I don’t want the new Bishop enthroned. For all kinds of reasons. Firstly, this: “You know those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.’ (Mark 10: 42-244)
I know Bishops see themselves as servants, and the term ‘enthronement’ is historical. But it is an archeological relic of the days when church and state were politically interbred, and since the Bishop is no longer considered a prince, and he has (wisely in my view) decided not to live in the Palace, how can he be enthroned?
You might think it’s a fuss about nothing, but words are linguistic symbols. The word represents something, the sign signifies a specific object, person or idea. Enthroning someone must entail putting someone royal on a throne, and by inference, giving them the right to rule over their subjects. This is not what bishopping is all about. And so using the term ‘enthronement’ creates a gap between the word and what it signifies. And if we’re telling the truth about who we are as church, we can’t have a gap between a word we use and the reality it is supposed to represent.
Could he be installed, then? Well, no. Not for my money. These days we install software, fridge freezers and new bathrooms. And unless the new Bishop is going eliminate our computer viruses, store our meat at a safe temperature, or give us a warm shower in the mornings, this isn’t appropriate language either. I know the word ‘install’ refers to the fact that the Bishop has a ‘stall’ in the cathedral (quite a large one, rather like a throne), but that doesn’t help. The primary and secondary meanings for ‘stall’ these days are both to do with housing cattle. And although we are a rural Diocese, I doubt if we want to be telling the wider world that we keep our Bishop in a barn, charmingly Christmassy though that may be.
I also think being installed sounds very static: ‘Our Bishop is going to sit here for a few years… ‘
So we’re left with ‘licensed’. And you know what I’m going to say… People are licensed to own dogs, to enjoy public broadcasting, and sell alcohol on their premises. 007 was licensed to kill…. Heaven forfend our Bishop should be licensed. Or the cathedral would be populated with beer-drinking canines watching ‘Beethoven’ on satellite. With the possibility of the occasional unexplained shooting.
As I say, it’s not just about relevance. It’s also about creating meaning. The words we use must be skilfully chosen symbols for what they signify. Or we lose meaning, and when we lose meaning, we lose listeners.
I’m going for ‘welcomed and sworn in’. I want the Bishop to know he is welcome, and to receive the gift of our hospitality. I want to know, too, he has taken solemn vows before God and God’s people to serve us faithfully, as God inspires him and gives him grace.