In early March, I presided at the election of the Coadjutor Bishop of Niagara, my last as Metropolitan of the Province. I am delighted that the Rev. Canon Susan Bell, the Canon Missioner of the Diocese of Toronto, was elected in a gracious, Spirit-filled process. I preached this homily at the election and offer it here in anticipation of our own election of a coadjutor bishop in June.
Recently I recorded a video about the work of a bishop. Martha Holmen, my interviewer, asked, “If you were on an elevator with a member of Synod who asked what you would look for in electing a bishop, what would you say?”
“Is it a 2-floor trip or 17 floors?” I responded.
My 30-second response was this: “A person of faith in Jesus Christ, able to articulate that faith clearly and fairly simply; the capacity to deal with complexity; able to bridge the sacred and secular realms; open to a variety of theological and spiritual expressions and practices, and the wisdom to discern among them; someone able to extend pastoral care with compassion and still make tough and decisive decisions; one who can preside graciously in leading worship; able to conduct a meeting.” You can see the interview online on our diocese’s website (www.toronto.anglican.ca).
This was my quick summary of a four-and-a-half page job description! I could have added a sense of humour and a willingness to endure extended periods of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror. Lewis Garnsworthy, when he was elected bishop, was advised that he would have to learn to suffer fools gladly and answer his mail. He replied that he would be sure to answer his mail!
An electoral Synod gathers specifically to elect a bishop. It is not a leadership convention – that is going on elsewhere in the province right now. It is not to conduct a popularity contest or establish a party platform. It is not electing someone to deliver on a mandate, nor is it to focus on a specific agenda. All of that will get stale in a year, and something else will replace the attention and the anxiety of the community. A bishop is to be one with the apostles in proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus.
What we come together in Synod for is to discern on behalf of the Church of God – not just for ourselves or our parish, not just for our own diocese, but for the good of the Church of God – the person we believe that God is calling to be the next bishop.
Discernment is a process of holy listening, not political intrigue.
We do not close our eyes, utter a prayer to God and let God mark down a person’s name on a ballot paper, or wait for God to press the right number on an electronic “clicker” using our fingers. It is not magic.
Discernment is about using the perceptions and intuition and resources God has given us. It is about listening – to God, to each other, to the world, to our inner conscience. It is opening ourselves in prayer, expectant silence and mutual conversation. It is about paying attention to the needs and opportunities of the world and to the gifts of the Church.
We are blessed with capable candidates who will allow themselves to be tested and questioned and scrutinized by hundreds of people; candidates who open themselves to God’s invitation, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for me?” with the courageous offer, “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6).
Each candidate brings many gifts for the ministry of oversight; each brings their weaknesses. Which of them has the specific gifts we need for the Church today?
When the apostles met after the Ascension of our Lord, they were a fragmented, incomplete, uncertain group. They were 11, not 12. In fact, they were not alone. Acts 1 records that there were about 120 present.
Two names were proposed: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Both had accompanied Jesus through his ministry from his baptism to his ascension. (You will note, it was not just the 12 disciples who were with Jesus.)
Matthias was chosen. Perhaps electors were confused by the other guy who couldn’t settle on his own name!
But remember three things.
First, they were named, and they are named together, for all posterity.
Second, they both were equally qualified, both gifted.
Third, after the election, neither of them is heard from again in scripture! Nothing else is known about them.
Nothing except this: We know their names and we can be confident that both continued to follow Christ and serve his Church.
At the episcopal election, one will be chosen as bishop – but the one does not accede to glory and the others fade into oblivion (like political leadership contenders do.) All will continue as faithful members of the church of Jesus Christ. All will continue to bring their gifts to the service of Christ. All will join in the central work to which disciples are called – to bear witness with all the saints to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new life that God offers to all people through him.
Electoral Synods begin with the Eucharist. It is not an incidental add-on – a nod to God – before we get on with the real business at hand. Rather, it is the heart of what we are about. We root ourselves as a eucharistically shaped people – a people called by God and bound together as his people into a community of thanksgiving and love in which Jesus himself is present in the midst. We listen to the Word of God, rehearsing our story, hearing again who and whose we are. We pray for guidance. We are fed by the very life of Jesus, who died for us and was raised for us and bestows on us his own first gift of the Spirit. Then we leave, sent out with joy and hope into the world God so loves, to join in God’s work of reconciliation and re-creation.
The Eucharist draws us into our work of discernment.
Listen to the leading of the Spirit.