In my experience and opinion, the principal challenge before us in the next six years is improving our relationships with one another, thus nurturing a more positive and conducive climate for effective and faithful ministry and mission. The word ‘Synod’ means ‘on the way or on the road together.’ At this point in our shared life, how together are we really? God has blessed us in our Synod with the gift of diversity. But with such diversity comes tension, and sometimes conflict. In our dance of interdependence as a church, sometimes we don’t know precisely who is called upon to lead and when, and who is called upon to follow. Thus, in this dance, too often we end up stepping on each other’s toes. Our trust in each other has been compromised in various ways and through various actions and inactions. Moreover, we live in particularly anxious, divisive times in nation and world. This anxious spirit also infects our life together in our Synod. Thus, we are beckoned to seek to improve the ways we relate to each other. God has entrusted to us in the church the sacred ministry of reconciliation for the sake of an unreconciled world. How can we offer the gift of reconciliation to the world if we are unreconciled with one another? Some might say that improving the quality of our relational life together is preparatory to our mission. I would argue that attending to such reconciliation is, in fact, a major focus of our current mission, so that maybe we can come to a point where the world looks at us and says of us, as the world did of the early church, “see how they love one another.” What a gift we would give to the nations if such love would manifest itself in more convincing ways in our life together. We need each other, perhaps now more than ever, for the sake of the mission to the world that Christ has entrusted to us.
Our work is not so much about conflict resolution as it is about creatively managing our conflict and tensions. The work before us is about coming to the point of celebrating our diversity, and not just tolerating it. In order to re-build trust and to come to the point of celebrating diversity, I believe that we are called upon in this season to engage in proactive and intentional processes that nurture healing and reconciliation led by professional others from outside of our synodical systems. It was clear to me from our town hall meetings last autumn that people have high expectations of the bishop’s office and the Synod. When high expectations are not met, disappointments are deep and abiding. We have an opportunity now to discern, name, and communicate realistic expectations of each other. I believe that God is calling us to take the time and expend the energy and resources to intentionally get us to a point of being more cooperatively on the road together, that we might more fully enjoy each other’s company on the journey into God’s promised future. In short, God beckons us to be healed in our communal, synodical life, so that we can be healers in mission for the sake of the world.
As Bishop, what steps will you take for self-care? How can congregations be a support for the office of Bishop? How will you, as Bishop, also encourage self-care for pastors, deacons, and synod lay leaders?
Adequately engaging in self-care that nurtures well-being is the most daunting challenge for one discerning a possible call to the office of bishop. I have seen first-hand for ten years the unending requests for meetings, the emails that don’t stop, the daily crises that need to be addressed. It is a demanding calling that is more often characterized by heart-break than joy. Also, is it even realistic, given the need to attend to the daily requirements of the church as it currently is, to strive to live into a vision of what our life together could be, especially since such vision would require systemic, transformational change which would undoubtedly be resisted? Given the demands of office, and the unrelentingly complex schedule, could I, or anyone else for that matter, stay well? That’s a serious question for anyone considering this office.
I often find myself saying that public ministers in the church are called upon to be well-grounded lightning rods, for public ministry attracts all sorts of creative and destructive energies from people and intractable, difficult situations. If those in ministry are not well-grounded, they will be electrocuted, as it were, overcome by the overstimulation of everything that is swirling about them. So how do we stay well-grounded as lightning rods, so that the energy we receive may pass through us and dissipate into God’s good earth where it belongs? For me, the answer to this question has everything to do with my involvement in monastic spirituality in the Benedictine tradition which cultivates a holistic and balanced lifestyle, if we could only replicate features of it in our non-cloistered, busy, complex lives of ministry. Regardless of what the future holds, I will continue to seek opportunities for monastic retreat two times a year, creatively endeavoring also to incorporate into my routines Benedictine themes, and in so doing model faithful self-care, practicing what I preach – physician, heal thyself. I also want to invite our pastors, deacons and other lay leaders to join me on occasions of retreat to assist them in their own self-care, that together we may model for all of God’s people the well-being that our Lord Jesus desires for everyone. In short, I share with you the words that I need always to tell myself: slow down, breathe, be still, and stand firm.
How can congregations be of support to the Bishop? We could support and assist each other by communicating clearly our realistic expectations of each other, speaking of each other in the most positive light, thus keeping Luther’s understanding of the 8thCommandment. Above all, let us pray for one another every day.
Thank you for reading these reflections as you engage in discernment about who next may be called as bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod. Please know that in offering these statements, I am not announcing a campaign to run for office. “Pre-identification” is not an official nomination, so I am in discernment along with everyone else. I offer these reflections to serve this discernment, that you may read these thoughts in company with statements from others “pre-identified.” Moreover, as a teacher in the church, I have thought long and hard about the challenges and opportunities before us as a Synod, and thus I have a passion to share with you my reflections. I love our church, and I want her to thrive. May God’s holy will be done in Christ Jesus as together we journey into our future in mission, propelled by the winds of the Holy Spirit.