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ENGLAND: How to become a Bishop

ENGLAND: How to become a Bishop

By David Phillips
CHURCH SOCIETY

If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 1 Timothy 3.1

So how do you go about it?

First it helps if you have the right education. There are 45 ex-officio members of the House of Bishops (44 Diocesans and Dover). There is presently one vacancy. Over half the Bishops are Oxbridge educated (23/44) and curiously four studied at Leeds.

Then, of course, you must go to the right college. It is common to identify clergy by which college they attended. As it happens, more than a third (15/44) of the Bishops attended Ripon College Cuddesdon (near Oxford).

Which is pretty remarkable when you think that Cuddesdon now only trains about one tenth of those in residential training and less than one twentieth of all those in training in any form.
By way of comparison the six evangelical colleges combined trained the same number of Bishops (15/44). Yet these colleges now account for two-thirds of all those in residential training.

Parochial experience does no harm, although there are a few Bishops with none. The average length of time in parochial ministry is eleven and a half years and several have served for over 20 years in the parish before being consecrated. What does seem important is that you do not confine yourself to parish ministry. Only one Bishop has gone straight from a parish to being a Diocesean, although a handful of others went straight from the parish to being a suffragan or area Bishop. (Interestingly, when an incumbent becomes a Diocesan the Crown assumes patronage for the next appointment to the parish.)
I was surprised to see that only a quarter of the Bishops (11/44) had been Archdeacons along the way, I thought many more had trodden that path.
Teaching at a theological college also helps, one fifth (9/44) have done this. But, best of all, get a job in a Cathedral which over one-third have done (15/44).

Firm theological convictions are a definite no-no, unless you are a radical liberal / revisionist. To the best of my knowledge only one Bishop would call himself a conservative evangelical and I would be inclined to disagree with him.

My, entirely prejudiced, subjective, and no doubt down right unfair, assessment is as follows:
9% are traditional catholics (4).
27% are open or liberal evangelicals (a few are morally conservatives) (12).
39% are liberal catholic (a few morally conservative) (17).
14% are revisionists or radical liberals (6).
11% I don’t know enough about to form a judgement (5).

Not surprisingly the Diocesan Bishops are all late 50s and 60s. The youngest is 54, the oldest 69 and the average age 60. The average at which they became a Bishop (Diocesan or Suffragan) was 49.

These figures are based solely on my own research (it''s sad what some people spend their spare time doing) and I cannot vouch for their absolute accuracy. If you want to quote them as authoritative it might be better to check them yourself.

David Phillips
October 2005

A list of Bishops can be found on the Church Society website.

P.S. Lest anyone think otherwise, I am not suggesting that 1 Timothy 3 is just about Bishops as we have them today. Bishop and Presbyter are interchangeable terms in Scripture, which is why reformed Anglicans prefer to speak of ordaining Priests but consecrating Bishops.

END

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