MITRE: a Pentecost hat

Today is the Feast of Pentecost throughout the Christian world.   It is the fiftieth day after Easter, and is remembered as the day on which the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.   To explain that further,  it is reported that Jesus had promised that he was going to depart from his Disciples after appearing to them following his Resurrection on Easter Day.  But, according to scripture, he promised them that he would not leave them unsupported in their ministry.  God would send his Holy Spirit to them to guide them and uphold them.

According to the New Testament Book of Acts (The Acts of the Apostles) the Disciples were assembled awaiting some indication of the Holy Spirit’s presence when “tongues of fire” were seen to descend upon them, settling above their heads.   It is commonly understood that this was an “ordination” of the Apostles as Bishops of the Church, designated to lead the believers and guide them.

When this event was depicted in art forms, the flames of fire above their heads became established and led to the creation of the mitre, a flame-shaped hat that Bishops wear in ceremonies.  It reminds those present that the Bishops are seen as chosen by God to carry on the work of the Disciples.   As with many of the accoutrements, particuarly clothing, which is worn in ceremony by leaders of Christian worship, it is seen by some as archaic and even silly.   But for those who understand its significance, it is a legitimate visual reminder of the meaning of the office of Bishop.

Given the significance of the mitre and its relationship to the Feast of Pentecost, it is not inappropriate to think about that office and the role it plays in the contemporary Church.   Hardly a day passes when there isn’t some reference to Bishops in the media.

Of late, the Roman Catholic Bishops have been prominent in their suit against the U.S. Government (aimed particularly at the President) over the insistence that religious institutions which employ large numbers of non-Roman Catholic employees, must abide by federal employment standards if they receive federal funding.  It is not the first time the Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops has spoken out on social issues.  Protest is seen by them as fulfilling two roles commonly understood to be part of the role of Bishops:

  1. To be defenders of the Faith as interpreted by the Church.
  2. To be prophetic.

These two tenets of the role of Bishops are undisputed and deserve respect.   The conflict comes in the decisions about the nature of “the Faith” and whether it is firm and immovable or whether it is flexible and emergent.  Bishops in other branches of the Church (such as the Episcopal Church, the Orthodox Church, National Churches and the Lutheran Church) might see “the Faith” through different eyes. Consequently their role as Bishop may become something different.  Other roles of Bishops are to be pastoral and sensitive to the workings of the Holy Spirit.   Responsible administration of the Church falls within their job descriptions.   Whether that means a strict adherence to tradition and conservative interpretation of “the Faith” or whether it is liberating and transformative becomes the primary determination.

On Pentecost the nature of the emergent Christian faith changed.   That change is either a formula to be consistent or a challenge to be visionary.   Perhaps they are not as oppositional as one might think.

 

Photo Credit:Bishop McHale

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