The comments of pre-identified pastors represent their opinions only. —Synod Council Executive Committee.
The Rev. Edward G. Barnett
Responses to the Document "Listening for Leadership"
Using the descriptions on the "Listening for Leadership" document (Bishop Profile, page 3) share specific examples of how you have served in a PASTORAL role in previous calls, experiences, and leadership:
Our whole life as a church is centered in the worship of the Triune God. My pastoral service is grounded in Worship and Preaching/Teaching. The highlight of my week is Sunday morning when I will once again share the gifts of Grace with the people of God in Word and Sacrament. From that center of worship branches off strong inter-personal relationships. As does every parish pastor, I have the privilege of accompanying people through their life passages, being with people in the midst of the joys and sorrows of their everyday lives. I also utilize social activities heavily as a means of connection.
These years of service in the Congregation have provided my foundation for work in a larger context. The Synod is not a Congregation, but a collection of Congregations, deacons and pastors (C,D&P). So, let me comment on how I operate pastorally in that larger context.
I believe I possess, and my experience demonstrates, that I am trustworthy to C,D&P. I speak truthfully to others and don’t prevaricate or simply respond with things they want to hear. Lay leaders, deacons and pastors confide in me because they trust my ability to keep appropriate confidences.
It seems that it’s so easy, even in our connected Synodical family, for procedure and policy to become more important than the people who really are the church. The number one issue C,D&P deal with is the sometimes rocky relationship with the Synod structure. This “apparatus” is experienced not as an inter-connected family but an arbitrary bureaucracy. Rules and procedures seem to be inequitably applied. Sometimes, they are even changed several times in the middle of a process. This gives rise to a heightened level of fear and suspicion.
Many times, I’ve been serving in a Synod level capacity and recommended a particular person to participate. Smiles wash off faces and I’m informed that so-and-so is not “in line” with who we are as a Synod. What we’re looking for is an illusion of inclusion, not real inclusion which would mean everybody. One of our biggest problems in MNYS leadership is a tendency to love our programs and ideologies and be critical of people. We need to be critical of programs and ideologies and supportive and loving of people.
Thus, a fundamental problem the MNYS is turning on our own. We dismiss others when they disagree. Instead of turning to each other in love, we turn away. With pastors and deacons in ministry the fundamental element is building relationships. Just as the various leaders in the New Testament knew each other, even their own personal foibles, so our relationships are the necessary glue for our mission. Each soul has her or his own unique gifts. We all have our own problems as well. But God is working through the Word, the Sacraments and each other. This also involves rubbing up against each other and challenging each other all the while always seeing in the other the face of Christ.
Using the descriptions on the "Listening for Leadership" document (Bishop Profile, page 3) share specific examples of how you have served in a BRIDGE BUILDER role in previous calls, experiences, and leadership:
I never really considered myself as a potential candidate for bishop until a few years ago. After I became a Conference Dean, I discovered that I had a confidence and ability to speak the truth into the conflicted realities of our synod. Many oppressive powers made numerous people fearful to speak what they felt. This greatly impeded fair and loving conversation about our mission and ministry here in the MNYS. My speaking up oftentimes didn’t result in comfort in the room, but it did lead to confronting many of the demons which plague us. I was then elected and served two years as the Chair of the Conference of Deans; the only time in the history of the Synod such a position has formally existed.
Here are some gifts that have contributed to my bridge building skills:
I hear truth from many voices. While I probably have my own “camp” (I’m a fairly “high church” traditionalist, Confessional, evangelical catholic type), I’m ferociously committed to the value of every theological and spiritual perspective within the Synod. A faithful Synod (I prefer this term much more than “successful”) is one where not one or a few perspectives win out, but rather when we are able to hear ALL voices at the table and produce a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. As a parish pastor and dean, I have actively sought such conversations and connections with my colleagues in ministry from a wide variety of perspectives, and I would continue that approach as bishop.
Conversation must always be fostered. This means a vigorous exchange of ideas. Never should an idea be silenced. In the Gospels and the Epistles, the mission occurs in the context of conversation: the disciples with one another and, most importantly, with Jesus himself. The Holy Spirit gives courage to help bring this about. That same Spirit is creativity herself.
Bridge building cannot happen if we’re afraid of conflict. It’s when different ideas butt up against one another that real inspiration ensues. Just as in laborious theological debate, working on our issues of being Church together is not for the fainthearted.
Creative conflict is ALWAYS a matter of ideas and perspectives, NOT people and personalities. When people move into the realm of personalizing the conflict, I move to disarm the confrontation and steer back toward the topics themselves.
Using the descriptions on the "Listening for Leadership" document (Bishop Profile, page 3) share specific examples of how you have served in a LEADER role in previous calls, experiences, and leadership:
Last summer I was approached by a not-for-profit organization about the possibility of leasing a small office in our church building. As we had one extra-large room we weren’t using, I began investigating this group and negotiating with them. I found them to be reputable. They had had a similar relationship with another Synod Congregation for over ten years. Both pastors who had worked with them said that they were a good group and had benefitted from the arrangement. Judging that it was a good deal, I then informed our Congregation Council in preparation for presenting this to the Congregation for approval. Everything seemed to be looking favorable. What I did not count on was the strong reaction to the clientele of this not-for-profit: immigration.
Even though I could sense resistance, I still considered this a good ministry opportunity that could benefit our mission. I met with key leaders one-on-one who opposed the lease. I spoke openly and honestly with anyone who had questions. Needless to say, the Special Congregational Meeting was prickly. For two hours we pursued the question. The lease was presented, the lead up to the proposal described, and key leaders involved made statements. Then there was time for anyone to ask questions to myself and the other presenters. After that, everyone was allowed to make their own statements. Then we took a vote. It lost overwhelmingly.
This experience serves as a major parable for our life as a Synod. Even though our Synod and ELCA are outspoken about concern for immigrants, how that translates into political reality on the ground varies. I believe and support the moral stance of our Church. I preach and teach that. It’s not my job as a pastor to dictate the politics of anyone. These teachings can only be applied locally and cannot be forced in any way. Even though I disagreed with the conclusion of my Congregation in that vote, I support their ELCA Constitutional right to choose.
This story illustrates some of the gifts that I would bring to the office of Bishop. I have integrity: integrity of my convictions – I don’t flip-flop on the basis of political expediency, integrity of honesty and transparency, and the integrity to be strong and steady in difficult situations. I have a strong sense of fairness: even though I clearly supported the lease proposal, everyone in my flock was allowed to speak their peace and be respected for it. I’m unflappable and grounded so as to survive difficult situations, even when there’s much emotional anger aimed at me. I have love for people: I hold no personal animus toward anyone that was involved in this difficult time even those that most strongly opposed me. Leadership is not about “winning” or getting one’s way, it’s about being steady and fair. I believe those are key gifts that a bishop needs in ministry; especially in the MNYS as we find it today.
Using the descriptions on the "Listening for Leadership" document (Bishop Profile, page 3) share specific examples of how you have served in a ADMINISTRATOR role in previous calls, experiences, and leadership:
I have had many experiences of an administrator in my congregation and pre-school. I have run a staff at times as large as fifteen. As above, these experiences form the foundation for larger tasks.
On the local level I have delighted in working in very practical ways with struggling congregations to help them discover practical solutions to their problems. Small steps are often exactly what is needed to help move them from despair. Often this is in the area of administration. How does their Councils operate? How do they keep the books? How do you properly understand and operate under the Constitution? How do you feel out sometimes difficult Synod and churchwide forms?
On the Synod level, I’ve been engaged in administrative service throughout my 20 years here. I started on the Synod Council and eventually served on the Executive Committee for two years. I then served as Dean all the while serving on Committees and Task Forces. There’s a deeply embedded “family system” problem. In order to address this, I started writing legislation. This was a largely administrative chore. I was getting people to agree and coalesce around a particular problem and a targeted solution. This at times was like pulling teeth, but it was and is necessary. It involves navigating our constitutional and operational structure. The first rule of leadership is to state reality even when there is great opposition.
It then involves the political give and take of putting things together, always in the search for consensus.
Administration is a spiritual gift; it’s also unique though as to how a bishop administrates. The nature of a bishop’s administration is in the ministry of oversight (episkopos, the Greek word for bishop!). It is not to be an administrator in the clerical sense. We are blessed to have a large and capable Synod staff. The bishop is Colonel Potter, not Radar O’Reilly.
A common theme in all the roles referenced in the previous section is the idea of bringing all congregations and conferences together. As Bishop, how will you use your time and staff to help congregations and conferences who may feel disconnected from the synodical offices and life of our synod?
There is a disconnect historically between the “central office” and the congregations. Although most usually, the Synod staff, Council, etc. are cooperative and polite, there are other times when they’re adversarial and suspicious and in return Congregations get that way too. I would address the issue anytime staff were dismissive, rude or condescending. My sense is that MNYS people are bright, open and sincere. They don’t need to be manipulated or duped. Anyone from one of our congregations that calls the Synod staff should receive as courteous a reception and conversation as we insist on when someone calls one of our congregations.
First and foremost the MNYS is C,D&Ps. “The staff” exists merely to support and care for the ministry of C,D&Ps. In reality, “the Synod” is perceived, and operates, as the central command center. Decisions are much more likely to be made among “the staff” and then rubber stamped by the formal legal structure. This is damaging to our relationships throughout the MNYS and not inline with Lutheran ecclesiology. Instead, each level of the church is properly governed by a Shepherd and a Council (Congregation, Synod, national, and international). They are exceptionally gifted to make the best decisions at that level. As bishop I would insist on this Lutheran understanding: Council and Bishop lead; the staff aids them in their work.
It is often said that we should do away with the central office as a cost-saving measure. I’m NOT making any promises, but I would look for alternatives to the current office location, with a priority on a church location if possible. To my mind this is not to primarily save money, in fact it might cost the same or more, but rather as an important symbol that we are Church together, not a branch of a business.
One perennial issue in this area is the Call Process. It’s the number one interaction that any Congregation has with the Synod. It is my opinion that we need a broader process. During my time in the MNYS it has been overwhelmingly controlled by an Assistant for Congregations. I believe that we need a broader more participatory process one possibly similar to Southeast Pennsylvania which involves the Conference of Deans as well.
Personal relationships must be furthered. It’s important to get up close and personal to church reality. This means a more robust practice of bishop and staff visitation. To this end I would envision staff at more regular attendance at Conference Ministerium and meetings. Also, as bishop, I would increase my time in individual congregations. I would want a plan where within every year I would be able to make visitation to at least some Congregation Council meetings so as to literally know better the mind of the church. I would also re-implement the “Bishop’s Church” program where every year there’s a particular congregation that is “home base” for the bishop and I could preach and preside numerous times during the year. A great deal of this connection is simple as sharing a meal with key people.
Congregational vitality and mergers are a primary area of focus. As congregations face a loss of members, youth, and income, what role do you see the Bishop having regarding issues of congregational vitality, mergers, strategic planning, and congregational renewal? Give any examples in which you ministered to people in a congregation in transition.
Literature and our experience as a Synod tell us that the way NOT to go about mergers/co-operative ministry initiatives is by the Synod office dictating/determining what happens. Successful mergers and co-operative ministries originate “on the ground” in the territory of the Conference with the active participation of pastors and lay leaders. Local congregations need to look at their own viability and the mission to which God is calling them. I support a similar model that Bp McCoid utilized in SW Pennsylvania: Area Mission Strategies. These were produced locally rather than imposed from on high.
Personally, I have experienced and been deeply involved in such work in my Conference. We have, collegially as Ministerium and lay leaders, labored tirelessly to find workable solutions for the mission needs of our area. This means that one size does not fit all. We have managed to merge two congregations (while facing resistance from some quarters of the Synod structure), partner with an innovative Mission Development in an existing congregation, and are currently working toward “yoking” two congregations together in order for them to share a pastor. None of this was generated in Synod office, but was rather the result of work on the ground.
We live in what is called the “Sharing Economy.” This is something that the church has in its very DNA. From its inception in the book of Acts, it’s all been about sharing the gifts God has entrusted us with. One of the ways forward for our Synod Staff will be to use those resources and gifts in administration and accounting for our local congregations.
Our Outreach Committee was, I believe, unconstitutionally abolished. Since the inception of the last administration our Commission for Evangelical Mission has been dormant even though the gifted leaders who were involved have continued under the synonym of the Center for Evangelical Mission. I would definitely appoint members to those groups and work to facilitate their work in cooperation with the Strategic Plan uber committees. We would pursue our given structure for mission until such time as the Synod votes to change that structure. We should not abandon what we already have without an alternative. This goes very much so also for Campus Ministry (which needs more funding), camping ministry especially at Koinonia, and youth ministries such as Pinecrest.
We already have vibrant leadership here within our Synod. That leadership is also in conversation and learning with experts from outside. We have coaches and mentors even among ourselves. I would rather encourage and foster those gifts.
Some programs are necessary, but programs will not, and cannot, save the church. The Spirit will sustain the Church in its mission. The Holy Spirit is available for engaging with our realities in ministry and working with those challenges. This wind of the Spirit, blowing within our Church, is what will result in thriving, vibrant communities of faith across the full territory of MNYS.
Faith formation is a vital part of congregational and synodical life. Children, youth, young adults, adults, and diaconal formation are especially important. As Bishop, how would you encourage and strengthen faith formation? Provide examples of faith-formation efforts you have led.
For the past 20 years I have dedicated myself to studying ecclesiology, the church. I read about 30 books at once, almost all on the topic of church. It is this passion that I bring to the Teaching Office for faith formation. The wisdom of 2000 year plus of our ancestors is a powerful resource.
The Christian Church, especially its Lutheran manifestation, is a teaching and learning body. The entire lifetime of a Christian is to be spent in spiritual growth. That occurs in many and various ways.
As we consider lifelong spiritual formation, a question arises as to how can we fully incorporate the gifts of youth and young adults. One thing is clear, the young (i.e. teens, 20’s and now even 30’s) don’t want to be pandered to; they want authenticity. Their experience reflects new ways in which the Gospel is coming alive in the world today. A wide-ranging study across all denominations of churches with vibrant ministry to this age segment (“Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies” by Powell, Mulder and Griffin), it makes clear that the young want to be challenged with meaty thought about real issues, not entertained. And also, a key finding to vibrant young ministry is that it is NOT ageist. Ministering effectively to the young in the Christian community interestingly means giving them the blessings of older persons.
One of the great success stories of U.S. Lutheranism of the past 20 plus years has been the Diakonia program of lay education. This needs to be continued and expanded on. Many people are asking questions related to faith. One possible area of exploration is how the insights from Diakonia could be incorporated into an evangelism program of people coming or returning to faith and the church.
For much of the 20th century Lutheran ministry in higher education was the envy of other denominations. Part of the reason was funding received from national bodies. This is no more. We must not lose this great source of lay leadership formation and future church vocations. I would work to secure local funding for ministry in our Metro NY schools.
Camping ministry has also been used powerfully by God in our Lutheran history. Even though it will morph and change, it should have a future in the MNYS. As bishop I would be in dialogue in particular with our largest camping ministry, Koinonia. For the purpose of helping us work together to ensure its continued contribution to faith formation.
All of the issues of relating to faith formation and the ministry of the laity is directly related to how we understand the role of pastors. It is incorrect to think that strong pastors mean weak laity. It’s the other way around. In order to have vibrant lay ministry one must have clergy who know exactly what the nature of their calling is, and what it is not.
What is your understanding of our synod’s current strategic plan, and how would you advance that plan as Bishop?
I was one of the people to call of the MNYS to enter a strategic planning process. With some reservations (I, along with numerous Synod clergy, thought it to be inadequate in evangelism and stewardship), I voted for its adoption. I’m a supporter of the Synod’s Strategic plan, but not uncritically.
My first and fundamental observation and commitment on it is that the Strategic Plan needs to work for the Synod, not the Synod for the Strategic Plan. In past Synod Assemblies, the Strategic Plan had such prominence that at times it eclipsed the fundamental ecclesial nature of our Synod. The Strategic Plan must not be allowed to operate as a shadow Synod government. It is a tool, not the goal. Our goal is given us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the end to which we labor.
Let’s be honest, our Strategic Plan has achieved some things that people are pleased with. These are overwhelmingly do with opening the Synod’s coffers and granting free money. God has given us resources. We need to use and share them for the mission of the Gospel. But a Strategic Plan must do much more than merely this. Claimed, Gathered and Sent can quickly morph into Claimed, Gathered and Spent.
What I would be concerned about as a bishop, and what I’m VERY concerned about now, is how our Strategic Plan deliberates and makes its decisions. It is very clear that our Synod has a crisis in terms of transparency and accountability. So why does the Gathered Committee require members to sign a legal document requiring secrecy about their deliberations? To my mind this is not that far from Confidentiality agreements used within the Roman Catholic Church, national politics, and even in our ELCA seminary contexts. It is my conviction that this must stop! (Our own ELCA made the deliberate decision at its inception to forego any such legal agreements). We need to assure, and I would work for this as bishop, that our Strategic Plan would be fully transparent.
I’m not sure that the Strategic Plan, on the Synod level, should be involved with the “closing” of Congregations. Constitutionally, closing and merging of congregations is something that is delegated primarily to the Congregations themselves. The Synod Council has the obligation to invoke Synod Administration when a Congregation’s membership becomes scattered/diminished and/or to protect the property from waste or deterioration. If the Gathered Committee would develop resources to aid Congregations in self-analysis that could be helpful, but to talk about on-the-ground ministry from a conference room in Manhattan and then make recommendations regarding its future seems unwise at best, unconstitutional at the worst.
Ever since its inception, it has been indicated that the Strategic Plan was going to make/force changes to our Constitution. Our Constitution did not come down from heaven and is amendable. In fact, we regularly do amend it. So why hasn’t anything of much substance come out of the Strategic Plan regarding Constitution, By-laws and the real structure of things?
What do you see as the principal challenge of our synod in the next six years, and how will you approach and address it?
Mark 4.21-25 says “For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light… Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you.” Transparency is somehow connected to unlocking the blessings God has given us. God’s blessings for our mission demands transparency about what’s going on with our shared/mutual ministry
Our difficulties did not begin in the last administration and they cannot be totally “fixed” in the next. We need to become aware of our deeply seated practices and habits, in order to begin the arduous task of changing for the better. Real repentance is never easy. “Re-formation” is something that is ongoing. In addition, it isn’t “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” The Church that God calls us to be is at one and the same time something radically new and simultaneously the historic Church of the ages. After his resurrection Jesus is still the same Jesus he was before the Cross, wounds and all!
This Gospel is a communication event. We need to be honest in how we communicate to the world. When people look at our Synod website, they shouldn’t feel a disconnect between what it portrays and our average congregation. We need “truth in advertising.” God wants to use US to minister the Gospel as we really are, not as we are “branded” and portrayed to be.
The MNYS is strengthened by our great diversity, and the wide variety of groups, cultures, and perspectives that represents. However, societal pressures tend towards the view that people within those groups think alike. I believe that we in the church should be proud to proclaim our rich variety where all are welcome, to work even harder to make sure that ALL voices are heard, and to share the truth that every person brings a unique perspective that is enriched but not constrained by the communities with which they identify.
As a synod I believe the MNYS understands that the Lord is for us and that our mission is for the world that the Lord loves so much. However, I think we need to ask ourselves if we’re for each other. John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Does the world know about Jesus because of the MNYS’s love for one another?
It’s often said that we need to do something “to save” the church. I reject that sentiment. “Saving” the church is an idea that proceeds from unbelief which is sin. The Church has already been saved by Jesus. The fact is that one, holy, Christian Church will exist forever (Large Catechism). It is our task given to us to follow the sovereign Holy Spirit as proclaimers of God’s saving love in Christ. I’m not worried about the future because I know who has the future.
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?
This is an important question. How does the church speak to our 24/7 culture where everyone takes their work home in their pockets? People assume access at all hours and as a result the boundaries between different aspects of our lives become blurred. The fundamental answer is simple though and found in the Scriptures.
The answer is rooted in the Commandments – particularly the 3rd, “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.” In other words, even God took a day off so don’t be so arrogant as to think you’re better than the Divine! If you don’t abide by the 3rd Commandment then you’re going to be a wreck, not be very effective, and potentially do quite a bit of harm.
In terms of my modeling such obedience I do a number of things. I take my days off and vacations. I workout at the gym three to five times a week. I have a therapist. I spend time with my rich network of family and friends. The most important aspect of this, as Luther reminds us in his explanation of the Commandment, is that I rest in the Word of God. I have a Spiritual Director. I make several retreats during the course of a year. And most importantly I pray extensively every morning and evening.
As bishop I would continue my lifestyle based on this obedience. I would further model this in encouraging retreats and spending very particular time praying with staff, pastors/deacons, and lay leaders in congregations.
In the end, ministry does not equate to “self-care.” The world is obsessed with “self” in an individualistic sense. When we’re obedient to the Gospel that says we don’t have to do it all, then we receive the blessing of abundant life within ourselves and in community. This allows us then to start renewed and refreshed once again to do as the Eucharistic prayer says “not as we ought, but as we are able.”