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.