Where Do Bishops Come From?
(or, Drawing Straws)
“Where do bishops come from?”
I bet you’ve been asking that question all week for two reasons.
First, you know that hundreds of lay and clergy delegates will gather in Peoria, Illinois this week from Wednesday through Saturday for the once-every-four year “Jurisdictional Conference.” (I am one of those delegates elected to represent Indiana).
Second, you are a part of a faith community where leadership is given to Bishops (as general superintendents) to guide and shepherd the church. Since you know the key role Bishops play in your church, you’ve been tossing and turning at night asking the question, “Where do bishops come from?”
Oh, you haven’t been asking that question?
If it’s okay, I’ll go ahead and briefly explain, anyway.
Keeping it simple
The story is told of a seven year old who came in the house and asked his parent, “Where do babies come from?” The parent wasn’t expecting the question but she did her best. She stammered her way through an explanation of human anatomy, and the process of procreation, labor and delivery.
By the time the red-faced parent finished, the child nodded and said, “Oh, well, Tommy said babies come from the hospital and I just wanted to know if he’s right!”
The parent made the explanation too complicated! We’re going to keep this simple.
It’s not quite drawing straws
When it was time for the early Church to replace Judas (the early Jesus followers believed the faith community needed twelve apostles to lead it), the approximately one hundred and twenty disciples gathered together. It was the first Church meeting so you can assume there was coffee, ice tea, and some cheese and crackers.
Peter explained that whoever would be the 12th apostle must have stayed together with the other 11 from the time Jesus was baptized up to the day of his ascension. Those considered for “election” must have been witnesses to the resurrection.
People talked. They nominated two candidates: Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. Then, they prayed.
And then—I’m not making this up but you can read about it in Acts 1:26—they cast lots (Common English Bible) or drew straws (The Message). Today, honestly, we would say they flipped a coin or threw dice!
This may seem rather reckless but the point of making decisions like this was to enhance the likelihood that the decision was impartial and unbiased. No one, after the decision, could argue about politics, favoritism, or nepotism being a factor.
So are hundreds of United Methodists headed to Peoria to spend three days throwing dice to see who our new Bishop will be?
Bishops are not chosen by lots or the throwing of dice (relieved?), but they are elected. Candidates are ordained Elders (ordained pastors who have promised to be itinerant). Bishops in the UMC are elected for life, but they must retire by the age of 70.
Candidates for the episcopacy are generally recommended by their Annual Conference (we belong to the Indiana Annual Conference of over 1,000 congregations), nominated by a ministry caucus or group, or they can even put themselves forward. (At a previous Jurisdictional Conference I was the endorsed candidate for Bishop from the North Indiana Annual Conference.)
These persons are interviewed numerous times by the members in their own delegation, and often they meet with United Methodists from across the Midwest (our North Central Jurisdiction goes from west to east from the Dakotas and Iowa through the state of Ohio). Generally, these are men and women who have a record of outstanding and faithful ministry.
A cross between political convention & revival
The whole experience is like a cross between a political convention and a revival. There are times of worship. There are times of prayer. Delegations from each state huddle, interview candidates, talk, and talk some more.
Both lay and clergy delegates understand the crucial importance of faithful, courageous, and wise leaders in the Church. So they do their best to identify leaders who can lead the Jesus movement forward in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Ballot after ballot is taken. Candidates “rise” and candidates “fall.” Over the three days in Peoria we will elect four persons as Bishops. This is a Jurisdictional Conference with an unusually high number of openings and people to consider.
After four Bishops are elected, the process comes to a close with a Service of Consecration on Saturday morning.
You won’t believe this
After the last bishop is elected, a Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee immediately begins to meet. That group—made up of one lay and one clergy representative from each Annual Conference— has the job of deciding which Bishop will serve which area or state!
Bishops, like United Methodist pastors, are appointed! They are itinerant. They move to serve where they are needed most, and where their gifts/graces best fit the setting.
The Episcopacy Committee sometimes will meet all night long. They “profile” the ministry needs and strengths of each state or Annual Conference, they talk with the Bishops (those newly elected and those continuing), they pray, and then they send two representatives to the hotel room of each Bishop. The Bishop and his/her spouse are then told where they will be serving for the next four years. Bishops serve four years at a time, and generally serve for eight years in a state or Annual Conference before being reassigned.
Not until the end of the Consecration Service on Saturday will the assignments be announced publicly. People are sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear who will be “their” Bishop for the next four years.
Since our Bishop, Michael J. Coyner, is retiring at the start of September we will be receiving a new episcopal leader for next four years. She or he may be a veteran Bishop or they may be a “baby Bishop” (newly elected).
I hope you may have smiled some as you have read this email, but I want to ask you to pray for all of this. Seriously. The Gospel of Good News, the message of God’s love for all people, and the Jesus way have never been needed more by this beautiful, broken world. Our own culture seems, in many ways, to be drifting.
In some ways the surrounding culture and environment has never been more hostile to matters of the Spirit, and yet there are great opportunities to reach people, welcome people, love people and invite people into a life-changing journey with God. So leadership in the Church —as it is in education, government, business, medicine, and the military— is crucial.
Pray for Bishop Coyner as he and Marsha retire after twelve years of faithful service in Indiana. Pray for those of us who go off to Peoria to elect four new Bishops. Pray that what is done and said in Peoria will glorify God. Pray that the right leaders will be identified and elected. And, finally, pray that the United Methodists of Indiana will receive our new Bishop with love, with kindness, and with a willingness to be open to a new day and way.
It’s not drawing straws or tossing a coin, but it’s something! God uses this rather odd, messy process to do good. And our prayers will help!
Church Council meets on Monday, July 18th, at 6:30 p.m. in the Great Hall. Members of the church are invited to attend! On that evening we will be considering major proposals regarding a possible building project, a possible capital campaign, plans for discipleship and small groups, another look at options for the south lot, etc. Big decisions are ahead for our church. Your prayers mean so much!
Grace and peace,
Holy Land Trip in February of 2017
Pick up a brochure for the Holy Land Trip in February of 2017 at the Sanctuary entrances. Led by Pastor Mark Fenstermacher, the trip is with experienced tour operator EO (Educational Opportunities Inc.). At this point it appears we may have approximately 20 persons making this life-changing journey. The cost is about $3,700 per person (including airfare, hotel accommodations, tour guide, motor coach transportation in Israel, morning and evening meals, etc.). Contact Ms. Cath Foreman: firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have questions.
Join us this Sunday, in a Jesus community where all are loved and welcomed, as we continue our series Soul Songs: A Journey Through the Psalms. We will be exploring Psalm 22. We’ll discover the power of saying “Help Us!”. Invite a friend to join you.