What do we wish for in a bishop? What do we yearn for in those who lead our church?
On July 14-18, members of the Northeastern Jurisdiction will meet to discern from among 13 candidates who will be elected to serve in the ministry of the episcopacy. There are four men, two African-American and two Asian, one Hispanic and eight white bishop-hopefuls.
Before the voting, the delegates will have the opportunity to interview the candidates. I’m glad for the opportunity to learn more. Statements sent out about the delegates paint them as a pretty homogeneous bunch. Their visions appear to merge together. Methodism seems to be bred in their DNA.
They are counciliar leaders, who view themselves as “encouragers.” Only two mention the word “power.” On the whole, they seem intent on merging social justice with vital piety, and addressing church decline with discipleship. As a group, they also tend to use too many exclamation points. (Vicki Miller Brendler used five exclamation points in just her vision statement.)
My favorite candidate of the group is the Rev. Peggy Johnson, of the Baltimore-Washington Conference – just because she seems to be outside the mold of district superintendent going on to glory. She embraces the Holy Spirit in bold and surprising ways. She also expects the church to rise to God’s expectations and seems to have the courage of her convictions.
She is a United Methodist – heart and soul. But she’s a United Methodist who will surprise you by popping up in places where the church hasn’t always been comfortable, and encouraging people to learn from their disagreements.
She can be cynical when it’s called for, but her faith in possibility is so genuine that it can startle you. She is an interesting choice for bishop because she’ll allow God to help her define what it means to be the church in this place and time.
But the other candidates also expressed some interesting sentiments.
Rev. Brendler, of the exclamation points, who is from the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, said she is “courageously available,” to God and believes the church “needs to find creative ways to offer Christ to those who are seeking a deep experiential knowledge of God.”
Linda Campbell-Marshall, of New England, would like to see the church stop “wasting generations of God’s precious time (and children) quarreling over who can come to ‘Common Table.’”
The Rev. Aida Irizarry-Fernandez, who was endorsed by MARCHA, envisions “a church always in movement and constantly renewing for the sake of the weak, marginalized, the poor, the immigrant and the sick.” Bishops, she said, need to be vessels that “go to the Potter’s wheel to be reshaped over again to meet the changing needs of those they serve.”
Bo-Joong (BJ) Kim of New Jersey cites the Baltimore-Washington Conference’s own Rev. J. Philip Wogaman as a guiding influence and claims it is “important to participate in the making of public policy in the community we serve as a church.”
Constance Youngmi Pak of New York and Eric Stephen Park of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, made up acronyms for their vision of the church. Pak wants to AIM with accountability, inclusiveness and membership; and Park has four pillars that make up the WORD: worship, outreach, relationship and discipleship.
Park, by the way, has his own blog, at www.pewboy.net. He believes that “the church’s people need to stop acting as though they are living in a culture that accommodates the Christian narrative and begin to focus instead on developing new and creative ways to make that narrative intelligible to a spiritually hungry people.”
And Dorothy Watson Tatem, of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, says, “We, the church, cloister in praise, worship and prayer; we go out in praise, service and personal storytelling – all for the glory of God.”
She has perhaps the best written statement. Watson Tatem says: “The Pentecost Principle is that of sustained fervent prayer to seek the Divine Mind and then a willingness to move from the pew on to the pavement, from temple to turnpike, from sacred retreat to road in order to share with the stranger in comprehensible language that which God has done in our lives and the availability of the power of the Holy Spirit to all.”
That’s United Methodism. And like our bishops it can be good, bad, beautiful and ugly all at the same time. This is indeed an opportunity for wishing and for discernment.