The bishop’s dashboard: William Willimon’s experiment in accountability

"My job now is to coordinate disaster relief," William Willimon said, reflecting on the storms in Alabama that destroyed 20 United Methodist churches, rendered 20 more unusable for months to come and killed more than 200 Alabamians. "We're trying to learn from our experience with Katrina to be more organized. People really need the church in a moment like this."

For Willimon, the bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, disaster relief is an unexpected addition to an already unconventional career.

When Willimon became a bishop in 2004, people who knew him and his work were curious. Why would the dean of Duke University Chapel want to leave a high-profile position to oversee congregations in Alabama? The joke in the world of theological scholarship is that one must "publish or parish"—and here was Willimon, among the most prolific theological writers of his generation ("never an unpublished thought"), voluntarily choosing to occupy himself with hundreds of parishes.