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|This page last updated 21 March 2004|
From the Rt. Rev. Pierre W. Whalon, D.D. at Camp Allen, Texas
Only one of us looked like a bishop that first day. Resplendent in a new fuchsia shirt, golden chain gleaming, obviously a brand-new bishop. I was dressed similarly at my first meeting of the House. After all, one can always dress down, and the first meeting is quite intimidating. The rest of us are in various levels of casual. No one however is without an episcopal ring. Someone makes a joke about “secret decoder rings.” It shows his age.
As people drift in, there are the usual happy cries, hugs, backslapping. “Even though I only see these folks twice a year, I really love them,” one of my close friends said. The reason is that no one knows what a bishop’s life is like other than other bishops. “People loath me for no reason, people love me for equally shallow reasons,” another bishop says. Heads nod. We know. We understand… Meetings are full of such conversations. It also helps to know that the House of Bishops is something you can really leave only feet first. We have ongoing prayer lists, a retired bishops’ newsletter, even a bishops’ choir which I love singing in (and we even sound pretty good).
The schedule is a full one. I used to think that the bishops must enjoy getting away to conference centers like Camp Allen here outside Houston. Relaxation must be built in, I reasoned before my own consecration. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our typical day looks like this:
The sessions are of three types: small group (we are each assigned to a new one every three years); large group blending several small groups; and plenaries. Thus we follow a process designed to get every bishop to contribute at some level on the topic at hand.
Since September 2001, the Presiding Bishop has focused the meetings of the House (other than General Convention) on the ministry of reconciliation. This one is no exception, though other issues are also to be discussed. Arriving at some scheme for allowing people unhappy with their diocese’s direction (conservative or liberal) to have a visiting bishop is one important piece of business. The problem is that some of the bishops dissenting from the vote to approve the New Hampshire election want a plan not only for temporary oversight by “episcopal visitors” (a.k.a. “flying bishops”), they also seem to want a plan for granting jurisdiction over dissenting parishes. However, no single diocesan or even the House of Bishops as a whole has the power to grant that.
There is an undertone of dread as these discussions loom in our schedule. Several conservative bishops are staying away. Some that are have decided not to share the community life of the House, but are staying offsite, coming in only for the discussions they feel are relevant.
Personally, I am happy to be here. Living and working far away, unable to participate in other meetings of bishops, this is my chance to be with people who know how I feel. Who share my passion to see the Episcopal Church grow in grace and strength out of a genuine witness to Jesus Christ. I don’t know any bishop who doesn’t share that, even if our divergence of opinion often obscures this fundamental unity of hearts.
And it is time to re-acquaint myself with Texas food. Chicken-fried steak, real fried chicken, barbeque, chili (no beans of course), homemade cookies, fried okra, grits… Good thing we have a fitness center. Now if only I can get there and beat the crowd.
I really enjoyed my last small group. I thought I would miss them and that it would take time to adjust to the new group. But I was wrong, and I am already looking forward to spending the next three years in prayer, Bible study, conversation and even argument with these five bishops. We have started our work on what has been re-named “delegated pastoral oversight,” and so far it has gone well.
But we have so much more to do. Please pray for us, your bishops, as we live through this week.
I shall have much more to say next Sunday.