News Release

The Frontline of Church Service: Bishops

A look into lay clergy in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Europe


Bishops in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not professional clergy; they are not required to hold a theology degree, and they serve for a limited time. But Church members honor and respect bishops because they believe that bishops are called of God to lead them.


What is a Bishop?

A bishop is a leader of a local congregation called a ward. Branch Presidents lead smaller congregations called branches. A bishop and his two counselors comprise a bishopric, or the leading council of a ward. According to a Church handbook, “The bishopric has responsibility for all ward members, organisations, and activities.”

Bishops’ Responsibilities

A bishop’s duties are similar to those of a pastor, priest, or rabbi, but bishops are unpaid and spend many hours a week in church service while balancing family life and a full-time job. Bishops oversee all the spiritual, social and temporal needs of members in their congregation while managing administrative duties. For example, bishops organize worship services, oversee all ward organisations and council members, manage welfare efforts, and counsel members with their spiritual and temporal needs.

Facing this task can feel ‘overwhelming,’ notes Bishop David Newell from Eskilstuna, Sweden. “You are of course overwhelmed and you probably feel insufficient to the task,” explains Bishop Newell, “but you accept the call because you believe the Lord is going to support you and enable you to perform better than you would on your own merits.”

Victoria and Ben Dearnley from Manchester, England, say their bishop has “enriched their lives beyond measure” by supporting them in difficult times. “In recent hardships our bishop made sure we wanted for nothing both physically and spiritually. He lifted us up when all hope seemed lost and prayed for us when our strength faltered.”

A bishop’s purpose is to help members in their efforts to follow Jesus Christ, and that includes helping those who have made mistakes and those who face life’s challenges.

“I can think of a time when I was the first visitor to a couple following the birth of their stillborn son. What on earth could I say?” describes Bishop Newell. “The expression of my love, and the love of the Saviour, was enough.”

Bishop James Holt from Manchester, England, says the hardest part of his responsibility is “when people make poor decisions that cause pain for themselves or others. We believe in agency, so we see people making bad choices and good ones.”

Nico Jigolea, a branch president or leader of a smaller congregation, in Romania agrees. “The hardest part of my calling is to see people make wrong choices and therefore they can’t enjoy the blessings from God.”

Helping Church members through repentance is an important part of a bishop’s responsibility. Bishop Daniel P. Daetwyler from Bern, Swizterland, explains that he doesn’t judge the members he helps because he feels God’s love for them. “I can sense the Saviour’s joy for everyone who wants to repent and get closer to Him. At first, I was amazed by this because as humans we tend to be disappointed with behaviors which do not meet our expectations. But not with the Lord. I feel His rejoicing over each one of His children who comes to Him.”

The Process of Selecting a Bishop

Bishops don’t campaign for leadership. Regional leaders, called stake presidents, recommend names to the First Presidency of the Church. Once names are approved, the stake president asks the potential bishop if he will accept the responsibility and asks the bishop’s wife for her support.

A Church handbook explains, “Leaders seek the guidance of the Spirit in determining whom to call. They consider the worthiness that may be required for the calling. They also consider the member’s personal or family circumstances. Each calling should benefit the people who are served, the member, and the member’s family.” 

Local leadership rotates approximately every five years, and thus neighbors can become bishops very quickly. Bishop Holt recalls that when he was announced as a bishop, “there was a gasp in the congregation. I knew how they felt! I was worried and apprehensive as I didn’t really know what was to come. It is such an overwhelming responsibility that I constantly wonder whether I can live up to the trust the Lord has placed in me.”

Once a bishop is chosen, his name is read before the local congregation. Then members can show their support for the new bishop by raising their hand. However, raising a hand to sustain someone is not voting them into office, but showing confidence that a person is called of God.  

Jiri Cerven from the Czech Republic says he supports his bishop by “always asking him if he needs any help. I raise my hand high when the sustaining is needed. As a family, we pray for his wellbeing daily.”

When bishops are released, many Church members still refer to them as “bishop,” although they are given new assignments to serve in the congregation. “I’m hoping that when I am released, I get to have my dream calling and be a nursery leader for my two young children,” says Bishop Paul Jared Brooks from Manchester, England.

How Bishops are Serving in Europe Right Now

In the Europe area, more than 1,200 bishops are currently serving. While each country has different languages and cultures, most bishops agree that their duties are similar. Bishop Francisco Javier Moldes Calvelo in Madrid, Spain, says “I suppose being a bishop in Spain is no different than being a bishop in any other country. Any bishop anywhere in the world will have to work to help, lift and inspire the children of our Heavenly Father.”

To help members of his congregation, Bishop Holt tries to follow God’s will. “My job is simply to play the role he wants me to play in a person’s life and listen to the spirit. I simply trust the rest into his hands.”

Bishops and their counselors also conduct regular interviews with members over age eleven as part of their duties. The purpose of interviews is for a bishopric to get to know their congregation and understand a person’s commitment to the church and its teachings. 

“At each interview I feel that the Lord wants me to progress in my life and to serve better in my calling,” explains Maria Stoica from Romania. “We start with a prayer to invite the Spirit of the Lord to be with us and then he asks me a few simple questions regarding my spiritual wellbeing. All the questions are simple, and they make me open my soul where I have concerns.”

“Being a member of the church all my life, I have experienced many ‘bishop’s interviews’ and I can assure anyone that they are interviews of love and welfare for you on an individual basis,” explains Laura Shuttleworth from Manchester, England. “Bishops are normal, real people like you and me….so trust the Lord and trust your bishop.”

Bishops want to help, explains Bishop Calvelo. “Please, do not carry the burden of sins, trials or difficulties alone,” he says. “A bishop is a person people can trust, with whom they can be sincere and open their heart; truly their bishop wants to help them.”

In his experience, Bishop Calvelo says bishops take their call seriously and serve with love. “I do not recall ever dealing with any leader who is proud of his call, who boasts and wants to exercise an unrighteous dominion or authority over people. Rather, all the leaders with whom I have dealt saw their calling as a tremendous responsibility.”

Bishop Daetwyler explains that getting the calling of bishop is like having a magnifying glass to your life. “The ward members tend to observe every word and action very closely, which makes overcoming our weaknesses a challenge. A Bishop is a person like everybody else, with any kind of imperfection. However, with our calling we’ve also accepted the responsibility to serve and love our fellow beings unconditionally.”

Bishop Brooks recognizes that bishops aren’t perfect. “You can’t be a perfect bishop. You can be a pretty good one, but you will always do things wrong, you will miss golden opportunities, and forget things.” But despite imperfections, he says bishops try their best to strengthen their communities. “Being a bishop made me realise that the church is run by normal people who are trying to do extraordinary things with the extraordinary authority that has been given to them.”

Bishops in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serve as volunteers. They may not be perfect, but Church members value their leadership, trusting that they are called of God.

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