Outgoing COB president looks at state of church

Editor’s Note: At the Reporter’s request, the Rev. Donald Haynes stepped outside his Wesleyan Wisdom column format to interview Bishop Larry Goodpaster, a fellow North Carolinian.


Bishop Larry Goodpaster

UNITED METHODIST NEWS SERVICE FILE PHOTO BY MIKE DUBOSE • • • Bishop Goodpaster welcomed viewers to the UMC’s Leadership Summit, a webcast hosted in Nashville, Tenn., in April 2011.

Bishop Larry Goodpaster will finish his two-year term as President of the Council of Bishops when General Conference 2012 begins on April 24. His tenure has seen major challenges to the denomination as well as a major paradigm shift in his own Western North Carolina Conference. Like Esther of old, he just might have “come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”

Bishop Goodpaster has that admirable trait of faithful courage—a powerful combination. Faith without works does not help others, and courage without faithfulness can be foolhardy, but faithful courage has vision and muscle, enthusiasm and staying power. That was apparent in our recent conversation, as he reflected on his hopes for the United Methodist Church.

“I received my first appointment as a student pastor while in college in 1968 and I am as hopeful as I have ever been,” he said.

During his first 12 years of service as a bishop, and during the last two years as president of the Council, Bishop Goodpaster has traveled the globe for the sake of the gospel and Christ Jesus. He has stood in Red Square, counseled the leadership in Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire, served as the presiding bishop in Southeast Asia, observed United Methodism in Germany and the Czech Republic, celebrated with South Americans the growth of Christianity in their sphere, and has seen what God is doing through our connection in the Philippines.

Bishop Goodpaster reports that the United Methodist churches in most of these overseas congregations are made up mostly of young adults with children—and that they have a passion for reaching all people.

Vietnam Mission Initiative

PHOTO BY PATRICK FRIDAY/GENERAL BOARD OF GLOBAL MINISTRIES • • • When the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries established the denomination’s Southeast Asia Initiative in 2007, Bishop Goodpaster was named by the Council of Bishops to oversee the church in Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.

Outside North America and Europe, United Methodism is meeting the challenge that Lovett Weems issues in his newest book, Focus: more people, younger people, more diverse people.

In those areas where growth is occurring, we see a deepening of personal holiness, a broadening of social holiness; and a growth in membership, attendance and societal influence. We see the recovery of the Wesleyan spirit and passion for reaching marginalized people, multiple ministries for helping people in need, and other signs of a “movement with a Wesleyan DNA.”

In these former “mission fields,” the bishop says with a smile, “United Methodists have fallen in love with their community.” In short, the bishop says, “They have vital congregations; they are still a movement.”

Currently, our United Methodist Social Principles and process for ordination are too “USA-centric,” to use the bishop’s term. Noting that non-U.S. delegates at General Conference have risen from 20 percent in 2004 to 30 percent in 2008 to 38 percent in 2012, Bishop Goodpaster predicts they will reach 50 percent by 2020, if the current trends continue. At some point, he says, we must develop a Book of Discipline that is smaller and less reflective of any national or ethnic culture.

The Call to Action

As president of the Council, Bishop Goodpaster likely has his finger on the pulse of the connection as much as any one person.

He predicts that the Call to Action will pass in some form, but only “after our normal legislative processing which will include many amendments and perfections.” Most of the plan, which has been put forward by the Interim Operations Team, will go to the General Administration Committee. Bishop Goodpaster says that he has been most fortunate to have been part of those conversations. He also expressed profound appreciation for the work of the team led by Bishop Gregory Palmer.

Bishop Goodpaster believes that “there is a groundswell of conviction that we cannot sustain the track we are on.”

“We must get some institutional and systemic stagnation out of the way and recognize that ‘it’s all about mission,’” he said. The question is, “Will mission of the church drive our decisions or will we simply keep them as general statements in the Book of Discipline?”


UNITED METHODIST NEWS SERVICE FILE PHOTO BY PAUL JEFFREY • • • During the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, Bishop Goodpaster talked with children in an after-school program at United Community Centers, Inc., a non-profit supported by United Methodist Women.

Noting the insight of corporate visionaries like Steve Jobs, Bishop Goodpaster says, “If we do not move forward in mission, the machine will eat up our time, energy and money. It is time for ‘holy boldness.’” He also sees a profound need for “discernment with regard to social justice issues.”

Bishop Goodpaster loves our mission statement, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” but he sees a mandate for every vital congregation to begin by transforming its community! This happened in the early days of the Methodist movement in England and America, and it’s happening today in many developing nations.

Clergy appointments

Bishop Goodpaster does not face the question of guaranteed appointment for clergy with a happy heart. Should the General Conference decide to eliminate it, he firmly believes that the bishops would not arbitrarily say “no” to an elder in full connection. The bishops would be determined, he says, that the loss of institutional guarantee would not erode the historic freedom of the pulpit nor mute the prophetic voice of the preacher.

In making decisions about appointments, Bishop Goodpaster is convinced that “we will have to look at the track record.” The removal of the “shall be continued under appointment” language of ¶334 is already qualified by the prior words “effective” and “in good standing.”

In short, the bishop recognizes with a heavy heart what elimination of guaranteed appointment could mean to some pastors at mid-career or later, yet, “We must have accountability.”

Episcopal authority

“People who feel that the Call to Action plan would make a dramatic shift of power to the bishops are not privy to our conversation,” Bishop Goodpaster said. “We are about collaborative, transformative, and adaptive leadership and each of us must and will be held accountable to the body of bishops, and to both conference and jurisdictional committees on episcopacy.”

He continues, “There would be no shift in the balance of power, but only our hope to ‘drive the mission,’ not to ‘run the church.’” He adds, “We do not want to be to our conference what Jack Welch was to General Electric! That is not the style of servant leadership.” He calls on both clergy and laity and the bishops to see the bishop as a collegial missional leader of the whole connection, not the strong arm of a designated geographic area.

Bishop Goodpaster is in favor of the proposal for one bishop to be “set aside” to provide global leadership without residential responsibility for the duties of a given episcopal area.

PHOTO BY MARK BARDEN • • • Bishop Goodpaster at a 2011 “Preachers’ Kids Weekend” in the Western North Carolina Conference. Participants made a planter for the bishop; the inscription reads: “We are the seeds. Please plant us in good soil.”

First of all, he points out that this would require a constitutional amendment and could not possibly be ratified before 2014. The next president of the Council of Bishops will serve with the same dual expectation of leading an episcopal area and the entire global communion.

In debating the request for a set-aside bishop, there are some reality checks that the legislative committee on superintendency and the plenary session must consider. Bishop Goodpaster notes that he has hardly known the meaning of a “day off.” His work day has consistently clocked 12-14 hours. His “smart phone” has made him available 24/7 in all the time zones of the world!

Furthermore, Bishops Neil Irons and Sharon Rader have assisted him with a massive amount of detail work: correspondence, meetings, consultation, ecumenical relationships, and a myriad of both “paper and people work.” Without their help, his job would have been virtually impossible. Even with their help and regardless of his indefatigable energy, Bishop Goodpaster feels, “I was unable to do adequately the work of both the presidency of the Council and the needs of the Western North Carolina Conference.”

Should we have a set-aside bishop, he feels, the budget would not reflect as much increase as some are predicting because the full-time leader would likely not have to engage the additional help which he has required.

He does not see this as a move toward more authority and power. The new position would be in the context of accountability to the entire Council of Bishops, the General Conference and other checks and balances to be put into place. The set-aside bishop would once again attain the identity of the whole connection which we have not seen since the advent of election and appointment of bishops within the confines of geographic jurisdictions and adjunct Central Conferences.

There is another advantage to a singular voice of United Methodism at “the table of the public square,” to use the phraseology of the late Father Richard John Neuhaus. Father Neuhaus famously feared a “naked public square” that “drives out prophetic religion and establishes a monopoly on public space and public meanings.” The result can be a takeover by “pseudo-religion established by state power.”

We should hear that concern! When has anyone seen one of our incumbent bishops tapped by a major media network to address issues from the vantage point of the Christian faith or for Protestantism? If one person could represent a global church with cultural diversity unparalleled in Protestantism, would this not be a good thing?

With his own term coming to an end, Bishop Goodpaster shares with every delegate a personal reflection of his two years as president. First of all, he was elected to the office by his peers, which makes the work humbling and gratifying. Though he does not articulate this, Bishop Goodpaster is an extraordinarily hard worker with good health, high energy and a passion for United Methodism, so he has “enjoyed every minute of it—well most of them”!

While repeating his conviction of hope for the future of the “people called Wesleyan,” the outgoing president of the Council of Bishops said, as his eyes moistened, “Serving the church in this capacity and with the amazing support of my own Committee on Episcopacy and the 292,000 United Methodists in Western North Carolina has been a high honor, and in spite of long hours, a very fulfilling experience.”

Dr. Donald W. Haynes is a retired member of the Western North Carolina Conference and the author of On the Threshold of Grace: Methodist Fundamentals. Email: dhaynes11@triad.rr.com.

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