Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Bishop’s Visitation — Thoughts in Preparation for Our Bishop’s Annual Visit, a blog post by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

CANON 9: Of the Life and Work of Priests
Sec. 5. Rectors and Priests-in-Charge and Their Duties
       (5) On notice being received of the Bishop's intention to visit any congregation, the Rector or Priest-in-Charge shall announce the fact to the congregation. At every visitation it shall be the duty of the Rector or Priest-in-Charge and the Wardens, Vestry or other officers, to exhibit to the Bishop the Parish Register and to give information as to the state of the congregation, spiritual and temporal, in such categories as the Bishop shall have previously requested in writing. Canon III.9.5(b)(5)

CANON 12: Of the Life and Work of a Bishop
Sec. 3. Duties
      (a) A Bishop Diocesan…shall visit the Congregations within the Diocese at least once in three years. Interim visits may be delegated to another Bishop of this Church.
            (1) At every such visitation the visiting Bishop shall preside at the Holy Eucharist and at the Initiatory Rites, as required, preach the Word, examine the records of the Congregation required by Canon III.9.5(c), and examine the life and ministry of the Clergy and Congregation according to Canon III.9.5. Canon III.12.3
In The Episcopal Church the Visitation of a Bishop (note the upper case “V”) is not just some trivial formality to be put up with by the clergy of the church. The Visitation is a serious matter of pastoral care and obligation given to the clergy by virtue of their ordination, be they bishop, priest, or deacon. It is, in short, A Big Deal, and should be understood as A Big Deal by the congregation.

I have quoted the General Canons above not to impress you, but to inform you. It is well known that I am not a rigid interpreter or practitioner of the canons. At the same time, I take them very seriously, and want you to know that these are things not to be ignored at will.

I do not get particularly antsy about the Bishop’s Visitation because I see to it that my congregation keeps good records and keeps the Bishop informed regularly about the state and activities of the congregation. In a small diocese like the Episcopal Diocese of Utah we have the luxury of seeing our Bishop at least once a year, and therefore of having an ongoing relationship. In a large diocese (e.g., New York, Los Angeles), Visitations by the Diocesan Bishop may not even take place on a Sunday because of the multiple demands placed on the office.

Since the goal of the Visitation is to get a good sense of the life of the congregation, I try to keep the worship and fellowship to a rather normal level. There are no silver tea sets and fine china with crumpets and scones, nor is there a pull-out-all-the-stops liturgy. A bit more festive than normal, perhaps, but as normal as possible.

Indeed there are the confirmations and receptions of new members, which deserve their own attention. At the same time, such rites are one of the core purposes of the Visitation. Indeed, as well, I will have the parish registers placed on the table in the Library as a sign to the Bishop that I know why he is present.

Another thing you should know is that the Bishop means to be available to you. The Bishop’s contact information is posted on the parish website so you can contact him. Most of Bishop Hayashi’s time at St. Mary's Church will be spent at the fellowship time, sitting with you. I suggest you take advantage of the opportunity. I have long suspected that it is the fellowship that Bishop Hayashi enjoys the most at his Visitations.

Peter +

A Footnote: if you suffer from incorrigible insomnia I suggest you read over the Canon Law of The Episcopal Church. I have posted copies of both the General and Diocesan Canons on our website for easy access.

The authors of this blog welcome comments, reactions, and critiques.


  1. Thank you for this post! It is very informative and appreciated.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Peter,
    I have tried reading the Canons for my "incorrigible insomnia" as you have suggested. They don't put me to sleep either!

    1. Peter responds, "Hmmm. My diagnosis is that you are likely a canonist... Which is far less deadly than being a liturgist. 💊"