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.

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