The national restructure in 2000 was the UCC's "next great step" toward becoming a truly unified national church, a departing church official says.
Dale L. Bishop, 57, who is stepping down on Sept. 30 as Executive Minister of Wider Church Ministries and the five-member UCC Collegium of Officers, says the church's newer national structure offers the UCC a deeper sense of responsibility for the well-being of the whole church.
"Our church's basic ethos is changing, and I feel good about that," he says. "What I hope we are beginning to see is a more coherent picture of the national church and less of the fragmented agencybased type of communication that was so characteristic of our past."
"I don't think that, in 1957, anyone looked at the organization of our church and said, 'That's how a national church office should be structured.' Instead, in the interest of unity, we sought compromise," Bishop says. "But in the past four years, there has been a commendable effort to create something other than compromise and to shape the national church as a unified whole. Along the way, we have made mistakes, but overall I feel very good about that work."
Bishop announced in October that he would not seek another four-year term in the position he has held since 1999.
He would have been eligible to succeed himself twice for a maximum of three terms. At the time, Bishop said, "My decision has to do with the fact that I've been doing this sort of thing for 23 years. I've enjoyed it, but there also comes a time when you feel that you've reached a point of completion."
Olivia Masih White, a seasoned national church lay leader from Houston, Texas, was elected at General Synod 24 to succeed Bishop. She will become the first newcomer to the Collegium since the group's inaugural five-member class was installed together during a church-wide celebration of restructure held in Cleveland in July 2000. "I know that Olivia is respected and loved by many throughout this church. She will do a fine job," Bishop says.
Starting in January, Bishop—an expert in Middle East affairs—will begin teaching courses in mission, especially Christian-Muslim relations and religious minoritymajority relationships, at UCC-related Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.
On May 24, he was married to the Rev. Patricia Tucker, the former president of the Division of Overseas Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The two have purchased a home in Eagle River, Wis.
"One of the things I am looking forward to is becoming a regular active member of a local church," Bishop says. "I want to have the time to get involved in some of the things that I've been telling other people they should be involved in, and I want to hear someone preach other than myself."
Bishop says he is grateful to the UCC for enriching his life. "I have had some fabulous experiences," he says. "I've told my kids that I've had the opportunity to live three lifetimes."