Following on from my posting Church Bureaucracy, I wrote to our Metropolitan, Archbishop Mark Haverland and asked him to write something about being a bishop in the Anglican Catholic Church in the light of his experience. In his e-mail, he wrote me a text which I could post in this blog.
The first two paragraphs are by way of an introduction before the text itself, but I reproduce them since they show his mature and measured insight. I thank him for this contribution.
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By the way, while I was a parish priest for my first decade as a bishop, I have been a full-time bishop since 2007. I live in the procathedral parish and have an active involvement in its parochial life – as I have since 1982. But I am free to do visitations on weekends and to travel as needed for the ACC as well as the diocese. One or two other of our bishops also are no longer parish priests.
About a piece by me, I think you have yourself done a good job already of making the point. Your notes about bureaucracy in the Church and the old, small Italian dioceses are directly relevant. But some ideas follow, if you’d like to make use of them, perhaps in combination with my earlier note about ACC dioceses.
I am inclined to think that the ideal parish size is around 300 communicants. At that size the parish has enough members to have a very full liturgical life, including music, but is small enough that the parish priest can know personally everyone in the parish and can provide pastoral care without being overwhelmed. Particularly if the priest has an assistant (perhaps a retired priest or deacon) and a good secretary or office manager, he can take care of sick calls, catechesis, counselling, and sacramental ministry while maintaining his own prayer life and study. If a parish becomes larger, the parish priest becomes a manager of staff or an exhausted sacrament machine and something of value is lost.
Likewise, I think the ideal size for a diocese is around 25 full parishes and perhaps another 15 or 20 missions. That is large enough to provide for a full time bishop and a small support system (a secretary or two and a priest or two to help) and to provide means for works of mercy and mission. But it is small enough to keep the bishop accessible and ‘close to the ground’ and to permit him to visit every parish annually and in person. The bishop can be a pastor to the pastors, visit all the parishes in his diocese, and still have time for prayer, study, and family.
The ‘micro-church’ idea has much appeal. Still, I think most Continuing Church congregations are too small. The house church, the remnant church, and the mission that is basically an extended family or two with another few individuals or couples, are all fine. But such small groups cannot provide the fuller liturgical life, pastoral care, and mission outreach that we should seek. Also, in very small groups an eccentric or disruptive individual can do disproportionately large damage, which a larger group can weather or ignore.
Protestant mega-churches are now in decline, I think. But even at their peak they tended actually to be collections of ‘small groups’ – Bible studies, prayer groups, age or interest groups – that formed the real communities to which the more serious members gave their time and loyalty. Roman Catholic parishes in the United States also are ‘mega’, with thousands of members. The problems there are well-known, and the clergy in such large communities are necessarily detached from most daily pastoral needs. Two or three priests cannot care for such large groups in any deep sense, so abnormalities grow – hospitalized or home-bound parishioners never see a priest, the pastor does not know the names of most of his regular attendees and contributors, confession is extremely rare, and catechesis is handled often in a vague and slipshod manner. So, again, a smaller parish seems better.
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From an earlier e-mail from our Archbishop to which he alluded as an “earlier note about ACC dioceses”.
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I liked your most recent blog piece. The ACC deliberately keeps the dioceses small (no larger than 30 fully self-supporting parishes) so that bishops do not become prince-bishops or bureaucrats. We are forced to stick close to the grassroots. That does seem healthy. People seem to feel free to pick up the phone (or sit at the keyboard) to contact their bishop, or even me. I suspect that all is healthy. Our successful bishops have usually been successful parish priests – good parish-builders. The biggest blowups in the ACC have almost always been the work of bishops who were not ever successful parish priests. It’s true that we’ve bishops who were good or even brilliant parish priests, but not particularly successful as bishops: managing Synods and being a pastor to the clergy is a little different from caring for the laity of a parish. But if you can’t be a good pastor, you won’t be a good bishop in this day.