“Thinking about the discussions over Episcopal sainthood, I realize there is a similarity to our thoughts regarding how we view the office of presiding bishop. What criteria do we consider when nominating and electing the PB? … Yet we can’t just leave it at their biographies and personalities.”
by Rachel Shows, staff writer, postulant in the Diocese of Virginia, senior at Virginia Theological Seminary
The Standing Committee for Liturgy and Music’s (SCLM) proposal to replace Holy Women, Holy Men has generated discussion over who should or shouldn’t be commemorated by the Church. What exactly are the criteria for recognition on the Church calendar?
In their proposed replacement, A Great Cloud of Witnesses: A Calendar of Commemorations, the SCLM has named qualifying criteria for any future additional commemorations. These criteria include historicity, Christian discipleship, significance, range of inclusion, local observance, perspective and combined remembrances (two or more people recognized together). They are defined further in the Blue Book.
It is important to note that when the SCLM was tasked with continuing work on Holy Women, Holy Men, it knew there would be both new and past commemorations to consider. Committee members noted that in the revisions they were also mindful of “the desire to achieve more gender balance, the increasing number of commemorations, and most importantly, given the baptismal ecclesiology of the Book of Common Prayer, whether one unbaptized could be considered ‘holy.’”
When we look at the list of proposed commemorations, new and old, it is not always easy for us to determine a common thread amidst those already recognized on the Church calendar. Perhaps the common thread is that they all have made an impact on the world. They each have interesting biographies and stories of powerful things they have done. But there are many deeper questions that may surface when proposing them as saints: How did they practice their faith? Did they have faith in God (and God in Christ) at all? How has their example positively impacted the Church throughout time?
Thinking about the discussions over Episcopal sainthood, I realize there is a similarity to our thoughts regarding how we view the office of presiding bishop. What criteria do we consider when nominating and electing the PB? Our PB nominees this year have commendable biographies, recognizable faces, likable personalities, and are very well spoken. Only having read their biographies at first, I could see them all as qualified individuals who have great educations and a wide range of experiences, which I imagine could translate to the wider Church. Yet we can’t just leave it at their biographies and personalities.
At Wednesday’s PB presentations (“Twenty Questions”), I appreciated the questions asked about things like the nominees’ prayer lives, as well as those about their personal health and care. I also was glad to hear questions about the nominees’ faith, beliefs and hopes, including how they believed Christ’s resurrection impacts the future of the Church. These questions are deep and help us further explore the impact these individuals could have on the future of the Church. We are so used to asking the question of people, “What do you do?” We can’t tell who a person is merely from reading the list of things they have done. When we determine our leaders, we must also consider who they are by asking the deeper questions of how they live their faith, the ways by which they care for their spiritual, physical and emotional health, how they reach out to those on the margins of the Church and world, and most importantly, how their witness to the Christian faith shapes and impacts (and might continue to shape and impact) the Church at large.
As we look upon tomorrow’s election, I hope we will all be prayerful of how we determine and decide who will lead us. Let’s ask the bigger questions and continue to hold our presiding bishop nominees and those who will do the voting tomorrow in prayer. In the end, it’s not about the length of their biographies, but who they are as faithful Christian witnesses and the ways they can continue to lead and inspire us to be faithful witnesses of Christ in the world.