Thomas McKenzie
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What is a Presiding Bishop?


A friend of mine recently attended his Episcopal church's "Annual Meeting." This is a congregation that considers itself "conservative" in the current debates within that denomination.

At the meeting, the pastor of the church (called a Rector) was speaking about the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Schori. The pastor said this:

Some of our members where upset upon the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori, as our new presiding bishop. Please rest assured that this position has no canonical nor spiritual authority over the affairs of (this parish). This is not the case in other parts of the Anglican Communion but in America the role of PB is solely communicative and administrative.



I thought this comment was interesting, but is actually not true. The Episcopal Church's website has a brief article on the roll of the Presiding Bishop entitled "Chief Pastor and Primate." Here, in part, is what the official Episcopal Church line on the Presiding Bishop is:

The Presiding Bishop is the Chief Pastor and Primate of the Episcopal Church. . . . The office was incorporated into the Constitution of the Church in 1901 and styled Presiding Bishop of the Church. In 1919 the office was made elective and invested with executive responsibility for all departments of the church’s work . . . In 1967 the duties of the office were significantly enhanced. As “Chief Pastor,” the Presiding Bishop is charged with initiating and developing church policy and strategy, speaking God’s Word to the church and the world, and visiting every diocese of the church. The title “Primate” was added in 1982."



The entire article may be found here.

In the current difficulties within Anglicanism, things can be very murky, and ALL of us want to put our "spin" on the truth. In an effort to put his congregation at ease, this pastor elected to downplay the roll of the Presiding Bishop in the life of his congregation, making her into some sort of glorified office worker.

Let's get real. Is it likely that Presiding Bishop Schori is going to call up my friend's church and force them to start performing same-sex blessings? No, not any time soon. But does that mean she is purely an "administrator?" Of course not. She is the chief pastor and primate of her Church, and is therefore the highest spiritual authority in the denomination. And to say she has no "canonical authority?" Just ask the people of the Diocese of South Carolina or the members of Truro or Falls Church in Virginia if she has no "canonical authority." So, she is not normally going to interfere directly in one congregation's affairs (unless you are trying to leave the denomination with your property), but she is going to lead her denomination into its spiritual future.

I understand the impulse to downplay the current crisis in the Episcopal Church. But, I do think some honesty would also be helpful.


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