Bishop’s E-pistle: The Exquisite Penalty

I just rewatched the wonderful sermon by the Rev. Winnie Varghese from my consecration three years ago in preparation for a retreat with our diocesan staff. Among the many other wonderful things she preached, Winnie quoted Presiding Bishop John E. Hines: 

“A Bishop’s task is to keep the church family on the front line of the world’s most desperate needs, and to learn to accept the exquisite penalty of such an exposed position.” 

Those were words that stood out to me at the consecration, and I rejoiced to encounter them again now when they land somewhat differently.  When Winnie preached, I imagined what I might do as a bishop, and I had ideas and vision for what I believed bishops ought to do—but after three years of actually serving as a bishop, I have a much deeper appreciation for them. 

They also inspire in me a combination of pride and self-doubt.  I hear them and I look at work and events in just the past two weeks that took place in the Diocese of Arizona “on the front line of the world’s desperate needs” and I am full of pride. Youth and adults gathering in congregations and on Zoom to watch the film Youth v. Gov about climate change; several meetings and actions about border ministry; stories of care of the most vulnerable parishioners in a rural congregation; stories of congregations doing Sacred Ground; and I could go on and on. Here we are, the church family, learning, regathering in prayer, and caring for those in desperate need. 

But when I look at my stack of mail, I don’t have (too) many angry letters. The “exquisite penalty” does not feel personally high—though I recognize they are felt in some of our congregations more personally. Perhaps I am not courageous enough. Or perhaps in many cases, we are a body of people who, in following Jesus, seek to emulate him and are more of one heart and mind than the world would have us believe. 

The exquisite penalty for me in serving as your bishop is a profound sense of the rightness of call; a curiosity about ministry and faithfulness yet to come; and deep gratitude to the God we preach and follow for the privilege of serving at such a time and in such a place.