Tuesday, June 12, 2007
On Thursday and Friday of this week I will take part in our synod's yearly assembly. The chief order for business at this year's assembly will be to elect a new synodical bishop because our current bishop, who has served in this capacity for 20 years, is retiring. I am very excited about this event. I have never been a part of the election of a bishop, not to mention one this monumental. To be sure, the election of any bishop is an important event, but everyone in this synod knows that this election carries additional significance since it will mark the first time since the inception of our synod that its character and direction of leadership will change.
Because I am clergy I will be able to cast votes in this election along with the 500 or so other voting delegates, both lay and clergy. I can't wait to sit and listen to what the candidates will say and what kinds of questions and issues arise for them to address from the floor of the assembly. I have been praying and thinking for a year or two about what qualities I would look for in a bishop of the church. Issues like declining membership, worship renewal, ecumenical relations, and human sexuality have made these times very tense in our denomination. Here are some of the things I will be listening for in the candidates (who could be any Lutheran clergy at this point):
1) a person who is articulate and careful in their speech. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, said that a bishop is primarily a teacher, and I think it is crucial that this new bishop can, like his or her predecessor, teach and preach clearly and accurately. By the same token, I would hope they'd know when to be silent and what topics don't need a lot of verbiage. Honesty and wariness of gossip goes along with this one. I suppose one can tell from the title and theme of this blog that I find this very important.
2) humility. Perhaps it is a personal distaste of mine, but I tend not to trust people who talk about themselves and their own accomplishments and connections too much. Naturally a bishop will need to be confident in leadership, and to a certain degree that will entail touting their abilities, but too much pomposity (and likewise, feigned obsequiousness) is dangerous. Admittedly, this is a more difficult quality to gauge, but I think it comes across in actions and body language as much as it does in speech. "The mind of Christ," a la Philippians 2, is kind of what I'm looking for.
3) someone who knows Scripture backwards and forwards. This goes without saying. It is critical that we have our foundation in God's Word, not in administrative acumen or some theological agenda.
4) demonstrated experience in parish ministry. Ideally, I would hope to have as a leader a pastor who has served in at least two different parishes and who has served in our area of Pennsylvania within the past fifteen years. I would like the next bishop to know from personal experience the challenges of ministry peculiar to this region.
There are many other qualities that I could name...good listener...inspiring speaker...good sense of humor...dedication to ecumenism...NC State fan...but I think that these first four will help me narrow down the pool of candidates to a few I can decide between.
It will be exciting to see how the Holy Spirit guides us over these next few days and, of course, once the bishop takes office and forms his/her staff in August. Go in peace!