Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Presiding Bishop: A Leader not a Ruler*

What makes those (clergy) in the Anglican (both real and imagined) Communion angry and frustrated all at the same time?  It is the manner in which our Presiding Bishop speaks to issues of import throughout the world.  Our Presiding Bishop, not just this one but those in the past as well, walk a razor thin line in speaking for our province.  Sometimes, it may look like "prevarication" as some in the Anglican Communion have viewed it. 

Well, we are the only province that is structured in such a way as to routinely give voice to the people.  There is no other province in the world that does this and it leads to some rather routine mis-interpretations.  Let me see if I can explain this a little more.  When a leader in another province speaks that leader does not have to consider what has been voted on, spoken by the people if you will, in his province.  A provincial leader from say Nigeria, can pretty much say whatever he wants and "speak for all the people of Nigeria" because he is not going to face an election by Anglicans that vote on issues and could make him look silly -- on that same issue.  In most cases the thinking would go something like this, "I am the archbishop, I know what is best for 'my people' and I will tell everyone what is what."  As simple a formula as that is and as hierarchical as it is and as demanding as that is, that approach just does not work in The Episcopal Church in the United States.  The Archbishop of Canterbury is beginning to learn that lesson about us.  He has attended several General Conventions in which the mind of the people (lay and clergy) are spoken freely and issues of significant import are voted upon.  That means that when the Presiding Bishop speaks the mind of the Episcopal Church in the United States she (but in the past he) must take into account that whatever the issue, we could vote on it at the next triennial and make the Presiding Bishop either right or wrong depending on what is said.  This is a much more precarious position than any other primate, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.  We have, we cherish, and we will never give up the method under which we come together each three years and set the mind of the province.

Let me end with another analogy.  If there is going to be a parade in the United States and the presiding bishop wants to lead the parade then she/he must wait for the laity and clergy to form up and begin marching -- then get in front of the parade.  For virtually every other Anglican Province in the world the primate IS THE PARADE.  For those in other parts of our communion and for those just in other parts of our universe this experience is one of pride and power but for the Presiding Bishop it is a source of humility and servant-leadership.

* There will be an extra 20 points given to those who can remember from whence the title was first used/found.