The comments of pre-identified pastors represent their opinions only. —Synod Council Executive Committee.
The Rev. Geoff T. Sinibaldo
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:
For me, ministry is primarily about helping people discover, nurture and articulate their relationship with God, other people and the world. I have one goal: to connect and foster what Jesus is calling you to do as a beloved child of God. For the last year I have been the Chaplain for Old Saybrook Fire Company #1 (an all volunteer fire department). This role has included public functions such as praying for the company prior to the Memorial Day parade and annual banquet, offering an invocation at tree lighting in town for Gold Star families, offering pastoral care for firefighters after calls, and leading funeral/memorial services for firefighters and their families. Most of the people involved are marginally Roman Catholic, unchurched or dechurched and I am their pastor. They all call me "Rev." Becoming part of that community over the past year has led me to begin training as a volunteer firefighter and joining the company.
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:
Ephesians 2:14 is a key verse for me. In an opt-in volunteer organization like a church – leadership is often about finding and developing a coalition of the willing to accomplish goals. In an either-or world, I am working on trying to find a third way that neither waters down identity or core beliefs, nor uses a heavy-hand or shaming to impose an agenda in a win-lose situation.
I tend to think that Jesus would want us to bring people together and join him in tearing down walls then just pushing our own point of view because we know we are right. There are absolutely times to say, “no more!” But I believe there are more opportunities where building-up trust with the people you disagree with and disagree with you is exactly the good news we are trying to proclaim. In two of my churches there has been a real reluctance to talk about human sexuality or develop governing policies. I started scheduling my LGBTQIA+ colleagues to be supply pastors. I neither outed them nor hit people over the head who might not otherwise welcome them. I simply let folks experience what wonderful and faithful people they are. Afterwards, I invited conversation about our shared humanity, unique giftedness and what it means to welcome one another as children of God.
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:
In three of my four congregations, my pastorate included building/renovation projects which required much coordination, volunteers, contracts, etc., and helping lead two capital campaigns without consultants. At my current congregation that included a full building renovation without taking on additional debt, raising around $500,000 and selling a piece of property. At times throughout this process there was division and sabotage to undermine the project by a few people who did not support it. Remaining steadfast, continually articulating the vision, thanking people both publicly and privately, calming anxiety in meetings and one on one conversations helped see the project through to completion. We celebrated the completion of the project last April with our bishop preaching and presiding at worship and participating in the party afterwards.
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:
My experience includes five summers on staff in an ELCA Outdoor Ministry, serving in a congregation as a youth director, campus ministry as my field site while in seminary and four pastorates that include serving as a solo pastor, associate pastor and head of staff. I currently supervise five staff in my current call. I was nominated by my bishop to participate in the pilot Senior Pastor Certificate program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, completed in 2016.
I serve as the ELCA Gathering Synod Coordinator for the New England Synod.
I have served as Dean in two conferences in the New England Synod providing pastoral support, coordinating pericope study and fellowship for Rostererd Ministers. I foster communication between the synod office and congregations under my care. I enjoy that work very much. Beyond the role of dean, I often find myself as a person colleagues look to for support and consult.
In a previous congregation, I had the opportunity to work with Luther Seminary and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in supervising five seminarians on their intern year (2005-2010). I had a Project Connect student with me for the summer in 2008.
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?
Synods exist to support the work of congregations; not the other way around.
I have experienced two administrations in the New England Synod. The first administration was top-down, office-centered, insular and bureaucratic, even with deployed regional associates. The bishop and staff were excellent, but there was always a distance between the synod office and life on the ground.
The second (and current) administration is much more accessible, mutual and partnered within our wide geographic territory. A text from an associate or the bishop with words of encouragement or invitation for a cup of coffee on the way to meet with another ministry is common place. Use of social media, blog, podcast, e-news, have also created an ethos of collaboration and cohesion. Emphasis on the local mission field is paramount. Since becoming a dean, it has been my role not only to facilitate meetings, but I often find myself in one on ones with colleagues for support and communication as an extension of the bishop’s office.
I would pursue the latter (second) strategy to bring people together. I’m pretty active in social media. I have had a blog (Sinibaldo.wordpress.com) since 2009, where I not only warehouse the things I am working on, but also use it a tool to communicate. I have shared a podcast with my colleague Pastor Joe McGarry (2baldpastors.com) since 2015 and am an avid texter.
I am first and foremost a ministry practitioner. My goal for the synod would be to strengthen and support local ministries and would use my office, staff, and institutional leadership and structures to help people do the ministry to which they are called.
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.
God does not send us to save institutions. God sends us to be faithful to our calling.
Too often we think practically toward solutions – mergers, closings, consolidations, clergy in multiple settings or going bi-vocational, new strategic plans or the right consultant being the answers to all of our problems. We too often make choices determined by our perception of the limits of what we think is possible, rather than following our "why" (Simon Sinek), committing to the work and getting creative to make things happen. I have found that process typically begins with what I consider to be the wrong question: “How do we (or, more often, “How are you…”) going to save our church?”
We need a vision of the church that is centered on the ministry of the baptized in context, nurtured by congregations and other ministries, equipped by strong and collegial servant leaders, supported by a structure and bishop who cares primarily about the ministry on the ground in all these locations and how their office can help them as its primary calling.
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.
Several years ago, I decided I was no longer going to graduate kids from church.
We began reframing our confirmation ministry around an open-ended process, based on a practice one of my colleagues had started in her parish of confirming kids once they were ready, rather than on a set date. Over time we have made a complete jump from an information/requirements program to a relationship-based, putting content into practice approach. New confirmands are assigned an adult mentor for their entire process that combines classroom learning with one on one conversations, service opportunities, worship and a project that will start something new or bring new life to an existing ministry. When the confirmand is ‘ready’ to affirm their baptism, a conversation with the confirmand, mentor, parents, youth director and pastor evaluates the process and makes plans for next steps, post-confirmation. It is driving engagement across the congregation. We are considering expanding the mentoring process to pre-confirmation children to start making those important relationships earlier.
I had the opportunity in a previous parish to supervise five seminarians on their internship year, and a Project Connect student over a summer. In another call I was asked to start a cohort for first year rostered leaders, and later mentored a new pastor. These opportunities do three very positive things: 1. It connects a resource person in direct contact with new leaders. 2. It helps established leaders reflect, clarify and expand their own understandings and practices. 3. It builds relationships and community among leaders, who are often isolated in their roles.
What is your understanding of our synod’s current strategic plan, and how would you advance that plan as Bishop?
How honest would you like me to be?
To me this strategic plan looks like it was designed by a well-meaning insular committee with the goal of creating more well-meaning insular committees. How these organizational components translate into action, change, and making new connections in the neighborhoods our ministries occupy is unclear.
Churches should look like the communities in which they are planted. Many congregations struggle with the reality that they are disconnected from the lives of the people that live and work around them.
What we should be doing in every ministry site is paying attention, listening and trying to follow Jesus, so we can make connections in the local community. We do this by listening to stories for needs and assets, lamenting and celebrating realities people face, inviting people into relationship, telling our own stories, inviting people into discipleship, developing leaders, supporting one another and praying for the Spirit to break this whole church thing open.
What do you see as the principal challenge of our synod in the next six years, and how will you approach and address it?
Financing our ministry in all its forms is a primary concern in a time where the ELCA is aging and getting smaller. We need to not only grow in our understanding of how money works and grow in our financial support across the institution. We need to get smart and get serious about how it is we live into God’s abundance and give thanks.
I propose three initiatives:
LOCAL STEWARDSHIP: On the local level, we need to train people how to be better stewards. This not only includes how we finance our ministries and ask for support, it is how we budget, manage and eliminate debt, save for the future, and share beyond ourselves in a variety of ways. Discipleship training should also include developing leadership, utilizing people’s gifts, and connecting people within our networks to serve, share and give thanks.
DIRECT PARTNERSHIPS: Some areas have more resources than others. Some areas have more vitality than others. Some have more energy than others. Creating a direct relationship of accompaniment between ministries to help one another could be a powerful way to connect our churches for mutual benefit and witness.
LEARNING FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD: Churches are often shy about learning from the secular world, but it is time to bring in the expertise of non-profit fund-raising and management to help our institutions that mostly rely on passive strategies to generate dollars for mission.
Be not afraid! God gives us not only what we need for ministry but also surrounds us with people who can help.
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?
Balance and variety.
Exercise is critical for me. On May 5th I am planning to run my 3rd marathon, having run one and walked one before. I have done several Ragnar relay races on a team as part of a fundraiser for our Outdoor Ministry in New England: Camp Calumet. Training not only keeps me fit but helps regulate stress levels, clears the mind, and is a wonderful time for prayer.
Adequate sleep and a healthy diet are also important, as is a regular day off and using study and vacation time. After our building project last year, I felt that I was burning out and saw a counselor to gain clarity not only on what I was feeling but what I believe is important to me.
I would encourage all leaders to pursue a life outside of ministry for better balance. I have found that life outside church by participating in the volunteer fire department in my town.
I encourage prayer for one another and fostering friendships among our leaders. It is my hope that all of us could see one another as ministry partners rather than as competitors.
I have a bottom up, not top down view of the church and my leadership. I see the role of the synod as supporting the work of congregations and our other partnership ministries to support the baptized serving in context rather than making the work we do together as what happens in one office alone. To accomplish this goal, we need to foster communication and trust, particularly in areas where we struggle. This can be the realized gift of ‘walking together’ (which is what ‘synod’ means).