On Bishops and Beach Volleyball

Saturday involved two events that don’t happen too much back home.
First thing in the morning I took part in the consecration of a Methodist Bishop, in the concluding act of the North Central Jurisdictional Conference 2008, which was unusual for me given that we don’t have Methodist Bishops back home.
Then I spent the afternoon in Muskegon on the shores of Lake Michigan watching the finals of a beach volleyball tournament… and before anyone thinks that I was just leering at scantily clad fit young women, let me assure you that I watched the men’s and the women’s competition. But much though I would love to wax lyrical about the deeper significance of beach volleyball, I’m actually going to reflect on how I spent the earlier part of the day.
My role in the service was simply to carry the Christ-candle in the opening procession… an act which would probably get me kicked out of many evangelical circles back home, which aren’t into candles and processionals and the like. I’m not much for them myself, but it was an honour to be asked, and an honour which I accepted on behalf of my host congregation and the Methodist Church in Ireland.
As I said this was the closing service of the Quadrennial Jurisdictional Conference. Now before any of my colleagues have a double heart attack, not only at me carrying a Christ-candle in a liturgical procession, but (even bigger shock) going to a church conference voluntarily, when it takes wild horses to drag me to our own annual conference, let me assure you that I took one look at the agenda and decided it wasn’t for me. From what I could see, the whole 4 days of the event were largely devoted to the election and appointment of Bishops to their respective charges. This year only one Bishop had retired, so only one was up for election, and the local District Superintendent, Laurie Haller was one of the 12 standing, so local church people were following the process assiduously, through ballot after ballot. Like the wider Presidential election, speaking as an ignorant outsider, the whole process seemed to be a lot more complicated and drawn out than it needs to be… Why have umpteen ballots over a three day period when one single transferable vote would sort it out in 30 minutes? Surely that would save a lot of conference expenses?
Also, like the wider Presidential election there seems to have been a lot of politicking going on in the background, of which I am blessedly ignorant. And again, like the Presidential election, on this occasion a white female was trumped by a black male. The “winner” was not the home town girl, Laurie, but Rev. Dr. Julius Calvin (you can’t have a Methodist bishop called “Calvin”!!!!) Trimble.
And so it was at Dr. Trimble’s consecration I carried the Christ Candle. And it was a beautiful service. But I must say that my experience immediately before the service renewed my antipathy towards episcopacy in our home connexion.

Ushered into the parlor where the bishops were having breakfast by one of the pastors organizing the event, I was roundly ignored by the great and the good gathered there. Only two out of the assembled group said hello (after I had been sitting on my own at one end of the room for some time), and none made any attempt to introduce me to others. I could have made an effort to introduce myself, but I didn’t and these duly elected pastors of pastors didn’t act in a terribly pastoral fashion. Whether it be because the UMC is so big that the Bishops barely know each other and so didn’t recognize that I was not one of their number… Though the fact that I was dressed differently and sitting alone might have been a clue… Or perhaps their elevation to high office means that they are now used to having others introduced to them, rather than keeping their eyes open for “strangers.”
What and whichever, for the first time since I got here, I felt less than welcome. And on reflection, I gave thanks for the smallness of our connexion back home, the lack of a distinct and abiding hierarchy and the comparative lack of politicking.
Then I went to the beach and watched volleyball!


Anonymous said…
Hey there - Becky was telling me about your blog on this subject at dinner tonight, so I thought I would check it out for myself. Having come from the Methodist church myself on both my parents side (except for my sweet Quaker grandmother) I can really, really understand what you are saying and am glad you "spoke the truth in love" by addressing it on your blog. I know it also happens in other denominational circles - and yet Jesus was known as the "Man of No Reputation".
I think it seemed much more pronounced to me because
a) Our welcome in general here has been second to none.
b) Because I have a general antipathy to hierarchies at the best of times.
Will be adding a ps to this experience in my blog tonight.
Pam said…
I understand what you mean. I am in agreement with your point "B". There is a church here in town that one of our Executives at the YMCA were invited to as "community goodwill" - It was also an ordination of a Bishop, but you have never seen a title so long in your life. I was wondering if the word would count if you were playing Scrabble because it incredibly long and no one had any idea what someone would actually "do" with title like that.

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