Here is a copy of the remarks that I gave at the recent election in Dallas.
Election of a Bishop Suffragan
Diocese of Dallas
My name is Leander Harding. I am in my 27th year of ordained ministry. For most of that time I have been a parish priest. For the last three years I have been teaching Sacramental Theology, Pastoral Leadership and Pastoral Care at a seminary. I am also Head of Chapel and on Sunday I help out at one of the local parishes.
I am here because three of your clergy were at a conference where I was the chaplain. They heard me give a homily on the Christian virtue of patience and stopped me on the way out of the service to ask me if they could put my name forward for this election. I don’t think they walked into the church that evening thinking to ask me that question and it certainly hit me as a great surprise. We had dinner and talked and I promised to read the profile, talk with my wife and pray. Ultimately the whole thing, the profile, the words of your bishop and the way this request came to me in an atmosphere of prayer, touched my heart and made me wonder if it might be the Lord and I thought I had better do my part to find out. So thank you for the great privilege of being part of this moment of discernment.
I want to tell you something of my understanding of the ministry of a bishop. I believe the bishop is first and foremost a teacher of the faith. I have a personal mission statement which is to speak of the basic things of the Christian faith in a simple way. I see persistent, consistent teaching of the basics of the apostolic faith as the essence of the episcopacy. The bishops certainly do this in their preaching and teaching ministry in the course of the normal visitations. I hope it might be possible from time to time to gather together the clergy and people in a part of the diocese and have a time for building each other up in the faith. The bishops could teach, the clergy could teach, lay people with a gift of teaching could teach and we could share stories of what God has done in our lives. Some of these might be quite spectacular and some more humble and simple but no less a witness to the work of God in His people. This would be the kind of thing that could encourage us all and to which we could bring people who were curious about the faith with confidence that they would find grace, a gentle spirit and a winsome introduction to life in Christ.
I think a bishop is a pastor to the clergy and to the families of the clergy. I hope the suffragan could put a lot of focus here and really be a backstop for the diocesan. With a diocesan and suffragan I hope that this could be a truly personal and pastoral ministry. I hope it might be possible to meet with the clergy in groups small enough to have real conversation and often enough to build real community. I hope we might read the Bible together, share our faith and hope, pray and in this context deal together with the shared challenges of parish ministry and the life of the diocese and wider church.
I know that a particular challenge for the new suffragan is the care of the rural parishes. I spent the first ten years of my ordained ministry in small and struggling parishes. I have a soft spot for this kind of ministry. There are a lot of things that look different from the inside looking out than they do from the outside looking in and rural ministry and small church ministry is one of them. It would be a joy for me to get to know the people and clergy of these parishes one by one and work with them one by one to find the way forward for their ministries.
Let me close by saying one of the things that I am not good at. I am not good at finding someone to blame. Often when the ministry is not going smoothly our natural instinct is to find someone to blame. It’s the rector or the vicar or the vestry or the bishop or the national church. Surely we all make mistakes and there are certainly from time to time very serious incidents which require enforcing the discipline of the church. But more often when there is a problem and things are not working well my prejudice is that 85% has to do with the way we have set things up, with our system and method and our process. I am very interested in understanding the set up and working with others to make it less a burden, more workable, more likely to support success and effectiveness. That will usually take care of 85% of problem. For the other 15%, what a wonderful opportunity to practice Christian forbearance and charity.
You know that hymn text, “Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I constrained to be.” This is what I want to be a daily witness to the undeserved grace and love of God which has been made known to us in Jesus Christ.” Thank you for letting me make my witness here tonight.