By: James Deaton
On Thursday afternoon, the North Central Jurisdiction (NCJ) formally honored three retiring bishops—Bishop Sally Dyck, Bishop Laurie Haller, and Bishop Bruce Ough—during a moving celebration of ministry filled with gratitude and love.
This official recognition service had been postponed because of the delayed NCJ Conference, originally scheduled for 2020. Both Bishop Dyck and Bishop Ough retired in 2020 and took staff positions within the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, and Bishop Haller plans to retire at the end of 2022.
Rev. Sara Isbell, chairperson of the NCJ Committee on the Episcopacy, began the worship service by reminding members of the North Central Jurisdiction of the lifelong call of a bishop to service and the impact the ministry of each of these three bishops has had on the lives of the faithful over many years.
“Thank you for being with us this evening, and thank you for your attention—an opportunity to show extreme gratitude, appreciation, and love to those whom we honor this evening,” said Isbell.
The hymns and scriptures for this service of recognition were all chosen by the bishops. View the order of service bulletin here.
Each bishop was given space to share reflections on their ministry—past, present, and future—and to give thanks to God and to all those in the North Central Jurisdiction that have supported them and encouraged them over the years. They thanked their spouses and families. And they noted the spiritual influences on their faith.
Originally elected to the episcopacy from the East Ohio Conference, Bishop Sally Dyck was bishop from 2004–2020, serving the Minnesota Area eight years and the Chicago Area which included the Northern Illinois Conference for eight. She currently serves as the Ecumenical Officer of the Council of Bishops, and was recently assigned in 2022 as the interim bishop for the California-Nevada Annual Conference until the end of the year.
Bishop Sally Dyck reflected on what it was like retiring at the beginning of the pandemic, in 2020, and what she has been enjoying since moving to Napa, California. She remarked on how much she has been enjoying so much time outside, taking long hikes, even on Sundays, and being a part of God’s cathedral of creation. She’s also taken up playing the piano again by buying an electronic piano and picking up the sheet music that she had put down 50 years ago.
Bishop Dyck then gave thanks to the congregations and annual conferences that have shaped her ministry as pastor and bishop. When asked about her legacy, she said, “I don’t think it’s up for me to say, but it’s in the impact that my ministries had on others. And that’s for you to judge. . . . My passions that I tried to squeeze into the cracks of time and influence have been to help local churches think about using what they do have instead of wishing that they had something else. Holy, healthy habits, holy conferencing, and care of creation. Whatever seeds I planted in whatever fertile places, I simply rejoice.”
Bishop Laurie Haller is the resident bishop of the Iowa Area. She was elected as a bishop at the 2016 NCJ Conference. She also served as an interim bishop for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area, supervising the Dakotas Annual Conference from January 2020 until she went on medical leave in March 2022. Elected to the episcopacy out of the Michigan Conference, Bishop Haller is retiring as of December 31, 2022.
Bishop Haller began her reflections by telling a story of her trip home from Europe in July, prior to her election to the episcopacy in 2016. She was injured on the airplane and developed a black eye. Because of the unfortunate timing, she did not try to hide the obviousness of the black eye during video interviews and during her eventual election as bishop two weeks later on July 14, 2016. Bishop Haller noted that her shiner was a teaching moment. She said, “I learned that not covering up my black eye symbolizes the transparency and honesty that I’ve always tried to convey in my life and my faith. I am far from perfect, but I believe that my flaws and my wounds can be a source of healing for others.”
She also noted that her recent fall and broken wrist and concussion earlier this year has also been a learning experience. It has helped her to identify with others who have experienced similar injuries and unexpected crises. It also illuminated some of the struggles she has always had with overworking and overextending herself. In a poignant moment, Bishop Haller remarked, “Perhaps some of you have the same problem. If so, please, please take care of yourself.”
Bishop Haller said that she couldn’t think of any other career in which she would have been happy, except for ministry. She attributed that to the models of her parents and grandparents and their deep faith. She also spoke of the deep gratitude for all the support she has received from those in the Iowa Conference during her time there as bishop. She and her husband, Gary, look forward to returning to live in Michigan where they lived for most of their ministry and raised their children.
Bishop Bruce Ough served as the bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area from 2012 to his retirement in 2020. Prior to this assignment, he served for 12 years as the resident bishop of the West Ohio Area. He is currently Executive Secretary of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, a position he has held since Sept. 1, 2020.
In preparation for this retirement celebration, Bishop Ough came across some remarks that he gave to the Iowa Conference delegation in 2000, after they had nominated him as an episcopal candidate. In those remarks, he outlined what he was committed to as a faithful leader of the church and servant of Christ. Reflecting on those commitments, he realized that his entire episcopacy has been dominated by the issue of schism. It’s an issue, the bishop noted, that continues to detour the church from the mission and ministry we’ve been called to. “Even on the other side of all this disaffiliation,” he noted, “we will still be confronted with whether or not we are going to base everything we do on our love of God and our love of neighbor.
Since his retirement in 2020, Bishop Ough has enjoyed the move to Wisconsin where he and his wife are spending time with their grandchildren and families.
In his concluding comment, Bishop Ough said, “I know this is about our retirements, but I want to make this about you, and to reassure you that I will continue to pray for each of you, for each of our conferences, that [Paul’s prayer] will be fulfilled. That you and I will be filled with the fullness of God, that we will embrace being a part of the incarnational mystery. May it be so.”
To conclude the celebration, an Offering for UMCOR’s Migration Ministries was received in honor of the ministries of these three bishops. Katie Crise and Nichea VerVeer Guy presented gifts to the three retiring bishops.
Watch this 15-minute interview with Bishops Ough and Dyck as they reflect on their ministry in Minnesota and the Dakotas-Minnesota Area.
Watch this 8-minute conversation with Bishop Haller on her retirement and ministry.
James Deaton is the content editor for the Michigan Conference of the UMC
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church