Friendly Advice to my Successor: On Being a Bishop Suffragan

Friendly Advice to my Successor:
On Being a Bishop Suffragan

By Rt. Rev. Onell A. Soto, Assistant Bishop of Alabama

At the time of writing this column we are getting closer and closer to the election of our Bishop Suffragan on October 27. I sense a spirit of expectation and joy. The places where I have been lately are eagerly praying that God will provide for us a bishop that “will faithfully preach God’s holy Word, administer the sacraments of the Church and equip your people for ministry.” Well, that is quite a lot but in a sense it is what is normally expected of any ordained person. I would like to add a few more things that are not so obvious. To begin with, after the election you will never be the same again. Not that you want to change and be “more episcopal,” it is that the culture of the church and the expectations of clergy and lay people will remove you from your present status and routine. You will be addressed differently, and your old friends and colleagues will look kind of timid and aloof when dealing with you. They might say that there is “something in the air” that makes them act this way. And they are right. The title, the position and the purple shirt play a little role in all of this. But don’t fool yourself. You have been called to a different ministry (not a better position) with different demands and expectations. Be yourself but at the same time, know that you are expected to conduct yourself in a different way. In the words of the ordination service you are “to be in all things a faithful pastor and wholesome example for the enti re flock of Christ.”

Remember who you are and whom you represent. You are probably the only face of Christ that some people will ever see. Read in your Prayer Book carefully and frequently the promises you will be making the day of your ordination. Of course, you know that ordination is not graduation so you need to keep studying your Bible, your theological books and your daily newspaper. Your duty is to relate the gospel to what is happening in the world.

Have the doors of your office and of your heart open at all times. There will be people who need to see you, but they believe that you are so “important” and so busy that you do not have time for them. Show them that you care and you want to see them, even it would be for a few minutes. Careful with your body language, it can speak louder than your words. One hundred percent of attention is what is expected. Have a deep compassion and love for those who are sick, or suffer or are in distress or feel themselves outcasts. They will not remember your words only your presence.

Care alike for those who are members of the church, as well as those who have no shepherd. You are ordained to serve all of God’s people. You like your Master “have come to serve and not to be served.”

Work all you can for the extension of God’s kingdom and be loyal to yourself, your family and your bishop. Remember that you are the Bishop Suffragan, the assistant. Your duty is not to call the shots, unless mandated by the bishop. You are his “vicar”, that is, his representative.

Work for the unity of the church. One of the scandals of the church is its disunity. Be a man of ecumenical conviction and a sincere labourer that our Lord’s prayer may come to fruition: “That all be one, so that the world can believe.” Leave this wonderful diocese and the good people of Alabama in a better shape than you have found them.

Take holy things seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. You need to have a good sense of humour at all times. Laugh about yourself but never make fun at the expense of others.

If you want to live a long life and be happy in your new ministry, remember this: Never, never expect gratitude for what you do for other people. Your only reward is the internal knowledge of knowing that what you are doing is right and pleasing to the Lord.

You should rely on the promise made to Noah: No matter the storm, when you are with God there is a rainbow waiting for you! May you be a happy Suffragan Bishop and not a “suffering” bishop. With your life you really can make a difference. I hope so.


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