Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Episcopal Corner

                                  Why Is That Empty Chair Near The Altar?                                              

                                                                                                                                                                                           

     No matter how full an Episcopal church may be on Sunday, chances are no one will be sitting in one specific chair located somewhere near the altar.This special seat is a sign and a symbol of the unity and authority that comes from the particular way Episcopalians have of organizing themselves. It’s the bishop’s chair.

     The Episcopal Church believes in bishops, those among us who are called to a particular aspect of church leadership. In fact, the word "Episcopal" derives from the Greek word for "bishop" (episkopos, which literally means "overseer" or "supervisor").  Diocesan bishops are the senior pastors of the church in a particular geographical area called a diocese.  The bishop is the spiritual pastor for the area, which is why he or she may carry a shepherd's staff called a crozier.  The bishop exercises this ministry mainly through the priests and deacons, who serve the smaller geographical areas called parishes. 

     A bishop has one main seat; its Greek name is cathedra.  There is where we get the word cathedral, literally the place where the bishop is seated.  However, bishops get out a lot, regularly visiting parishes, which is why they have a seat reserved.  This is a reminder not only of the authority of the bishop, but of the congregation's relationship with the bishop.  The empty chair is a reminder to pray for and with our bishop.  The Episcopal Handbook