The Bishop as Grandfather

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Anglican Compass is proud to publish the Rev. Canon David Roseberry’s new book, The Rector, the Vestry, and the Bishop. It is already getting widespread acclaim from rectors, vestry members, and bishops throughout the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Below is an excerpt from the book’s chapter “The Bishop as Grandfather.”


Bishops are chiefly pastors called to exercise oversight, care and responsibility for the clergy and laity of the diocese.

Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury 1961-1974 (from “The Christian Priest Today,” 1972)

To better understand the role of a bishop in a church, it is helpful to use a metaphor of three generations of the human family: a household, its parents, and a grandfather. In this metaphor, the congregation is like a household, the rector is like a parent, and the bishop is like the grandfather. The grandfather’s (bishop) love and concern extend to multiple households within a large family, providing wisdom, guidance, and support. He encourages and supports the parents (rector) of those households. The parent (rector) is responsible for the care, instruction, and welfare of a particular household (congregation).

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Metaphors can be oversimplified, but let’s play out this family model of relationships as it applies to the specific relationship between the bishop, the rector, and the congregation’s vestry.

The Bishop as Grandfather

Like a grandfather with the parents, the bishop and rector maintain an open and active line of communication, respecting and deferring to each other’s wisdom, experience, and spiritual authority. They are mutually supportive, working together in love and humility to further the Kingdom of God within the larger family.

Like a grandfather with the rest of the family, the bishop and the congregation connect through periodic visits, encouraging and teaching the family members and learning from their experiences, joys, and struggles. The elder’s presence demonstrates unity and continuity within the church family.

And like the parents and the rest of the family, the rector and the vestry collaborate closely, sharing responsibilities and decision-making authority to actively care for and minister to the congregation’s needs. Together, they steward resources, cultivate spiritual growth, and ensure the spiritual welfare of the congregation.

Each member of this family metaphor—the bishop as the grandfather, the rector as the parent, and the congregation as the household—holds a vital role in the Church’s health, strength, and unity. As in a family, the relationships within the Church should be grounded in love, respect, trust, and collaboration.

What else can be said about these relationships according to the metaphor? In a healthy family:

  • The grandfather/bishop is a valued member of the family and highly esteemed.
  • He is typically seated in a place of honor at family gatherings and speaks as the custodian of the family’s history and traditions.
  • The parent/rector takes care of the household’s day-to-day responsibilities and is loyal to the bishop, referring to him as a “Father in God.”
  • The grandfather’s/bishop’s influence is felt throughout the family through his supportive and respectful relationship with the parent/rector.
  • He knows he cannot replace the parent/rector and should never interfere.

To Illustrate: Lessons of this Family Father

Allow an illustration to drive home the point.

When my children were young, my wife and I made all their decisions, including what they ate and wore and which doctors they visited. As they grew older, we gave them more independence to make their own choices. During their teenage years, we shared information about making choices and offered guidance to help them make good decisions and avoid bad ones.

When our children reached their twenties, we had to step back. They chose their own way, even if we didn’t always agree with them. When they married, we had to step back even further, as they had a whole other set of in-laws and family traditions to consider. When they had their own children, we had to let go even more.

Our involvement in the day-to-day details of our grandchildren is minimal, even though we love and care about them very much. We offer advice only when asked, and when we are, we see it as an opportunity to show support and share our family values. Our primary focus is on investing time and energy into our relationship with them.

And so, the same can be true for interpersonal and diocesan relationships and roles of bishops, the rectors of congregations in a diocese, and the vestries of each church.

The metaphor of a multigenerational family is a helpful tool to imagine and describe the three-part connection between the bishop, the rector, and the vestry. It has been helpful.

But also, the metaphor is useful to illustrate a critical concept that the framers of the ACNA had in mind as they put together the founding documents for the province. It is known as the principle of subsidiarity. We can use the metaphor again to make this concept clearer to us.

Principle of Subsidiarity

The principle of subsidiarity is a political, economic, and ecclesiastical (church law) doctrine that holds that decisions should be made at the lowest level possible. The principle is a crucial pillar of the Anglican polity. In the Anglican tradition, decisions are made at the local level as much as possible. This means that the congregation makes decisions about the life of a congregation, the diocese makes decisions about the life of a diocese, and decisions about the life of the province are made by the church as a whole.

As before, picture the Anglican Church as an extended family gathering, with the bishop as the respected grandfather, the rector as the responsible father, and the congregation as individual family households. Subsidiarity is a principle that guides this family-like structure, allowing smaller, local groups to make decisions that best suit their unique needs, much like how each family decides on house rules and in-house traditions.

The bishop is the chief pastor and leader of the diocese, but the bishop is not the dictator of the diocese. The bishop is called to assist and support the rector and the vestry in making decisions for the congregation’s good.

The subsidiarity principle helps define the bishop’s relationship with the rector and the vestry. But the principle also helps to define the bishop’s relationship to the entire diocese as a whole. According to the tenets of subsidiarity, the bishop makes decisions for the diocese in consultation and relationship with the people of the diocese, who make decisions through their elected representatives, the rector, and the vestry.

It is important to note that the bishop of the diocese has the ultimate authority over matters related to worship, Prayer Book usage, and the maintenance of Church doctrine, discipline, and worship within the diocese.

Balancing subsidiarity and unity is delicate for the Church as it strives to accommodate diverse viewpoints while maintaining harmony and cohesion among members. Such balance enabled the foundation of the Anglican Church in North America. Thus, ongoing unity and fellowship will require dialogue, mutual respect, and a commitment to finding common ground while individual dioceses exercise autonomy within the broader Church community.


Purchase the paperback and Kindle editions of The Rector, the Vestry, and the Bishop now, exclusively on Amazon.


Photo courtesy of Lightstock.

Published on

January 10, 2024

Author

David Roseberry

David Roseberry leads the nonprofit ministry, LeaderWorks. He was the founding rector of Christ Church, Plano, Texas, and is the author of many books. He lives in Plano with his wife, Fran.

View more from David Roseberry

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