(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 . 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.  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!
 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.
 This photo was staged for a school project a ward member was doing, so I’m behind the desk.
Thank you for your service.
This post brings an important question to light. Why were bishops in the past like the one Bill replaced routinely able to serve for close to a decade or more, while Bill and those who followed are burned out after a year? Sadly, this is a reflection of changing times.
In the past, members practiced self-sufficiency and self-reliance. They didn’t spend all their money on ATVs and big screen TVs, and then go to the bishop for rent money. The rise in financial irresponsibility and entitlement mentality has put enormous strains on bishops.
In addition, bishops are bombarded by constant issues of immortality that are spiraling out of control. The modern entertainment industry produces one show and video game after another that glorifies violence and promotes wanton sexuality. Impressionable young people imitate what they see, and this creates disasters that the bishops are expected to fix.
With such a burden, it is no wonder that bishops are burning out at five years. Especially when the handbook is ignored. Something must be done.
One of the bizarrely Mormon traditions is the abrupt transition between callings, especially leadership callings. I don’t think there is anywhere in scripture where there is this sanction for the idea that no one should know anything about who is going to be called until it announced and then there must immediately be the transition to the new leader. It would solve a number of problems if all callings were announced a month before the actual change were to take place and then there was extensive shadowing and transfer of institutional knowledge between the two people. The month would also allow time for background checks on anyone working with youth and children. I don’t really understand where the tradition arose from or why it is so jealously followed. Maybe it was from the days when a GA had to interview a bunch of people to pick a new SP and then they wanted to be able to announce and set-apart right afterwards because of travel expenses if the GA would have to return later to do it. But why that is needed for ward level callings doesn’t make any sense at all to me .
I had a bishop 40 years ago that had been divorced and was on his second marriage. Maybe the policy comes and goes. This was in a Provo ward with plenty of capable people. The ward even had a couple former mission presidents. Men were sometimes called out of the ward to serve in BYU stakes and wards. So there was no shortage of men that hadn’t been divorced. There were several men that were exceptional youth leaders that would have made great bishops but were never called.
Thank you for this posting – you truly are Christ-like. I see the same type of exclusivism in my ward where there are those that are judged, including myself, for having had disciplinary counsels called on them. I have a strong testimony of this church born of a strong manifestation of the Holy Ghost long ago as a teen, and come from a long line of Mormons that started from a convert from Mississippi in the 19th century, and ended up in Nuevas Casas Grandes in Mexico. And, although I support and sustain the church, I know I do not “fit in” with it’s culture even though I could be considered as descending from “pioneering stock”. I’m amazed at what you posted about potential bishopric candidates being excluded from serving because they had been divorced – and it is appalling. Christ, I believe would, and when I’m before Him in the future, not treat people like that; and, as one of the “meek”, I believe He will recognize my strengths, talents, and yes, weaknesses and continue to challenge me, and others of this class to grow. God Speed, and well done..
JCS, Issues of immortality — What can be done about those troubling issues of spirit world, resurrection, Section 76, temple work for the dead, sad heaven, etc.? The modern Church produces one meeting after another that glorifies some and inspires fear of others. Impressionable people young and old react with various problems like perfectionism, depression, know-it-all-ism, judgmentalism, adulation of Church leaders, ecclesiastical climbing, guzzling diet Coke instead of green tea, etc. Can you make some specific suggestions about those issues of immortality?
One doesn’t need to be a phycologist to become bishop. After all, how would the scientific study of algae help you in your calling?
Sounds like you were a great bishop. The church could use more like you!
Ha ha. We had a whole sacrament talk where the lady kept on saying immorality instead of immortality.
Jesus died so we could beat death and become immoral.
Gods greatest gift is the gift of immorality.
John Charity’s one-act circus has lost its entertainment value. What you’ve got now is a fool on a street corner with a monkey, and he’s abusing the monkey. Mods, plz make it stop.
Zach, luv it! O to have been in that meeting!
It is even worse than JCS said. A 70 came and talked to the bishops in our stake in 2003. He said the average tenure of a bishop in the church world wide is 3.5 years. So for ever y bishop that serves 5 years, there are several that only serve 3 years. He said in countries outside the US, it is common for bishops to move out of their Ward to get it of their calling because of the stress. He said the Q15 want every bishop, when released, to still have his job and his wife, and that was not always the case far too often. The whole point of his talk to us was that we needed to push more to the EQP, HPGL, and our counselors, so we could spend more time with our family and job.
Dylan, it wouldn’t be a Bishop Bill post without a misspelling! And the phycologist s of the world thank you for the shout out, they always felt 2nd class to psychologist.
Here’s a link to the history of the role of bishops in the church:
So is JCS saying he’s doesn’t believe in the concept of continuing revelation when it comes to the tenure and role of bishops in the church?
Bishop Bill – do you think it would be harder to have that calling 15 years later? Thinking of-
1-courageous youth and parents confronting LGBTQ stigma in the Church
2-courageous youth confronting mental health issues
3-more undercurrents of problematic Church history, for starters the seer stone in the Ensign 2015, Gospel Topics Essays, etc
4- the $124 billion question
BB you sound like a wonderful bishop. We are due for a new bishop soon, I’m sure I’m not on the short list, but I would have to decline with the comment that I’m no longer a “company man.” Too much cognitive dissonance.
“ 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.”
“ 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!”
Wish there were more bishops like you! Meeting people where they are is so important. Too often we get caught up in a “one size fits all” approach that ends up causing unnecessary emotional damage and estrangement from church and/ or family. Sometimes I liken us to toddlers/babies on an eternal path. Some of us learn to crawl or walk earlier than others. Some of us learn to crawl or walk in different ways. Some of us have challenges others don’t have.
Sometimes the “babies/toddlers” can teach us things rather than the other way around. Certainly parenting can be like that. What works with one child may not work with another.
Sometimes the church becomes the impediment, rather than the facilitator to finding Christ.
Please stop talking so much about the church and, instead, focus on Jesus and his Gospel.
More often than not, I feel like I’m at a multi-level marketing meeting when I go to church.
To a large extent good bishops are the force that keep the church going. They are where “the rubber meets the road” so to speak since they interpret and implement direction from GAs and SPs. Good humble men doing their best – thank you so much Bill (and your family) for your sacrifices.
I was a bishop and loved, tolerated, and despised the calling depending on the day. When bishops mess up I’m more patient and understanding of them because they are probably doing their best with the people they have in that circumstance.
When the POX came out I told the SP I wouldn’t enforce it and he got SLC permission to keep me in my calling because he wasn’t sure I should continue. I’m not sure I could accept the calling again now… as others have said, the cognitive dissonance is growing. But I’m sincerely grateful for people like bishops working to make the church and the world a better place.
Last but not least……..
“ 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!”
Maybe add the YW Pres?
I disagree with much of what JCS says, but he is right that a lot of people these days abuse the church welfare system. They want everything and they want it now. If they can’t afford it, they buy it anyway and then go to the bishop to pay the mortgage or rent.
As for “P”, he/she is consistent in attacking everyone he/she disagrees with. These personal attacks are what should be censored. Just because someone disagrees with him/her doesn’t make them a bad person.
BB – you sound like a wonderful bishop. This is the type of bishop I’m sure my husband would be if called, but I have very mixed (mostly negative) feelings on whether I could support that. I know he would help a ton of people and make our ward as inclusive as possible. I also know he’s have to do worthiness interviews which I totally object to the very concept of.
“John Charity’s one-act circus has lost its entertainment value.” No kidding. Half his comments are recycled over dozens of posts. The idea that “immorality” is some special affliction today is laughable. All the markers of immorality according to social conservatives; abortion, teen sex, drugs, etc. are on the decline. Adults have been fretting for thousands of years about what the children are up to. It’s ridiculous and lacking in any historical awareness to think that the next thing kids are up to means the sky is falling. Moral panics never die, they just take new forms according to the adults that are projecting their fears onto the next generation.
In any event, I have no interest in ever being bishop, although my style would probably look something like yours, BB and we certainly need more leaders like you. I’m not sure with my heterodox views I would even be considered the way things are now.
Thanks for sharing, BB! Wish there were more like you.
Also, I’m grateful you had a good transition into the role. I never cared for the “surprise” callings and releases. When I was executive secretary, a counselor moved out of the ward and I don’t think the bishop knew who the stake called until they announced it in sacrament meeting. When I was unceremoniously released as executive secretary, I found out by seeing it listed as a line item in the bishop’s meeting agenda. Just seems like an obnoxious practice.
The bishop that you get (or was set up for the ward) in the LDS leadership roulette makes or breaks your Mormon experience. Growing up on the Wasatch front, I had mostly good bishops, but had a few who were power hungry and they were not cared for in the congregation, but moved up the leadership ladder to SP, MP and some GP. One SP was released after only 6 years and then promoted to MP to get him out of the stake. The local members were re-leaved to be rid of him, but I felt bad for the missionaries and the local members to where he was called. He was ‘rewarded” for bad behavior.
Then I moved around country and saw a mixture of situations, but more authoritarian and over zealous types than I had experienced in Utah. I am still unsure if due to the church becoming more that way as the years pasted, or the places that I resided.
Anyways, I saw that that there can be 2 types of wards in this aspect. Wards that are so desperate for bodies that every one (males) gets called into leadership and works way up ladder (if they stay in the area long enough), or wards that have more than enough people and only the 10 families in the ward and 20 families in the Stake are the chosen few and forming their own cliques. Wanting my kids to grow up in larger wards, I now in retrospect realize I was in the cliquey wards. In those wards, few were the bishops who were humble, Christian men. They were corporate yes men, and only loyal to the institution. On the outside, they looked like “successful” wards, but in retrospect I wish I would have avoided them. I have yet in 30+ years ever to meet a SP, who is humble and listens the the people and acts like a servant. They have all been “full of themself types” As I have stated in other blog posts, I know not everyone experienced this. But I did. I had a zealous MP and multiple bishop/SP types who made going to church a chore and not providing a spiritual environment. The cognitive dissonance of what the church claimed to be a practiced, left me bewildered for decades. The church I have experienced for the past 30+ years, is not the church of Jesus Christ.
Anyways, I offer some suggestions. First, Bishops should only serve for a maximum time of 3 years and Stake Presidents for a maximum of 5 years. This is help avoid burn out among themselves and their families and allow many others to serve. I have seen that many wives are resentful when their husband is called and over-relived once released; unless she wants them both to climb the Mormon leadership ladder.
For wards/stakes lacking leadership, call other people anyways and be surprised how people many can serve, better than most would expect. Second, require all prior bishops/SP/MP to serve in the nursery for at least 6-12 months after their release. Do not recycle them back into leadership ! The same for all the prior seventy, Temple presidents, and higher church callings. Stop calling the same people. I know, their argument of using “talented people” and “they are trained and know the system”………is this a church or a corporation ??? Our last SP, was more interested in training the next Bishop and replacing the higher up callings, that every thing else was secondary. The whole focus of church is strict obedience to your local leaders (because they are following the GA and prophet), instead about following Christ and being better people.
The church needs to stop having elite lunches for the GA, when they come visit.
The church needs to stop publicizing who the new mission presidents are.
The church should require all profits from books and publications from the GA/Q15 should go to only humanitarian work.
Frankly the church leadership, should be more anonymous. We should definitely not need their biographies published. Imagine if we did not even know their names…….nameless Christians doing service. There is no need to present your alms before men.
The best Christian servants in the church are the Bishops, who do not want to be the bishop.
Chet, yes you it would be harder today. I was lucky that I was released 2 years befor the Prop 8 mess. I would not have let the stake hijack Sacrment Meeting for a Prop 8 pep rally. I’m sure there was LGBTQ YM/YW in my ward, but none came out during my tenure, though I believe in today more ccepting climate that there would be much more. There was a trans woman that started attending a year after I was released, Very difficult decisions on her attending RS, which bathroom to use, etc that my replacement had to make.
I have been councilors on bishopricks for 15 years when my children were young. Had one bishop who realised it only took one person to conduct a meeting. So only one member of the bishopric on the stand, the others with their families.
I have thought since that were I called as Bishop now I would include the RS presidency to rotate with the bishopric in conducting sacrament. Wouldn’t it change the atmosphere to have a woman conducting sacrament meeting, especially if there were not a male behind them on the stand? The RS presidency could be attending bishopric too.
As I remember the handbook says the councillors can conduct sacrament, but doesn’t say the RS can’t. Does anyone know why this can’t be done. Not that I am likely to be a bishop, but someone reading this may.
Here are the exact words from the handbook on conducting church meetings.
“The presiding officer may conduct the meeting. Or he or she may ask someone else, such as a counselor, to conduct under his or her direction.”
I think having each member of the ward council rotate taking turns conducting is a brilliant idea, and the handbook permits this.
I’ve had a couple of dozen bishops from coast-to-coast and can say that only one was awful, one was destructively clueless, and one insufferably self-righteous (he worked for the church curriculum department).
Some have been exceptional, like BB.
The awful one called a joint Aaronic and Melchizedek meeting and said that he was called to be bishop because he was “the most righteous and prepared priesthood holder in the ward.” He cited the many ways in which he was favored of the Lord, including his recent financial windfall (a senior programmer at a tech company that had be bought).
I was his executive secretary. A month after the 2nd counselor moved, I got a call to meet with the stake presidency. If I had to guess, I thought I might be asked to be the 2nd counselor. In the meeting the SP was thanking me and going on about how even though my time of service was short I had done well. One of the counselors (a district judge) saw my puzzled look and said, “Do you know why you are here?” “Nope.” They were there to release the clerks, the 1st counselor, and me. BP hadn’t told any of us. The SP apologized for the lack of courtesy. I ran into the BP at the water cooler. “I was thinking I should apologize for not telling you first.” “Yep.” He never did actually apologize. He also called my wife to be the Laurel advisor. The next Sunday he announced someone else from the pulpit. When my wife confronted him he said, “I heard her make a comment in Sunday school last week and thought I’d like her better.”
Clueless was told by the Church sex abuse hotline (Kirton McConkie)to not tell the family of the abuser of one of my children and to let law enforcement handle it. That he should under no circumstances tip the abuser’s family off. He hung up and then immediately called the dad, shattering the window of surprise the police investigators needed in their investigation. He’s that same one that told me and my dying son how excited he was to speak at his funeral because of all the youth that would be there from the junior high school. How distasteful and insensitive. I made sure that he had no part in the funeral.
So – overwhelmingly good to great experiences with local leadership. But the bad ones – even years latter – still bring pain.
Wow! I am genuinely sorry for those of you who have had such cruddy leaders in your wards and stakes. Kudos to all who have weathered those storms and stuck around.
“ 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 . So I was not their first choice!”
Having been a stake executive secretary I can tell you that the problem is more common than you might think.