We were the 12 disciples, 10 men and 2 women who, with fear and trembling, answered God’s call and the call of the church to offer ourselves as candidates for bishop in the North Central Jurisdiction. At the end of the week, one of the 12, Julius Trimble, was elected a bishop by the 275 delegates of the conference. He will be a very fine bishop for our church. However, all 12 candidates will be forever connected by sharing this physically and emotionally draining, yet deeply spiritual experience.
If you were not able to stop by the Convention Center in Grand Rapids, you missed a unique event in the United Methodist Church. I’ve been a delegate to the jurisdictional conference since 1996, but this time I experienced it from a different perspective.
Being a candidate for bishop is not for the faint of heart. Preparation begins months before the conference by forming a support team, seeking endorsements, compiling a bio, preparing written materials and putting together a brochure. There are also strategy sessions, for this is a political process where candidates are running for an office, albeit a sacred one. The difference is that, as United Methodists, we invite God into the process, seeking not our will, but God’s.
The most intimidating part of the conference for me was Wednesday morning, when each candidate was ushered into the plenary room and given 10 minutes to answer two random questions. It was pretty scary for an introvert who dislikes being the center of attention and also prefers time to think before speaking. I was grateful that something actually came out of my mouth!
It will take a while to process all that happened last week, but I have already learned much about myself over the last 8 months.
- I learned that being an Episcopal candidate puts one in a very vulnerable position. Delegates naturally connect with some candidates and don’t with others. Furthermore, delegates interpret what we say through the lens of their own experience and expectations. This leaves our words subject to misinterpretation and manipulation, which can affect voting.
- I learned that I could not offer myself as a candidate unless I was honest and transparent about who I am, what I believe and the values I hold dear as a spiritual leader. No mealy mouth, no fudging, no talking around issues. I’ve never been good at that anyway.
- I learned how incredibly intense the 4 days of jurisdictional conference are for candidates. Gary and I and several people from my support team squeezed in meetings with each of the 12 delegations during breakfast, lunch and dinner, prompting us to eat on the run, rush from one meeting room to another, and make decisions on the fly about what to say. There were also countless individual discussions in the hallways. Gratefully, God gave each of the candidates the energy and stamina to endure.
- I learned why I have never liked roller coasters. The nausea of motion sickness when I hang on to a roller coaster for dear life was replaced this time by a pit in the stomach every time I waited for a ballot read-out. When the votes of candidates fluctuate wildly, it is often related to behind the scenes politicking, which is all part of the process. God works through the process, but it is also a very human process.
- From the beginning, I vowed to maintain a holy indifference to the Episcopal election, wanting only to be open to God’s leading, not my desires. However, I learned last week that in giving myself completely to the election process, I could not be wholly indifferent. I don’t know how to do anything half-heartedly.
- I learned how undeserving I am of the amazing love and support of those who walked most closely with me on this journey. Gary has always been my greatest cheerleader and was with me every moment last week, willing to do anything that would make my life easier. Lynn Pier-Fitzgerald, Susan Hagans, John Boley, Becca Farnum, Russ McReynolds, Lois Moseley, Linda Burson, Dale Hotelling and Dave Wiltse were my support team for many months. Emails, notes and prayers came from unexpected people and places as well as from friends and colleagues. Each gesture of grace touched me forever.
- I was caught by surprise by the warmth and affirmation of the jurisdictional conference delegates. Without fail, they listened carefully, asked thoughtful questions, gently challenged me and offered encouragement even when they disagreed with me. They took very seriously their responsibility to listen to God’s voice in the election process and voted with integrity and deep faith.
I was deeply honored for the privilege of being an Episcopal candidate. Even though I was not elected, I hope that my witness to the inclusive love of God will inspire and encourage others to look deeply into their hearts and be willing to risk letting God’s love transform their lives and ministries.
There is a future with great hope for the United Methodist Church. There are so many doors yet to open for all people to experience the redemptive love of Jesus Christ and live out their call to be and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. My prayer remains that the United Methodist Church will lead the way in shaping people of spiritual courage and moral power, who will in turn shape a world of shalom. My life will continue to be rich and full as I journey in the light of God and lead with my heart in the ministry to which I have been called in the West Michigan Conference.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
“If the only prayer we ever say in our lives is ‘Thank you,’ that will be enough.
Thank you. Blessings, Laurie