The Role of the Bishop in the Episcopal Church
The Latin word for bishop is episcopus and thus the name of our church (the Episcopal Church) comes from that Latin root word. Our official name (The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States) means that we are the Protestant Church with bishops in the United States.
According to the catechism on p. 855 of the Book of Common Prayer, the ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as an apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the word of God; to act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the church; and to ordain others to continue Christ’s ministry.
Translated, this means they are responsible for ensuring that the faith proclaimed in parishes is the faith of the church. They are the chief ministers in the rite of Confirmation. They are required to visit all the parishes in their diocese on a regular basis and they preside at the annual diocesan convention. They have an administrative responsibility for the diocese. They also take part in meetings in the House of Bishops, participating in regular meetings with all the other bishops in the United States. The official title for a bishop is The Right Reverend. This is the title one uses when addressing mail to the bishop.
There are four kinds of bishops. The Presiding Bishop is the chief bishop in the United States. Our Presiding Bishop is Katharine Jefferts Schori. The diocesan bishop is the chief bishop of a diocese. Our diocesan Bishop is J. Jon Bruno. A bishop coadjutor is elected to replace the diocesan bishop, as that bishop is getting ready to retire. At this time we do not have a bishop coadjutor in the diocese of Los Angeles. The bishop suffragan is elected as an assisting bishop only. In this diocese we have two bishops suffragan, both of whom are women. They are Diane Jardine Bruce and Mary Douglas Glasspool.
A bishop vests in a traditional assortment of clothing. Here are the pieces of those vestments:
Purple Cassock – This is a long-sleeved close fitting cotton garment that falls from neck to ankle. The wearing of purple by bishops is thought to have derived from the ancient tradition of reserving purple for royalty and others in authority, as purple dye was rare and valuable in the ancient world. The garment is derived from the tunic worn under a toga in Roman times.
Rochet – A white shoulder to ankle vestment with wide sleeves, which are puffed at the shoulders and gathered at the wrists by red or black silk bands. It has fluted cuffs and is worn over the cassock.
Chimere – a red sleeveless, full-length vest-like gown worn over the cassock and rochet.
Cope – This is a semicircular cloak made of materials to match the other vestments being used at the altar. It is like the outdoor overcoat worn during ancient Roman times. It is worn over all the other vestments during the procession and when pronouncing a blessing.
Mitre – The shield shaped headwear worn by the bishop. It has two ribbons called lappets, which hang down from the back. It is traditionally said to represent the flames that were seen on the heads of the apostles at the first Pentecost. It is worn during the procession and when pronouncing a blessing.
Crozier – a staff most often in the shape of a shepherd’s crook carried by a bishop to symbolize the bishop’s role as shepherd of God’s people, in the procession and also at the time of pronouncing a blessing.
Pectoral Cross – A large cross that hangs by a chain from the neck to a spot on the breast at the location of the pectoral muscles. This is often given to a bishop as a gift at the time of their consecration as bishop.
Bishop’s Ring – This piece of jewelry is also often given as a gift at consecration. It frequently contains a concave representation of the diocesan crest and can be used to make official seals in wax on ordination certificates and other official documents. Bishops have worn them as a sign of the office since the Middle Ages.