(photo above taken a week before I was released, thus the big smile)

Twenty years ago today, I was set apart as Bishop of my ward here in Southern California. It seems like just yesterday that I walked numbly from the pew that held my wife and three daughters, and took my seat on the stand where I’d be sitting for the next five years.

I had held all the prerequisite callings to be bishop. YM Pres, EQP twice, and Bishop’s counselor twice. But none of them quite prepared me for what was coming. At the time of my call, I had been serving as a Bishopric counselor in our Stake’s Young Single Adult ward. I really loved that calling. Working with and teaching the kids was so fun. The YSA Bishop had a job transfer and was moving to Utah, so the YSA ward was getting new bishop. I thought I was going to be the new YSA Bishop, and was excited about that. About a month before, the SP had called me into his office, and informally asked if I had ever been divorced, and if I had ever had ever been the subject of church discipline. I said no, and he said thank you, and I left.

So for about 3 weeks I figured I was the new YSA Bishop. But then a week before the new YSA Bishop was called, the SP brought me back in his office (the YSA Bishop’s office was right next to his, so he would catch me just walking by). Again, informally, he dropped the bomb. He said he was submitting my name to be Bishop of my home family ward, and that after next week I was to go back and get to know the ward so I could pick my counselors. We had only moved to that ward about 18 months before, and I had spent the last year in the YSA ward, so I really didn’t know anybody, and they didn’t know me.

I later read in the church hand book that the SP was NOT suppose to tell me he was submitting my name, and was to only speak with me after the FP had approved my name. I also learned from the outgoing YSA Bishop that when he had summitted my name to be his counselor, the SP told him them that I was going to be Bishop of my home ward in about a year, and for him to train me well.

The Bishop I replaced had been in for over seven years, getting close to eight. The reason it was so long was because there was nobody to call. I found out from the outgoing bishop that they had submitted names for two different men before mine, and they had been rejected by Salt Lake because of divorce [1]. So I was not their first choice!

From the date I was released from the YSA ward to when I was sustained at Bishop in my home ward was about 5 weeks. The one good thing about it was that the SP also told the outgoing Bishop I was to be his replacement. He worked close to me, so 2-3 times a week we would get together for lunch, usually walking the beach, and I would pick his brain about the ward, and he went down the ward list and gave me a dump on everybody. Again, this is NOT normal. Usually a bishop finds out the week before he is going to sustained, and the outgoing bishop finds out his replacement is at the same time the ward does when he is sustained. So there is no “smooth transition” like I was able to participate in. I’m grateful that my SP broke those rules. This was the only real training I got at being a bishop.

The biggest thing I learned as bishop was not to judge people by their outward “church” appearances. The members that looked like they had it all together and were the “strength” of the ward sometimes had the most problems, and the partially active member could have extenuating circumstances, and be the most Christ like person in the whole ward.

I am an extrovert, so I had no problem talking with people, and really enjoyed counseling with the members. I would often move from behind the desk and pull a chair in the middle of the office to talk with people. [2] I knew I wasn’t a phycologist, and I knew my limits. I referred people to a trained family therapist often, and paid for it most of the time.

I only had one disciplinary council during my tenure as Bishop, and that was to reconsider a person that had been excommunicated in another ward, and wanted to be re-baptized. Everything else I handed informally. I never asked about masturbation in the youth interviews, because my bishop as a youth had asked me every-single-time, and I hated it. This came back to bite me when a perspective missionary from my ward that I had recommended, was asked by the SP about his little factory, and the young man confessed to the deed. The SP made him wait six weeks, and wanted me to check with him weekly. So I would just ask him “is everything good?”, and then report to the SP. For future prospective missionaries, I would still not ask, but would warn them the SP was going to ask them about it, and then needed to be prepared for that.

I had a blast with the youth, and have fond memories of camping with the youth in the snow, falling off a rope swing when the line broke and twisting my ankle, chasing a bear out of the YW camp, and multiple beach outings. Having daughters, I instituted a father-daughter camp so I could be with my kids.

I delegated all I could, and let the organizations run themselves. The Relief Society or Primary did not have to ask permission to have an activity, they just informed my what they were doing. I didn’t know this was different until after I was released, and the RS Pres told me the new bishop was “very different”.

When somebody new moved into the ward, I met with them and asked what callings they had in the past, and what they really wanted to do, and then I’d try to accommodate them. Turns out people do a better job in a calling if it is something they want to do! The nursery calling was set at a six month limit, and I never had anybody turn me down for what can be the hardest job in the ward.

I officiated in about 12 weddings during my time as bishop, and really enjoyed them. Two were on the beach, and one on some cliffs overlooking the ocean. I never once said “until death do you part”. One of my daughter’s friends wanted me to conduct her wedding, but she didn’t live in our ward so I needed to get First Presidency approval, which I got.

I had three great RS presidents, and I feel for those ladies, as two of them are my ward’s current President and first counselor 20 years later. It seem there are only about four ladies in the ward that can do that job, and they just rotate through them year after year.

Back then we had weekly Priesthood Executive Council (PEC). This was suppose to be just the Bishopric, the EQP, the HPG leader, and the YM President. But I invited the RS Pres every week to PEC. I couldn’t imagine talking about ward matters and not have representation of half the ward!

I was released a month after my five year anniversary, in Aug 2006. While I enjoyed many aspects of the calling, the stress was starting to get to me, and my blood pressure had started to rise. It was back to normal after a few months. My next calling was membership clerk, which was a piece of cake!

[1] My current bishop is divorced. I think due to lack of choices, the FP are approving divorced men at a higher rate that 20 years ago.

[2] This photo was staged for a school project a ward member was doing, so I’m behind the desk.