I have just returned from the meeting of the Council of Bishops, which is the gathering of active and retired United Methodist bishops (and many spouses) from around the world. This was our first meeting of the new quadrennium, and so it was a time to welcome 14 newly-elected bishops who have just begun their assignments this fall. In our new format of meetings, our Council will now meet only once a year (in the past we often met twice per year), and we will have an additional spring meeting called the Forum of Active Bishops which will be a gathering of only those active bishops who are serving in what we call "residential" assignments (like my assignment to the Indiana Area).
So what did we bishops do in our five-day meeting? We prayed a lot, we worshiped with Communion every day, we held a Memorial Service to remember those bishops and spouses who have died since we last met, we had excellent preaching (this time we had mostly brand-new bishops preaching as a way of hearing from them and getting to know them), we had "faith stories" shared by some of our oldest bishops as they reflected on long lives of ministry and service, and we did some organizational business to get our Council started for the new quadrennium. Most important among those business items was our unanimous vote to reaffirm the Call to Action in terms of continuing to focus our ministry upon increasing the number of Vital Congregations which engage in the Four Areas of Focus first shared at the 2008 General Conference. We are NOT focused upon structure, but upon collaboration to lead the church to accomplish its mission of "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
Interestingly, many people seemed very suspicious of the fact that we bishops met "in retreat" for our own spiritual nurture and community building, without press or other general agency staff present. We were roundly attacked by many groups – including our own UM News Service – for having a "closed" meeting. Amazing, isn't it, that people would attack us bishops for wanting to have a retreat together and to pray together?
Honestly we bishops needed this time of retreat. All of the new bishops have just moved and started their work in their conferences. Many of the other veteran bishops have also just moved, and all of us arrived tired from busy schedules. We also feel rather “beat up" and "broken" (those are my words) from all of the experiences at General Conference, Jurisdictional Conferences, and other events. We have a bishop who is appealing his being placed on Involuntary Retirement. We have a least one bishop who is dealing with a Complaint filed against him (those complaints are usually confidentially dealt with in the College of Bishops in each region, but at least one case has become public). Several of our bishops came late because their conferences are dealing the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy. And nearly all of us deal with a continuous series of personnel issues, local church conflicts, and disaster responses. I am not complaining, because all of those things go with the territory of being a bishop – but I am sharing that long list so that people might understand why we bishops needed a retreat which included lots of worship, prayer, and deep discussion of the issues confronting our church today.
So, my own request is this: Don't be surprised or disappointed or suspicious when you hear that your bishops are praying; instead, please join us in praying for God's guidance, healing, and hope of our church and for the world.
We will keep praying. Please pray with us and for us.