Six years today
Today is Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. Six years ago tonight, I was consecrated as a bishop in my denomination. It was one of the saddest days in my over 40-year career. Like a soldier promoted in combat due to the death or wounding of a superior NCO or officer, that is how I came to the office of bishop.
John W. Holloway was the first man I met who was affiliated with the Charismatic Episcopal Church. We had lunch in Griffin, Ga., in the autumn of 1994. At the time, I was a pastor of a church in another denomination and he was the pastor of St. Michael and All Angels Church in Thomaston, Ga. He was also the Canon Missioner for Georgia, a designation that indicated that he represented the interests of the church in our state.
In September of 1996, I became a priest in the CEC and, in 1997, Holloway was elected and consecrated Bishop of Georgia. He became my boss, my pastor, and my very dear friend.
Bishop John was a stone extrovert, a wonderful and dynamic preacher, and a man that exuded faith. When my mother died a few years later in northeast Tennessee, John called me to see how I was doing. We talked for a few minutes and then he said he wanted to have coffee with me that night. I replied that I was in Kingsport, Tenn. He said that he was too. He drove the seven hours that day to be with me.
Something like that buys a lot of loyalty. He was not a perfect man and he had his flaws but I loved him.
In June 2007, at the age of 53, Bishop John had a stroke. The results were debilitating in the extreme. The Archbishop of the Southeast, Charles Jones of Selma, Ala., temporarily assumed control of the diocese, now the Diocese of the Mid-South, consisting of Georgia and Tennessee, and appointed me, along with members of the Bishop’s Council, to administer the ministry in the diocese under his leadership. In October, I was elected to serve as a bishop and was to be assigned as the Auxiliary Bishop to assist Archbishop Jones and, when he recovered, Bishop Holloway.
When I was consecrated at a service at Christ Our Shepherd Lutheran Church in Peachtree City on Nov. 16, 2007, Bishop Holloway was gravely ill. I thought of Lyndon Johnson who was sworn in to the presidency after JKF was murdered. Jackie Kennedy stood beside him with her husband’s blood still staining her clothes. In the photo of that event, Johnson, who wanted to be president, looked miserable. I’m sure he didn’t want to become president in that manner. With Bishop John laid so low, the service wasn’t a celebration.
In the summer of 2008, it was obvious that Bishop Holloway was not going to return to duty anytime soon. The head of our denomination, Archbishop Craig Bates, came from New York to install me as the diocesan bishop and to consecrate our church as the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of the Mid-South. I found it difficult to celebrate that night as well.
Bishop Holloway was eventually named Bishop Emeritus and was officially medically retired. I saw him last Tuesday at his home. He is bed-ridden and cannot speak. He is paralyzed on his right side. As it always does, my heart aches terribly when I leave. Even after six years, it seems that he should be the bishop and that he should still be my pastor.
His wife faithfully continues to minister to her husband and family and has become a Commissioned Minister of Music and Worship and is serving in our Fayetteville congregation, the Church of the Holy Cross. She lovingly and beautifully cares for her husband at their home.
Sometimes, I will be asked, “How do you like being a bishop?” For the first four years, I hated every minute of it. I didn’t hate the clergy and the churches — they are among the finest and most faithful anywhere. I just wanted things to be the way they were. Almost every day, I seriously considered resigning as a bishop. I was happy just being a priest and didn’t seek or want the job.
Finally, someone I love and trust came to me and severely rebuked me. He said that I was a bishop whether I liked it or not. He made it clear that I needed to get over myself and be what I had been called to be, regardless of how it came about. The war was still being fought, battlefield commission notwithstanding. It was a sobering wake-up call. So, I adjusted my attitude. I repented to God and embraced the unwanted call.
I am more settled about it now and I do try to do a good job. My first ministry is and has to be my church. We started together over 17 years ago and I am still the pastor. I try to be there most every Sunday, visiting the churches and pastors during the week or on evenings. As Bishop John was to me, I seek to be a good pastor to the other clergy of the diocese. Over a year ago, my role expanded and now I am also the bishop that has responsibility, under Archbishop Bates, to minister to all of our U.S. military chaplains.
Mostly, I am happy and am finally settled into my various roles. I love the services of ordination, confirmation, and church dedications. I do not enjoy the discipline that sometimes has to be meted out, but it is part of the job.
The administrative duties are made easier by Donna Shelton, an excellent and indispensable executive assistant. There are other clergy who share some of the workload in the diocese and in my church and lighten my load. I also greatly benefit by having excellent lay leadership in pivotal roles. I enjoy fellowship with the deacons and priests, and am honored to sit on the North American House of Bishops.
Tomorrow, I will begin the seventh year of my episcopacy. But today, the sixth anniversary of my consecration, I miss my boss, my pastor, and my very dear friend.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]