Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
The election to choose the 13th Bishop of the Diocese of New Jersey is upon us. Clergy and Lay Deputies from across the diocese will gather online and at Trinity Cathedral, Trenton in a “hybrid” electing convention on Saturday to choose the next bishop from among five very qualified nominees. These five nominees—Dena, Sally, Troy, Janine, and Mauricio—have been very much in my prayers and, I hope and trust, in your prayers as well. I also hope we are all holding our diocesan community in prayer during this turning point moment. I wonder how the Holy Spirit will guide us in this selection.
Our “Outline of the Faith” (The Catechism), describes the ministry of a bishop thus:
The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ’s ministry.
The word “bishop” is derived from the Greek word EPISCOPOS, which literally means “overseer.” This use of the term predates Christianity. It was, however, adapted by the church for those persons charged with oversight of particular geographic regions of the Church, eventually defined as “dioceses.” The Greek EPISCOPOS became the Latin word episcopus, and eventually the Old English biscup, leading ultimately to “bishop.”
Our Episcopal election of the 13th Bishop of New Jersey will take place on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, considered among the most significant theologians and philosophers of the Western Church. In his work, Summa Contra Gentiles (“Against the Gentiles”), an “apology” or “defense” of the Christian faith, Thomas offers the following classic and very traditional teaching about the role of bishops in catholic Christianity:
There must be some power of higher ministry in the Church to administer the Sacrament of Order; and this is the episcopal power, which, though not exceeding the power of the simple priest in the consecration of the Body of Christ, exceeds it in its dealings with the faithful. The presbyter’s power is derived from the episcopal; and whenever any action, rising above what is common and usual, has to be done upon the faithful people, that is reserved to bishops; and it is by episcopal authority that presbyters do what is committed to them; and in their ministry they make use of things consecrated by bishops, as in the Eucharist the chalice, altar-stone and palls.
It should be observed that authority and power of any of the ministries of the Church, including that of the laity, derives its ultimate source and grounding from God through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is made explicit in baptism and in every ordination service of the Church: bishop, priest, and deacon.
In a recent book Episcopate: The Role of Bishops in a Shared Future, The Right Reverend Andy Doyle, current Bishop of Texas, who compiled and edited the book, writes:
We have been in the midst of a pandemic that is now endemically with us. Church leadership and people have struggled for two years. It has been a time of adaptation and change. New questions about the role of bishop have emerged around authority. Questions have emerged also about changes in mission strategy. This has been coterminous with the desire for pastoral care from the episcopate. There continues to be a call for mission leadership. An ever so brief of recent episcopal elections brings the following themes to mind: congregational growth, evangelism, health, racial justice, unity amid division, and prophetic leadership.
Bishop Doyle adds:
None of these is the particular gift of any bishop, but all are shared in the priesthood of believers, of which the bishop is only one. Nevertheless, these themes indicate a desire for change, leadership and vision.
On Saturday, we are all called to ask ourselves, what does God want for the Diocese of New Jersey? What does God want for, and from, God’s Church? Asking these questions faithfully and prayerfully will help guide us in choosing the right person to journey forward into God’s future. Please pray,
Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a bishop for this Diocese, that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (BCP, p. 818).
God bless you and keep you.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Right Rev. William H. Stokes
13th Bishop of the Diocese of New Jersey
1st Bishop of New Jersey
John Croes was ordained to the priesthood in 1792, and was rector of Trinity Church in Swedesboro from 1790–1801, and later at Christ Church, New Brunswick. He was consecrated as the first Bishop of New Jersey in 1815, and served until 1832. He is buried under the chancel at Christ Church.