Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone
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Kissing the Bishop's Hand


Church of the Redeemer, the Anglican congregation I am honored to pastor, recently had a visit from a Bishop.  Bishop Frank Lyons is an Assistant Bishop in our diocese, the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.  Our bishop is Archbishop Robert Duncan. Bishop Frank preached, celebrated Communion, and Confirmed twenty-five of our members.

Bishop Frank raised some eyebrows, and started a number of after-church conversations, by the way he conducted the Confirmation.  In a four-step process, he anointed the Confirmands with oil which reminded them of their Baptism.  He then said the prayer of Confirmation while laying hands on their heads.  He then gave them a “buffet,” a touch to the cheek symbolic of a slap.  He then presented his hand, with his episcopal (bishop’s) ring, for them to kiss.

He explained that the buffet was to remind them that they were entering into battle against sin, the world, and the devil.  The kiss was a reminder to them that they are under the Lordship of Christ.

I have had several people say to me “I wish I had some warning about the kissing part.”   I will honestly tell you that I didn’t have any warning, either.  I have heard of bishops doing it, but I have never seen it happen.

Bishop Frank comes from a tradition within Anglicanism called “Anglo-Catholicism.”  That tradition is more like the Roman Catholic Church than the tradition that we are part of.  There are three Anglo-Catholic churches here in the Nashville area, in case you are interested: St. Patrick’s in Smyrna, Holy Family in Hendersonville, and St. Andrew’s in Nashville.  Bishop Frank also ministered for 25 years in Latin American communities which tend to be both more Anglo-Catholic and Charismatic.

Kissing the Bishop’s hand is foreign to us, but it is not outside of Anglicanism.  It was not meant to convey any special privilege to the Bishop. Rather, it was meant as a reminder of Christ’s Lordship.

In our services there is actually a good deal of kissing. I kiss my stole just before I put it on and just after I take it off. I kiss the altar table upon approaching it for the first time in the service, and kiss it again just before I leave. I kiss the Gospel book when I read it to the people. I also kiss my wife and children when they come up for communion. That is not a normal liturgical act, but has emerged naturally from our relationship.

In the old days, people used to kiss at the passing of the Peace (men kissed men, women kissed women). Now we tend to hug or shake hands. In the Orthodox church, people kiss holy objects such as icons. I participate in this practice in my private devotions, but rarely in public worship.

People kiss what they love. Sometimes people kiss objects that symbolize people or places or ideas that they love. You might kiss a letter before you send it to your boyfriend. You might kiss a picture of your kids that you brought with you on a long trip. A musician might blow a kiss to a crowd of fans. A hostage might kiss the ground when she finally returns to her home country.

In the church, I kiss the altar where we celebrate the sacrifice of Christ. I kiss the book that holds the very words of God-made-Man. I kiss the stole that is a sign both of my duty and my un-earned privilege to serve the Lord in His Church. It really isn't the objects themselves that are worth kissing, it is the amazing and awe-full God which they point to.

When a newly confirmed person kissed the Bishop’s hand, it was this sort of gesture.  His hand represented the blessing Hand of Christ.  For that moment, in a symbolic way, they were kissing Jesus’ hand.  At least, that was the intention.  Not everyone liked it, and not everyone would like to see it happen again.  But it was a moment that has certainly sparked some good and healthy conversation.

So, what about you?  Would you have kissed the Bishop’s hand?