Altar Call -- Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
September 9, 2001

Guess who preaches when the Bishop comes to church

September 9 will be a rare Sunday for us at Trinity. Our new Bishop, Larry Goodpaster, is coming to church. And guess who will be in the pulpit. Right, the Bishop will have the honor.

In fact we are honoring the Bishop by letting him preach for us four times Sunday morning. I say "let" because in the United Methodist Church we donít tell our Bishop what to do -- he tells us. We who are pastors serve under his authority, having taken a solemn vow to go where we are sent. We may argue, complain, and even pray, but the Bishop is the boss.

How will the Bishop preach four times when we have only three morning worship services? Well, this Sunday is also Rally Day when we celebrate our love for Sunday School. This means that our classes will meet only to register attendance and then "rally" in the sanctuary where the Bishop will encourage our teachers and tell us what the Sunday School has meant to him personally.

In our communion the Bishop is a special person. He (or she) is an ordained elder who has been elected by his peers for the office of bishop. Upon election the Bishop is "consecrated" for episcopal ministry and is assigned to an area of one or more annual conferences. Our area has one conference, the Alabama-West Florida conference, and the episcopal residence is in Montgomery. We are expecting the Bishopís wife, Deborah, to accompany him Sunday.

People are excited when the Bishop comes to church. Children especially delight in shaking hands with the Bishop since each one generally will visit a local church only once or twice every ten years. There are more than 700 churches in our conference, and the Bishop is the Chief Shepherd for some 140,000 United Methodists in southern Alabama and west Florida. So the Bishop has a wide circuit to travel.

Bishop Goodpaster was elected a bishop while serving a large church in Mississippi. He was assigned to our area in September of 2000 and already he has traveled over 40,000 miles to meet his people. Recently he journeyed to Viet Nam and Cambodia to see firsthand the missionary work of our church there. His report on his trip was most interesting and inspiring; I hope he shares with us some of his observations about the people and pastors in those struggling countries.

The Bishop is young (52) and energetic. He is definitely not a bishop of "the old school." He is a good listener and seems genuinely interested in what other people say to him. Unfortunately some bishops are prone to enjoy listening to themselves talk. In their presence one gets a lot of practice in being a good listener.

Bishop Goodpaster is innovative and computer-smart. He is the first bishop ever to send his preachers a weekly e-mail message. His messages reflect a different style from what we have been accustomed to. Instead of merely "promoting" benevolent giving and "pushing" us for higher numbers, he often shares his heart with us. What surprised me most was his admission of a mistake he made at annual conference. He forgot a promise he had made to call on a retired preacher for an announcement he wanted to make.

To make amends the Bishop acknowledged his memory lapse, and shared the news the retired pastor had expected to impart at conference. In so doing the Bishop made sure the manís announcement was heard by a much wider audience than he would have had at the conference session.

The Bishopís enthusiasm for the mission of the church is contagious. His vision is compelling. He makes me want to get down in the trenches and do my best for God. I hope he touches the hearts of my people today at Trinity in the same way he has touched my own. If that happens we will be a better church.

Need an exciting change of pace? Come hear our bishop this morning. It might make you a better Baptist or Presbyterian or whatever the Lord has called you to be.