What is a Bishop?
In Anglican churches such as the Church in Wales, the Bishop is often seen as the chief pastor or shepherd, and this image helps to explain the role of the Bishop – to both lead and look after the Church in his diocese (the geographical area of responsibility for a Bishop).
The Bishop is called to lead and teach, but also to perform certain important tasks, such as ordaining the Church’s ministers (priests and deacons), licensing others to carry out different types of ministry on behalf of the Church, and confirming new Christians.
As chief pastor the Bishop has a key role to play in the government of the Church – both in his diocese and for the province of Wales as a whole. We will be dealing here with the Bishop’s provincial role.
The Bench of Bishops
The Church in Wales has six diocesan bishops (that is, bishops with responsibility for running a diocese) and two assistant bishops to help them. The bishops are all members of the Governing Body, but the Church has given the diocesan bishops particular responsibility for issues of faith, mission and ministry when they meet together as a group, called the Bench of Bishops. For example, the Governing Body will only consider making a change to the Church’s teaching (such as the decision in 1996 to enable women to be ordained as priests in the Church in Wales) if the Bench of Bishops has first considered the matter and is prepared to support it.
The Bench of Bishops meets 4-6 times per year to consider a wide range of issues on behalf of the Church. These might include:
- Plans for using different forms of ministry to carry out the Church’s mission in the different dioceses of Wales;
- The Church’s views on different ethical issues as they arise;
- Discussions with other churches in Wales and further afield on areas where the churches can work together for the common good;
- The selection of men and women as candidates for ordained ministry, and the appointment of clergy to posts within the Church;
- Advising other bodies in the Church (such as the Governing Body and Representative Body) on issues where there may hold implications for the teaching, mission and ministry of the Church;
- The development of new material for church services.
How is a Bishop chosen?
In the Church in Wales bishops are elected by a group of church members called the Electoral College. The College is made up of six members elected by each diocese (three lay members and three clergy), with twelve members elected by the diocese to which the Bishop is being elected. With the remaining bishops, this makes a group of 47. The Electoral College meets in the Cathedral of the vacant diocese for up to three days, and its proceedings are confidential. A bishop is elected when one of the candidates receives two-thirds or more of the votes cast by the College.
The Archbishop of Wales is elected by the Electoral College from amongst the six diocesan bishops. This means that the Archbishop is also Bishop of one of the six dioceses of Wales.
If a diocesan bishop is chief pastor in his diocese, the role of the Archbishop is to be the chief pastor for the Church in Wales – again both leading and looking after the Church.
He convenes the Bench of Bishops and is President of the Governing Body. When a diocesan bishop retires the Archbishop looks after that diocese (as well as his own) until a new bishop has been elected. However he is only first-amongst-equals in relation to his fellow bishops, and should not involve himself in the matters of another diocese unless asked to do so by the diocesan bishop.