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Sixteen years with Bishop Paul

By Bill Lewellis
June 25, 2012

[Bishop Paul Marshall will mark his 16th anniversary as Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem this Friday, June 29.]

"One thing is clear to me," Bishop Paul Marshall wrote a few years ago to parishioners of the Diocese of Bethlehem. "I have no perception other than that I am called to be here."

On June 29, 1996, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, bishops of the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America laid hands on Paul V. Marshall, at age 48, ordaining him the 919th Episcopal bishop in the American succession. Friday will mark the 16thth anniversary of his consecration.

"Each phase of life has its challenges," he has said. "The last phase of life, beyond age 60, is said to be marked by the struggle between integrity and despair. Can a person whose body (along with gravity) is increasingly betraying him believe he still has anything important to offer the species? Can someone who cannot compete physically, and to some extent mentally, with younger members of the species dare to lead? I currently believe that God wishes the answer to be yes, but think the “yes” to that question has to be a conditional one. We will need to match continuity with innovation. The final condition is that when it is time to quit somebody will tell me."

“When we put ourselves in God’s hands to be bread,” Bishop Catherine Roskam preached during the 1996 consecration sermon, “God keeps messing around in our lives, elbows deep in flour, never quite finished, making us ever more delicious and nourishing. The process is dynamic, creative, intimate and sometimes painful. It’s not easy being bread ... May the bakerwoman God bake, break and remake you. May Christ the bread of life, feed and sustain you. And may this House of Bread flourish under your care.”

Bishop Paul’s ministry among us has been broad and deep: teacher, pastor, preacher, administrator, author, advocate and participant in ministry with people in the developing world, children and youth, the poor and the marginalized, advocate and reconciler with those within the church who consider themselves progressive as well as those who consider themselves traditionalists, interpreter of family systems theory, communicator within and beyond the diocesan community, a leader who consults with colleagues, and a person whose ministry as bishop proceeds from prayer and a contemplative vision of God’s kingdom.

Over the past few years, especially with our expanded ministry with the Diocese of Kajo Keji in southern Sudan and with the inauguration of the New Hope Campaign for that diocese and the needy among us which has surpassed its goal, his ministry among us has grown even broader and deeper.

Before I retired in 2009, I [Bill Lewellis] wrote Thirteen Years with Bishop Paul: Well-kneaded God-baked, God-broken, God-made. You may find that here. That is updated somewhat below.

I asked Bishop Paul, among other things, about his interest in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, his open-heart surgery, diocesan ministries that have begun or have expanded with his encouragement, almost 14 years of writing monthly columns for secular newspapers, what he would have done differently over the past 14 years, what he wishes he had known, and what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

Bishop Paul received a diploma in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy in 2009, after several years work. In the fall he intends to begin a new and longer program as a candidate in the Psychoanalytic Institute of Philadelphia (same place. In addition to using these skills to understand the human person, he has been donating five or six hours a week to counseling persons at Trinity Soup Kitchen, Bethlehem, working with the most under-served segment of the patient population. "I have, of course, gotten more out of this than I have given." he said. "If I ever retire, I would be there several days a week. My next book will be a about psychoanalysis and Christianity. It is amazing to me how each field operates with absolutely wild beliefs about the other."

Would you say something about your open-heart surgery? "In the long run, I am much better for it, but I wouldn't wish the experience on anybody. The recovery was/is much slower than they lead one to believe, and only late this spring did I feel like I have my brain back. I have to say that while I have always respected the practitioners of the  medical and nursing professions, my appreciation of their skills and the demands made on their lives has trebled."

Your secular newspaper column? "When I meet people from other denominations they do often say something about reading the columns. It was a monthly agony to do the column, but it was a way I had to reach the most people. The column often bounced around the Internet, and I occasionally heard that I have been helpful to people outside the diocese."

Upon writing his December 2009 column for secular newspapers, Bishop Paul decided that the column had "run its course." Thirteen years of his monthly columns had been published in newspapers throughout eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania. More than 90 were chosen a few years ago for publication in Messages in the Mall (Seabury Books).

What diocesan ministries have begun or have expanded with your encouragement? "You've probably got a more perfect list than I, but I have been grateful above all for New Hope. The evangelism revival, modest as it is, is certainly excellent. World Mission was restarted a decade ago with gratifying results. Several parishes have seen great progress in reversing the trend towards contraction in numbers and program. We have done more with liturgy and music on the diocesan level than at any time in our history, and now have something of a national reputation. Our re-imagined commission on ecumenical and interfaith relations has done an astonishing job in a very short time.

"Something I have worked for consistently is a wider dispersal of power in our structures. There are more voices and votes in taking both strategic and tactical decisions than at any time in our history. I think this is a living into the baptismal theology that is transforming the Church.

"We have crossed several boundaries. One was with Father Patrick Malloy's ordination, a real struggle for the Standing Committee of the time, but one which has brought us a number of superbly gifted priests. We have more women as rectors or priests-in-charge in substantial churches than at any time.

"I could, I think, chatter on (like a fool). I still believe what I said at my first meeting with the clergy in 1996, before my consecration. This is a collegial office: bishops are almost nothing without their colleagues in ministry.

Keeping clergy connected and 'resourced' is an always-present and critical task. I think we have an excellent pool of clergy, and I am grateful that we are sending young people to seminary again. The joy of what is for some people a crushing job is in not doing it alone. At the diocesan level: when I came here there was an excellent staff, which I think is at optimum level today, even though we are somewhat smaller in number.

"This has always been a 'good' diocese, and that is the water in which I have been privileged to swim. Bethlehem brings out the best in people, even me sometimes. Golfers regularly talk about how much better they play ('playing up') when they are with good or better players –– that is clearly true in church life. We have in this diocese a situation that causes most of us to play up. Bishop Mark established some patterns (the Bible studies, for instance), that continue to provide a framework for excellence."

What would you have done differently over the past 14 years? "I would have worried less, causing less anxiety in those around me. I would not be so focused on my short-comings –– it is part of my job to show people what it looks like to be touched by grace.

What do you wish you had known? "•That we don't know how much we don't know. •The vital importance of community and collegiality is to point out to each other what we cannot ourselves see. I have been off-and-on accepting of some criticism and rejecting of others, but find that I now seek it. I owe this to learning that the unconscious is just that –– others must invite us to consciousness about ourselves. •The non-anxious presence concept is more important than anything else in leadership. The Robinson crisis and what followed taught me that the most important thing was to take a clear stand, calmly. My non-calm moments are my least constructive. •Creativity is a form of madness –– it is small comfort that science is just figuring this out with brain scans, that creative moments look just like psychotic breaks in terms of what lights up. •There is no easy way to travel between the US and Sudan."

What do you want to do with the rest of your life? "Become more ambivalent about myself. That would be the key to teaching 1 Cor 15:10a: By the grace of God, I am what I am. It was the text at my ordination in 1973, and I couldn't really hear it for decades. I could ramble on, and eventually I will, if asked. I think Garrison Keillor's book title says it all: Happy to Be Here."

 

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