Is the Bishop home?

On Sunday, my husband became our ward’s bishop. We have known for two weeks, but didn’t tell our children until the night before. Bruce and I read about a bishop’s duties, and he summarized them thus:
1) Care for the poor
2) Help people repent
3) Work with the youth
There are other responsibilities, of course, but these comprise his summary.

As I attended Church on Sunday, I found myself noticing all my ward members in new ways. Since Bruce and I have been serving in the MTC for the past two years, we simply don’t know a lot of the young couples who’ve moved in. I noticed who wasn’t in the congregation, as well as who was. Had they moved? Was there a divorce? Did they die? We will find out everything we need to know.

I told a friend of mine, a Presbyterian pastor, of Bruce’s new calling. He responded, “I know he will be a faithful servant.” That’s a beautiful response. I find it much easier to take than the standard one: “Congratulations.” (What is my husband being congratulated for?)

I will never know all of the weights my husband is carrying during her term of service, but I have found that my love for him has been magnified over the past while. Is it a gift? A preparation for the service I will be asked to give? My portion of his calling? I don’t know. I do know that I feel called just as he does, though nobody set me apart.

Our children remembered past bishops, and urged Bruce to be really understanding and patient. Our oldest remembered one of our bishops who had scolded him for some typically hyper activity, and then returned to apologize. “I never want you to feel like you can’t talk to me about anything,” that bishop had said. “You always need to know I’m your friend.”

Our youngest son said, “So if I do something really bad, do I have to talk to you about it?”

“Well,” Bruce answered, “if it’s something you’re embarrassed about, you can talk to the stake president.”

Our daughter said, “I could talk to you. You’ve always been understanding, even if I’ve been bad.”

I’ve been thinking about the many bishops I’ve had during my lifetime. I’ve also been thinking about their wives. I’m still thinking. I am glad we had our time at the MTC, where our primary directive was to prepare missionaries to “bring souls to Christ.” I find no ego boost in the fact that my husband is now our ward’s bishop. I saw his rather pale face after he had met with our former bishop to discuss the ward’s needs. Bruce’s acceptance of this calling is heroic, not a step up any kind of ladder. We both feel a need to have our own home in order (meaning spiritual order) so that we’re positioneed to help those we’ve been called to serve. Sometimes a cliche is the best description: We’re humbled.

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  1. Rebecca J says:

    I like the Presbyterian pastor’s response. It’s good to be humbled. I can’t imagine being qualified for the job any other way. God bless both of you.

  2. Mark Brown says:

    I saw his rather pale face after he had met with our former bishop to discuss the ward’s needs.

    Margaret, I hope you can forgive me for chuckling at this. My guess is that bishop Young had just gotten the quickest of glimpses of what he will be coping with for the next several years — up-close and personal dealings with very fallible human beings when they are at their worst, our almost unlimited capacity for sin and cruelty, and the intractable nature of so many of our problems. The good news is that Christ’s grace is sufficient. You guys will be fine.

  3. I don’t like to hear the response, “Congratulations,” either. However, I “get” why some people say it. I think they mean, “You are to be commended for being in a position to accept such a large responsibility. The Lord/Stake President has a lot of trust in you.”

    Or something like that. :-|

    Good luck, and be sure and get “Caller ID” installed on your phone, if you don’t already have it.

  4. After getting to know you and having your husband as a professor this semester, I feel confident in saying the Lord couldn’t find any better couple.

    At stake conference this last weekend, a sister got up and shared a story you may enjoy: the sunday her husband was called as bishop, he was late coming home for dinner after all his meetings. While the whole family was waiting his arrival, the phone rang, asking for Bishop ___. Her response: “I’m sorry, but he’s not home. Call back in five years.”

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I’ve never been a bishop, but I do have some unsolicited advice. There are certain nondelegable duties, but beyond those delegate as much as possible to others. In particular, delegate administration of programs. As bishop, Bruce’s primary concern needs to be with people, and he needs to spend his limited time with people.

    But from his summary of what a bishop does, he obviously already understands that.

  6. My friend who is a bishop’s wife says it is very difficult because people think she knows things that she does not. They talk to her but she feels like she is always starting in the middle of the conversation.
    I can always tell when they are out of town because the answering machine is off. Of course, they have to make sure someone calls a counselor instead of leaving a message the bishop won’t receive.

  7. esodhiambo says:

    Rather than “congratulations” I say, “good luck.” And I mean it–I wish good things your way.

    I LOVE his list of priorities–wish all Bishops had the same.

  8. esodhiambo says:

    OH–I heard a good idea recently. The bishop has his own line, probably a cell phone with voice mail, otherwise people call and leave detailed messages on the family answering machine that they probably wouldn’t want your kids going through.

  9. Margaret, we say congratulations, because we don’t know what else to say. As a wife of a bishop, you’ll have the uncomfortable experience of walking in to a room, and having all the sisters (or brethren) suddenly grow quiet, but you’ll also find great new relationships, and I believe a stronger marriage for it.

    When I was called as bishop, I did just what Kevin Barney did. I delegated as much as possible. I was never responsible for getting sacrament meeting speakers on a regular basis. I asked my counselors to do that, along with anything else I could reasonably delegate.

    I also tried to formalize my schedule as much as possible. Sunday was pretty much a wash, Monday was FHE, Tuesday and Wednesday were interviews, youth activity night, and bishopric meeting, and Thursday was usually for stake meetings. Friday night was date night for my wife and I, and we guarded it jealously, trying as much as possible not to let anything else interfere.

    Finally, the former bishop told me that I would be sitting on the stand, looking at all those wonderful people, and realize that just about every problem known to humankind would show up at some point during my tenure. It turned out to be true, but I felt a huge outpouring of love for my congregation, and tried to let that guide my decisions. I also tried to make sure that I told my wife everything I possibly could, so that only the truly sensitive things were excluded. It kept us from falling into a trap of not sharing enough.

  10. Congratu — err, oops. Damn. :)

    Um, good luck. I’m sure he’ll be a faithful servant. He’s already got one thing going for him — he has a very good permanent co-counselor.

  11. I find it much easier to take than the standard one: “Congratulations.”</blockquote

    Having been a counselor in a bishopric twice, my usual response is a semi-jocular, “Condolences”, followed quickly by an expression of support.

    I’ll second Kevin’s advice: tell Bruce to delegate all that he can. The last bishop I was a counselor for did that, and did it well. Of course, in his case, it was his third time as a bishop, so he had the whole process down pretty well. ..bruce..

  12. Oops! Someone want to close my unclosed “blockquote” in comment #11? ..bruce..

  13. mondo cool says:

    I was recently called to be Bishop. It is truly a remarkable calling. Amazing how the calling deepens the perception of my many weaknesses. I’ve never truly understood what it means to have people praying for me and to have that witnessed to me.
    The only thing I see as a sacrifice is not being able to talk with my wife about things that are of such concern to me at times. So often she is so good at helping me crystallize my thinking. That she DOES NOT want to hear about those concerns is also a tremendous blessing.

  14. Margaret, having served as bishop before, I can honestly say I’m happy for your family but I’m especially happy for Bruce. He will find his own way as bishop, with or without the advice of others. But what he will find most overwhelming are the great belssings the Lord bestows on those who serve and those blessings extend to the families as well, who support the bishop in greater ways than anybody else in the ward. And the best part of being the bishop is the chance he will have to participate in all the joyous experiences of other people’s lives. There are sorrowful times as well but they will be more than balanced by the happy times. Enjoy your time. Although it is a huge commitment, it will be over before you know it.

  15. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    “I do know that I feel called just as he does, though nobody set me apart”

    If you have desire to serve, you are called to the work. There is certainly a sharing of the responsibility in the household and an absolute dependence on the wisdom of a spouse as you strive to fulfill a calling. As a counselor in a Bishopric, I certainly felt a different measure of spirit than I did in other callings. The closest way I can explain it is having the spirit of Elijah (the manifestation of the spirit you receive while doing family history work) with you at your Bishopric and other meetings and frequently, throughout the week.

  16. Congratulations – to your ward. They are getting a good, humble Bishop-couple – and they couldn’t get a better gift than that.

  17. I’ve also found “congratulations” curious. “Congratulations on being assigned an exhausting, thankless full time job for the next several years”? Of course, that’s toungue in cheek–doubtless the blessings compensate for the stress.

    As for the phone stuff, don’t just get caller ID, but set it up so that his secretary’s and counselors’ numbers show up on other people’s caller IDs as “Sweepstakes Prize Patrol.” That’ll make extending callings a lot easier!

  18. “The only thing I see as a sacrifice is not being able to talk with my wife about things that are of such concern to me at times. ”

    This was one of the first and most persistent problems my wife and I encountered when I was a bishop. Formerly there had been no barriers between us–nothing we couldn’t, or didn’t, talk about. After I became bishop I internalized a lot of my fellow congregants’ problems–and some of them weighed on me quite heavily. Suddenly it felt like there was a third person in mine and my wife’s relationship–someone she knew was there but not privy to.

    I have a lot of empathy for bishops and even more for their wives.

  19. And it begins. A family was waiting for “the bishop” when I got home. I explained that he teaches and wouldn’t be home until later. (I am grateful I speak Spanish and know I’ll get to help my husband in ways some wives won’t: I’ll be an interpreter when needed.) So, I guess I’d better clean the front room and hide the dirty dishes.

  20. Concerned says:

    In my part of the world a lot of Bishops/leaders seem more concerned about having meetings to discuss about past meetings and plan ahead for the next meeting. Administration, administration, administration.

  21. I know my husband. The administrative aspects will be there, of course, but he will

  22. Concerned says:

    What a wonderful thing Margaret. I wish him all the best. For me people are the number one priority of a Bishop. I hope what I see in my side of the world does not happen everywhere. I understand the need of administration but when the emphasis is solely on eternal meetings, papers, numbers, statistics and NOT souls then is something really wrong.




  24. Steve Evans says:


  25. You needn’t think BCC is speshul, Steve — Keepa has been warned, too.

  26. Further to what Mathew@18 wrote: I was Executive Secretary to a very wise Bishop. He taught me about how, when he was first called, he would carry a small notebook around with him in his pocket with all his notes on members’ problems, needs, etc. As the months passed, the notebook became an increasingly greater burden on his mind – until he decided to leave it locked in the drawer of his Bishop’s office desk. He would only deal with those most heavy issues when at his office, at times he set aside specifically for those things. The rest of the time he focused on the other aspects of his calling – mainly the youth. He also had wise counsellors who – before their very first Bishopric meeting – went through the handbook and identified all the Bishop’s non-delegable responsibilities. They then divided everything else up between the two of them, and presented the division of responsibilities to the Bishop for his approval. He was then free to focus on the nondelegable aspects of his ministry. A great lesson in gospel leadership all around.

  27. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    I highly recommend using the answering machine as a screening tool during family time, such as FHE. People will call on Monday night knowing that this bishop will be home. In my experience it was never a problem that couldn’t be addressed on Tuesday.

    Don’t let people put you in the place of a substitute or intermediary for the bishop. You were not set apart when he was. I don’t know you and please don’t feel that I am judging you, but I have seen some horrible uses of unrighteous dominion by bishop’s wives, councilor’s wives, etc.

    Above all, when it gets stressful, remember, “this too shall pass.”

  28. Margaret,

    I don’t know you on a personal level, but I have enjoyed your blog posts and appreciate the unique insights and experiences you have shared with me and others.

    Knowing so little about you and your husband, I am nevertheless confident that the Lord will make you and your husband equal to the task. The wife of my bishop often remarks about how blessed she feels. I know the Lord will bless you and your husband as you serve and minister to those in your ward.

    God bless!

  29. I know most everyone will disagree with me, but I actually oppose the ‘screening’ of calls. I’m more in favor of communicating and teaching ward members when to call their home teachers/ visiting teachers/ aux leaders, etc. and then being available for emergencies- and being honest about it. So many in leadership talk about ‘screening calls’ and joke about it in church. It really distances you from the membership and erodes trust. If you need to do it, don’t TELL anyone you are doing it. Also, this calling isn’t for scheduled times that are convenient to you . . . but a service —-calling.

    Also, I highly encourage bishops to share a personal e-mail address, not your family’s address, and not a work address. My bish and his wife and family all “share” a cute together-forever family e-mail address, and a great deal of personal and private ward business is communicated on this
    account. I hate it. Also, work e-mails can be viewed by an employer and this would break any pastoral confidentiality. Set up a free e-mail account instead.

  30. JAT,

    I’d agree on the screening of calls. I had it recommended to me, but didn’t do it. When I talked about scheduling my time, that was for the things I could control. As bishop, I still had to respond in real time to events and needs as they came up. It just helped me to be able to balance church, work and family life a little better. Every one of those three priorities intruded into the all the others at various times, but at least I felt like I had control of the controllable.

  31. I’m not a bishop, but I’ve known a few, and I might recommend that you draw a line around your home and say something like “THOU SHALT NOT CROSS!”.

    There’s a reason why bishops have offices, in my opinion. And if someone doesn’t want to meet at a bishop’s office, then they can meet at the member’s home. But the bishop’s home should be off-limits, in my unwashed opinion.

  32. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    When people would call with something that would be best handled by someone else, I would recommend that they call their home teacher/visiting teacher/quorum leader/RS president. But some people never learned, even when I was quite direct. Typically they would not respect family private time, but would interupt with items that could have waited until the following Sunday. I see no problem with letting the answering machine catch the message and I could call back when it was convenient for me. Screening allows the bishop to respond to true emergencies without abrogating his responsibility to teach the gospel to his family.

    Have you been a bishop JAT?

  33. Margaret–

    Blessings on you both.

    My two cents (having never been a Bishop, but having had a dad who was one): It was during my Dad’s time as Bishop that I really learned the meaning of “bear one another’s burdens.” There were many days he came home from Church with what seemed the weight of the world on his shoulders and, to make matters worse, he couldn’t discuss the most weighty things with my mom, which I know was really hard for them both. Further, even though he is just about the most steady-as-she-goes man I have ever known, there were times when he got just a bit testy; the calling stretched him in ways that he couldn’t have imagined and that I’m sure I can’t understand.

    You seem, of course, to be a wonderfully empathetic and understanding person. Still, be prepared to shoulder even a little extra emotional weight as your husband starts shouldering, along with the Savior, the weight of the ward.

    Oh, and I should mention after such heavy-sounding words: our family was blessed immeasurably in ways too personal to discuss–the blessings were extraordinary.

  34. I’m sure that his will be a callenging and rewarding time for your family.
    The Bishop for whom I was a counselor taught me the value of “bishops minister; counselors administer.” Healing souls is the true Christian work of the Church and the Bishop is the leader in the trenches. We counselors, like the Bishop’s wife, do *not* know the personal struggles of members and serve to carry water for the Bishop. This Bishop held this line even while he was hospitalized as he was dying from cancer. Dufing that time, I would meet with him in his room or talk on the ‘phone and receive his assignments to issue callings or ask the RS President or some veteran High Priest to handle different issues. Mercifully, he was released a month before he passed.
    I’m especially grateful for the wife of our current bishop: she *never* has displayed the slightest annoyance at any intrusion into her time with him. I don’t know what she says to him, but I’m very grateful for her continuing acceptance of every call I’ve made.

  35. mormonsoprano says:

    How about: “My condolences” :)

    Obviously no one is ever really prepared for callings of tremendous leadership in the church. I’ve always been comforted by the quote: “The Lord Qualifies Those He Calls”. There is no doubt in my mind that you will be blessed. However, my prayer for you is that you will be able to recognize the blessings, and have peace amid the storms

  36. Douf Cole says:

    A couple quick thoughts for you and your husband from my experience (5 years of my father being my bishop from age 14-19, 5 1/2 years of being bishop, temple recommend interviews for our adult children, 2 daughters in law and mission interviews for my daughter). The worldwide leadership training that focuses on “bishoping” is incredible, esp Pres Hinckley’s talk abt being a shepherd. Pres Eyring’s talk from October’s general priesthood is invaluable. Enjoy the journey, there is nothing better…it is difficult and worth every bit of what it will cost…

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