The Bishop as Servant of Catholic Renewal

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1 The Bishop as Servant of Catholic Renewal A Pastoral Letter to the People of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion from Peter Elder Hickman, Presiding Bishop Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be; even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church. (Saint Ignatius of Antioch, 1st century) Greetings to All the Sisters and Brothers of Our Beloved Communion! My Dear Friends in Christ, Introduction For ten years the Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC) has been engaged in the renewal of the Catholic world. This activity is more than the reform of policy, for it is not simply the pursuit of justice regarding the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood, the welcoming of divorced Catholics back to the sacramental life, or the inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the life of the Church. 1 The activity of the ECC has centered upon the constant call of God to proclaim the Gospel in Word and Deed and to respond to renewal through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a call to return to the ancient vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is lived in the tradition of the Church. 2 Part of this call means the recognition of the three voices of the Catholic tradition: that of the bishop, of the laity and of the clergy. When these voices are in conversation, the Church is able to faithfully discern the call of the Spirit. When any of these voices is silenced, the vital process of discernment is impaired. The Witness of Scripture To discover that ancient vision, we begin by an examination of our roots turning to the sacred record of our foundation in apostolic times: the Church of the New Testament. The question at hand is, Where does Church authority reside in the New Testament? 1 ECC Constitution, Canon 16 2 ECC Constitution, Preamble 1

2 When we examine the Acts of the Apostles, the scriptural document that gives the widest picture of the life of the apostolic Church, we discover that the authority of the Church resides in the conciliar and synodal structure of the Church. In exploring the roles of bishop, clergy and laity in the Acts of the Apostles, we find archetypal images that we can use for the renewal of each role and voice in the church of today. Specifically, as we restore the ancient place of the bishop in the Church, we will find that the roles of the other elements laity and clergy are also restored to the active role that was originally intended for them. Their voices will come forth with strength, once the voice of the bishop is clarified in the synodal process. In the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, the entire apostolic community of Christians is gathered in the upper room, before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The structure of the Church is evident in its seminal form, as the community chose two men to replace Judas, and the community prayed for guidance. After casting lots, Mathias was chosen. The scripture then says, so he was added to the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:15-26) It is important to point out that the apostles were understood by the whole Church as a collegium a college of apostles. This was so important to the Church that the apostles did not simply lament the betrayal and passing of Judas, but felt compelled to replace him to bring the collegium to its complete standing again in line with their understanding of the intentions and ministry of Jesus, who called The Twelve. This designation can be found in the gospels, and is continued in the Acts of the Apostles. The emerging Church structure is again witnessed in a later passage, when the apostles ask the community to choose individuals for the task of overseeing the social service work (the daily distribution of food) for the community. The apostles instructed the community, It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Already, the roles and tasks of each segment of the apostolic community were emerging as the seven, who are chosen by the community, are ordained as the first deacons by the apostles through prayer and the laying on of hands. (Acts 6:1-5) The conversation between the apostles and the rest of the community is evident in these passages. The community is asked to choose worthy individuals, then the apostles affirm that choice through sacred rites. This is the model for the conciliar or synodal polity in the Church. It is a model that the ECC applies in its own polity, following an ancient continuation of this model in the Catholic tradition. This conciliar element is also evident in the unfolding narrative of the Acts of the Apostles. After traveling through Asia Minor, Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15. In this passage, Paul and Barnabas are joined by others from the Church in Antioch to participate in a Council convened by James in Jerusalem, in order to determine how Gentile Christians were to observe Jewish religious law as embodied in Torah. The Jerusalem Council made a decision, which they expressed in a letter to Antioch. The scripture says, Then the 2

3 apostles and elders, along with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. From this passage we see that the Jerusalem Council is again a conversation that includes apostles, elders, and the whole Church. These are three distinctions made by the scripture which point us to a differentiation of role and ministry but a continuous conversation that becomes an archetype for the synodal polity of the Church. This event forms the basis of conciliarism which is the highest form of church authority advocated by the conciliarist tradition of the Catholic Church. As opposed to the Ultramontane Catholics of the Vatican Curia we remain Conciliar Catholics which is an even more ancient, and therefore an even more authentic, tradition of Catholicism. In the twenty-first chapter of the Acts, we again see the Apostle Paul returning to Jerusalem, after further missionary journeys. Luke the writer tells us, When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. (Acts 21:17-19) The scripture also gives us insight into the apostolic mission of Saint Paul. He is the apostle to numerous Churches around the Mediterranean. His legacy and mission will be given to other bishops, the successors of the apostles. In the various letters of Paul, we discover two wonderful pastoral qualities: warmth and wisdom. Again and again, Paul includes greetings to individuals of each community in his letters. He includes instructions about clothing that he needs, and asks about the welfare of certain individuals. Paul also writes the archetypal words that become the beginning of Christian theology and spirituality. His wisdom is both deeply profound and extremely practical. In this, Paul becomes a model for all bishops. The Church of the First Millennium After an initial period of intense persecution the Church begins to emerge without the repression of the Roman government, and group around five major Patriarchates and numerous metropolitan dioceses. An example is North Africa, which had an estimated 700 bishops. Leadership for these bishops was provided by such dioceses as Alexandria (a patriarchate) and Carthage (headed by a provincial primate a Metropolitan bishop). The fact that North Africa had so many bishops one for each city or town tells us that the model set by Paul continued in the Church. Each town was a diocese (local church), with its local bishop. In each town, the people knew their bishop and had access to him. Furthermore, the tradition of electing a bishop 3 can be easily seen in the first millennium practice of Rome, in which the clergy reviewed candidates for the election, and the people chose their bishop who was then consecrated by other bishops of the province. Again, the conciliar form of Church polity was evident in the numerous councils held throughout the Christian world where bishops represented their local churches (dioceses) in the process of deciding questions that affected the whole Church. Thus, the bishop consulted with the clergy and laity within the 3 ECC Constitution, Canon ; Canon

4 diocese on issues affecting the local church and consulted with other bishops (representing other dioceses) for issues affecting the province or region. 4 This was a conversation on all levels the synodal process and conciliar approach to discerning the lead of the Holy Spirit for the local, provincial and universal Church. It was used for the entire Church East and West in the first seven Ecumenical Councils held in Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon. The Renewal of the Contemporary Church Now we turn our attention to the qualities of a bishop that we hope for in the ECC. While we agree that the character of the bishop should be strong, and the experience and pastoral skills of the bishop should be extensive, the question remains as to what qualities should be the guiding lights of the office of a diocesan bishop. These qualities are suggested by the New Testament as well as conciliar polity of the Church of the first millennium: Intimacy The bishop should be in an active relationship not simply an administrative relationship with the people of the communities and clergy of the diocese. Engagement The people have the right to have easy access to their bishop. They and their bishop must have enough contact with each other in order to develop a personal relationship of mutual understanding and trust. This requires that the bishop be within reasonably close geographical proximity to the communities that are served. Spiritual Leadership The bishop is to lead not only in certain administrative tasks and sacramental or liturgical roles, but must also act as a teacher of wisdom and a person of prayer. The bishop must be known as a spiritual guide for the people of the local church (the Diocese). Pastoral role The bishop is the rightful pastor of the local church (the Diocese). 5 Others, the presbyters and the deacons, act on the bishop's behalf and in the name of the bishop through the granting of faculties. (In other words, the bishop authorized clergy to function within the Diocese on her/his behalf). Other ordained ministers are accountable to their bishop and the bishop is accountable to the people, to the collegium of fellow bishops, and ultimately to Christ. This, too, requires the close proximity and frequent contact between the ordained and their bishop. All this points to the need for dioceses to be small. In the ECC, the target for the diocese is between 4 and 12 faith communities. In this way, the bishop is not overly burdened by the large size of the diocese with too many communities to visit and people to know; and so the laity and clergy of the diocese are not intimidated by the infrequency of seeing the bishop, nor by an episcopal style that is heavily bureaucratic. 6 The polity of the diocese must also reflect the traditional four marks of the Church: It is One. There is a unity within the diocese and among all dioceses. An expression of this unity in diversity is the diocesan synod a conversation of the bishop, laity and 4 ECC Constitution, Canon 5 5 ECC Constitution, Canon 23c 6 ECC Constitution, Canon

5 clergy. (This three-part conversation is also expressed in the national synod of the ECC.) The polity reflects the Holy Trinity as a sacred and continuous conversation among distinct members. This is synodal giving a democratic and systematic process to the voices of the diocesan Church. It is Holy. The holiness of the diocese mirrors the holiness of the Church at large also reflecting the Holy Trinity. The diocese (and the entire ECC) seeks the transformation from the Holy Spirit that is expressed in the preamble of the constitution that we seek to conform our lives to the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ through prayer and study, service, and the celebration of the liturgy and the sacraments. It is Catholic. It stands in the Catholic tradition of faith, creed, sacraments and authority. Roles in the diocesan Church are also in the Catholic tradition of ordained and lay leadership (as they are in the larger structure of the ECC). It is Apostolic. It continues as the successor of the apostolic faith community, with its college of bishops as the successors of the apostles. These historic roles of the Church, laity, clergy and bishop, must be clarified and not confused. 7 The growth of Catholic ecclesial groups in our day has been accompanied by a strong criticism that there is a proliferation of bishops. So often the Catholic jurisdiction is dominated by many clergy and few parishioners. This also means that the laity have little voice in such groups. The real difficulty with these groups is that there are not enough communities, and because there is an insufficiency of communities, the clergy are often chosen only by other clergy and not tested in their abilities of leadership by the pastoral experience of leading a faith community, with all its various roles and ministries. The Ecumenical Catholic Communion remains committed to the further recognition and support of the local church (diocese), with bishops elected by their people, and consecrated by the collegium of bishops which form our Episcopal Council (and welcoming the newly consecrated bishops into that Episcopal Council); fostering diocesan synods that will participate with the bishop in the polity of the diocese; and welcoming their communities and delegates into the larger structure that is our beloved Communion. 8 Therefore, my dear sisters and brothers, let us draw near to the Lord Jesus and to one another in prayer as the time of convening the Holy Synod of our beloved Communion draws ever closer. Let us be mindful that as we gather together in California this October that we have been given a great opportunity by the Holy Spirit to participate in our day in the ancient practice of the early church of our ancestors of meeting together in council to discern the mind of Christ and the will of God concerning the future direction of our apostolate and mission in the world. This is not a new thing that we are doing. It is really a restoration of something very old and something that is authentically Catholic in the original sense of that word. As we do this we will realize just what 7 ECC Constitution, Canon 11 8 ECC Constitution, Canons 64, 67 5

6 it means to be identified with the conciliar tradition of the Catholic Church, a tradition that for long periods of time had been repressed by our brothers in Rome, but a tradition that would never be fully forgotten and would never die, a tradition that the beloved Pope John XXIII attempted to restore at Vatican II, a tradition that is now arising in our time fully restored among us for the benefit and renewal of the entire Church at the dawn of this third millennium of the Christian age. We are conciliar Catholics, and as such we are indeed Ecumenical Catholics!" I send my blessings to all, Presiding Bishop of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion September 13, 2012 Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church Confirmed by the Episcopal Council 9 September 08, 2012 Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary 9 ECC Constitution, Canon 4.5 6

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