Farewell to a Leader and Friend Mar22

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Farewell to a Leader and Friend

I’m sure it’s hard to be a bishop. Not only are there bound to be lots of daily pressures in this role, but the hunger for leadership and the expectations from clergy and laity alike must be overwhelming sometimes.

It’s often said that clergy enter the pastoral role because they themselves hope to be cared for. In the daily grind of ministry that deep, inner need is seldom met by others. District superintendents and bishops have an organizational leadership role and their relationships with clergy often tend to have an organizational, rather than a pastoral focus. I get it. Their time is divided between hundreds of pastors under their care and dozens of boards and agencies that depend on their leadership. So I don’t blame any of the bishops I’ve ever had that I probably could count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve had pastoral contacts with one. The few contacts I’ve had, though — like a personal letter from Bishop Mel Talbert during a congregational controversy in my third year of ministry — have been key to my development as a pastor.

The most important influence by a bishop on my life was my ongoing contact with Bishop Ed Paup during his 2004-2008 tenure as bishop in the Seattle Area. When Ed became bishop I’d already self-selected my way out of the parish ministry. At 43 years old I’d had relative success in a variety of pastoral leadership settings. I’d joined with others in implementing some strategies to make our Annual Conference life more effective. I’d been involved in local civic activities, including two school board elections and a hard-fought court case against Wenatchee’s mayor. My churches had all grown numerically, but I was burned out in the parish, was looking for something new to pour myself into and felt that nothing seemed interesting among the churches of our conference. My bishop at the time, Elias Galvan, asked if I would be willing to start a new congregation, but somehow that didn’t seem to be my gift. So in 2001 I retired from the parish ministry and became executive director at Deaconess Children’s Services, a child abuse prevention agency, and then in 2003 I was elected as executive director at the Church Council of Greater Seattle.

It was in this role that I came to know Bishop Ed Paup, who’d been appointed to our region in 2004. Once a week at the Episcopal bishop’s office denominational execs like Ed joined together with ecumenicals executives like me for fellowship and strategy.

Even among other local denominational executives (Episcopal, American Baptist, Lutheran, Disciples, UCC, Presbyterian) Ed was a stand out. He had a natural charisma, a certain charm and ease of manner in awkward moments, a quick laugh, a pithy story, a quick flash of anger against injustice, a warm smile, and an aura of confidence that made him a leader among the group.

I’d met Ed many years earlier, and perhaps that initial meeting had set the pattern for our relationship. It was at the Annual United Methodist Clergywomen’s Conference in St. Charles, Illinois in 1991, I believe. The small group of men who were there, mostly Board of Ordained Ministry officers like me or District Superintendents like Ed gathered together for a game of golf during a time when men were excused from the sessions. I golf for the camaraderie, not the game. Ed clearly golfed for both. Before an afternoon thunderstorm caused us to abandon our game, Ed had scored par on almost every hole. His swing was smooth and classic. I learned that Ed had been a baseball player in his younger days and he obviously carried the athleticism into the game of golf. His game exuded confidence.

I would often walk out of our weekly denominational executives meeting with Ed and discuss how things were going in our conference and what his challenges were. He would ask what my ministry was like. As our relationship deepened Ed asked me if I would give him regular feedback on how he was performing as a bishop. He described how people often are not straightforward in sharing their opinions of episcopal leadership and asked for my voice to help him be the best bishop he could be. In turn, I confided my struggles with parish ministry and told him how I longed for a real challenge that would combine my interest in preaching, leadership and social justice ministry.

One afternoon, Ed asked me if I would return to parish ministry and allow him to find a role that would work for me. After many months of thought and prayer about this I agreed, and in about 2006 I un-retired and made myself available for a local church appointment. In 2007, with Ed’s blessing, my then-superintendent, Elaine Stanovsky, hatched a plan to bring me to Seattle First United Methodist Church. I demurred, pointing out that I was four years into a five-year commitment as executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. Ed intervened and in early 2007 appointed me to serve First Church Seattle as its pastor beginning on July 1, 2008. This was highly unusual — I was appointed a year-and-a-half before the appointment year was to begin. Ed claimed it was the first time something like that had ever been done, and he appointed an intentional interim pastor, Dave Gillespie, to fill the position during the intervening year. Ed showed enormous faith in me and, along with Elaine Stanovsky, demonstrated a willingness to color outside the lines within the highly-structured United Methodist appointive system.

Ed also showed faith in me by approving my election as chair of the Conference Board of Congregational Development. In this role I worked with other paid and volunteer conference leaders to help congregations become more effective and to start new churches. During my term we created a comprehensive congregational development strategy and took on a variety of new and creative projects, among them the planting of six new congregations. Ed provided a mixture of guidance and freedom for our group and its productivity was amazing.

Ed’s passion was for mission work, so while I understood his desire to leave the episcopacy to become General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) of our denomination, I knew I’d miss him as my bishop. Ed’s last day as bishop was the day before my first day as pastor at First Church. I was sad that, though I had landed at First Church because of his vision, I would be without his nurture and guidance in this new role. Ed’s subsequent term at GBGM didn’t go as planned, and we all grieved when we heard about his resignation there, his brain tumor, and then his subsequent illness.

This week when I heard of his death I found myself taken back to our many conversations, to the feelings of his arm around my shoulder, to the sound of his laughter, to his purple episcopal shirt under a dapper suit, to the look of his white Cadillac (yes, Cadillac) in the parking lot of the Episcopal headquarters, and to the many other memories I now hold as dear since I know I won’t see him again in this lifetime.

God, thank you for Ed Paup who led me back into parish ministry, who trusted me to be among the many leaders he equipped and deployed for ministry, whose firm hand and warm smile spoke to me of God and Christ and hope. His eye for my development, his plan for my return to ministry and his gentle nurture deeply changed my life. Ed, I will miss you. Go with God.