We've all been there, when we've had a diligent and faithful bishop released from his calling as the shepherd in our ward. Sometimes it can be a sad time for us as members of the ward after having such a great bishop minister to us for five or six years, but the work of the Lord nevertheless moves forward.
So when our bishop is released and another man in the ward is called to serve in that capacity, what do we call the former bishop? Do we still call him by the same title that we have referred to him for the last half-decade or so, or do we simply allude to our former bishop as "Brother" and allow the title of bishop to dissipate?
Ever heard of the saying, "Once a bishop always a bishop?" The office of bishop is an office of ordination that is conferred upon an individual by the laying on of hands by those in authority of the Melchezidek Priesthood. Because of this, it is appropriate and accurate after a bishop has been released to continue to be called "bishop." The same principle applies to those who have possessed callings with the term "president."
We do this as a sign of respect. Beverly B. Campbell, then-Church director of international affairs, said this about the topic:
"We show proper respect to our Church leaders by referring to them in Church-related functions by their ecclesiastical titles. We may refer to a bishop as 'Bishop Garza' or a stake president as 'President Leiben,' for example. The titles Bishop and President (designating members of temple, mission, stake, and district presidencies and branch presidencies) are appropriate even after the leader has been released."
Is there a certain amount of time that we can continue to refer to the former bishop as "bishop?" Roy W. Doxey, a former Stake President and temple sealer, had this to say on the matter in a Q&A section in a 1980 edition of the Ensign:
"There should be no compulsion to continue to use the title over a long period of time. . . . Certainly, the first few weeks or months after a bishop’s release is the period when the members of the ward will call him by that title. It is probable that as time passes the inclination to use the title bishop will be replaced by brother."
There is a caution, however, with regards to calling one "bishop" after he has been released. Doxey gave the following warning:
"The concern which one might voice in calling a former bishop by that title would be if members of the ward believed that he was continuing in the bishop’s role of counselor. Wise released bishops understand that when ward members come to them as though they were active bishops they refer them to their present bishop."
So, can we refer to former bishops as "bishop?" The answer is yes. When we do, however, it would be wise for us to remember the person who has been newly called as bishop is the person who now holds the keys in that ward—not the person who has just been released. Learn to form a relationship with the newly called bishop. Although it is acceptable to receive friendly advice from your former bishop, realize the one who can ultimately know how to help you best is the bishop that took his place who now holds the keys in the ward.
There is a reason why your newly ordained bishop has been called at this time, and it's our duty to sustain and honor that calling that came by revelation through the Lord Jesus Christ.