Not long ago a man found himself in a hospital bed being treated for a variety of serious health problems. The birthdate listed on his medical records seemed at odds with his physical appearance. The man was still a few years shy of 50 — but he was old, tired and worn.
His ailments were not caused by age, but, in car lingo, by “high mileage.” He had taken his first drag on a cigarette while in junior high school. Alcohol came next and soon opened a gate to harder drugs.
Such dangerous addictions shadowed the man for decades, following a half-step behind wherever he went. They would undermine his education, limit job opportunities and cost him his first marriage, and then a second.
As a little boy, he had been a regular at Primary gatherings and had fun with the Cub Scouts. But when he reached Aaronic Priesthood age he decided “church stuff” was for others and turned from the gospel. The decades passed and he had little contact with the Church. He deflected the fellowshipping efforts of dutiful home teachers and quorum leaders.
During his lonesome hospital stay an in-house social worker asked the man if he would like to visit with a clergyman.
“I want to speak with my bishop,” he answered.
The man was surprised by his own request. He didn’t know his bishop’s name. He could not name his home ward. But some deep, even spiritual, instinct long dormant told him he had a friend in his bishop.
Before day’s end a kind bishop was at his bedside. He was accompanied by one of his counselors. The three enjoyed a half-hour of easy conversation. Then the bishop and his counselor placed their hands atop the sick man’s anointed head and offered a blessing of health and hope.
The bishop’s hospital visit was not mentioned in that day’s headlines. No matter. A life was blessed because a bishop, once again, answered the call of his flock.
Our global Church is divided into almost 30,000 wards and branches. Each is presided over by a bishop or a branch president. Some are school teachers, others earn livings as lawyers, bricklayers, businessmen, policemen, farmers or a host of other honorable professions. A few are retirees. Many are lifelong members. Some are converts of a few short years. Not one earns a dollar in his calling, but each holds a sacred warrant to care for and counsel the members of his ward or branch.
The work bishops perform each day remains essential and invaluable to the Church.
About two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul taught Timothy that a bishop “must be blameless … vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2).
Such servants “of good report” continue to act as dutiful shepherds to millions of members. How blessed is a man, woman, teenager or child who can count a bishop among his or her friends.
In all the world, taught President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve, there is nothing quite like the office of the bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Except for parents, the bishop has the best opportunity to teach and to cause to be taught the things that matter most. And a bishop has the remarkable opportunity to teach parents about their responsibility; then he must allow them time to teach their children.
“The bishop is responsible for the young men of the Aaronic Priesthood and for the young women as well. He receives and accounts for tithes and offerings. He is responsible for the temporal affairs of the Church, to seek out the poor, and he has many other duties.
“The bishop is ‘to judge his people by the testimony of the just, and by the assistance of his counselors, according to the laws of the kingdom which are given by the prophets of God’ (Doctrine and Covenants 58:18). He is to judge them as to their worthiness to receive the ordinances and serve in offices.
“He is to counsel and correct and to preach the gospel to his flock, individually and collectively. In all of this, he is to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Crucifixion, the Atonement, the Resurrection, the Restoration” (April 1999 general conference).
President Packer added that a bishop (or a branch president) does not volunteer or aspire to his calling. He is called of God, by prophecy. He is ordained, set apart and given keys to preside over a ward.
“Inherent in the ordination to be bishop is both the right and the obligation to be directed by inspiration. The bishop has the power to discern by the Spirit what he is to do.
“Revelation is the one credential that all bishops have in common. Bishops come from many cultures, many occupations. They vary in experience, personality and age, but they do not differ in their right to be guided spiritually.”
Bishops are not perfect men. But they are divinely called and inspired to care for the needs of each member, be they fully active in the Church or, like the man in the hospital, virtual strangers. Bishops also help families become eternal through sacred covenants they make in the temple.
“Each of us has agency to accept or reject counsel from our leaders, but never disregard the counsel of your bishop, whether given over the pulpit or individually, and never turn down a call from your bishop,” counseled President Packer.
Bishops are entitled to spiritual insight and revelation to bless those they serve. But they are not exempt from personal difficulties. They, too, may face financial struggles, family trials and health challenges. They need our patience, help and support.
After being called as the Church’s Presiding Bishop, Robert D. Hales asked members of all ages to pray for their own bishops, morning and night.
“He needs your help. He cannot carry the responsibilities on his shoulders without your help and prayers,” Bishop Hales said in an address during the April 1985 general conference.