As a Stake Presidency, we attended a ward this weekend to reorganise their Bishopric. It has been an interesting, enlightening and faith promoting experience for me, so I thought I would share some insights and thoughts.
First to clarify, there is no set term of office for a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Bishops are lay ministers, who are called to serve having not requested the position for themselves. It is important to realise that circumstances for families and individuals change, and this can affect the length of time served.
Twenty six years ago I accepted the call to serve as a bishop. On the day I was sustained, my wife was pregnant with our first child and in hospital recovering from an appendectomy. We had been married for about 12 months and I had been home from a mission for around 24 months. My time as a bishop lasted for three and a half hard years and although a challenge, it taught us so much. It is however, only recently that I have come to understand that my comparatively short service, was enough to give me the experience I needed for a lifetime of being a councilor to others. In the years that have followed, I have had the opportunity to use that knowledge as a councilor to 3 bishops, and now as a councilor to a stake president. The Lord has his hand in all things, which is good to remember when our assignments change!
Calling a Bishop.
The release of a serving bishop and subsequent call of a new one, is not done lightly. A recommendation to the First Presidency has to be made and approved. We determined who to recommend, with considerable thought and prayer. Once united in a decision, the online form is completed by the stake presidency but can only be submitted by the Stake President himself. Not every submitted name will be approved.
After review, approval to extend the call to a new bishop, is given in writing, by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Because the call comes from the highest authority, unlike most other calls a Stake President extends, there is no requirement for the High Council to approve the name.
Only a Stake President can interview and call or release a bishop. Once interviewed the new bishop recommends names for his councilors to the Stake President. Bishops councilors can be interviewed and set apart by any member of the stake presidency and I had the privileged of interviewing one of these good men and his wife.
As each step of this process was completed, I felt the spirit confirm that the calls were of the Lord. The discussions, the prayers, the submission, the letter of approval from the First Presidency and the interviews, all brought a witness these were the men and families the Lord wanted at this time.
My final and strongest confirmation came when the new Bishopric were asked to stand to be sustained by the ward on Sunday, again I knew in my very soul that the Lord had called them, not man.
Sustaining a new Bishop.
No one is perfect, even faithful temple recommend holders, that means your bishop wasn’t perfect when he was called and probably isn’t now. You don’t have to punish him if he offended you prior to his call, because he has probably punished himself enough. We all feel inadequate because of our failings when we accept a call to serve, no more so than a Bishop. He has had to wait for a couple of weeks from his interview to his sustaining. In this period of time, most have already gone over all their faults without us helping them! Like Saul’s conversion to Paul, the Lord brings about a change in this time of reflection.
Part of our role in the process as members, is to allow them the chance to start over. We each have an opportunity to make that familiar sign, as we raise our right arm to the square and covenant to support and assist this man, who in turn has accepted the responsibility to serve us.
I feel an affinity to these new Bishops, as a newly married, recent RM, I went from being a councilor on an Elders Quorum to Bishop over night. I made mistakes before my call and plenty after. However I was sustained and assisted by members with far more experience than I had myself… I have often said that I learnt far more from the experience than the ward ever did.
The 1828 edition of Webster’s dictionary defines the word sustain as “to bear; to uphold; to support; to hold; to keep from falling; to keep from sinking in despondence; to support in any condition by aid; to endure without failing or yielding.”
This quote and the header picture, are from an excellent article about sustaining, that can be read on the official church website HERE.
As with extending the call to a Bishop, only a Stake President is authorised, under direct authority from the First Presidency, to set apart a Bishop by the laying on of hands and by the bestowal of priesthood keys to preside in the ward. This act cannot be delegated to anyone else within the stake. As bishops councilors are approved and called by the Stake Presidency and they do not receive priesthood keys, their setting apart can be performed by any member of the stake presidency.
Ministering to those released.
A final thought. Every one I know that has been released from a time consuming church calling, has a period of adjustment. It can be a very lonely, introspective time. As members we have a duty to ease this adjustment. Many former bishops will joke that in the weeks after a release, they considered checking if their phone was broken!! Once it never stopped ringing, now it never seems to ring at all… You couldn’t walk down a corridor without being stopped, now you can sit in the back pew and not be noticed. This is not intentional snubbing by members, just that life goes on or as the expression goes “The King is dead, long live the King”. It can take time to adjust and realise that you can apply what you have experienced, to continue helping others. It is different for everyone, but please let us ensure we take time to ease this transition for all our released leaders. A phone call, a text, a visit or just a hug can be a giant act of service for one that has served us.