A Tribute to Bishop J
A few months ago, I was having a conversation with a clergywoman who was visiting our church. She is starting a new United Methodist Church in another city, and her target audience is young adults. She herself is a middle aged woman, and, as we sat down to talk, she asked me a very deliberate question: “So, did young adults start coming to this church after you got here?” I knew what was behind her question. She was really asking, “Can a middle-aged woman start a church for young adults?” I thought about her question for a while, and I realized, “No. When I got here, a 25 year old was the chair of the church council! Before they ever had a young adult on staff, this church was teaming with them.”
She asked me how that happened. I thought about it for a minute, and then I said, “Bishop J.” Bishop J attracts young adults. And I know exactly why. It is because when he looks at young people, he does not immediately pull the “I’m older than you and I’m a bishop, so you better get ready for all my knowledge” card. Instead, his assumption, when meeting a young person, is, “I can’t wait to see what God is about to teach me through you.”
As a young adult in a denomination dominated by older adults, I feel like I am constantly waiting my turn, earning the years and gray hairs that might one day get me a place at the table. And I internalize a lot of that. I take a back seat, keep my mouth shut, and cower when I probably should be taking the authority of my call.
But there have been a few key people in my life who have looked at me and seen more than I ever see in the mirror. They have asked with open hearts about my opinions, my experiences, my wisdom, fully expecting to understand something new because they have encountered me. And that openness and expectation has always brought out the best in me.
Bishop J has been one of those people in my life. And he has been that way with a lot of people in our church, not just young adults. Many of us have come from other churches and communities where our opinions and experiences are not valued, and Bishop J has been a breath of fresh air to our spirits. He has convinced us that the church needs us, not just to be there, but to form it and to change it. Because within us, within our youth, our sexual orientation, our gender identity, our abilities and disabilities, our race, even our doubts about God–within our unique and precious perspective–is a special and particular piece of the divine puzzle.
This, I believe, is Bishop J’s greatest parting gift to the Church of the Village. Over these ten years, he has cultivated a community in which we expect to find God in one another, no matter who we are. And when we expect God in each other, God tends to show up.
Thank you, Bishop J, for empowering each of us to channel the divine.