Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Bishop Speaks How to Begin

The Bishop Speaks How to Begin

The life of the church would be much better if more bishops wondered how to get started in a diocese as apposed to arriving with a boat load of agenda and lots of new rules. The tendency is to be elected and then hit the ground running. Big mistake in most cases.

The better choice would call for them to be more like children. This is not saying they should act like children. Some arrive with that built in. Rather, they should arrive with the way children engage life in a new place. They ask questions, learn, are curious, they seek, ask why, dream, and generally stay open to what is going on and what has been going on before their arrival. They hit the ground softly and then, they crawl and then, they walk. It keeps them from falling down on their faces.

Now I am talking to you, Bishop. This is not an emergency. You are not suddenly the CEO of a corporation which is running so fast you have to catch up or be run over by the dust. It is a church. We talk about peace here. We try to be thoughtful. We are about respect. We are the people of hope. We are a community with a mission.

You don't belong here. You have been invited to live among us and give us inspiration, fellowship, Good News, hope, and joy. Please do not come here thinking you have to fix everything. It is perhaps bruised, but it is not broken. If you do it right, we will adopt you as one of us. If not, the snakes (and they are among us) will take control of you and all will not be well. Show us your manners. We want to welcome you.

There may be a problem, though. You may mistake the new clothes, ring and stick for armor which will protect you. It will not protect you. It will look like a Bulls Eye. Believe it, these things will only bring you closer to the altar of sacrifice. Which, incidentally, is where you belong.

It is quite easy to focus on that which is, in your opinion, wrong. This may tempt you because it is a potential enemy which you can repair and hence be a hero. You will be hero to some, but that is not your calling. You are not called to be a hero. You are called to be a Preacher, Teacher, Evangelist, and Sign of Unity.

I held a kind of Town Meeting in 6 different locations all over the diocese. This was a great time for me to introduce myself to the people who had yet to meet me. The cornerstone of my approach was to have a very clear focus and a single goal.

I could have had many things to work on in the beginning, but I determined (probably through a combination of intuition, experience and blind luck) that the best way for me to proceed was to have a single goal for the first year. That goal was to build trust within the diocese. This was not a matter of saying “trust me.” It was rather the use of a style of leadership that invited trust as a response.

I listened more than I spoke and I worked on getting to know people personally through mutual sharing of history and ideas. People were asked to think about the church of their dreams. How would that place look? What would the priest be like? What would make it a place that would be attractive to you and make you want to be there? What is missing and what goes on which is a blessing to you? Give them an opportunity to write these things privately on a form which will be given to you.

Listen to the people. Ask them about the church of their dreams. Give them your time and attention. Care about what they think. If you already had a different start, it is not too late to start over. You may be surprised at what you learn.

If you, reader, are not the bishop – you might give the bishop a little night reading. If you are one of the snakes - - - you know what to do.

The bishop is the newcomer and would do well to learn how the community thinks, how the community worships, and where their hunger resides.

AS WE WERE SAYING – there is more to come.


  1. Excellent reading. Even more importantly, you did what you said you would do, and that an atmosphere of trust and mutual ministry had excellent impact. Any aspiring or present bishops paying attention?

  2. Bishop Bob, thank you for a universal Episcopal guideline; how right you are!

    “Spiritual but not religious” is a common phrase heard today, especially in the under 30 crowd. They believe in God (Spiritual) but not the organizational or institutional church (Religious.) Unfortunately many of today’s religious leaders (Bishops, Superintendents, Moderators) are the opposite – religious but not spiritual. They are all about the institution, usurping authority, building a dynasty, acting like peacocks, and even feathering their financial nest through diocesan loans and hidden benefits. Oh for the day when lay folks and clergy enter into “mutual ministry review” with the head-shed; that would be a merry Christmas when the darkness is pushed aside and the light shines in.

  3. Thanks so much Bob. You have presented a case for care, listening and pastoring the people of God. I believe that parish priests would do well to enter a new parish in much the same way. We are not heros. We are servants.