The sometimes overlooked role of bishops

“Danny called today,” the Preacher told me, when I got home from work one day. I felt a smile start in my soul. Dr. Daniel Gales. 

In all the years I’ve written this column, I’ve never given a shout-out to those elected to oversee congregations of their denomination within a certain region. Some churches call them bishops. We knew them as District Superintendents, DSes for short. Like Danny.

Over our decades in  clergy ministry, we came to respect and value the wisdom our DSes brought to their advisory role. Each one had years of full-time pastoral ministry behind them. No longer serving a congregation of parishioners, they now had a congregation of congregations. As administrators, mediators, facilitators and representatives to the larger church, they had the extra burden of travel and frequent separation from family and home. Those we knew carried their role with humility, grace, dignity and brotherly love. We sensed their shepherd hearts, and it warmed us. 

Danny almost always preached when he visited our church. His sermons felt much bigger than his small stature. Fiery, non-compromising and generally long. Full of truth and compelling calls to genuine Christ-like living.

Retired over a decade now, Danny has an even more vital role. He prays. And prays some more. He sends monthly emails to hundreds;  keeping people aware of important prayer concerns they may not otherwise know. They join him in bringing them to God.

Danny doesn’t call often. When he does, he stays on the line just long enough to mention that our names came to mind. That he wonders how best to pray for us. Sometimes he rings to give birthday greetings. In our easy social media culture, I see that as indicative of the measure of the man.

While we had many District Superintendents, we considered the last two, Danny and his successor, Dr. Larry Dahl, not only our Superintendents, but our friends. Those men didn’t only care that our churches were (or weren’t) thriving, they cared about us as people. Whether church life (or board meetings) went well or poorly, they stood by to support. When West Nile Disease disabled the Preacher, they not only called, they came. To the hospitals, to our home. Even after we left our last church, Larry, on his many journeys across his region of jurisdiction, often carved out time to detour and share a meal with us. (I’ll always remember his height. Once when saying good-bye, I recall telling him that hugging him was a little like trying to hug a grain elevator.)

After one difficult church board meeting during that time, I recall Larry’s slumped shoulders. He had tears in his eyes. He seemed to have aged five years. Did he care? Without a word, we knew the answer; proved many times over the years before and since. 

As I said at the start, here’s a wee shout-out to bishops. The best ones. Thanks, Lord.

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