Are Bishops Still the Pastors of the Clergy?

Most priests look to the bishop as their pastor. The bishop ordains and licenses clergy and these moments are profoundly meaningful. Each year most bishops ask their clergy to come to the Maundy Thursday service and renew their vows together, there is a sense of shared vocation and mutual respect. The clergy know that the Bishop sees their work as an extension of his or her work, because at the licensing service they are told “Receive this cure of souls, which is both mine and yours”. The Bishop has a staff as his symbol of pastoral ministry. The expectations are set up in all these highly symbolic moments.

However, the pastoral care of clergy is delegated to the archdeacons and the diocesan counsellor and in some dioceses it is also delegated to the Area Deans. Yvonne Warren, in her paper for general synod writes:

This sense of working in partnership with the Diocesan can then be totally lost. There needs to be a real in-depth rethink about whether the primary role of a Bishop of a diocese is still to oversee and care for their clergy or whether this role is obsolete. If it is then there needs to be real thought as to who within The Church has that care and oversight. It is because of this lack of clarity that so many clergy feel dislocated and displaced by The Church they seek to serve and trust in.

There is a sense that bishops would like to spend more time working with their clergy but the other duties preclude it. Could some of these duties be removed? Could we make all suffragen bishops area bishops, so that within that area that bishop does ordain, license and pastor their clergy, restoring the sense of pastoring and partnership? The area bishops could be cover the same area as the archdeaconries, giving good continuity between archdeacon and bishop.

2 thoughts on “Are Bishops Still the Pastors of the Clergy?”

  1. My best experiences of Episcopal care were in the Church in Wales, where of course we elected our Bishops, and there were no suffragans.

    One time I went to see my Bishop about a pastoral problem: he listened and commented with real engagement, then we went into his chapel, where we prayed and he laid hands on me. Then he told me about a problem in the diocese that was causing him distress, I prayed for him, and at his request laid hands on him in prayer. He was every inch the Bishop, and in my eyes was even more of a Bishop afterwards. I’ve never had this experience again.

    The C of E Bishop who signed papers for my medical retirement twenty years later had never even met me, other than across the floor of a meeting. He got wind of my unhappiness and offered to meet me – only after I had signed my Deed of Resignation. It left me feeling utterly un cared-for.


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