacons, but also needs to be pastor to the lay people. I.e., pastor to everybody. A hard job. Maybe easier in places like the US and Scotland, where the bishop-to-people ratio is much lower. Our bishops actually know a lot of the people personally, as well as all the clergy.

  8. but also needs to be pastor to the lay people

    Why? The laity have the priests. Why should the laity have everything, twice, and the priests nothing?

  9. I think that Church history bears evidence of a different evolution of an episcopal church, one that we have lost somehow.

    I think that the bishop is the pastor of the first assembly of folks in a missionary area. There are only the bishop and the people. As the mission work is fruitful this assembly grows and eventually has many members drawn from a wide geographic mission area.

    At some point the bishop chooses to divide the assembly into subassemblies. Because the bishop cannot be everywhere, when the assembly is divided, the bishop makes priests from among the people to be the pastors to the subassemblies in the bishop’s stead.

    I think that after the first missionary bishop is sent to an area, the resulting assembly chooses it bishops from among itself from that point forward. And the bishop chooses the priests from among the people to be the bishop’s representatives, the pastors of the subassemblies.

    This I believe was the way it originally was, but somehow we lost this and everything became political.

  10. Bishops should be chosen the old-fashioned way; throw them in a pond and if they sink and drown they’re the bishop, if they float, burn them as evil witches.

  11. Bill, you have completely misinterpreted my reasons for my proposals. When I was a priest I yearned for the pastoral care that I gave to my parishioners. I receive emails from and read about so many priests who have been let down by their bishops that I consider the lack of provision of real, uncomplicated pastoral care for the priesthood to be one of the most obvious reasons for the ineffectiveness of the church at this time. And it is something that we could, so easily, do something about.

    If anyone has a better idea for a remedy than mine, please do send it in.

  12. “When I was a priest…”


    Stop that. Stop that. Stop that. You’re making me CRAZY!!!

    You ARE a priest! You will always be a priest.

    St. Laika’s is my parish. (I have no other.) And you are my priest. Are you listening????? MY priest.

    Now cut that out. I mean it.

    (Look. I don’t get riled easily; all of you know that. But this is too much.)