On May 24, 1960. soon to be 55 years ago, I was ordained a bishop of a district that grew to the Peninsular Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina District of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference. This ordination exposed me to congregations of many cultures and worship styles and helped shape me to be who I am. But more, I was shaped by attending over 50 percent of the monthly meetings of the Bishop Board of the Lancaster Conference.
The day before the ordination, I was examined and instructed on what was expected of my wife and me in the bishop’s role. I promised to wear a black hat without dents or creases and a frock suit. More importantly, I was asked to promise to give my opinion to the other bishops even if I were a minority of one. I don’t remember not being respected, and though we had our differences, I do not remember being rebuked even though I was the youngest member of the board. We respected each other as equals even though we often saw things from different perspectives and behaved differently in our districts.
About 10 years after my ordination I phased out of a bishop’s role and into administrative roles with the Southeast Mennonite Convention/Conference. I was a bishop no longer and did not wish to be called one. Anyone who wants to explore this transition in more detail should read My Faith Pilgrimage and Books by Martin Lehman featured on this website.
Recent reflection over my life has convinced me that the training I received on the bishop board has had a lasting influence on me. I’m still prone to speak my mind as though those who hear me are my equals and believing that respect is mutual.
There is a problem, I think. Not everyone who hears me speak or reads what I write senses equality or respect. Yet, it is my opinion, that if everyone would speak even though they knew they were a minority of one, and if respect among individual members, congregations, and conferences were mutual, there would be no divisions in the church.