During this period I became well acquainted with a number of new people, including some whom I still call friends today. One such person was the pastor of Hillside Methodist Church, which is located in Towne Lake.
While not a member of his congregation, I would stop by his office from time to time to discuss our tour on the grand jury and get a feel on the pulse of the community and county.
Not long after this experience he was transferred to another church in Georgia. As I pondered his transfer by his ecclesiastical leaders it dawned on me that every church has its own method of “calling” its spiritual leaders. Methodist pastors are assigned by their Bishop; Catholic priests also are assigned to preside over local churches by their Bishop; the Baptists I’m told, create a committee to search for their new pastors, etc, etc.
So too with my church. It has its own way of “calling” its spiritual leaders for the local wards (congregations) and stakes (10 wards) and is in some ways not unlike those other churches that make leadership changes from the level above.
But unlike those churches that often choose their spiritual leaders from outside their boundaries, our church calls its spiritual leaders from within their geographical boundaries; a bishop is called from his congregation, a stake president from his stake, etc.
When Joan and I walked into our chapel one recent Sunday and saw our stake presidency, the presiding ecclesiastical leaders of our Marietta East Stake, sitting on the stand I told Joan “we are getting a new bishop today.”
And we did. Paul Hailstone, a member of our Allatoona Ward was called by our Stake President Watson Nichols, with approval of the First Presidency of our Church, as our new bishop who was then sustained by the membership of our congregation.
Bishop Hailstone replaced Bishop Karski, who had served as our bishop for almost five years and who was released with a vote of thanks by the congregation. And our ward continued moving forward with a new and refreshed spiritual leader.
Since joining my church in 1960, I have seen many changes of spiritual leadership but still marvel at how simply it works. But seldom have I heard a better explanation of how our bishops are called then how Nichols explained this change in the leadership of our ward.
He explained he knew it was time for Bishop Karski to be “released,” after having served faithfully and referencing him as “our rescuing bishop,” the one who went out and rescued the lost and returned them to the fold. He then told of the many visits he had made to the ward to observe ward priesthood members while trying to obtain a spiritual conformation as to who the new bishop would be.
He said he had never met Hailstone, who was the ward’s scoutmaster, until one Sunday while walking the chapel halls. He introduced himself to Paul and they talked briefly.
Following this brief meeting Nichols said ‘the Spirit’ whispered to him that Paul Hailstone would be the ward’s new bishop, having all the qualifications the apostle Paul told Timothy and Titus to look for in selecting new bishops. This procedure is similar to how Samuel called Saul and David as kings, as told in that Old Testament story found in chapters 9 thru 16 of 1 Samuel.
This powerful Old Testament story of the Lord’s calling and rejection of Saul is perhaps akin to our modern-day story of America’s separation of church and state. Saul was rejected after he assumed spiritual duties assigned to Samuel, the Lord’s prophet, and it caused his downfall.
Few true historians dispute that America’s Founders were divinely inspired and created a nation of freedom based on “We the people’ being guided by the God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And, according to Jefferson, America’s foundational cornerstones of freedom and liberty were the same, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” And if these laws are broken or ignored, America will be rejected of God as was Saul.
Spiritual leaders, regardless of how they are called, must today become more united in defending America’s unique religious freedoms.
Donald Conkey is a retired agricultural economist in Woodstock.