By: Christa Meland
In a meaningful worship service and before hundreds of United Methodists from across the North Central Jurisdiction, the four newly elected episcopal leaders—David Alan Bard, Frank Beard, Laurie Haller, and Tracy Smith Malone—were consecrated Saturday morning and officially assumed the title of “Bishop.”
Just before hands were laid on the four new bishops and Bishop Gregory V. Palmer led a prayer of consecration, they committed to encourage and support all baptized people in their gifts and ministries, pray for them without ceasing, proclaim and interpret to them the gospel of Christ, and celebrate with them the sacraments of our redemption.
“Feed the flock of Christ; defend them in Christ’s truth,” said Bishop Sally Dyck after the laying on of hands. “Be to the people a prophetic voice and a courageous leader. Be to the flock of Christ a shepherd; support the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, restore the outcast, seek the lost, and relieve the oppressed.”
Just before the consecration, Bishop Michael J. Coyner delivered a powerful message to the new bishops. He told them that they might feel like St. Ambrose, a non-Christian who was minding his own business as the governor of Milan, trying to make peace among the Christians who were deeply divided after their bishop had died. Hearing him speak about peace to both groups, a little child in the crowd began shouting, “Ambrose, bishop” and the cheer was taken up by everyone. The people wanted him to be their new bishop. Ambrose went into hiding to avoid it, but eventually he was found, forcibly baptized in the river, and made their bishop because they saw in him leadership qualities that they needed for the church.
“There may be days when you feel that way,” Coyner said to the new bishops. “If you have any days like that, you might want to remember what Ambrose said after it all happened: ‘I am willing to be a bishop for you but it is more important that I be a Christian with you.’”
Coyner read a portion of an entry he wrote in his prayer journal 20 years ago when he was elected bishop—on July 18, 1996. The entry concluded with, “Lord, You have brought me to this. Your hand has guided me. Please, I pray, lead me into the future with knowledge of Your grace.”
“I’m here to testify: God has answered that prayer, and God will answer that prayer for you and for all of us,” Coyner told the new bishops. “The God that’s brought us to that moment is the same God that will lead us into the future.”
Coyner said one of his pet peeves is people who write to him and say that their church is not feeding them. “Whoever said we go to church to be fed?” he asked. He spoke of a church in Indiana that gives people aprons to wear. “They say, you’re not here to wear a bib—you’re here to learn how to wear an apron to serve,” he said.
Referencing the book When You Pray by Henri Nouwen, Coyner told the new bishops that there are three temptations that Christian leaders face—the temptations to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful. Don’t give in to those temptations, he said. Instead, follow Paul’s beautiful words from Philippians: Have this mind in you which is in Christ Jesus, who emptied himself and became a servant leader. Another, better translation: “Have the thinking, living, feeling, behaving among you which is in Christ Jesus.”
“Leadership is about emptying ourselves and letting Christ fill us so we can lead in that servant leadership style of Christ that others would actually see us and say, ‘I see a little glimmer of Christ in you,’” said Coyner.
Coyner also addressed the people in the congregation. Referencing the book A Failure of Nerve by Ed Friedman, he said that in America today, we treat our leaders with distrust, fear, and hostility.
Instead, let’s support them, he said. Our leaders deserve our support, so long as they are leading us to accomplish our mission.
Coyner concluded by saying: “Lord, I pray that You’ll bless these new bishops. Remind them of Your call upon their lives. On those days, Lord, when nothing and no one else sustains them, will You, O Lord, please sustain them? Lord, keep them safe, keep them from falling into the temptations of being a bishop, and rather, help them to be faithful, courageous, humble, and true to You. O Lord, in the midst of this congregation, I ask You: Bless these new bishops and keep them in Your care. Amen.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church