Friday, July 29, 2011

The Bishop Visits This Sunday – but Why?

Sometimes it’s good to ask questions that seem to have obvious answers because the answers aren’t always as obvious as they seem.

This Sunday, July 31, Bishop Martin Field will make his first visitation to St. Andrew’s. For long-time Episcopalians, the annual visit from the bishop is a fact of church life. But if you’re newer to the Episcopal Church, you may be wondering –- why? Is it just a goodwill visit by the CEO to a regional office? No.

First, from a practical standpoint, the bishop visits congregations to administer the sacrament of confirmation, which is an opportunity for teens and adults to make a mature proclamation of their baptismal faith and to receive the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for their lives as members of the first order of ministry in the Church, the order of laypeople. (That means that as a member of the Church, you are a minister.) Confirming people in their faith is an act of ministry reserved to bishops, so the rite of confirmation can’t happen without one.

But the bishop’s visitation has meaning beyond making confirmation available. A bishop is one in a long line of people commissioned by their ordination to join in the ministry of the apostles, having been ordained by someone, who was ordained by someone, who was ordained by someone … who was ordained by one of the 12 listed in the Acts of the Apostles. That work to which a bishop is ordained is the ministry of sending and being sent on God’s mission in the world. The Greek word apostolos means one who is sent -– a messenger, a delegate, an ambassador of the one doing the sending, who is Jesus Christ himself. So each visitation a bishop makes is a stop along the way of his or her apostolic mission, an opportunity to bring the presence of the universal Church directly into our midst, remind us of God’s mission that we all share, and send each of us out as an apostolos, as well.

So if you're a St. Andrew's person, or (even better) if you're not, I urge you to come and join in this experience on Sunday. It will be a glorious day: Two infants will be baptized; eight young people and adults will be confirmed; you’ll have the opportunity to hear from the bishop about who he is and how he intends to lead our diocese. And you’ll get to hear from one of the apostles this surprising reality -– that you’re one of them, too.

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