So What is a Bishop's Installation?

On Saturday, October 18th, I will be installed at the third Bishop of the Allegheny Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at First Lutheran Church, Johnstown PA.  The service begins at 2pm (of course dependent upon when you read this may have already happened).


At this service I will be ‘installed’ and several people have asked me exactly what this means.  The short and simple answer is that I will officially be the Bishop after this service, though I have been serving in the office since Bishop Pile’s retirement on Sept. 1st.  But the Installation is the service which makes everything official.


Here is what you will see if you attend the service of Installation.  It will begin as any regular service will.  There is a greeting from the pastor of the church with some general announcements, and then we will begin with hymns.  One thing that may be unique to some is that we will have a large procession of rostered leaders from the synod and ELCA Bishops and our special ecumenical guests. 


Once everyone is in place we will begin with a remembrance of our baptism, and then the service will be led by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.  Bishop Eaton will be joining us specifically for the service of Installation, this is a duty of the Presiding Bishop of the church to install all new Bishops into their offices.  We will then have scripture and special music, with a sermon by Bp Eaton. 


After the sermon we come to the time of the installation itself.  For this, come forward and there is a series of prayers that are said and a series of questions that I am asked.  The questions ask me if I will be faithful to the office of Bishop to which I am about to assume. 


I then kneel and the Presiding Bishop, along with the other ELCA Bishops who are present, and other Bishops from our ecumenical partner bodies will lay hands on me and pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for my work and my ministry. 


One interesting fact about the installation is that three of the installing Bishops are required to be installed/consecrated/ordained within what is called the Historic Episcopacy also known as Apostolic Succession.  There is a line of succession that can be traced from bishop to bishop back through time, from one set of hands to the other.  That line of bishops can be traced clearly back to the 11th or 12th century, but is purported to go back to the Apostles themselves.  Of course before the 11th century record keeping gets spotty at best.  But if the line goes back to the apostles, then it would go back to our Lord Jesus who originally set the apostles apart for ministry.


Now as Lutherans,  we don’t necessarily think that you have to have a certain set of hands on you for your to ‘really’ be a pastor or a bishop.  But all the same the idea is pretty neat that in the Apostolic succession you have an unbroken like going back to the very beginning.


As of the late 90s when the ELCA became full communion partners with the Episcopal Church we agreed that Bishops would be installed/consecrated/ordained within this Apostolic Succession and because of our agreements with them we ensure that there are at least three bishops taking part in the service that are within this line.  10 of the installing bishops at this service will be. That also means that all those pastors I will be called to ordain in the future will be ordained within this Apostolic Succession. 


You might be thinking that a series of questions and then laying on hands for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit sounds a lot like an ordination service.  You would be correct in thinking that.  The template or rubric for the installation of a bishop is very similar to that for the ordination of a pastor.  However, we don’t call it ordination in the Lutheran church.  At least not in this country. 


After the official installation itself, I am presented with symbols of the office.  A pectoral cross which is the traditional symbol of the office of Bishop, a ring which symbolizes fidelity to the church, and a crozier which is the shepherds staff which symbolizes the role of shepherd to the flock.


Then I will be officially the Bishop of the Allegheny Synod, as long as the church sees fit to call me to this office.


Once installed, I will then say a few remarks and we will also install the Synod Office staff.  That includes our Director of Evangelical Mission – Pr. Tim Knauss, our Assistant to the Bishop – Pr. Paula Schmitt, and our Office Manager – Ms. Michelle Bossler. 


We conclude the service with the Holy Eucharist, and we will then process down the block to the Pasquerilla center for a reception.


That is how things will go (or did go) on the 18th of October.  If you are reading this before that Saturday, I would encourage you to and join us in Johnstown for the service.  We haven’t had anything like this in 21 years in our synod, and it will be at least 6 before we have something like this again.  Longer than that if the Holy Spirit will that I continue in this office.


May God bless and Keep you now and always.

Bp Michael