Five questions to ask the prospective bishop

Anglicans now interview bishops. So what on earth are we to ask them? Here are five questions I’d want resolved: 

1)What has the candidate done with their suffering? The presence of pain in their past: do they understand its legacy in their present life? We hurt others and ourselves from our unacknowledged and unexamined suffering; people in power need to be especially aware of this. It would be helpful if the candidate is aware of the damage and has befriended their little selves.

2)What is the overall disposition of this person? What climate do they create? Do people blossom in their holding and hopeful presence? Or do they wither in either spoken or unspoken criticism? The successful applicant should live rather than preach Jesus’ ‘beam in the eye’ story. A judgemental spirit, tempting for those in religious authority, is the property of a damaged soul which can create fear but not life.

3) Does the candidate make the panel homesick during the interview? The best art, philosophy and religion is concerned with a strange longing for home; with an inner flame we have glimpsed, but maybe seen smothered along the way. We do not need confected passion or striking five-point plans. We’re done with bold overhauls. We merely wish them to stir embers within us and recover that which we’ve lost. One bishop I served under brought nothing new to the diocese, but did say – in contrast to the distant fellow before him – he’d be available to clergy on the phone every week day between 7.00am – 8.00am. It was the only Diocesan overhaul necessary.

4) What is the nature of their vision? True vision does three things: it sees things as they are, both the sorryness and the grandeur; it connects people to each other in both curiosity and solidarity; and it arises from the being of the leader. God spare us from untimely death and power-point visions. We don’t live power-point lives. People can only create around them what they are within themselves.

5) And finally, does the applicant know that their words are a bright shade of nonsense, a collapsing staircase, a vanity of inaccuracy? Truth cannot be told in formulations – merely noticed in passing and greeted with a smile. The successful candidate will not want anything built on their words; they’ll hope only that life will grow in the fertile gaps in between.

The mitre (if you insist on its unhelpful continuation) would fit one such as this.