Sunday, August 19, 2012

my transition to the role of bishop

A couple of you have reminded me that I have posted less frequently than in previous seasons, and so I offer here a brief word of explanation, by way of an update.  In July I was elected by the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church to serve as a bishop.  During that same conference I was assigned to be the bishop of the Florida Conference, which includes most of the state, including the Keys, but with the exception of the panhandle.  The Florida Conference also has important covenant relationships with Haiti and Cuba, and indeed many members from these nations, and Angola.  I follow a respected and brilliant man, Timothy Whitaker, who retires to his home on the Eastern Shore of Virginia after serving there for eleven years.  My term will be for four years; it is often the custom that eight years is the norm in an area, and sometimes twelve.  A bishop, at present and with some exceptions in some central conferences, is elected for life tenure in the United Methodist Church.

Some have asked how all of this happened.  It is true that my life has been on a trajectory toward this possibility for some time:  serving as pastor of strong congregations, and as chair of oversight boards related to ordained ministers and bishops; being a part of two study commissions related to ordination, and working as a district superintendent these past fourteen months.

All of these experiences certainly have contributed toward a readiness for this role, if this is possible, but the journey is still a complex one, and no outcome is a given.  In our tradition bishops are elected by broad constituencies of laity and clergy in a region.  Many gifted persons have been on a similar journey and have not been called to the office of bishop; at the same time, many of these same persons have strengthened the church immeasurably in other ways.  The process of being nominated for the role of bishop includes an extended and rigorous period of discernment.  This includes interviews, written questions, personal conversations, prayer and developing relationships with other nominees and leaders in other conferences.  In my own experience I sensed that I was placing my life and calling in the hands of other people, specifically men and women called by the church to make this decision.

Because I trusted and respected the process and these people, I determined early on that I would consider the action of the church, whatever than might be, to be God's purpose for my life.  I had been a pastor for twenty-eight years prior to a brief tenure as a superintendent; I certainly enjoyed preaching, teaching, working alongside leaders toward a particular goal, and visiting with friends and listening in times of crisis.  Had the church not called me to this office, I imagine that I would have re-focused my life toward pastoral ministry again.  In time I would have considered that direction to be a blessing.

But the church has asked me to serve in a different way, one that is admittedly exciting and somewhat overwhelming.   I have worked closely with bishops, but I have not served in this role, so I am clearly in a place of "not knowing what I do not know."  At the same time, I have always been conscious that learning about a new place of ministry is an interesting part of the adventure.

In a few days we will be moving to Florida to begin this work.  I will serve alongside a gifted group of leaders there, who know the culture and will help me to begin to grasp it.  I will lead a conference that includes some of the strongest and largest congregations in our denomination and a number of the most gifted and visible leaders in our connection.  I will give oversight to a region that is as diverse (in ethnicity) as any episcopal area in Methodism.  I will assign pastors, ordain clergy and help over seven hundred churches and missions in their fundamental assignment: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

In the words of the Service of Consecration, the calling of a bishop is expressed with clarity:

to guard the faith, to seek the unity, 
and to exercise the discipline of the whole Church.;
and to supervise and support the Church's life, work,
and mission throughout the world.

This ministry will call forth all the experiences I have gained over time in reading and interpreting scripture and theology, in mediation and reconciliation, in holding others (and myself) accountable within a tradition of grace, and in leading an institution to align its resources with its mission in the world.  As I recall the Service of Consecration, I remember both my own promises but also the response of all of those gathered to the question:

Will you uphold them in their ministries as bishops of the church?

And I remember hearing a resounding:

With God's help, we will.  

I am grateful for the clear remembrance of the voice of the surrounding community that both calls and encourages in these days of transition.  

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

a summer prayer

O God of every time and season
we give thanks for rhythms of work and rest
for places apart that mark our years
for the eternal return of ocean waves
for the defiant posture of mountains
for the hiddenness of favorite coves
for pilgrimages made and then homecomings.

O God, in this season we are grateful
for sanity regained
for blessings discovered
for those who return to us
and for those who leave.

Teach us, God of wonder and creation
that your presence is woven into
the comings and goings of our lives
and having fled to our own lonely places
let us return, with Jesus
to live and work
to heal and pray
to worship and love.


(I published this prayer in Alive Now, July/August, 2000, and have shared it with congregations and with friends in each successive summer.)