Not Really Bishop Material

So Jonathan invited me to come do some guest posting over here, and we talked a bit about some matters related to the series I’d started over at the JI. When Jonathan invited me to share some of the material here, I had a whole lot of ideas. We’ll see where this goes, but by way of introduction to my guest posting here, I wanted to start by sharing some of my experience with having been bishop from which I was released a little less than a year ago.

I got some heads up that I could be called as the next bishop very quickly after we moved to the new ward. “You know we’re going to need a new bishop this January,” the bishop’s counselor said to me when he gave me my first calling in July. He said so in a way that he was clearly referring to me. Such a statement was pretty new to me. I was not really bishop material.

It perhaps isn’t uncommon for men in the church to see big callings as a sign of community and divine approval, and I may have had such feelings when I was younger. By the time I hit my 40s, I felt completely certain that I would never serve in a bishopric and was embracing the idea of being an eventual old dude in the eq. I knew some of the old dudes in that situation had felt passed over, but I got to the point that I was looking forward to years of passing on my cranky wisdom to the youngsters.

It was pretty evident by my late 30s that I was not the church leadership type, though that was probably pretty evident even by age 20. I was appointed to no leadership positions on my mission, none, and that was not because my mission president really thought highly of me as my dad try to spin it when I mentioned that to him. “No, he made it pretty clear that he did not,” I corrected Dad’s incorrect assessment.

I can’t blame my mission president as clearly I put off a number of unappealing vibes to leaders: cranky, unenthusiastic, undeferential, and completely lacking in any political sense of proper things to say to authority figures. I’ve had a couple of people wonder if I’m on the autism spectrum, who knows? Plus I liked growing a beard, wearing a gray shirt, and sitting quietly in the back. I always had callings in the church, always said yes when called, but not many leadership ones.

When the stake second counselor pulled my wife and me aside “to get to know us a little better” a couple of weeks before they called me as bishop, he started by asking me what callings I’d had (yeah, they weren’t very subtle). “He’s pretty much had every calling in the church,” my highly enthusiastic wife who’s prone to some serious exaggeration said of my church service.

“No, I haven’t!” I corrected her, kind of fearing what was coming and didn’t want to give the wrong impression. “I was an elders quorum president once, but that was in a ward that was so small and weak that they disbanded it a few months after we left.” I wanted to get across the point that my one leadership calling had been in such a ward. Apparently we had found ourselves in another such ward.

“You see, we have a problem here,” the Stake President (I’ll call him SP1 since he was released just a few months afterwards) explained to me when he called me as bishop just a few weeks later. “This a place where strong Mormon families do not want to live. It’s crazy expensive and the schools are bad. Thank you such much for moving in.”

Melissa Inouye had warned me on Facebook not to move to Anaheim because of the bad schools, but I told her that we were moving to the area for my wife to be a principle at a local charter school where most (eventually all) my kids would go.

When SP1 invited his counselors in, they all said, “We’ve been praying who should be the new bishop of your ward for a year now. We had no one. Thank you so much for moving in. Please be the bishop! We’ve prayed about it and feel good about you.” [I hope that’s not insulting to my ward members or a betrayal of confidence to that stake presidency, but I don’t think any of those guys read T&S].

Kind of a funny way to get called. In many ways, it represents to me how I believe God works: both a product of circumstances and God’s providence. I’d only been there 5 months and couldn’t help thinking I wouldn’t have been called if they’d known me better or if they had options they liked better. But I also do very much believe that God wanted me to serve as bishop, so I believe that circumstances and providence came together in my call.

But I felt very uneasy (more on that later) for lots of reason (some of which I’ve shared on the bloggernacle over the years). I was a fairly unconventional Mormon. Not only that, the historical research I’d done on Mormonism had been pretty unconventional too (yes, more on the too).

So much so, that I brought up such concerns to my wife, Lee, earlier that day. I’d gotten a text saying that stake wanted to meet, and all the clues they’d been dropping made me think something was up.

I expressed some reservations to Lee, including that fact that I was planning to finish a book that I knew would be fairly controversial (not done yet!) and Lee said, “You are not saying no because of your research!” So I said yes.

In my posts here, I’d like to share aspects of my journey and observations as bishop. What I experienced and trends that I’ve noticed, lots having to do with what I foresee as an increase in unconventionality among church members and some growing pains that that trend may cause.

Thanks again to Times and Seasons for inviting me to post and I look forward to all the conversation.

19 comments for “Not Really Bishop Material

  1. In our ward something came to light just after our current Bishop was called about him and his wife. When that information was told to the Stake President, he confided to a few of us that if he had known that prior to extending the call he wouldn’t have called him.

  2. Welcome to Times and Seasons! I’m interested to hear more about your experiences, because I can relate to some of what you say.

  3. My dad was not bishop material either. He’s worn a beard for so long that I actually didn’t recognize him the one time he shaved, he prefers the background callings, and he isn’t one to make a public spectacle of his discipleship. He’s also technologically illiterate. He was bishop for seven years – until the beginning of Covid (they needed someone who could actually run the tech for remote church).

    It challenged him in ways that none of us could really have imagined, and he was one of those divisive types; people either loved their ‘bearded bishop’ or hated him. Like, really hated him.

    But he was truly the only man in our ward who could accept the call at the time, and there were some people who returned to church because he loved them back into the ward. In my experience, the best bishops are the ones who don’t think they are ‘bishop material’.

  4. James, SP1 was released a few months after calling me (I was the last bishop he called) so I don’t think he felt that way about me. SP2 however?

    Thanks, Chad and David. More to come.

    E.C. I’m sorry to hear that your dad got what sounds like some unpleasant pushback. It was definitely an interesting experience for me.

  5. I’m also happy to hear more!

    We have enough bishop material bishops so I bet you were genuinely a breath of fresh air for many.

    I live about 15 miles south of you in Irvine. Also very expensive but I guess because the public schools are highly rated we actually have a healthy pipeline of people to be all the things (though the pipeline will shrink over time; there are simply no young families). Go farther south and I hear it gets better.

  6. Thanks, Chadwick. Yes, I hear Irvine’s schools are perfectly adequate and I think SP1 said something like, “So if people have the money required to live hear, they’re going to go to a place like Irvine where the schools are better.”

    My wife is a principle at a charter in Santa Ana: Samueli Academy.

    Irvine is of course even more expensive and we recently have a family move in from Irvine because Anaheim is a little more affordable.

    Mark: I technically didn’t have a beard at the time SP1 called me since I was at that time doing some online teaching for BYUI so my beard was a little hit and miss. I DID however show up to the appointment wearing my gray shirt just to let that all know that I was a gray shirt kind of guy. They were not dissuaded, though I did get a lecture on dress and grooming. “When the brethren grow a beard, I will grow a bread,” SP1 explained me me, making it clear that he found facial hair currently unacceptable. So I would shave twice a week during my time as bishop (Wednesday nights for youth meetings and Sunday for church) figuring I would be selective in which battles I would pick. My counselors shaved less than that, which I was cool with.

  7. Bishop – thanks for sharing! Getting some popcorn and getting comfortable. Looking forward to hearing more. As for the “brethren dont wear a beard” issue in the church….reverse that for a minute so it will sound the silly that it is…supposed the brethren had beards and you didn’t. Can you imagine being asked to grow one for your calling?? Our culture is just weird.

  8. There was actually a time when young missionaries were asked to grow facial hair to gain a more mature appearance.

  9. Not to encourage a tangent discussion, but we’re not really sure how Jesus wore his hair, including facial hair. The first depictions of him came a couple centuries after anyone who knew him died, and the long hair and beard that became the classic icon was a Byzantine invention of depicting God in the same style as Zeus.

  10. Sorry Chad, we know that. I was being snarky about the Stake President who desires to look like a General Authority so much he imitates their hairstyles and shaving and requires the leaders in his Stake to follow suit. Nothing in the Handbook dictates that. Admit it… That’s just plain weird.

  11. We initially chose Irvine because I work there and enjoy my six mile commute. The schools were a bonus.

    I just perused the school website and it sounds like a great school that has the funding to provide arts and STEM (not all public schools have art programs sadly). Sounds like a great school.

    FWIW, my best friend is currently 2nd counsellor in the bishopric. He has a beard. Our other neighbor had a beard during his bishop stint. Both of them have red hair and fair skin and shaving every day is really a hardship.

    All that to say, come join us in Irvine =)

  12. I am just spitballin here but my guess is the guidelines/rules/culture and strictness to them are probably way looser in CA than say, Utah. My kind of culture, but I cant afford CA.

  13. Looking forward to reading more on this, particularly your impressions about Orange County (I grew up there).

    The tangent on beard code remains one of the most backward, reactionary policies in the Church today, and it’s unfortunate that we can’t get beyond a Romanesque, Gentile culture as claimants of Israel. I have a few non-LDS gay friends, who rave about how “cute” Mormon men with clean-shaved faces are—kind of a friendly jeer, but at the same time, it makes one consider how the cultural beardless signal we project regarding appearance might emphasize some degree of feminizing young LDS men: baby-boomers are certainly not cut from the same fabric as millennials.

  14. A beard discussion perhaps wasn’t my primary purpose of this post, but why not?

    Chadwick, yes it is an excellent school with an excellent principal!

    And the bishopric that superseded me has a 2 c with a beard and long hair. Perhaps part of trend of different approaches among the young folk that I’ll probably talk about. So we have some fun stuff going on here too.

    REC911 I’m guessing that various forms of cultural change is coming to the church but unevenly distributed with parts of CA (and a number of other areas) a bit ahead of the curve (another future post).

    T.M. Interesting. I’ve enjoyed having my beard back.

  15. A friend from SLC and his wife visited me in Paris and went to my ward with me. His only comment after the meeting was: “I can’t believe that the bishop has a beard.” Not said approvingly. I don’t know him well so I ignored the comment. I hate arguing over stupid things. I found myself wondering what he would have thought if the counselors had been there. Only the bishop with his 2 or 3 mm light red beard was in attendance. His two much more beardly counselors happened to be out of town.

    Can’t we get past this? The longer the church insists or the choir at Temple Square, and temple workers, and the GA’s, and mission presidents, and students at church schools, the odder we become. It will make it a bigger deal when it is officially OK to sport a beard. It is just plain weird now. Can’t we just end this policy before we become Amish?

  16. Beards? The Handbook says nothing about them. As far as I can tell, it is solely tradition holding us in place. Perhaps Uchtdorf could show up to General Conference sporting a goatee and change our world?

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