Ten years ago this week was the 1996 North Central Jurisdiction Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I was elected and then consecrated as a bishop of the United Methodist Church. In many ways those 10 years have gone by very quickly, and in other ways those 10 years have been very full. Given the mandatory retirement age for bishops, I am at the half-way point in my active ministry as a bishop. I am taking some Renewal Leave this summer (as mandated by the Book of Discipline, all bishops are required to take a total of 3 months Renewal Leave during each quadrennium), and part of my focus during this Leave is to reflect, evaluate, and renew my ministry as a bishop.
One of my first reflections or realizations about this mid-point has to do with the Historic Questions that we ask of candidates for ordination. Each year at Annual Conference we ask the same questions that John Wesley asked of his Methodist preachers, and those to be ordained answer those Historic Questions as a part of their process of being ordained and being accepted as Full Members of the Annual Conference. Many times those Historic Questions seem quaint, and sometimes there are even snickers from those in the Conference as we ask the candidates those questions. In particular the final admonitions from Wesley seem odd or perhaps just a reflection of Wesley's compulsive nature. One of those admonitions within the Historic Questions has to do with not "trifling time" or wasting time.
I had often thought of that in terms of daily schedules, or working long hours, or at least being totally committed to one's ministry. Now I am having different thoughts about that. Perhaps John Wesley is also reminding us about our lifetime, our career, and our whole life's journey of faith. "Trifling" of time is not just about wasting a few minutes during the day, or about being more organized with our time schedules, it is about using our whole life in a journey toward meaning and purpose. We can trifle away our life, or we can use our life for something larger than ourselves. When we look back upon our life at retirement, or as we near the end of lives, we can either wonder where the years have gone, or we can give thanks that we did not waste those years. As someone has said, "We can either count the years, or we can make the years count."
I don't want to trifle away these next years of my life and my ministry. I feel some real sense of urgency to make these years a worthwhile gift to God and to the church which has chosen me. I feel a strong desire to make the best possible use of these years, to care for my family, to celebrate my friendships, to plan for a future that will be completed after me, and to finish the course in faith. Or to put it more simply, I have stated it this way: "I did not come back to the Indiana Area just to play church; I want to make a difference."
And so I invite you to join me in praying that we not trifle our time together:
O God, You seem to be beyond time and infinite in perspective, but You also fill each moment of time with Your presence and purpose. Help me to receive each moment of my life as a precious gift to be used, shared, and blessed. Let me never trifle away such a gift. In Jesus' name. Amen.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner