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Bishops, Yes: Dioceses, No!

2010 November 5
by Gordon Reid

Christ Church, Philadelphia, has just announced that their Vestry has decided not to pay the (compulsory) Episcopal Assessment because they do not like Bishop Charles Bennison. This will get them barred from attending and voting in the Diocesan Convention on Saturday.

But they are going to add that sum to the (voluntary) contribution parishes are asked to make for the work of the whole Diocese.

St Clement’s, on the other hand, have paid the Episcopal Assessment (which guarantees them voice and vote in the Convention), but, as they have done for decades, will not pay a penny towards the work of the Diocese.

There is a profound ecclesiological distinction between these two positions. St Clement’s, as an Episcopal church, knows we have to have a Bishop for Confirmations and Ordinations. And we are also happy for that Bishop to make his visitations and oversee the work the parish is doing.

The Celtic Church in Scotland, before the Romanisation that occurred under Queen Margaret and her successors, used to have Bishop who were monks in abbeys, and they emerged from their abbeys to administer the sacraments of Confirmation and Ordination, and then retreated back into their abbeys.

There is much to be said for this model. However, it is impractical in this day and age. The Bishop needs a little back-up to perform  his duties. But what he does not need is a huge Diocesan structure of departments of education and mission and finance and outreach and communication etc, etc.

The latest financial downturn, plus the uncertainty about Bishop Bennison’s position, has led to a big reduction in the number of staff in the Diocesan Office. This is to be welcomed. It is time it was recognized  that education and mission and outreach and communication, and all the other matters which the Diocesan Office used to duplicate  are being done far better by  the parishes of the Diocese.

We need a Bishop, But we have no need of a Diocese, except as an extension of his ministry in several places. So I encourage all parishes to pay for Bishop Bennison, but keep the rest of their money for the work of Christ in their own parish.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Stacey permalink
    November 5, 2010

    I am praying for a productive and peaceful convention this Saturday.

  2. Canon Dirk van Leeuwen permalink
    November 5, 2010

    Why not omit “Celtic”?

  3. Paul Goings permalink
    November 5, 2010

    In fairness, Father, you are not really arguing against dioceses, but against the gargantuan bureaucratic apparatus that characterizes modern Anglican dioceses. And I couldn’t agree more. Certainly a bishop needs an office and a secretary or three, and some sort of communications department, and a few other chancery officials, most of whom would also be pastors of their own parishes, but I’m hard pressed to see the need for the enormous staffs and budgets that have come to be accepted as normal.

  4. Stacey permalink
    November 7, 2010

    I saw you at convention today from afar and I didn’t get speak to you! Sorry I missed you and thank you for the book, I just read your preface!

  5. Russell Fuhrman permalink
    November 7, 2010

    Father Reid, you’d make a good Republican! Please consider writing on the beauty, wisdom and efficiency of subsidiarity sometime.

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