Do you weep at our egotistical fancies or laugh at them?
I only ask because I can't quite make up my mind whether I am weeping out of sorrow and shame for my Church or out of embarrassed laughter and relief at the fact that British Methodism boasts an honorary Bishop.
The truth is that having sat on many ecumenical committees I find I am deeply ashamed and embarrassed that the role still held by the majority of Christendom to be one of the highest of spiritual offices, one rooted in centuries of theological discussion, debate and controversy, can be reduced to an 'honorary position'.
But I confess, I am also relieved, I have never been comfortable with the idea of Bishops in British Methodism and this little step provides the best illustration of all as to why not!
Wesley's comment to Francis Asbury is still one of my favourites on the subject of Bishops in British Methodism:
“ How dare you, how can you, suffer yourself to be a bishop? I shudder, I start at the very thought. Men may call me a knave, or a fool, a rascal, a scoundrel, and I am content; but they shall never by my consent call me a bishop. For my sake, for God's sake, for Christ's sake, put a full end to this.” (Letters, Vol 8, p. 91):I am a realist, I realise times are changing but if or when there are Bishops in British Methodism, would it be too much to hope that it would be because Conference has discerned that this is your will for the whole Church after having heard the theological debates and voted to take this step in response to the ecumenical call for greater unity with the world-wide church?
And if such a day should come, would I be wrong to pray that those ordained (rather than named) Bishops would then be chosen by the people of God because of their love of God, their knowledge of Scripture, their pastoral or missional gifts and the wisdom that the Holy Spirit has given them, and for no other reasons?
I know and appreciate that different cultures see things differently, but surely the most important part of any cultural exchange is learning from one another how to share appropriately those things that we all value. Declining certain offers, especially on the grounds of humility can be very honourable too!
In all honesty God, it gets harder and harder to see where your Church is headed or why. It just gets easier and easier to appreciate the ridicule of the secular world.
Which is why in the end, all we can do is laugh - surely?