Friday, August 17, 2012

Saying Goodbye to a Bishop

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, "He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God's people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God's Son. God's goal is for us to become mature adults -- to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we aren't supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let's grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that is builds itself up with love as each one does their part" (Ephesians 4:11-16, Common English Bible).

In the United Methodist Church, some are called to be active laypeople, others are called to be deacons, others elders and still others bishops. Bishops are people who seek to faithfully hold it all together, teaching pastors how to become fully grown into the image of Christ so that they can lead individuals in their churches through this same growth. Bishops are called to recognize how the body is only as strong as its members and how each person has a part to play.

I've known several bishops in my life. Some have spoken in such a way that I could see their authority. One has given me a literal thumbs up when I was hearing a call to leave the local church and go into extension ministry. Some have breezed past me. Some have preached God's presence into me. And one has had a profound impact on me.

I'm getting ready to say goodbye to this bishop as he leaves the Baltimore Washington Conference in order to fulfill his duties in his new assignment in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. And my heart is heavy - heavy with a profound sense of gratitude and a sadness that comes with loss.

I can still picture the first time I met Bishop Schol. It was at a transitional workshop for pastors getting ready to start new appointments. Bishop Schol did not come in and share a few words of obligatory greetings. Rather, he was standing at the door, opening the door to the Conference Center for everyone coming inside that day.

Bishop Schol then showed up for worship on my second Sunday at Mount Vernon Place. He took time to call me an hour before worship started, giving me enough time to experience my blood pressure rising. He greeted the congregation that day and thanked them for the new adventure they were about to undertake. He then took time to critique my sermon in an email written two days later. Rather than saying, "Good sermon, pastor," he gave me pointers I needed to hear. He told me how my sermon had been written for the few dozen people with an average age of 82 sitting in the pews that day before telling me that I had to preach to my mission field. He shared how I had to preach to the young adults we wanted to reach - people who were not in the pews yet but who would someday come. "Start designing all your illustrations with young adults in mind," he wrote. "You have to preach your people into identifying with young adults and you have to preach in such a way that young adults will identify with you when they do come." It was powerful and necessary advice. The young adults have come. The congregation has been transformed.

I remember walking into the Bishop's office for a status meeting on the real estate development. The plans were progressing but I was ready to quit. Many in the congregation were vocal about being against me instead of for me. Weeks had passed without a single visitor. All I could think about was what I had given up in North Carolina in order to come to Washington. But Bishop Schol would not let me quit. Rather, he reached out and prayed for me, reminding me of who I was and what I had been called to do. He asked God to show up, and God has showed up in powerful ways.

Not long after, the Bishop knocked on the door of my office. This time it was with a simple word of encouragement and a tangible gift that came with the words, "I support you and all you are doing here."

Bishop Schol gathered a group of young adults to plan a Conference event in my first year at Mount Vernon Place. Those young adult clergy continue to be some of the most important relationships I have in this Conference today.

Bishop Schol has taken time to get to know my husband. Today, my Roman Catholic husband is just as sad about saying goodbye to "his bishop" as I am. For Craig, Bishop Schol has been a connection to the United Methodist Church - a denomination that Craig is still learning on the sidelines.

Bishop Schol has demonstrated to me and countless others how being a leader who makes change happen is never easy. Whenever the boat is rocked there are bound to be people who are upset because they are no longer in charge of its course or expected to come and row a little more often or with a bit more passion. The boat rocking has led to new disciples and churches being changed. His leadership has had a rippling effect.

I don't know how one says goodbye to a bishop. In the local church, pastors are not to have any contact with their congregation for one entire year after they leave. I am not familiar with all the written and unwritten rules that accompany bishops going to a new assignment. What I do know is that I am grateful - extraordinarily grateful - for the joy and the privilege of having served with and under Bishop Schol for the last seven years. It has been a gift - a gift that has possibly kept me in the ministry and kept the doors of our church open.

God bless you, Bishop Schol.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

That's Where I Come From

This morning we watched a carefully planned introduction of a candidate for Vice-President of the United States of America. The stage was carefully set with a huge ship called "Wisconsin" behind the podium from which the Congressman from Wisconsin would be introduced. Oscar-like music sounded from large speakers, letting the crowds know that something significant was about to happen. A crowd with a little bit of diversity stood behind the main platform. Perfect looking children were on the edges.

The candidate for President spoke and then the candidate for Vice-President spoke. He painted pictures of America - the America he sees in his mind and the one he sees in his dreams. He talked about how this is a country where people can do anything they want with enough hard work.

But is it really possible to be self-made?

I'm on a team of folks that includes one person who has worked and is working tirelessly to put their life back together after making some significant mistakes early in life. The person works at our church often, coming in on Sunday mornings even when he has been working the entire night at another place. He's cobbling together the schedules of three different positions in order to stay afloat.

If someone works 80 hours a week, will they eventually make it to the top?

What exactly is the top?

Is it possible to be self-made?

I just got back from a week in Missouri. I spent the first 21 years of my life in Missouri, and this recent trip enabled me to see countless people who have played a role in making me, me. I traveled across the state from Kansas City to Saint Louis and then up to the Iowa line in an effort to see many people who have played a role in making me who I am.

While being enrolled in vocational agriculture classes in high school was one of the least popular decisions I could have made in terms of climbing the social ladder, vocational agriculture classes and my involvement in the National FFA Organization shaped and formed me in significant ways. My dad will tell you to this day that the reason I am a competent preacher is because I entered every speaking contest offered in the FFA and not because of what I learned in seminary. The one high school teacher I sought out while in Missouri recently is my high school agriculture teacher. He and the organization he advised have played a key role in making me who I am today.

I also had an opportunity to see several friends from college. Though I was more involved in other organizations on campus than I was my sorority in the three years I spent at William Woods, I realize today that my best friends from college are women I met in the Delta Gamma house. These women taught me the power of community. They saw me at my best and at my worst. They know and seemingly appreciate the Donna "before the call" and the Donna "after the call." They make me laugh when they tell stories about our past, and they respect where I am today. Being present when my Delta Gamma pledge daughter got married two weeks ago was an incredible gift. These women have played a role in making me who I am today.

The church also has something to say about who makes us. As people of faith, we are reminded often of the power of community. We find these words in the book of Ecclesiastes, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." Paul writes to the people of Corinth, "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free —and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many." And the Israelites are constantly asked to remember what God has done for them. They did not bring themselves out of bondage in Egypt. God led them into freedom, and they cannot forget what God has done.

None of us got to the place where we are on our own. None of us can get one step further on our own. We are part of a greater story - a story that started long before we were ever brought forth into this world. This story is a story of hope, redemption, good news and second chances. But our stories also contain people who where willing to journey with us and stay alongside of us as well as institutions and organizations that we have been privileged to be a part of. My heart overflows with gratitude for teachers at each step of my life, for family members, for college friends, for seminary professors and classmates, for a husband who is always reminding me who I really am, for clergy mentors who have taught me how to be a more faithful pastor, for a church family that seeks to live into faithful community with me and for countless other people.

Going through life alone is never recommended.

Looking back and being led to believe that you are where you are today because of what you have done is nothing short of sad.

We are meant to be in community, and we are who we are today because of the communities of which we have been a part.

Remember...and be thankful.