During this time of vacation for me, I have finally had a little time to reflect upon my assignment to serve the Indiana Area for four more years. We bishops are assigned just like all clergy are appointed, but in our case we are appointed to four-year terms. The Book of Discipline says that serving two terms of four years each is normal, and it is even possible to be assigned for a third such term in an Area. Our assignment is determined by the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy, which is composed of one clergy and one lay member elected to this Committee from each Annual Conference. Once the final new bishop is elected at a Jurisdictional Conference, then the Committee begins the work of assigning all active bishops to their places of service. In the North Central Jurisdiction there are ten (10) active bishops, and we are each assigned to serve what we call an Episcopal Area. The Indiana Area has included both North and South Conference, and now of course we are moving toward those conferences becoming one, but we will still be the Indiana Area for the assignment of bishops. Our assignments begin on September 1st, and so this next term will run from 9/1/2008 through 8/31/2012.
We bishops always wait to hear about our assignments with a mixture of emotions. We all have agreed by our ordination as Elders and by our election and consecration as Bishops to serve wherever we are needed and assigned, but we are also human and we have our hopes and desires about our assignments. So we wait on Friday night of the Jurisdictional Conference for the Committee to finish their work and to give us our assignments. This year, the Committee told us that if they were not finished by midnight then they would wait to inform as at 6 AM. Sure enough, I got a phone call at 6 AM asking me to come down to the hotel lobby to meet with representatives of the Committee, where they informed me that I was being assigned to serve the Indiana Area for a second term.
How do I feel about assigned to serve the Indiana Area for a second term? I can think of lots of words: happy, pleased, honored, excited, and relieved. When I finally arrived at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference after being with my Mother through many days of hospitalization, I was so focused upon her and those issues that I almost forgot about the Assignment process. In fact, when Dr. Myron McCoy, the chair of the Committee on Episcopacy, asked me for my room number or phone number, I asked, “Why?” He laughed and said, “Because we will need to call you and tell you about your assignment.” Then I laughed and said, “I had almost forgotten about that!” In some ways my reassignment to Indiana was expected, but when you submit yourself for service to the church then you never know where you will needed and assigned.
I know that these next four years will have many challenges. This whole process of bringing the two Indiana conferences together to create a new conference will bring many difficult and complex decisions. We will have staff decisions to make. We will have to prepare the two Cabinets with 18 district superintendents to move into one Cabinet with only 10 district superintendents. We will have to nominate, elect, train, and launch a whole new conference structure. We will be creating and launching Ministry Clusters for our local congregations. We will be inviting and enabling all of our clergy to join Clergy Covenant groups. In the midst of all these changes, we will keep doing our essential ministries, while probably allowing a time of “jubilee” for many less-essential ministries until we see their shape in the new conference.
Most importantly, I believe my role is help us stay focused upon our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Going through lots of change (such as we are doing with the creation of a new conference), there is always the danger of slipping back into old habits and comfortable ways of avoiding the challenge of our mission. Someone has compared this to what happens when we stretch a rubber band, and then it wants to “snap back” into its old shape. I believe that part of the role of a bishop (any bishop and any leader in the church) is to help us stretch into our mission.
So, I look forward to working with you for four more years, and I pray that God will continue to stretch us into the new shape and the new mission that God wants for us.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Area of The United Methodist Church