Boy Bishop

Last night (December 7) my parish continued for the fifth year the medieval tradition of the Boy Bishop. The tradition originated in the 13th century and was popular in Europe but most especially in the England. Traditions vary, but the common thread was for a boy to be elected on or around the Feast of St Nicholas on December 6 and to enthroned in an elaborate ceremony and serve in this ceremonial role until the Feast of Holy Innocents (December 28). When the enthronement happens in the context of Evensong, the words of the Magnificat speak to the whole point of this curious tradition: "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek."

The Boy Bishop was suppressed by Henry VIII but has been restored in several cathedrals and parish churches over the past few decades. In my parish, we model the ceremony after the Cathedral in Hereford.

Our order of service is as follows:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Hymnal No. 56



Please stand.

 X O God make speed to save us.
O Lord make haste to help us.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the
beginning is now and will be for ever.  Amen.

Psalm 8
Fr. Steve will chant the first half of each verse and the people chant the second half, dropping a third at the underlined part.

 1 O LORD our Governor, *
    how exalted is your Name in all the

2 Out of the mouths of infants and children *
    your majesty is praised above the hea

3 You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
    to quell the enemy and the aven

4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
    the moon and the stars you have set in their cour

5 What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
    the son of man that you should seek him

6 You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
    you adorn him with glory and ho

7 You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
    you put all things under his

8 All sheep and oxen, *
    even the wild beasts of the

9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
    and whatsoever walks in the paths of the

10 O LORD our Governor, *
    how exalted is your Name in all the

Prayers at the Boy Bishop Ceremony

Fr Steve
+Blessed is he who puts his trust in the Lord.

JOSH you have been chosen to serve in the office of Boy Bishop in St Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem. Will you be faithful and keep the promises made for you in holy baptism?

Boy Bishop
I will, the Lord being my helper.

Fr Steve
While you hold this office, will you pray regularly for the members of this Church and for all those who need your prayers?

Boy Bishop
I will, the Lord being my helper.

Fr Steve
Receive this book of prayers to guide you in your resolve. 

The bishop gives the boy bishop a book of prayers.

The boy bishop kneels and says this collect:
Almighty God,
by whose grace alone we are accepted
and called to thy service:
strengthen us by thy Holy Spirit
and make us worthy of our calling;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Fr Steve gives his blessing.
The Lord bless you and keep you:
The Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious unto you:
The Lord strengthen you to serve him
all the days of your life.


The boy bishop stands. His ‘canons’ robe him in his cope and place the mitre on his head. Fr Steve places a ring on the boy bishop's finger and gives him the pastoral staff.


My soul doth magnify the Lord, * 
    and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. 
For he hath regarded * 

    the lowliness of his handmaiden. 
For behold from henceforth * 
    all generations shall call me blessed. 
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, * 
    and holy is his Name. 
And his mercy is on them that fear him * 
    throughout all generations. 
He hath showed strength with his arm; * 
    he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, * 
    and hath exalted the humble and meek. 
He hath filled the hungry with good things, * 
    and the rich he hath sent empty away. 
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, * 
    as he promised to our forefathers,
    Abraham and his seed for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: * 
    as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

 After the Magnificat there follows

The Blessing of the People

 The congregation kneels and the boy bishop, standing facing the people and holding the bishop's pastoral staff, gives a blessing with these words:

 Boy Bishop
Jesus said to the disciples, "Truly I say to you whoever does not receive
the kingdom of God like a child
shall never enter it."
Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Who made heaven and earth.

Boy Bishop
Blessed be the name of the Lord:
From henceforth, even for ever.

Boy Bishop
May Almighty God, the Father,
the Son, and the Holy Spirit, bless,
preserve and keep us.

I know some will ask about girl bishops. I understand that in many parts of the Anglican Communion women are elevated to the episcopate. My decision to keep the tradition of a boy as bishop is rooted in the pastoral need to remind boys that they not only have a place in the church, but they also are called to the church. We see the attrition of young boys and men in youth group, young adults, and even as adult men, they are often lagging behind and not standing with their wives and families as leaders and disciples. I'm remind of Fr. Percy Dearmer's reflection in 1919: "Content with their percentage of ladies and children, the clergy have for years covered their eyes from the truth" (The Art of Public Worship). By keeping this tradition for them, the boys have a unique chance to be leaders before they are told by their peers that church and religion is only for girls and little kids. Perhaps their memory as a boy bishop will deflect the shallow cynicism of their peers and secularism. But the girls are not left out. They are chosen as "Christ Bearers" to bring the Christ Child into the Church on Christmas Eve to be placed in the creche. Two different honors to encourage faith and practice for both boys and girls reminding us all that Christ came to us as a child and that we are to come to him with the faith of a child, for to such is the Kingdom of Heaven given.

The Order of Service for the Boy Bishop - Hereford Cathedral
Audio Recording of the Service (Hereford Cathedral)