Rev. Jeff Ozanne: The church is the people

July 13, 2016
Delegates are electing four bishops to succeed those who are retiring; there are 17 episcopal candidates.

By Rev. Jeff Ozanne

Swirling all around the proceedings of Jurisdictional Conference is the election of bishops. While there is other business that is attended to at the meeting, it often feels like filler between ballots, meetings with candidates, and brief times for delegations to huddle and assess the results of ballots. At its heart, the conference is about electing leaders of our church.

The unanswered question, however, really is: What is it that we are looking for in our leaders? Do we want leaders who can be great preachers? Strong teachers? Talented administrators? In the end, it often feels we are left looking for that je ne sais quoi in a person that lets us know that they will be a good bishop.

The process of assessing candidates has gotten even harder this year as we consider the many great unknowns facing our church. How will we be in unity together? What will the results of the bishops’ commission on human sexuality be? Will any of this help us reverse the trends of decline and loss that we have experienced in our denomination over the last 50 years?

Candidates are given many opportunities to make their cases for what they have to offer. What is clear is that both delegations and candidates take very seriously the work that is before us all. To be called to be a bishop in a time such as this is a daunting task.

One of my roles at Jurisdictional Conference has been to help David Bard in his campaign. My job was to help set up meetings between him and various delegations that were considering voting for him. These meetings are a chance for delegations to cut through the clutter of short speeches and published materials to dig deep on different questions. It is easy to give broad answers on things like unity, but these individual meetings give a chance for candidates to go deeper and for delegates to really get to know the people who might become their bishop now or in the future.

The work that gets done is sacred and deeply personal work. It was moving to me to see the families of the candidates there to support their spouses, parents, and loved ones. Here were people whose lives would be affected by the votes and who came to share in the moment with people they cared about.

At the end of all of this, four people will be leaving appointments suddenly and entering rapidly into a different life. We are making choices that affect the future of the church but we are making choices that affect the future of people as well. At our heart, as always, the church is the people.

Rev. Jeff Ozanne is an alternate clergy delegate to General Conference. He serves Willmar United Methodist Church.

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