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Dickinsons serve as Boy Bishops at Christ the King

On a recent Sunday morning at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Sharpsburg, two brothers shared the honor of being named St. Nicholas bishops for the Advent season.

Isaac Dickinson, 16, was the bishop during the 8:30 a.m. service while his brother, David Dickinson, 18, served at the 10 a.m. service. Each service began, as usual, with the processional hymn and acclamation. At the rear of the procession was a young man in the full regalia of a bishop – a young man they knew very well, but were more accustomed to seeing in the cassock and cotta of an acolyte.

Bishop Epps surrendered his crosier and his seat to Nicholas Bishops (also known as a “Boy Bishop”) Isaac and David Dickinson, for the duration of the Sunday services. The young men took part in the services leading in scripture readings and leading prayers.

Both were also named as “Eucharistic Ministers” for the day and served the cup at Holy Eucharist.

Selecting Nicholas Bishops, or Boy Bishops, was once a popular tradition throughout Europe, from the tip of Italy to the Hebrides in Scotland and from Ireland to Hungary. The ceremony is a lesson in humility and recognition of the wisdom of youthful innocence.

It is a way of symbolically representing the teaching of Christ, “[U]nless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4, NKJV)

The custom fits perfectly with the Advent themes of turning the tables and oversetting expectations.

The appointment of Boy Bishops honors the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra, patron of children, who is traditionally remembered as having a special, personal concern for the safety and well-being of children.

From St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6, until Holy Innocents, Dec. 28, topsy-turvey was the order of the day. The Boy Bishop took the bishop’s throne and wore his regalia, presiding at all services in the cathedral.

The altar servers sat in the places of dignity usually occupied by the clergy and the reverend canons of the cathedral filled the roles of altar servers.

The Boy Bishop was empowered to declare extra holidays, and to decree the distribution of sweets to the children of the diocese, paid for from the diocesan treasury.

Though Queen Elizabeth I ended the custom in England, it survived on the Continent until 1799.

In modern times, churches have begun to revive the custom, especially in English cathedrals and parishes.

As far as is known, Christ the King Church was the first Charismatic Episcopal parish to observe this ancient tradition.

Although the brothers’ “reign” lasted only one day, both they and the congregation say they were impressed by the experience.

Epps said, “Sometimes a spark is ignited in young men as they serve around the altar and participate as leaders in worship. Who knows? Someday we may find that boy bishops have become deacons or priests — or even real bishops!”

The brothers are home school students who are very active at Christ the King.

They are the sons of Paul and Susanne Dickinson of Sharpsburg.

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