“Out-of-the-Box” BishopBy Mark Richards
In the Fall of 1982, anticipating the birth of our first child, my wife and I moved from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom student apartment in Provo. What a great decision! Our new student ward, according to those living there, had one of the most wonderful bishops they had ever known—Eugene England.
As I came to know this great man, I quickly realized he was not an ordinary bishop. Bishop England really believed his first priority was to “minister,” not “administer.”
Soon after we moved into the ward, I was called as Gene’s counselor. Gene not only taught me what it meant to truly serve Heavenly Father by serving others, but he also taught me that we could be creative and be ourselves in that service.
One of our greatest experiences as a ward took place in July 1983. As a true “out-of-the-box” thinker, Gene thought it would be a wonderful experience for the ward to hold sacrament meeting as the pioneers had done, in nature instead of our brick chapel. He suggested we take the ward up Provo Canyon and hold our meeting in the Sundance amphitheater.
The feedback from many ward members surprised me. They worried it was improper to hold sacrament meeting in the canyon—after all, the canyon was a place they were trying to teach their children to stay away from on the Sabbath! Bishop England responded that chapels are merely buildings for us to meet in and that the pioneers and other early Saints worshiped in Heavenly Father’s true chapel, nature.
While many worried about coming to the meeting that day, they left with feelings they had rarely, if ever, felt before. Our sacrament meeting was a testimony meeting, and member after member shared the conflicting feelings they had prior to our meeting and their change of heart as they truly caught the spirit of what our great bishop was trying to teach: “We don’t live the Gospel only in our chapels. We should live the Gospel in every place and in every aspect of our lives.” He taught these same principles in his book Why the Church is As True As the Gospel.
Another experience I will never forget occurred on a cold, snowy Sunday morning. I and the rest of the bishopric were sitting in the office waiting for Bishop England to arrive for our regular meeting. Finally, about twenty-five minutes late, he walked in the door and very calmly slated: “Brethren, when I woke up. I had to make a decision about whether or not to go out into the cold, snowy weather to meet with you or stay in bed and snuggle with my beautiful wife. The choice was easy!”
Gene blessed the lives of all who knew him because he was not afraid to be exactly who he was. Gene England was a non-pretentious individual with more love for his fellow humans than many of us can even imagine.
Thank you. Gene, for touching my life
from Sunstone 121 (January 2002): 19