This Sunday our celebrant in worship is our Bishop, the Right Reverend A. Robert Hirschfeld. Bishop Rob will also offer the sermon, and at the 10am service will Confirm our 11 confirmands with the laying on of hands as we all join them in prayer. After worship we have a special celebratory coffee hour being led by the parents of the confirmands. I hope you can be there!
Episcopal means, from it's Greek root, "of bishops." To be the Episcopal Church contrasts with one which is Congregational ("of congregations") or Presbyterian ("of pastors") in that our basic unit of organization is the regional collection of churches (diocese), led by a bishop.
I was once on a "visioning" team with pastors from Baptist, Congregational, and Unitarian Universalist churches. This was while I was considering becoming a priest. And they asked if I really wanted to be under the authority of a bishop. I did give that question some thought, but I decided, "Yeah, I do want that...."
Jesus walked with us, rejoiced with us, ate with us, cried with us, touched us with healing, and used the "stuff" of creation (like dust, mud, water, plants, animals) to communicate God's love for us. Ever since, the idea of sacred touch and of caring for the stuff of creation has been important for Christians. Having bishops is one of the ways we live this out. Our one diocesan bishop connects all our local churches.
Every Confirmed or Received Episcopalian has received the prayerful hands of a bishop upon their head. And that bishop was ordained at the hands of other bishops (at least three!), and them at the hands of earlier bishops, and so on, back to the hands of Jesus sending out the first apostles. The churchy short"hand" for this is "Apostolic Succession", but the Christ-y word for this is care; love and relationship coming alive in the form of human touch.
There's nothing magical about it. It's more sturdy than that. It's simply generation after generation of Christians using the way we live to say that we are one connected Body. Through our bishops we can robustly support each other, nudge each other into more Christian ways of living, and look out for each others' needs. We do that with shared worship, outreach ministries, grant programs, young adult mission-year programs, and much more. Being connected so tightly also makes it harder to run away from the challenging parts of Christian relationship; repentance, forgiveness, and the new life they bring forth.
I like Bishop Rob. I appreciate his preaching, his guidance, his discipline, and his affirmation. But alongside that, and maybe even more, I love the connection to our whole diocese that he embodies when he shows up. It's good to be the Church, the Body of Risen Christ who healed and taught us. And it's good to stay connected to our many fellow pilgrims.
Yours in that Fellowship of Christ,