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Retiring Bishops

July 7, 2012

A United Methodist News Service graphic by Kathleen Barry with photos by Mike DuBose, Linda Green and Rick Lee.


A UMNS Feature   By the Rev. J. Richard Peck*

2:00  P.M. ET July 2, 2012

 A United Methodist News Service graphic by Kathleen Barry with photos by Mike DuBose, Linda Green and Rick Lee.

The 14 United Methodist bishops in the United States who are retiring this year  collectively have given hundreds of years of service to the church in their  lives. Here are recollections and advice offered by some as they step away:

Bishop Peter Weaver

Weaver says that during a visit to a church shortly after his 1996  election, the pastor asked the children, “What do you think a bishop does?” One  little boy responded, “The bishop goes around and gives high fives.” Weaver  says that is the best description of a ministry of presence and encouragement.

Taking early retirement from the Boston Episcopal Area, Weaver said the  best advice he ever received came from a pastor who served as his mentor: “You  are not the savior. Remember who is the Savior.”

Bishop William H. Willimon

Willimon, who is taking early retirement after eight years of service  in the Birmingham Area, says he is generally opposed to retired bishops giving  advice to working bishops. “My chief advice to a new bishop is to be suspicious  of advice proffered by retired bishops.”

Nevertheless, Willimon offers some suggestions.

“The best training for being a United Methodist bishop is,  fortunately, exactly the work that is done by any faithful Methodist preacher: Tell  the truth as God tells it to you; try to miss as many meetings as possible;  expect the church to be thoroughly tainted with sin (including your own); try  to love Jesus more than the praise of your people, and keep believing that  despite all of the church’s setbacks (including your episcopacy), in the end  God is going to get what God wants! Hallelujah!”

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson

Elected to the episcopacy in 1992 and retiring from the Los Angeles  Area, Swenson passes on two pieces of advice given to the Council of Bishops by  Bishop Prince Taylor:

  1. “When you are called and sent somewhere, go and follow because the  Holy Spirit is present with you and has work for you to do.”
  2. “Never think God has exhausted God’s self in creating you.”

Bishop Max Whitfield

“I wish that I had known that as a leader of the church, I was running a  marathon race and not a 50-yard dash,” says Whitfield, who leads the Northwest  Texas-New Mexico Area and is taking early retirement.

Bishop Ernest S. Lyght

Elected to the episcopacy in 1996 and retired from the West Virginia  Area for health reasons in December 2011, Lyght offers three suggestions to  newly elected bishops:

  1. “From the very first day, take the time (prayerful discernment) to  discover your rhythm of ministry in the office of episcopal leader. It might  take weeks or months for you to discern your rhythm. What daily practices work  for you?”
  2. “Strive to practice a ministry of presence, which does not mean that  you have to be everywhere. A ministry of presence is about building  relationships over time.”
  3. “As a bishop, always seek to be a learner who teaches and partners  with the laity and the clergy in the matter of spiritual leadership.”

Bishop Ann Sherer-Simpson

The bishop, who was elected in 1992 and is retiring from the Nebraska  Area, says:

“The episcopacy is a great  privilege, an incredible opportunity to build relationships with partners all  around the world, to listen and learn, and to share one’s own unique gifts to  build up the ministry of the local and the connectional church for God’s use in  transforming the world.”

In discussing the crucial role of appointing clergy, she notes:

“Every person I encounter is a valuable child of God and should be  treated as such, but that person may not be called to ordained ministry. Who is  appointed to lead a local church is the most important factor in fruitful  ministry in a local church.”

Here is a list of the bishops who are retiring:

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