Mormon bishops are an oddity. They are often compared to parish priest or a local minister, but the analogy falls apart quickly. Mormon bishops are not professional clergy. The do not apply for their position to preside over a congregation, and unless someone is completely out of his mind, they don’t campaign for it. They balance the demands of their callings with their own jobs or careers and family. They receive minimal and mostly informal training for their position, which they will only hold for five years or so before moving on to some other responsibility. It is a position free of pay, and frequently free of thanks.
In exchange for their efforts, they get to listen to and counsel repenting members of the Church, enduring through a litany of sins and predicaments that they most likely would prefer to know nothing of. They attend leadership meetings, ward councils, committees, and a parade of other meetings that would drive lesser men to drink. And, when families face catastrophes, they step into the breach and help to put things back together.
The last thing I wanted to do this year was to place another burden on my bishop’s shoulders. Bishop Jason Parr has been dealing with his own tragedy, having lost a young son in a car accident recently. He had more than enough on his plate without worrying about the Ghios. But one night as I lay in the hospital, in walked Bishop Parr, with his ubiquitous smile.
I wish I remembered more of that visit, but I wasn’t operating on the same level of reality as other folks. But I do remember two aspects of the conversation. The first dealt with my own despondency, and the natural question of “Why does this stuff keep happening to me?” He smiled even more broadly as he completely dodged the question. “I usually refer those kinds of questions to you or your blog.” Thanks a lot. But it was his gentle way of reminding me that I already knew the answer (or lack thereof) to that question and needed to point my mental faculties in a different direction. Jason and I have been friends for a lot of years, and he can get away with that kind of thing.
My second concern was more direct. “Jason, my family’s going to be in real trouble here.” His smile dropped for just a moment, then returned. “No, you’re not.” He assured me. He told me that people already were lining up to help us, including an online funding effort. He made himself very clear: My family would be taken care of, and there was no expiration date for that help.
It’s humbling to take help from anyone, but particularly from the Church. I’ve only had to do this once before (after my auto accident), and I did not like it. So I immediately started talking about how soon I could get back to work. The bishop would hear none of it. He told me, in so many words, to shut up and get better.
Somehow the bishop knew better than we did how bad things actually would get. I had plenty of false starts and false hopes over the months, with various financial mirages appearing, only to dissolve in the face of one more diagnosis or procedure. I tried to give Bishop Parr a cutoff date for help, but he stopped me. “I don’t want you doing anything to slow your recover because you are worried about finances. So what we’re going to do is this: I’ll tell you when you don’t need help any more.” Within days of that conversation, more bad new hit on the health front, and I would have been absolutely despondent had it not been for Bishop Parr’s prophetic promise.
And it wasn’t just financial help, although that relieved me from some of the most serious worry. There were the brief interviews in his office, as he checked on my progress and listened to my frustrations. He didn’t make me suffer through feel-good platitudes or empty promises. He was comforting, but realistic. I think that his own experience with tragedy make him a better comforter. He knows that there are some things that you just have to wait your way through, and there is no magic salve to make it feel better.
I’ve drawn heavily from Bishop Parr’s example of endurance and his unyielding faith. I don’t know that I can measure up to it, nor could I ever help him to the extent that he has helped my family. But I do know that in his dealings with me, he has demonstrated a Christ-like compassion and the mantle of priesthood power and authority. I trust him because I know he trusts God. I listen to him because I know he listens to God. And I am grateful that in this time of hardship for me and mine, the mantle of the bishopric has been his faithful shoulders.
Tomorrow: My Wife