The election of the 14th Bishop of Barbados has been a topic of much discussion on our island and commentators have been giving their spin on this event. I have listened and read the various opinions on what the role of the Bishop should be with much interest.
I have participated in four elective synods, the first as a Lay Representative in 1971 and then as a member of the House of Clergy in 1993, 2000 and now 2018. The 1971 event was the first after Barbados’ Independence and the call was for a black Barbadian to be elected to this office of Bishop.
A white Barbadian, the late Rt. Rev’d Gay Lisle Griffith Mandeville, was elected in 1951. He was a seasoned parish priest serving in the then Diocese of Antigua and then in our Diocese as Vicar of St Bartholomew, St Stephens, Rector of St Philip and for one year as Rector of St Michael and Dean of the Cathedral Church of St Michael and All Angels. He brought to the Episcopate wisdom, experience and a very deep spirituality until ill health forced him to resign in 1960.
His successor was the late Rt Rev’d Edward Lewis Evans, the Suffragan Bishop of Kingston, Jamaica. The other nominee was the late Rt Rev’d Guy Marshall who was the Suffragan Bishop of Trinidad and Tobago with responsibility for the Anglicans in Venezuela. Evans was favoured, as a former banker in the Bank of England, with financial knowledge and who was thought capable to lead the Diocese in negotiations with the Government which was then on a path of disestablishment and disendowment of the Anglican Church.
On Evans’retirement in 1971, the atmosphere was full of expectancy as the Elective Synod held two sessions and failed to elect a Bishop. In the first session, seven nominees were presented and through a process of elimination,the number was reduced to five initially and then four. In the second session, the late Venerable Frederick Evelyn Layne and the Rev’d Ivor McKenly Jones were the two who remained in the process.
The House of Bishops selected the Rev’d Drexel Gomez, a Bahamian, to be the Bishop of Barbados at age 35. I was at the time aware of the campaign to prevent a black Barbadian from being elected and I was also aware of the opposition to the choice of the selected Bishop by some priests. The then Prime Minister, the late Rt Excellent Errol Walton Barrow, refused the request to deny the granting of a work permit to the selected Bishop.
Bishop Gomez then went on to serve for twenty years, resigned and returned to his native land to a prominent secular position before being elected as Bishop of Nassau, the Bahamas with the Turks and Caicos Islands and eventually Archbishop of the Province of the West Indies.
The Elective Synod of 1993 was determined not to have a deadlock like 1971. Three candidates were nominated, one candidate eventually withdrew,while the other two faced the Synod. I was informed that the candidate who withdrew requested that those who supported him support the eventual successful nominee. The twelfth Bishop, the Venerable Archdeacon Rufus Theophilius Brome,was elected as Bishop and he led the See for seven years.
The Elective Synod of 2000 produced five nominees and the process eliminated three. The balloting which followed did not produce the mandated result for the election of a Bishop and the result was that one candidate withdrew and the Rev’d Canon Dr John Walder Dunlop Holder was elected. He became Archbishop of the Province of the West Indies during his seventeen and one-half years as Bishop of Barbados.
The current Elective Synod met in two sessions. On St. Mark’s Day, Wednesday April 25, 2018, and on Monday May 14, 2018. After seven ballots, two candidates withdrew in the process while the remaining two did not obtain the required majority to be elected. I have never seen the print and social media so involved in the election of a Bishop for the Diocese of Barbados. The call-in-programmes accommodate callers and I have heard three moderators expressing very strong views on this matter. As a priest of 42 plus years and involved in four Elective Synods, I am duty bound to comment on this important development.
The Office of Bishop is critical in the threefold Order of the Sacred Ministry. The Bishop is the Chief Pastor to the Clergy who on Ordination take oaths; one such is to obey the Bishop in all things lawful and right. At their institution by the Bishop, the Clergy become pastors to the congregations committed to their charge,thereby ministering on behalf of the Bishop.
Certain elements are given to the Priest on institution, one element being water and we are instructed to baptize candidates on behalf of the Bishop. Asecond element given is a Holy Bible with the instruction to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. All these symbols are received by a new Rector, along with others for the Pastoral Ministry.
My estimation of the present situation is that there is not a clear understanding of the office and work of a Bishop in the Church of God by some of the participants in the process in which we are engaged. It is not a dispute between the Clergy and the Laity; neither is it a popularity contest between the two nominees.
The early Church, as recorded in Acts Chapter 1 vs 12-26, was required to select a successor to Judas. Simon Peter led the one hundred and twenty believers in the process for this encounter. Two men were proposed, Joseph who was called Barsabbas, (also known as Justus) and Matthias.
They prayed to the Lord for guidance. “Lord you know the thoughts of everyone, so show us which of these two you have chosen to serve as an Apostle.” Then they drew lots to choose between the two men and the one chosen was Matthias who was added to the group of the eleven Apostles.
There is no place for canvassing and promises to influence members of the Elective Synod to support your preferred candidate. What is now required is fervent prayer for God’s Holy Spirit to direct those entrusted to select the next Bishop of Barbados.
(The Very Rev’d Canon William Dixon,
CBE is Dean Emeritus of the Cathedral Church
of St Michael and All Angels)