Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Hopes for a new bishop

Towards the end of my absence from blogging, the appointment of the next bishop of Brentwood was announced. Fr Williams has, according to the Brentwood Diocese website, presented himself as a "listening bishop".

In the diocese, the faithful had been encouraged to use the following prayer from the Roman Missal to pray for the appointment of the new bishop:
Father, Eternal Shepherd of your people, you never cease to lead your Church with unfailing providence and to guide and nourish your flock. In your goodness grant to your Church of Brentwood a holy Shepherd under whose watchful care we may grow in love and grace.
I am also drawn to Pope Francis' remarks when speaking about the part played by the Congregation for Bishops in helping him to fulfil his apostolic ministry.
In every age and in every place we shall receive this petition from the lips of the Church: give us a Bishop! The holy People of God continues to speak: we need one who will watch over us from above; we need one who will see us with the fullness of God’s heart; we do not need a manager, a chief executive officer of a company, nor one who remains at the level of our pettiness and little pretensions. We need someone who knows how to raise himself to the heights of God’s gaze over us and in order to lead us to him. Our future lies in God’s gaze. We need someone who, owing to his greater familiarity with the wide expanses of God’s field than with the confines of his own narrow garden, is able to assure us that what our hearts aspire to is not a vain promise.
It is also interesting to read his address to a meeting of newly appointed bishops in September 2013, and, in particular, his remarks about the responsiveness of a bishop to the needs of his priests. He speaks of the priests of the diocese as being the "first neighbours" to whom a bishop owes care.

During the (long) time that it has taken to appoint our new bishop, I have had two particular thoughts about what I might look for from a new bishop (and a third point, as a bit of an aside).

To start with the third point. I do rather hope that other people will not project on to Fr Williams their own agendas. His office will be defined by the pastoral care of Brentwood Diocese and a participation in the College of the Successors of the Apostles - and this isn't to be measured by particular agendas that I or anyone else might have. So please do not hijack my new bishop for your own cause!

My second thought has been about the priests of the diocese and therefore has some affinity to Pope Francis' remarks to new bishops in September 2013. The experience of living in the diocese is that there are some parishes where I am happy to attend Mass and some parishes where I am not happy to attend Mass ... and most parishes that sit somewhere in between, not scaring me away but not exerting a positive attraction either. This is usually down to the parish priest because, for all the talk about lay ministry, it is still the parish priest who drives what happens in a parish. I am atypical in that, not having lived in the diocese when I was young, I do not enjoy a strong affiliation to one parish rather than another. So I look to the new bishop to achieve a greater unity among the priests of the diocese, so that lay folk like myself can live a greater unity of ecclesial experience from one parish to another. A unity in the celebration of the Liturgy and catechetical life seem essential to me in this regard.

My first thought, though, has been that, for a diocese that has a sense of "drift" about it, at least in my experience, I need a new bishop who offers something inspiring. As Pope Francis expresses it, I need a bishop who "owing to his greater familiarity with the wide expanses of God’s field than with the confines of his own narrow garden, is able to assure us that what our hearts aspire to is not a vain promise." A bishop who will make me feel that it is all worth while, rather than its being a struggle. As Pope Francis points out, this is not achieved by a bishop who is a "chief executive" or by a bishop with well planned "programmes".  Rather it is achieved by a bishop with a vivid sense of his charism as a successor of the Apostles, a bishop who has the "odour of his sheep".

These are my hopes for my new bishop.

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