Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Bottom, thou art translated ...or Bishop's Move

There are so many temptations to play with the title of this post that it could almost divert me from the purpose of writing it. Almost, but not quite. The news broke on Saturday that the Bishop of Argyll and The Isles was to become the Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway. Two dioceses, the same small denomination. Two dioceses, one populous, the other scattered and sparsely populated over a massive area. This process is not common in the Scottish Episcopal Church - apparently it last occurred almost 100 years ago - and so was not something that even the knowledgable person in the pew would think possible. And the process is called, would you believe, "translation".

I learned of our bishop's translation on Facebook before elevenses on the Saturday when, we had been told, the appointment of the Bishops' choice for Glasgow would be announced. No longer an election because the electors of the diocese had been unable to find a suitable candidate, this was to be a choice, as happened to the Diocese of Argyll some nine years or so ago. Presumably the College of Bishops knew how they were heading before Saturday's meeting - I cannot for a moment imagine it was a Spirit-driven spur of the moment thing. And I learned of it on Facebook. And on Twitter. And then there were the photos on Instagram. And great was the rejoicing thereof, and not a word about the Diocese of Argyll and The Isles.

The announcement was in the pew sheet the next day - the same announcement people like me had seen online. It came as no surprise to me, but in my generation I am known as a social media peculiarity. I could hear the indrawn breaths. And people felt bereft, and just a tad let down. Our last incumbent left to become a bishop - but that, to be honest, was not unexpected.  Bishops tend merely to retire, and retirement, like old age, does not come as a surprise.

At this point, I need to make one notable exception to the torrent of well-meaning explanation as to why this was really needed for Glasgow diocese - as if I needed told. One Glasgow priest had the pastoral sensitivity to respond to my early shocked reaction, not with explanation but with an expression of sympathy and concern, and the assurance of prayer. It is a sad reflection on the church as an organisation that this simple, priestly act brought a tearful response.

There needs to be a serious look at how these things are managed in this era of instant communication. We are no longer waiting for the white smoke, for the revelation of who the latest bishop is to be. Someone gets carried away - for whatever reason - and posts online. Happens in politics all the time. But this is the church. We are supposed to think of our bishop as our Father in God. This is like telling a family that actually the family across the water - for that is where the receiving diocese is for us here - can't stop bickering and so your father is being sent to look after them. You're a sensible lot, they say - you can manage on your own. And they tell you, not even in a private message or a text, but on social media. A done deal.

The truth is that yes, we can manage. As long as we feel loved, and cherished, and valued for our contribution to the church - not financial, but  because we're faithful. But take that for granted, forget to include us in your thinking - no. The College of Bishops, which includes some perfectly savvy media operators, needs to think about the effect of their decisions and the pastoral care of the people without whom there would be no church. It is not the Bishop that keeps going an individual charge like the one in which I participate. It's the passion of the laity, kept aflame, if we're lucky, by the ministrations of our clergy. My church is in a good place just now, spiritually and organisationally. But some of us today are feeling let down by the very people who should be caring for us all.

As I write this, I've found that some people in Glasgow diocese have become aware that there have been failings. I've had two series of supportive messages and an apology, and I appreciate them all. But none of them came from the source that should have managed the whole situation, and none of them has been directed to the people of Argyll and The Isles. For the sake of the diocese and the sake of the Church, I hope it's not too late.


  1. Anonymous6:06 PM

    Thank you for posting your interesting blog on the recent Translation announcement.

    Despite the official SEC announcement containing the word ‘election/elected’ around ten/10 times, this is a misuse of the word for the process used by the Episcopal Synod - rather the publication should have referred to ‘appointment/appointed’…. see below Canon 4 point 10

    Since 2010, there have been 3 appointments:
    2010 = Kevin Pearson to Argyll & The Isles
    2017 = Anne Dyer to Aberdeen & Orkney
    2020 = Kevin Pearson to Glasgow & Galloway.
    Somewhat concerning, that the democratic process of electing a Bishop, once a cornerstone of Scottish Episcopacy, has been subsumed by the Cabal of Bishops.
    It is known, that one Bishop has stated, that in his opinion, the laity should have no participation in the choice of a Bishop for a Diocese - only the Cof B should be allowed to make the appointment.
    Indeed, approximately with just over one month away from Diocesan Synods, one could add, that the democratic process, opinions, votes cast at these Synods are now mostly or even entirely ignored.
    It is worth noting, that Ms Dyer’s appointment paid no consideration that A & O was ‘a traditional Diocese’, had expressed that unanimously at their Diocesan Synod pre-Canon 31 vote at Provincial Synod 2017…..instead of taking a more conciliatory position and offering a period of transition, the 4 Bishops (at that time) imposed a female, who had carried out SSM in her previous parish.
    What comes to mind is an authoritarian parent making their child eat sago pudding every day - even if it made him/her sick until the child was forced to say it liked it and was eager for more!
    In 2 Dioceses above, since Canon 31, a church has ceded from SEC and on the appointment in A & O combined with Canon 31, another - together with one in Edinburgh. 4 in all.
    All this information is on-line, but NOT on any official SEC site or Agenda.

    Pastoral Care should be at the forefront of a Bishop’s Ministry - don’t they carry a shepherd’s crook as a visible symbol and reminder?

    CANON 4 POINT 10
    Prior to the meeting of the Preparatory Committee at which the list of names of candidates is agreed, the College of Bishops shall have been consulted. The name of any person who is not agreed as acceptable by the College of Bishops may not be included in the list of names of candidates. The reasons for such decisions shall be recorded in the minutes of the College of Bishops, which minutes shall be confidential. Such members of the Preparatory Committee as are bishops shall be charged by the College of Bishops with informing the Preparatory Committee of the unacceptability of any proposed candidate. The appearance of any name on the list of names of candidates shall be regarded as evidence that that name is acceptable to the College of Bishops.

    1. “ ...offering a period of transition, the 4 Bishops (at that time) imposed a female, who had carried out SSM in her previous parish.”

      Good. High time to wake up. I’m glad to note +Anne and another from A&O were officiating/leading/celebrating the 25th Anniversary celebration a few weeks ago.

  2. A couple of points: the utter necessity to make an appointment was plain in the case of AaTI ten or so years ago. As an elector at the time, I didn't feel there was any question of subsuming or a "cabal of bishops".

    If the church is to have any missional success in the twenty first century, it must be seen to overcome blatant prejudice within its numbers if it is to tackle other examples of such prejudice in the world. Given our current extremist politics, for example, this is ever more important.

  3. Having read your original blog and the comment in response. These so-called Episcopal elections are the beginning of the end of the Scottish Episcopal Church. This Church of ours was the first and original Church of Scotland, slowly but surely the church is being obliterated by the ever increasing Anglicisation of the church and its institutions. The appointment of Bishops in secret is the norm in the Church Of England and make no mistake we are being subsumed into that church. The respondent to your blog rightly highlighted the legal processes under which these elections take place, it does not require the wisdom of Solomon to see that the College of Bishops have the reins of power firmly in their hands and any involvement by the layity is merely tolerated, but definitely discouraged. The previous electoral process was skewed to ensure that the current incumbent was appointed. If he was such a good choice for this Diocese why did he not stand in the selection process? Perhaps he could not risk the prospect of failure. Having served his time in the fringes of Scotland he is further appointed (Translated) to one of the largest Diocese in terms of numbers. One could ask, was it in recognition of his successful stewardship of Argyll and The Isles, and his skills and talent are needed in in Glasgow, only those members sitting in the scattered churches of the West can truly Judge and comment. These self same members will recall the meetings with Bishop Mark Strange where they made clear who they wanted as a Bishop the fable that no one wanted to stand is further evidence of the corrupt nature of secrecy. It is important to recall the words of Sir John Dalberg-Anton when he wrote to an Anglican Bishop "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and great men are usually bad men"!!!! I have become so sickened by the abuses carried out by the College of Bishops that I am now no longer a member of the church I am become one of the unchurched, the result of this action of mine is that my faith is stronger than ever, unsullied by the corrosive effects of church governance. If there still remains in your heart a scintilla of hope that what happens is for your good and benefit, try and raise a contentious point at one of these travesties called Synods, only what the Bishop wants and will allow is discussed, you will not be heard nor called to speak. Make yourselves strong because your Diocese is in danger of being broken up and divided between Bishops Strange and Pearson, harden your hearts to their siren voices. As to the church playing a part in the resolution of political strife, perhaps it should put its own house in order first !!!

  4. Anonymous5:57 PM

    AGREE - After Bishop Shaw left, A & TI was in great need of a Bishop, who could put Pastoral Care (your original blog) at the forefront of his/her Ministry.
    Also a Bishop who knew the Diocese: its geography, history, culture & its peoples.
    There were several candidates in this category.
    Unfortunately, they were discouraged from applying before the election procedure began where you were an elector.

    Your comment “……Church…..21st Century…..must be seen to overcome blatant prejudice within its numbers…”
    Born into Scottish Episcopalianism, as a child, adult & now a Senior Citizen, I have never observed discrimination within a variety of congregations I have been part of.
    Indeed several of us look back and now recognise those, for example, who were LBGYTQ, but were an integral part of of our church/congregation.

    A couple of points: the utter necessity to make an appointment was plain in the case of AaTI ten or so years ago. As an elector at the time, I didn't feel there was any question of subsuming or a "cabal of bishops”.

    If the church is to have any missional success in the twenty first century, it must be seen to overcome blatant prejudice within its numbers if it is to tackle other examples of such prejudice in the world. Given our current extremist politics, for example, this is ever more important.

  5. I do feel for you. As a member of another small Anglican province (the Church in Wales) I know how desperately important competent pastoral communication is. The Bishop of Bangor who ordained me to the priesthood in 1997 was translated to Llandaff 3 years later. In the days before Facebook and Twitter the appointment was announced in a Pastoral Letter and though we were sad to lose our fine Bishop, we recognised that his gifts were very much needed in the province's most populous diocese at that particular time,

    We too have had examples of diocesan electoral colleges failing to agree, with the subsequent need for the Bench of Bishops to make an appointment. In a small province any controversy surrounding an appointment resonates very much more widely and painfully than it would in a bigger one. We are family and family disagreements hurt and can take a long time to heal.

    I do hope your Bishops and administrators learn a lesson from this painful situation, which could have been avoided with a bit more pastoral sensitivity.

    1. This is a significant comment, Perpetua, and touches on the intimacy of the Scottish Church which can lead to the sort of horrendous responses I’ve noted. In the SEC some Dioceses are no bigger than a decent sized parish of the CofE, and the Bishop is not some far-off figure, but a personality known fairly intimately buy members in the various congregations. A&tI is huge, geographically, but is in effect a small closely knit community of Pisckies.

      I think the situation is almost like a husband coming home from work and suddenly announcing that he demands a divorce, despite the fact that the wife perceives that the marriage is strong and stable. After the shock, denial, anger, and all that stuff, is natural. You simply assume that your Shepherd will remain with you until retiral, and indeed you are anticipating a huge party rather than divorce.

      I feel very much for the folk of Argyll and the Isles. Diocesan life is not easy there, and throws up so many challenges. I can only pray that a new bishop can be elected as soon as the Canon allows it, and that even stronger bonds can be fostered among them in the meantime.