By Daniel Martins
Not long ago, I authored a book review, appearing in The Living Church, of a collection of reflections, by a dozen or so retired priests of the Church of England, on the experience of retiring from active stipendiary ministry. At the gentle invitation of the editor of this blog, I offer here something along the same lines, through with three distinctions: First, I have retired after a little more than a decade as a diocesan bishop, following 21 years as a parish priest. The ministries are cognate, but they are not the same. Second, I am retired in the Episcopal Church, not the Church of England. Despite our kinship as Anglicans, there are significant cultural and institutional differences between the two. Finally, I write as an utter novice retiree, aware that I haven’t even begun to “find myself” in this new stage of life. I have a great deal yet to learn.
At an initial emotional level, I’m finding I have a classic case of mixed feelings. It is certainly a relief not to bear the weight of responsibility that comes with a pastoral cure in general and episcopal ministry in particular. Things I have been obliged to be concerned about, and therefore prone to worry about — conflicted relationships (my own or those of others), politically and pastorally sensitive circumstances, difficult conversations that need to be had — these are now off my plate. I feel viscerally relieved. The stream of incoming emails — which has generated most of what I need to act on each day over the last decade — was cut by more than half overnight. The sense of swimming with piranhas, with a whole lot of people each wanting a small piece of me, is gone. I am able to go on personal errands during the day without the subliminal guilt engendered by what I will acknowledge is probably an overdeveloped Puritan work ethic. I can go on recreational outings spontaneously.
At the same time, I’m also undergoing a substantial identity crisis. Conventional wisdom is that one should guard against becoming too enmeshed in one’s work, to maintain “healthy boundaries.” I question that conventional wisdom. Ordained ministry is different. It’s at least as much about being as it is about doing, and “being” is something we all “do” 24/7. I will always be a bishop; our theology insists on the indelibility of holy orders. I will no doubt have occasion to do “bishop-y” things over the coming years — confirm, ordain, give counsel to a vestry, etc. But I will not likely again be the bishop, the one who carries a crozier that signifies ordinary authority, the one in whose person the identity of a whole Christian community (a “particular church,” in the parlance of Vatican II — which is to say, a diocese) is incarnate.
I have written previously about the personal character of episcopal ministry. Indeed, it is ancient custom for a bishop to adopt as a surname the name of the diocese. It doesn’t get much more personal than that! For a decade, I have signed countless formal communications — pastoral letters, baptism and confirmation registers, various certificates — as Daniel Springfield. I have held legal title to diocesan property personally, in my own name. Where are the “healthy boundaries?” Nowhere! Being a diocesan bishop is an all-in situation. In Catholic tradition, it is impossible to tease apart the office of the bishop from the person of the bishop. This is what follows from becoming “one with the apostles,” as the consecration liturgy invites.
Letting go of responsibility is a task that, with enough mental and volitional resolve, can be accomplished. Letting go of an identity — indeed, literally, letting go of a name — is a daunting spiritual and emotional challenge. I noticed it right away in my prayers. It has been my habit to intercede daily, specifically and by name, for clergy and laity in the diocese whom I know to be in difficult times, for parish communities that are in transition or other distress, and for everyone who is at any stage in the discernment and formation process for ordination. I am, of course, completely at liberty to continue doing so. Yet, one might also argue that there is an appropriate seasonal character to intercessory prayer. (Check out this teaching video for some more insight.) More as an act of discipline than a move of the heart, as a way of acknowledging the changed nature of my relationship with the diocese, my daily intercessions are now much more general. I pray for the election process and those who are guiding it, I pray for my (as yet unknown) successor, and I pray simply by category for “parishes in transition or distress” and for “those in the ordination process.” I can’t just turn of caring with specificity, but backing off from praying with specificity is a sign that it is “meet and right” for me to move on.
In an ideal world, the transition would have been a seamless one — handing off the crozier to my successor right after the laying-on of hands. This is the gold standard for diocesan transitions. To my sorrow, various factors combined to prevent adhering to this ideal, chief among them being my wife’s health and the out-of-the-blue worldwide pandemic. That said, while my relationship with my new best friend, the Church Pension Fund, assures me that I am, in fact, retired, I won’t fully feel retired until my successor is in place. A diocese without a bishop is like a…well, there’s no immediately apparent apt analogy. But it’s nothing good. It’s an inherently unstable situation, and I’ll be anxious until the office and the person are once again united. It is, after all, still “my diocese,” as I will continue to be canonically resident in Springfield, and the next diocesan will be my bishop. I will always care. I have skin in the game.
My primary job in retirement is to take care of my wife, who continues to descend into Alzheimer’s-based dementia. This will be my “big rock” for the foreseeable future. Eventually, I will need to get settled in parish life somewhere in the Diocese of Chicago; at present, I have “bonds of affection” with a handful of communities in the diocese where I live. Beyond that, I am already imagining more than I will ever be able to execute by way of writing, teaching, and blogging. Some of that will take place right here, on Covenant, so…I’ll see you soon.
The Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins recently retired as 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield.