Bishop James enjoys being out and about in the Diocese, I know. I also cherish a number of opinions about the opinions and thought processes of a parish as the time for an episcopal visit draws near.
I like to think that people look forward to seeing him, and would like the occasion to go well. But I’m rather worried that, instead, a visit from the Bishop can feel like an inspection. It’s really, really not.
So, here’s some observations and suggestions to, as they say, make the most out of your episcopal visit.
Whatever the reason for the Bishop’s visit, he can be an opener of doors and a builder of bridges (as long as you tell him what’s going on). It’s the most natural thing in the world to get in touch with the institution or individual that you need on board and say, the Bishop’s coming, would you like to be there – or, as it might be, could I bring him to you. Or do you have trouble persuading different congregations or generations to meet together? How about a Bishop to encourage everybody to be in the same place at the same time? Let the Bishop be what he was ordained to be – a focus for unity, and an ambassador for the Church.
I think the vast majority of visits by Bishop James to the parishes around the Diocese are to parish services. In other words, parish A is holding a Patronal or an anniversary or even simply an ordinary Sunday morning service and you’ve invited the Bishop to attend.
This means the service is your baby, and the Bishop will do his best to fit in with what you want to do (although if the service is a Eucharist, it is usual for the Bishop to preside). By and large, I won’t be there, it will be for you to provide everything that the Bishop needs.
It’s an opportunity for you to look at your own service with stranger’s eye. If you wanted to show off your best welcome, your best order of service, your best worship is this what you’d use? Once again, this isn’t an inspection, but it could be an opportunity for self-audit.
Alternatively, you might want to do something a bit different. Maybe the service is an oddity, may be the Bishop is coming at a key point in the Church’s year. It could be an opportunity to think afresh about how that act of worship might speak powerfully of Lenten solemnities or Christmas celebrations, an opportunity to be imaginative, to experiment. (If it goes horribly wrong, you can always blame Bishopscourt!)
Whatever you decide to do, let me know. If you know what you’re doing, please let me have the order of service formatted to print (so that I can print out a copy of your order of service) as soon as possible. And if you want to review, reflect, redesign or do something special, then I will give you as much (or as little) help as you want.
These are confirmation services and services to commission clergy licensed to the Diocese (new incumbents et cetera). It means that it is for the Bishop, as it were, to bring his service with him to stage in the parish church. By and large, I will come with him and will
make sure the Bishop has everything he needs.
Because these are the Bishop’s services, we at Bishopscourt will provide you not only with a template for the service into which you can put your hymns and readings et cetera, but will also provide you with what are intended to be comprehensive notes. Please read them carefully. Even if you have hosted one of the Bishop’s services before, these notes are updated regularly. Bishop James is very clear about how he wants these services to go – even if it’s a bit different from your usual practice, please trust him.
But the Bishop also wants it to feel at home. This is an opportunity for festival gathering. Be encouraged to invite people, to think about how worship works best in your building, to celebrate the particularities of your place and your people.
Forms, facts – boring but important stuff
As soon as possible, please send us the form I tend to refer to as the Bishop’s briefing notes (it’ll be called something like 2016-bishops-briefing-meetings-and-other-events /services/events/schools/confirmation). The more information you give us the better we can prepare the Bishop for the visit. It’s generally better for us to have the form back without all the information (you can always fill in the gaps later) than to get the form uncomfortably close to the event itself (or not at all). If we haven’t given you the form yet, you can always ask for it.
Tell us who else might be there, if the headteacher’s recently had a bereavement, if the reader usually does the dismissal at the end of the service, if a churchwarden is no longer speaking to the treasurer or even simply if a particular route often floods – truly and honestly, the more information the better.
Much of the information we ask for may seem obvious to you, or you may already have told me (or Emma) much of it in various email/phone correspondence, but I can’t emphasise how much easier it makes it if all the information we need is in one place in a consistent format – especially if there are several similar events/services happening in a small amount of time. Also, we might have missed a change of plan and have the wrong date/time/place in the Bishop’s diary. The briefing notes are a safety net.
So, if we at Bishopscourt can do anything to help you prepare for the Bishop’s visit, do let us know, and if you have any questions please ask. If we haven’t got in touch with you but you want to start planning, do get in touch and give us a nudge.
But most of all, please, relax.
It’s not a test, but it could be an opportunity to do new things.