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From Somewhere in Michigan

On Twitter, a friend directed my attention back to Ricky Harrison’s article in the United Methodist Reporter: “On repairing broken trust in the UMC.”
Harrison is a student at McMurry University, and was also lead lay delegate to General Conference for the North Texas Conference. The article recounts his experience at General Conference. Specifically, it recounts how his experience there showed him what little trust there is between the clergy of the United Methodist Church and the Bishops.

The whole article is well worth reading. Please read it — if you haven’t already.

Here is part of what he says:

Looking back, I am extremely surprised and disappointed at the broken relationship which exists between our bishops and the rest of the Church. As we are currently going through the process of nominating, interviewing and in a few short months voting on new episcopal leaders, it amazes me that we do not trust the leadership we ourselves put into place. How do we expect to move forward as a Church if we won’t even let the leaders we have put into place guide us?

Now I realize that there are bishops who are incompetent, ineffective, and/or just plain bad at their job, just as there are district superintendents who are incompetent, ineffective, and/or bad at their job, and pastors who are incompetent, ineffective, and/or bad at their job. If one has a bad bishop, DS, or pastor, then one year is way too long to live/work under them (not to mention much damage can occur). But if one has a really good bishop, DS, or pastor, then ten years isn’t even long enough!

My friend directed me back to this article, so that I would also read the comments that were posted at the site.

I imagine he was thinking of this one in particular: it is from someone who simply identifies as “somewhereinmichigan”:

Ricky is correct about the lack of trust. The gestation period has been long and the symptoms obvious for years. I find it surprising that so many people were surprised by its labor pains and delivery in Tampa. The bishops didn’t know it? Our bishop says the COB was totally surprised by the lack of support. Really? Are they that out of touch?

And why didn’t they even recognize the incongruity of presiding over declining congregations where reductions in staff (lay and clergy) leave those remaining asked to do more and more, often for less and less, while the bishops whine about their own workloads and ask for additional staff? It may well be a good idea, but wouldn’t a pastoral heart realize the timing is wrong?

A poorly performing bishop devastates conferences. It drives effective clergy out of the denomination, and disgruntled laity to other congregations. And there is virtually no accountability for bishops. If we want to restore trust, perhaps the COB should begin with themselves…1.) admit they have ineffective and even destructive bishops among our bishops; 2.) step up and confront those bishops; 3.) publicly repent and apologize for the harm caused; 4.) propose legislation themselves which will hold bishops accountable and provide a means to remove ineffective bishops, including a process by which a bishop under question is examined by people other than her/his friends and colleagues; 5.) use the same metrics being used to measure clergy effectiveness to measure episcopal effectiveness; 6.) require active bishops to practice “in the trenches” local church ministry via a mandatory 4-6 week stint, every 4 years, in a conflicted congregation in his/her episcopal area (while a retired bishop handles the episcopal duties) and the resident bishop demonstrates pastoral skills on-the-ground and gets back in touch with day to day ministry in local congregations…perhaps even working for rate of pay of the pastor for which the bishop is filling in.

There’s some starting ideas to restoring trust. It seems to me that those with the most power need to begin the healing process and the restoration of trust. Our bishops need to lead us to the place we can trust one another again. Isn’t that among the responsibilities of spiritual leaders? The vast majority of bishops I’ve known and worked with have been wonderful, effective, responsible leaders. A few ineffective bishops use their power in harmful ways and no one is able or willing to confront them. The reality is that our bishops have a lot of power, which can be used good and wisely to build the church in the right hands. I hope they will begin that process.

Some days I think if I could simply walk away from the United Methodist Church and stay away, some kind of healing process could begin. It is horrifying to me that when a complaint against a Bishop is filed, and there are so many people raising concerns, this complaint is simply dismissed and ignored.

“A poorly performing bishop devastates conferences.” And, the longer such a bishop stays, the greater the cumulative damage that is done to the churches of the Area.

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