Backbones and ears

Jun 21st, 2010 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

A bishop, long since gone to that land free from purple shirts, once picked up a church newspaper and spotted a photograph of the ordination of a new bishop.  The candidate knelt as his new colleagues stood scrum like around him, laying hands on his head.  “Do you know, Bob”, he observed to his companion, “that is when they take the backbone out of bishops?”

The same prelate seemed to have developed a jaundiced view of episcopacy, for he complained that the day he became a bishop was the last day that anyone told him the truth.

Bishops would presumably argue that ‘collegiality’ means they must measure their remarks against the positions taken and comments made by their colleagues.  From the point of view of someone at the bottom rung of the ladder of clerical hierarchy, never having so much as risen to the humble rank of rural dean, the lance corporals of the church, most bishops appear to hide behind their purple shirts.  Hardly one of them says anything of substance and statements issued by them collectively are so nuanced that they are as meaningful as a weather forecast that says it might be wet and it might be dry.  The purple is meant to signify the sacrifice they are prepared to make as leaders of the church; it would seem unwise to rely on too many of them if it came to a fight.

If the ordination service signifies the loss of backbone, the mitre seems to mark the loss of hearing.

There is a trend in the Church of Ireland towards the concentration of power in fewer hands; this being done so, it is argued, to better equip the church for its mission.

Yet such a concentration is contrary to the model of the New Testament, where power is completely dispersed; it is contrary to contemporary missiological movements, where the basic ecclesial communities within the Roman Catholic tradition, and the cell churches within the evangelical tradition, emphasize localness and autonomy; it is even contrary to the secular principle of subsidiarity, whereby decisions are meant to be taken at the lowest possible level.

It is, of course, utterly pointless writing this because no-one is going to listen anyway.  Stuff on the internet is regarded as no more than grumbling in the ranks.  The fact that people vote with their feet, by simply not appearing on Sunday mornings, when they have decisions foisted on them is treated as no more than an inconvenient detail.  And it is no good to say, ‘I told you so’; the mitre is soundproofing against all criticism.

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