The bishop presides, proclaims, preserves and participates in the midst of fellow members of Christ's body as a fellow believer and as a servant. How these functions pan out in various cultures and circumstances may differ widely, but the accidentals must never muddy these essential functions.
The bishop is the chief presider over the liturgical life of a collection of congregations that together form one faith household, a church. In this role the bishop acts as a kind of corporate personality, standing in the midst of the Church as the chief gatherer and icon of the shepherding that Jesus continues to do in all creation as well as iconing the Church herself, making the faith household present in his or her person.
Bishops who authentically live their calling, proclaim with their lives and their lips the genuine core of what the Twelve proclaimed and handed on to those who replaced them. Many styles of oversight were tested and tried in the Church's earliest life, but what emerged over a century's time has remained in its basic shape what the Church has known for nearly 1,500 years and still knows in her majority. Of course, at the heart of what must be faithfully proclaimed is that Jesus, the creator, has stepped into his creation, born of Mary. He lived in our midst as one of us in all things but sin. He died a cruel death so that death itself might be destroyed. He was raised up on the third day and returned to the Father, gifting us with the Holy Spirit to carry on his saving and recreating work until he returns. All of the Church's creeds flesh out this core proclamation, of which the bishop is the chief bearer and teacher.
What is to be preserved is both the unity and diversity of the members of Christ's Body as we live and die membered to one another. Actually, we mirror and icon the life of the Holy Trinity where the unity of God is lived in ultimate diversity: the One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Church seeks to live this great Mystery. The task of preserving seeming opposite realities is perhaps the most difficult one given to the Bishop and history repeatedly reminds us of this fact. The Church is a continuing collection of church where the delicate balance of unity and diversity is an ongoing mysterious dynamic.
Because the Church is a collection of churches, bishops have a key function of participating as bridge-builders between the churches, as connectors between churches nationally and internationally just as he/she connects the congregations of the local church. This task is both the least practiced and perhaps most needed in our own time. Here and elsewhere bishops bumble and stumble right along with the rest of their fellow believers in that strange mix of sinner-saint that is our hallmark as pilgrims. Pray that the Holy Spirit, who has gifted us with faith, hope, and charity, may lead us all safely home together!