We offer warm congratulations and best wishes for the success of the ministry of the Bishop-designate of the Anglican Diocese, the Reverend Michael Bruce St John Maxwell, Rector of the Holy Trinity Church – soon to be consecrated as Michael Barbados, the 14th Bishop of the island’s oldest see and largest Christian denomination.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man, after a protracted and admittedly embarrassing election.
That the local Synod failed in four attempts to choose either Dean of the Cathedral of St Michael and All Angels Dr Jeffrey Gibson or Rector of the St George Parish Church John Rogers for the coveted position was not a bright moment for the church.
We can expect that eyes within and outside the Anglican community will watch with keen interest the elevation of an Independent Senator who at 47 years old will be the same age as the second Bishop of Barbados, Thomas Parry, was upon his consecration in 1842 to succeed the iconic William Hart Coleridge. Both he and Drexel Gomez were the youngest-ever Anglican bishops and their names are writ large on history’s page as reformers.
It is noteworthy that the House of Bishops of the Church of the Province of the West Indies selected a younger candidate – the fifth youngest of all – particularly when the issue of maturity and experience said to be exhibited by Dr Gibson, 60, was pitted against his fellow forerunner John Rogers, 45, touted for his youthfulness and charisma.
The matter is now settled and the former State Church must now look forward to starting a new chapter in a storied life these past 300 years through English colonization, slavery, emancipation, social upheaval, gradual decolonization, and disestablishment in 1969.
For all this history of dominance in national life, the Anglican faith has lost much of its lustre evident by the dwindling numbers in pews, now largely filled by seniors, its struggle to capture the service and interests of energetic youth and perceptions of a limited ministry and outreach beyond its stately stain-glassed structures by those attracted to seemingly more charismatic, up-tempo and entertaining denominations.
The Anglican Diocese has already begun to engage in serious introspection about its future and role in a changing and more secular Barbadian society, a cry that emerged from the fraught election process itself.
With his elevation to the bishopric – the 14th male – comes news that the Diocese of Barbados is to make way for female bishops, decades after women were ordained to the Anglican priesthood.
Though we have much to learn of Bishop-designate Maxwell, he has certainly sent positive signals even as he was adjusting to news of his unexpected selection.
His stated first order of business – reuniting the church – is noteworthy.
It would be foolhardy to believe that after such a contentious election, there is no need to soothe the disappointments in whatever corner they may lie.
A divided house will fall and the Bishop-designate rightly knows he will need all the support he can get from laity, clergy and wider society to make his own mark as ‘Michael Barbados’.
Indeed, among his other priorities is reaching out to wider Barbados.
Citing the impact of the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation Programme, Reverend Maxwell has told Barbados TODAY he was ready to play a leading role in national issues.
“I think that the church itself has to have an integral role in responding pastorally to the needs of the people who will be affected by this transformation in our nation. And so of course, I believe that as Bishop, I will have to inspire the clergy and the parishes to be able to respond pastorally to the needs of our nation, while I try to do my best from my level of involvement as leader of this church.”
This is the kind of leadership we look to from our religious leaders, of all faiths, as such a time as this.
The mission of the church is not to only to evangelize but to meet the social and physical needs of the community.
Pope Francis, drawing on the biblical image of the Good Shepherd, has said that a shepherd at times leads the flock by walking ahead of it. At other times, the shepherd walks among the sheep, and sometimes, the shepherd must follow the flock because sometimes the flock knows the way forward better than the shepherd.
Bishop Maxwell will be expected to pattern his leadership after that of the Good Shepherd as he takes on what it is indeed a mammoth but noble task – herding this particular flock of sinners towards higher service.