Saturday, June 25, 2011

New York Bishops' Statement

I've seen and heard lots of comments about what happened in New York State yesterday. This is one of the few to which I'd offer my assent. zip+

Statement of the Bishops of
New York State

The passage by the Legislature of a bill to alter radically and forever humanity's historic understanding of marriage leaves us deeply disappointed and troubled.

We strongly uphold the Catholic Church's clear teaching that we always treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with respect, dignity and love. But we just as strongly affirm that marriage is the joining of one man and one woman in a lifelong, loving union that is open to children, ordered for the good of those children and the spouses themselves. This definition cannot change, though we realize that our beliefs about the nature of marriage will continue to be ridiculed, and that some will even now attempt to enact government sanctions against churches and religious organizations that preach these timeless truths.

We worry that both marriage and the family will be undermined by this tragic presumption of government in passing this legislation that attempts to redefine these cornerstones of civilization.

Our society must regain what it appears to have lost – a true understanding of the meaning and the place of marriage, as revealed by God, grounded in nature, and respected by America's foundational principles.

+Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York
+Howard J. Hubbard
Bishop of Albany
+Nicholas DiMarzio
Bishop of Brooklyn
+Edward U. Kmiec
Bishop of Buffalo
+Terry R. LaValley
Bishop of Ogdensburg
+Matthew H. Clark
Bishop of Rochester
+William F. Murphy
Bishop of Rockville Centre
+Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse

Hat tip to Canon Kendall Harmon at TitusOneNine.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Pastor's Call; Congregational Conflict and "Fit"

From the Rev. Peter Speckhard, Associate Editor of Forum Letter (you do subscribe, right?) and Moderator of ALPB Forum Online, with his permission. I was going to offer some context first, but I think that just distracts from his point in these thoughts offered yesterday:
[T]he idea of a good fit between congregation and pastor is part of the problem. Perhaps a pastor who irritates the congregation (or vice-versa) is the perfect fit for what God is trying to accomplish there. It goes back to the doctrine of the call. Where there is a dispute between pastor and congregation, they need to go back to what both parties vowed at the installation. If the pastor can point out that he swore in front of the whole congregation that he would teach according to the Confessions, and if he can show that the Confessions claim private confession/absolution is retained in our churches and held in highest regard, then the congregation needs to remember that he is the pastor and they swore to submit to Confessional teaching. If, however, the pastor introduces, say, Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday and the congregation objects that it is too Catholic, the pastor needs to remember that it is not his church, it is not a Confessional issue, and there may be all kinds of good practices that a congregation is simply not interested in, and it is not his place to shape the congregation in his preferred image.

But if we just blame conflict on a generic "bad fit", the congregations grow further and further apart, because to a congregation a pastor will always seem like the best fit who leaves them comfortably going wherever they are going, and to a pastor a congregation will also seem like the best fit that already wants to go where he wants to lead. Instead of congregations unified within a tolerably broad but recognizable range of piety, we get one congregation with more smells and bells that Byzantium at its height (because pastors who love that are a good fit for congregations who love that) and another congregation that plays a few ditties in the coffee shop and chills out and calls it church, because they found a good fit. Nothing ever gets challenged or corrected or integrated into the larger church. Instead, we all march off in opposite directions, choosing drummers who carefully play to the rhythm of our walking. Yes, it absolutely goes without saying that teaching should be done gently. But sometimes gentle teaching and time still results in conflict.
If you want to read this in context, go here. But much of the thread is on another one of those unending disputes that are internal to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Which is why I almost missed it. I'm glad I didn't. Pr. Speckhard serves an LCMS congregation in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and it's (young) pastors like him who boost my hopes for the future of Lutheranism in North America.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

We Have a Bishop-Elect!

The Rev. Dr. S. John Roth, pastor at Faith Lutheran Church, Jacksonville, Illinois, was elected the fourth Bishop of the Central/Southern Illinois Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at its annual Synod Assembly this morning in Springfield, Illinois. He received 218 votes in that final ballot, with the Rev. Robert Rasmus, Senior Pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Urbana, receiving 101.

Bishop-elect Roth will succeed the Rt. Rev. Warren D. Freiheit, who had earlier announced his resignation effective June 30 to accept a call to Christ Lutheran Church, Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. Bishop Freiheit would have been entering the last year of his second six-year term as the Synod's Bishop. Bishop-elect Roth, who has served the Jacksonville parish since 1983, will take office September 1. The Rev. Gary L. Hansen, Bishop of the ELCA's North/West Lower Michigan Synod 1995-2007, will serve as Interim Bishop in July and August.

Pastor Roth has been serving on the Synod Council as the Dean of the West Central Conference since 2006, and has been Chair of the Synod's Finance Committee since 2007. Among the challenges faced by the Synod are the departure of 11 congregations since the ELCA's 2009 Churchwide Assembly (with another half-dozen reportedly in the process to consider departing) and a 20% reduction in income in the last two fiscal years. Earlier the Assembly approved several by-law changes enabling the restructuring of the Synod's program committees.

Pastor Roth is also well-regarded in the Synod as a theologian and biblical scholar, most recently having prepared biblical interpretive reflections for the Assembly's focus on 1 Peter 2:1-10 to explore its theme, "God's Work. Our Hands: God's Building Blocks." Pastor Rasmus and the Rev. Dr. Michael C. Hoy, pastor at First Lutheran Church, Decatur, Illinois, who made it to third place in the election's fourth ballot, were two of the Assembly's three presenters on its theme.

Te Deum laudamus...

To the End

Election of the Fourth Bishop of the Central/Southern Illinois Synod, ELCA: Ballot 4 Results. 362 votes cast, 60% required for election.

S. John Roth 192 or 53%
Robert Rasmus 90 or 24.9%
Michael Hoy 80 or 22.1%

So we go straight to prayer and the fifth ballot, between Pastors Roth and Rasmus.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Process Continues

Each of the top seven was given the opportunity to complete a biographical form that included questions about the gifts they'd bring to the office of Bishop, the principle challenge in the Synod's next 6 years (12 congregations voted to leave since the 2009 CWA, and 6 more are in a discernment/voting process; furthermore, mission support from congregations to the Synod is down 20% in the last 2 years, and that trend has not yet stopped), and their leadership style. Each also got to briefly address the Assembly to say pretty much what they wanted. In the meantime, Pastor Marty was finally reached by phone and he had asked that he not be considered further.

Ballot 3: Roth 136; Rasmus 72; Hoy 64; with 91 votes spread fairly evenly between the other three.

The top three were then given time to answer 6 questions culled from questions submitted by members of the Assembly. Disappointingly, three of those questions were essentially the same as the 3 they had answered in writing. And then we voted. Results for the 4th ballot will be announced in the morning.

Off to the Assembly banquet, where we do our official "farewell" to Bishop Freiheit.

Electing a Bishop

A bit more on that first (nominating) ballot. 339 votes were cast for 49 ELCA pastors. Ten pastors received 5 or more votes; eight of us received 4. Of the 49, 22 withdrew their names.

On the second ballot, 17 pastors received 355 votes. My six votes were one fewer than the pastor who came in 7th, Peter Marty (who formerly hosted Grace Matters, the ELCA's late, lamented radio ministry. I should survive.

The top 7 are: Dr. S. John Roth, who had 93 the first ballot and 157 the second; Robert Rasmus (37, then 52); Paul Olson (27, then 41); Michael Hoy (21, 33), Jacqueline Linden-Schade (current Asst. to the Bishop, 13, 27), Phil Lund (7, 10 -- and my neighboring colleague at Bethel, Bartonville); and Peter Marty (3, 7), the only one not serving in our Synod.

We'll be hearing from them in a few minutes.

It Finally Happened!

One of the matters for our Synod Assembly that is currently in session is the election of a new Bishop; our current Bishop, Warren Freiheit, is resigning his office (a year before his current 6-year term expires) to accept a call as a parish Pastor in Arkansas.

Bishops in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are elected by what is called "the ecclesiastical ballot." One of the things that means is there are no official nominations as such, but rather (as happens in the ELCA) each voter at the Assembly (which is all the pastors of the Synod, those on the lay rosters of the Synod, and those sent by the Synod's congregations) is given a piece of paper where he can write down the name of any ELCA pastor. In the ELCA, if any one pastor gets 75% of the votes in that first ballot, he is elected. We had 348 voters as of that ballot this afternoon, so it would take 261 votes for an election (assuming everyone casts a legal ballot).

Since we don't "campaign" ahead of time in this Synod and the Bishop is not available for re-election, the First Ballot effectively functions essentially as a nominating ballot. The second ballot includes the name of every pastor who got a vote on the first ballot (except those who officially withdraw). Again, a Pastor receiving 75% of the votes is elected. If no one gets that many votes, the third ballot lists the top 7 vote-getters, and only at that point, will we get to begin to question the "candidates." An election happens with the third ballot with two-thirds of the votes; otherwise the top 3 are on the fourth ballot, which takes 60% to elect. Otherwise, the top 2 show up on the fifth ballot, where the Pastor getting the majority is elected Bishop.

In previous Assemblies, a person or two had told me ahead of time that they planned to vote for me. But I never received any votes. This year, no one said anything to me. On the notice posted this evening, I have 4 votes.

Along with a whole bunch of other pastors (including some names I recognize from outside the Synod) who got anything from 1 to 93 (if memory serves) votes. I'll try to not let this go to my head. +;->