Episco-Fact #48
May 28, 2017

If the Episcopal Church is a reformed or Protestant Church, why do we have bishops? What do our Bishops do? How do we get Bishops?

As reformation Churches go, the Church of England held a unique place in the posture of the western churches of that period. Its reform, and protest was conservative. Originally, Henry VIII placed himself and not a cleric, either Pope or Bishop, at the head of the Church on England. He kept in place the clerical orders of deacon, priest, and bishop, the Mass in Latin, and the Vulgate (a medieval Latin translation of the Bible) as the scripture. After Henry, his son Edward VI kept the church moving in the reform direction, but his older sister Mary ("Bloody Mary"), reconciled with Rome on her ascension after six years of Edward. Elizabeth restored the Church of England on her ascension, and by the end of her 45-year reign, this form of Anglican Christianity was reasonably firm in England and growing in Scotland.

To support her understanding of this English Church, Elizabeth I engaged a theologian, Richard Hooker, whose seven volume Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity positioned the English Church between the Conservative Roman Catholic Church and the Continental reforms, especially Lutheranism and Calvinism, although it was a reasonably conservative document itself. Even though Hooker supported worship services and the Bible in the vernacular, he also coined the phrase via media and described its use, and he advocated and described the Anglican use of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason to understand our theology. The early Anglican Church did not stray too far from its Roman catholic origins.

After the American Revolution, another reasonably conservative revolt, the Anglican Churches in America modified the Book of Common Prayer only very slightly while adopting a descriptive name, the Episcopal Church. It would be very hard to get rid of Bishops, given our name designates us as part of a church of Bishops (Episcopal is derived from the Greek word for Bishop, Episcopos).

Our Episcopal Bishops are more constrained than our counterparts in England and elsewhere. They have a great deal of Honorarium, symbolizing the unity of the diocese, being the chief pastor of the diocese, and holding the chair or presider ship at all Diocesan Worship. Their Magisterium is more limited. It involves veto power over the call of a new Rector, disciplinary issues, with priests alone (constrained even more by the new disciplinary canons adopted in 2012), and presiding over the Diocesan Convention on an annual basis.

The person comes to us prayerfully through a calling process, similar too, but not exactly like calling a rector. There is a search committee, a profile, and set of criteria by which to evaluate, and then a Convention to vote on the winner. And that is why, what, and who we are.


The Rev. David Lucey