The Rev. Heidi Neumark

The comments of pre-identified pastors represent their opinions only. —Synod Council Executive Committee.

The Rev. Heidi Neumark

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:
     My first call in this synod was as the pastor of Transfiguration Lutheran Church in the Bronx. The members of the church had given the doors a fresh coat of red paint as a gesture of welcome. Someone had the foresight to leave the can in my office. Each morning I met fresh graffiti. In walks around the neighborhood, I began asking teenagers and children I met if any of them would like to be part of an art project. Soon, an enthusiastic group of young artists gathered to read stories from the Bible, which they then illustrated right on the front doors. Their vision helped the church rediscover its identity and live up to its name: Transfiguration. Reformation on the church doors!
     The church I serve now is in an area of intense diversity- racial, ethnic, class and more. I remember telling the call committee that I hoped we could move “beyond diversity lite.” I immediately regretted the rather flippant comment, but I did mean that beloved community takes serious, intentional work. 
     One sign that affirms this vision can be seen in our elected leadership. When I began, our council of ten had two members who were not white. Today, it is reversed. Our council has two white members, two African American members, five Latino members and one from India. Our president is a a beneficiary of the DREAM act, and a dreamer in every sense of the word. I get the joy of seeing Pentecost continuing to unfold and of bearing wider witness to the movements of the Spirit among us through speaking and writing. I have mentored 34 interns and numerous fieldwork seminarians who carry on their own pastoral work around the nation.
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: 
     One important lesson I learned in community organizing is the value of finding common ground. We might disagree on nine out of ten points, but if we can find common ground on the tenth point, we can work together on that. I believe this is true in the church too. In our own synod, we have so much in common! We have a particular confessional slant on the Gospel. We stand together on the solid ground of our justification by faith through grace. We have a shared mission of being “little Christs” to our neighbor, visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, freeing the captive, welcoming the stranger.
     A pastor often needs to help people find common ground. When my church was considering opening our shelter for homeless LGBTQ+ youth, I knew that the idea would not be controversial for most. I was unsure about some newer members who came from a different context and experience. When we met to discuss the proposal after our Spanish worship one Sunday, the response was: “We’re not against this but our friends and family might be and then we won’t be able to grow.” Rosa stood up and said: “In other churches, every one is separate. Here we are welcomed and people want to worship together.” Rosa was speaking to her experience of regular bilingual worship, intentional efforts to grow in relationship like being on council where she served as the congregation’s vice president. When her father died in Mexico, people came to the memorial service here. It was in Spanish, but church members came who spoke only English. Rosa concluded by saying: “We know what it’s like to be unwanted, but here we have been welcomed and so we should welcome these young people with nowhere to go.” The vote in favor of the shelter was unanimous. People were able to find common ground through building relationships, showing up for one another and sharing Word and Sacrament. 
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:
    Leading people requires presence with people. It was crucial to live in the Bronx neighborhood I served. Although I would always be afforded privileges based on race and class that my neighbors would not, I could never have begun to lead without being present. Leading requires relationship and you can’t build a genuine relationship at arms-length. We serve a God who became incarnate to dwell among us. 
     It is important to enter into the territory of others and not expect to always be met where we are. When I was in seminary, I took a class in racism at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work. I was the only white person in a classroom of African American students and one Native American. I was used to being given the benefit of the doubt, assumed to be a decent person with good intentions. I immediately realized this was not the case in that classroom. I had to open myself to a re-orientation to take seriously power dynamics and systemic oppression.  Before Jacob could be reconciled with his brother, Esau, he had to wrestle with God and end up limping with a dislocated hip. In our divided world, leading requires regular dislocation for the sake of reconciliation. A bishop has time constraints and responsibilities that differ from those of a pastor. I still believe that to the extent possible, a bishop needs to be present in the varied places called home by the flock under their care. Part of that can be delegated to staff, but the physical presence of the bishop is also needed. This goes to the role of communicating plans etc. If I don’t know or trust a person, I may not care about their plans. If I am creating plans without meaningful connection with those the plans are intended for, they won't work.  
     I have had experience sharing with ecumenical and interfaith groups through community organizing and speaking. I have media experience through the years, in print and on-camera, most recently on Good Morning America for Christmas. 
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 never enjoyed the gifts of paid administrative staff in the churches I have served, but I have worked with a series of exceptional volunteers. My role is one of chief encourager and support, seeking not to micro-manage. 
     Besides my role as pastor, for the past 12 years, I have served as the executive director of Trinity Place, a shelter for homeless LGBTQ+ youth based at the church I serve, now separately incorporated. The idea for the shelter began in June of 2004 when I was shocked to learn that in a city the size of New York, there were only 12 beds specifically designated to serve this growing population of homeless young people. This need also caught the imagination of several key lay persons, including the congregation’s vice president, a licensed social worker. At first, our dream was overcome with doubts. Where would the money come from? We already had an operating deficit. What if there were unforeseen problems? Everything changed when a small “we” become a large “WE” through networking with a broad range of others who shared our vision and hope and lent their support.
We started with a bare-bones budget. Through networking, growing relationships, grant work, attention to staff, board formation and development, we’ve gone from one paid college student and volunteers to a staff that includes 6 licensed social workers (only one full-time). Our budget is now nearly $300,000 a year and over the past decade we’re raised more than $2 million and helped over 600 young people exist homelessness. As the executive director, I deal with governance, finances, personnel, and legal issues, along with a stellar team. 
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?
     I have noticed a variety of staffing models in different synods with staff divided by function or by geography. I would want to have conversations with other synods to learn the strengths and weaknesses of these models. In any case, I think it is essential for a bishop’s staff to represent the diversity of the synod, with priority going to those who are most marginalized. 
     As a pastor, I know that the best way to reach out to someone who feels disconnected is to go to them and meet with them face-to-face, to listen without defensiveness to their concerns, to pray with them and for them, to treat them with love and respect even when I may not feel it in return. I am not sure how this pastoral practice translates to the role of bishop but I would hope that a similar process would enable a bishop to understand why pastors, congregations and/or conferences feel disconnected and to work on healing from there. When all seems for naught, I have learned to always leave the door open for the Holy Spirit to work changes that we cannot. Transparent, frequent communications on multiple platforms is also key. As a pastor, I have also made it a practice to ask God to help me listen attentively for the cry of the lost sheep. The rest of the flock can be very loud and demanding, right in our face, so that it is very easy to forget the one that is lost. 
    The bridge-building section of comments relates to the theme of disconnection as well. It can help to find common ground on things we can get excited about together, so that we can focus more on what unites us without glossing over the rest. I believe it is necessary to be honest about the pain people experience, to recognize it and name it. As Lutherans, our theology of the cross leads us to "call a thing what it is."  Without that, we cannot move to any kind of repentance and forgiveness when needed. I find wisdom in the words of the monk Thomas Merton: "As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a body of broken bones. Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and the sorrow that are the price of this resetting of bones. Hatred tries to cure disunion …by the elimination of everybody else but ourselves. But love, by its acceptance of the pain of reunion begins to heal all wounds."
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.
     I was told that the first church I served destroyed pastors and was doomed to fail. It was definitely a congregation in transition. The advantage my church had is that things were so diminished that no one had the illusion that they could keep their doors open without significant changes. They did not look forward to those changes, but they preferred change to closing. Love for their church was more powerful than fear of change. 
     I also believe that situations many may view as hopeless can turn around and that should not surprise us. We serve the God of Sarah who was not impressed with promises of vitality: “After I have become worn out with use and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?”  “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”  the visitors asked. Sarah laughed and God carried on. 
    I would never assume that congregational renewal is impossible, but my call is also to not give false hope. In many cases, remaining as we are is a false hope.I love the Biblical story of the paralyzed man and his four friends who wanted to bring him to Jesus. In order to make a way for their friend, they had to move tiles and break through the roof to make a new space to let the man down.  Digging a hole through the roof was a big structural change. What structures in our churches have to change in order that more people might come to Jesus? A change in our physical structure or location? A change in our decision-making structure? A change in language and culture? Such changes are often difficult, but in the end, the hope is that we can join the crowd in the story, "so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, 'We have never seen anything like this!'”
     In accompanying churches through change and renewal, we have tried and true tools.
1. God’s Word. I would want every congregation facing choices before an uncertain future to commit to increased, communal study of God’s Word. The bishop might provide some guidance for such studies. I have seen what Luther described when he wrote: "The Word of God, whenever it comes, comes to change and renew the world.”  
2. Worship. Strategic praying before strategic planning. I would want every congregation facing choices before an uncertain future to commit to worshipping more regularly than ever, to pray communally for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 
3. I would ask each such congregation to assess their community's assets and needs determine one new ministry of outreach, however small, that brings the love of Christ to others. 
4. The synod would pledge to make decisions together with each congregation. The ELCA constitution states that we should "Provide structures and decision-making processes for this church that foster mutuality and interdependence and that involve people in making decisions that affect them."
     If a congregation persists in resisting all of the above, then the weight of decision-making would fall to others. 
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.
     I would want synod staff who would focus with others on the needs and gifts of children, youth and college students. I would hope for some special attention with those with special needs. I would want to support our unique Diakonia program and other diaconal formation opportunities.
     In my experience, some of the materials provided for faith formation by our wider church are not culturally competent in their assumptions about class, race, family make-up and special needs. Where that is true, I would hope to gather those interested in helping find and/or create materials that do reflect those competencies, in readily accessible formats to share. 
     I think it would be fun to have a Synod-wide Bible study once a year as a bridge-building exercise with materials spanning all age groups, including ideas for incorporating various arts in the exploration of a text. 
     I know that domestic and international mission trips, if done well in a non-paternalistic way, can make profound contributions to faith formation. I also believe that young people should not have to leave the country, or even the synod, to find church life that fires the imagination and invigorates faith. I would like to see youth, and even children, go on fact-finding, or better yet, faith-finding missions from one end of the synod to another. I’d like to see the children and youth return to teach adults about what they have seen and heard. 
     I would like to support every area in our synod to have greater access to some of the many world-class theologians, Biblical scholars and thinkers on our territory. 
Two examples of faith-formation efforts I have led are:
1. Wee Worship- Wee Worship began as an opportunity for very young children to learn about worship by coming to worship with their families at a liturgy sensitive to the particular needs and gifts of wee ones.  We have Holy Communion every week, served by trained children, but it is a shorter service. I use puppets for the sermon time. We have four year olds who can tell you more about the church year than many adults. 
2. We started a kind of weekly Dinner Church which transitioned into a meal followed by Bible study and prayer. Most of the people were not regular church attenders and so we've spent more time on faith formation. We average 20-30 people in the study every week which is many more than we've ever had. 
What is your understanding of our synod’s current strategic plan, and how would you advance that plan as Bishop?
   "Claimed, Gathered and Sent!" I can still hear the jingle we sang when the plan was rolled out. My understanding is based on the mission statement for the plan. The Claimed strategies focus on communicating our Lutheran identity, helping people know about and connect with a variety of Lutheran ministries and encouraging new initiatives for faith formation. The Gathered strategies support our Word and Sacrament gatherings throughout the territory of the synod. This includes the locations and buildings where worship happens, recruiting, training and supporting clergy and lay leaders, identifying new opportunities for planting worshipping communities and providing resources to do that. The Sent strategies focus on serving our neighbors, including networking and forming partnerships with other organizations doing good work and advocacy for peace and justice. There will be ongoing financial and human resources dedicated to this plan. 
    I believe that the strategic plan is a gift for an incoming bishop, offering a strong framework for moving forward. While the plan itself is set, each area is flexible with plenty of room for fresh ideas and initiatives. To my understanding, the plan has engaged a range of lay people through committee work. I would hope to see the vision and investment of even more people from around the synod in working to attain the goals before us. I believe that every strategy in the plan intends to reach and be responsive to the needs of every area of the synod. I would want to evaluate how that is going and see how to build on and, where needed, improve on what has happened so far. 
     One stated goal for all three strategic areas is to "nurture racial, ethnic and cultural awareness and sensitivity" in all aspects of our life together. We have taken key steps to promote and provide anti-racism training. That work needs to be strengthened and continued. 
      Since the next bishop's term ends in 2025 and the term of the strategic plan ends in 2023, there will need to be a focused evaluation of where we are and what steps we need to take following 2023. I hope that along with evaluation, there will be reason for celebration! 
What do you see as the principal challenge of our synod in the next six years, and how will you approach and address it?

    I believe that our challenge is to be a Do-Not-Be-Afraid Synod sharing the grace, hope and liberating message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a fearful world. We live in a time of nationalistic fear-mongering that heightens divisions and dehumanizes and demonizes others. It is a time of changing racial demographics that shock the system of white supremacy, both outside and inside our church which remains the whitest of denominations in this nation. There are generational changes that impact church attendance and provoke questions around worship opportunities, leadership styles, about what contextually meaningful and authentic mission looks like. There is fear and avoidance of environmental degradation. There is new information about gender differences and human sexuality that challenge many assumptions. Reasons for fear may be new, but fear is obviously not. "Do not be afraid!" rings out through the pages of the Bible. Our challenge is to be:

+Unafraid of facing what ails us and divides us so that we can be healed and liberated as witnesses to the Gospel with greater focus and power. Several years ago I had the honor of preaching at a synodical racial reconciliation event and I choose the theme of "Facing the Snake" from the Numbers 21 story. We cannot be reconciled with one another if we don’t face up to what’s biting us and poisoning us. In John’s gospel, Jesus says "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must I be lifted up. " When we see Jesus lifted on the cross, we never need to face what’s wrong in us and around us, without seeing our belovedness, for God is with us, for God so loved the world.

+Unafraid to name white supremacy as evil.

+Unafraid of difference and diversity, honoring the creative imagination of our God.

+Unafraid of allowing God to liberate us from sinful systems that dehumanize us and others, leaving us less than the beloved community God desires.

+Unafraid of taking risks in the face of change and loss.

+Unafraid of prophetic passion.

+Unafraid of talking about Jesus. We need to match our public speech with our public actions. We can be more comfortable with actions than bearing witness to the Word with our words. 

+Unafraid of our Lutheran identity. What we believe as Lutherans matters in this often graceless world. As bishop, I would hope to lead in this effort. 

A bishop needs to help the synod face our ills, as a theologian of the cross, "calling a thing what it is." A bishop needs to help the synod see and lift up the presence of God's grace and love in our midst in tiny and in mighty ways. A bishop needs to be a passionate lover of God's Word, honest, transparent and vulnerable. A bishop needs to know in their bones that "having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart." I do not know if I could or should be that bishop, but I am open in discernment. The Word that tells us "Do not be afraid" is a word of promise. It carries within it the power to lead us through our fear: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear for you are with me." In the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there.” ¡Adelante! ¡Sin Miedo! 

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?

The self-care practices I find most helpful include:


  1. Taking a weekly day off and vacation time. 
  2. Spending quality time with family. Since January of 2018, that has included spending weekly time with our baby grand-daughter. Although I’ve spent my years as a pastor in the heart of the city, a piece of my heart now resides in the beautiful Hudson Valley and I travel there on an almost weekly basis. 
  3. I regularly see a spiritual director. 
  4. Writing. Writing is a form of prayerful reflection for me. At least once a year, I go on a writing retreat, usually in the context of a monastic community.

As to congregations supporting the office of Bishop- 
An old day camp song comes to mind- the one titled "I‘ve been Redeemed" with the verse: “You can talk about me (You can talk about me) All that you please (all that you please) I'll talk about you (I’ll talk about you) down on my knees.” My hope is that congregations and pastors would not talk about their bishop behind the bishop’s back in a gossipy, undermining manner, but rather, would pray regularly and sincerely for their bishop. The great African bishop Augustine puts it perfectly: "Help me by your prayers and your obedience to carry out these many serious and varied duties. Then I shall have the joy of not so much ruling you as of being useful to you."  

How will I encourage the self-care of others? I would hope to set an example that resists the perverse sense in much of our culture that equates busyness with importance, ie "I haven’t taken a day off in months": as if that statement is a badge of honor. I think not taking time off for months is dangerous and I would hope to set a tone where taking time off is valued and honored. What each person needs for their health and well-being will vary by individual and life season and these differences should be supported.  I would want to make sure that every congregation has resources to learn about clergy sabbaticals and funding opportunities. Our synod has a wonderful resource in the Lutheran Counseling Center and we can and should help clergy who wish to make connections for spiritual direction. 
     I also believe that some of what counts as "self-care" is inseparable from what we might call an ecclesial ecosystem. The synod needs to recognize and account for the stress caused by inadequate compensation and work with seminaries to address student debt. In addition, there is the stress caused by micro-aggressions (and major ones) related to racism, sexism and homophobia and these impact clergy health and the need for additional self-care, a burden that falls unjustly on some among us. I would also want to address the stigma around mental illness and chronic illnesses such that clergy can get the help they need without fear of reprisals.