Former Methodist bishop of N.Y. Ernest Lyght to retire

When I started covering religion, way back when, one of the first stories I wrote was a profile of Bishop Ernest Lyght, then the head of the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

The truth is that I was trying to get the lay of the land — to figure out who was who — and Lyght’s office was right up the road from my office. So I made an appointment to stop by and chat (probably after reading up a bit on Methodists). I don’t believe that Lyght had ever been mentioned in my paper.

We had a long and often fascinating interview. Bishop Lyght was at the time one of only 10 African-American bishops in the United Methodist Church. His father, he told me, had been a Methodist minister during the years when the Methodist church was, well, officially racist. The denomination had had a special diocese for its black members. This segregated diocese wasn’t dissolved until 1968.

I remember asking Lyght why his father hadn’t left the Methodist church for the AME or AME Zion denominations, which were formed by black Methodists who had broken away. He told me that his father was committed to staying put and seeing change.

And I was sitting across from the result. His son was the United Methodist Bishop of New York.

Bishop Lyght was a gracious and fine man, tall and soft-spoken. When his second, four-year term in New York was over in 2004, he was elected bishop of West Virginia.

I mention this now because I received an email blast today from the current United Methodist bishop of New York, Jeremiah Park, announcing that Bishop Lyght is retiring next month because of health problems.

I’m sure that a lot of Methodists around here — and others — miss him and wish him well.



Former Mamaroneck pastor co-led Chelsea’s big wedding

One more note on the Chelsea Clinton wedding (yes, I’m sick of hearing about it, too).

It turns out that the minister who co-officiated the wedding with a rabbi was the Rev. Bill Shillady, former pastor of Mamaroneck United Methodist Church.

Lots of Mamaroneck folks probably recall Shillady, who was a very visible figure during his years as pastor (1988-2000). I got to interview him a few times — including about a “Sunday night live” service aimed at teens — and found him to a real engaging clergyman.

I wasn’t surprised when he was chosen to lead Park Avenue United Methodist Church on the Upper East Side, a flagship United Methodist church in New York.

It’s well known that Hillary Clinton is a United Methodist. Chelsea, apparently, is one as well, according to the United Methodist News Service. They say that Chelsea has occasionally attended Shillady’s church in NYC.

The wedding was co-officiated by a rabbi, as the groom, Mark Mezvinsky, is Jewish. The rabbi was James Ponet, the Jewish chaplain at Yale.

The wedding was held two hours before sundown on Saturday — during the Jewish Sabbath — which goes against Jewish tradition. Many Jewish blogs have been filled with Oy Veys about the wedding.

I was on Bob Dunning’s show yesterday on the Catholic Channel on satellite radio, talking about, among other things, Chelsea’s wedding. He wondered why Jenna Bush’s wedding in 2008 didn’t get nearly as much attention. A good question, I think.

UMNS file photo by John C. Goodwin

How about reordering church life, while you’re at it?

Here’s a big job: Reordering the life of the United Methodist Church.

This is the task facing an 18-member steering committee that got going this month in Chicago. They plan to make “a fresh assessment of the church’s life.”

We’re talking about an 8-million-member denomination, the second largest Protestant group after the Southern Baptist Convention. Fortunately, according to a release, “a consulting firm experienced in organizational change management is assisting the committee in its work.”

That should help.

Bishop Larry Goodpaster, project director and president-elect of the UMC’s Council of Bishops, explains: “We have a vision of a church that is vital, growing, diverse, relevant, appealing to youth and young adults, and engaged in effective, life-changing ministry–but we’re limited by an outdated organizational structure.”

If they can come up with a new organizational structure that will help the denomination accomplish all those goals, they’ll have to trademark it fast.