Burning Questions for early Fall: "What happens to you?" and, "When can we expect to see change in the Bishop's office?"
Note: Each month, the Rev. Dr. WIlliam Dobbs, Michigan Area Clergy Assistant to the Bishop , answers your most pressing questions about the Michigan Area of The United Methodist Church. If you would like to submit a question to be answered please email him at email@example.com.
The first question comes from the farewell gatherings for Bishop and Mrs. Keaton. I was circulating through the folks who had gathered before the formal worship time to fellowship with each other and speak a word to Bishop Keaton. Someone, who has become a friend over the last two years, looked at me with genuine concern and said, “So, what happens to you now?” I presumed then, and still do now, that they were asking about my role as Clergy Assistant to the Bishop. I heard him asking if I would stay in my present position or return to a local church or, given my age, retire. (I think I resisted the over-powering urge to make some smart aleck comment about my age and not being over the hill yet, but I’m not sure.)
When Bishop Keaton invited me to take this position he included a three-year minimum commitment as a condition of my acceptance. What he was anticipating was the very thing that has come to pass: a change of episcopal leadership. He said that he had decided to ask someone with Board of Ordained Ministry and Cabinet experience as well as an extended tenure as an Elder so that I might help with transition, should one need to occur. That has been on my radar since day one, and, while it is not something I was looking forward to, it was something that I have been preparing for over a lifetime of ministerial experience. As Bishop Kiesey moves in the office and her role as the episcopal leader for the Michigan Area, it will be my pleasure and responsibility to assist her in any way that I can, for as long as she deems it necessary and helpful. If that is to be for one year or for several will be the Bishop’s decision.
The one factor that is beyond any Bishop’s control, of course, is my health. The same is true for each one of us. We make plans, all the while knowing that we are not “in control” of our future. But I am willing to serve, in the words of Wesley’s Covenant Service, “satisfied that Christ will give (me my) place and work.” As someone who is able to work or retire with equal comfort, I have never before prayed those words with this kind of honesty. “Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you…” So my answer to Mike’s burning question is: “On the one hand, I really don’t know beyond today. I serve at the pleasure of the Bishop. I may work one year, I may work several. Only time will tell. But, on the other hand, no matter what comes, it will be according to God’s will and for that I can say I am ready and excited to see what God has in store. Thanks be to God!
As to the answer to Burning Question number two, it all depends on what kind of change you are looking for. This question came from a clergy person who was anticipating major changes in their Annual Conference and, by extension, the way that they experienced the Office of the Bishop. (Any answer I will give is, of necessity, a guess based on limited experience. Others may give a different answer and only time will reveal who has the more accurate forecast.) Please permit me to say that I anticipate much and little change all at the same time. Those who think that this Bishop will abandon the Discipline and grant free rein to pastors and congregations as they seek to create a “call system” within our United Methodist church in the Michigan Area, are going to be disappointed, I’m afraid. Ours is still an itinerant and connectional deployment system for clergy, and I do not believe that this Bishop will ignore or amend the Discipline in this regard. And, as I have said before, this is an experienced Bishop who has been in the trenches for the last eight years and has the bumps and bruises to show for it. She has experienced the struggles of the appointment process first-hand and knows how difficult it can be to meet all the competing demands and needs. I believe that this has prepared her well for the two very different conferences of the Michigan Area.
But even as I expect little change in this Bishop’s commitment to the Discipline, I am already looking forward to significant and observable changes in the ways that this Bishop enters into the life of the annual conference. Bishop Kiesey has already made commitments to be present and accessible in places all across this Area. She will be meeting with clergy and congregations as well as program boards and agencies in both Annual Conferences as often as her schedule permits, and she is determined to make her schedule “permit.” She has expressed her commitment to teamwork with her Cabinets and Leadership Teams. She is a listener and has already demonstrated a desire to hear from leaders in both conferences. Do I know how these commitments and differences in style will play out over the next four or eight years? Of course not! But I am excited to find out and am looking forward to what tomorrow will bring! Can you think of a better way to go through life?
Until the next time and more of your Burning Questions, may God bless you and grant you shalom!