The Rev. James O'Hanlon

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

The Rev. James O'Hanlon

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:
Christ’s example is vulnerability.  Pastoral care is about responding to people in distress by accompanying them.  We want to be with people on their worst day.  Good pastoral care is built on a foundation of an ongoing relationship and carefully nurtured, Biblically informed holistic understandings of a community of prayer, charity, humility and compassion.  Being there for and with members regularly helps make that presence at the crisis more helpful.  I help them see how being there for others is a mutual ministry. Sunday worship should be planned with pastoral care in mind. Every meeting at church begins with a check-in time for people to share prayer requests. 

I include the congregation in the work of the ministry of caring for other members in need.  In the wake of the mass shooting in Pittsburgh, we reached out with a message of concern.
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: 
Our fractious society and anxious congregations are hungry for calm and fairness. 

Pastors interact with people from different backgrounds.  I look for ways to introduce people to their commonalities and help them explore their differences. 

I create relationships with other houses of worship, partner with local college students.  In the Bronx I created a partnership with Hope Lutheran Church in Walker, Minnesota. 

I tell my congregants that we are not a stand-alone congregation and I am not a stand-alone pastor.  The community sees me working with other faith leaders and community partners.
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:
I have served on boards including the County Executive's LGBT Advisory Board under Republicans and Democrats. I served as president of the Council of Community Services for Port Chester.  I serve as Dean of my conference. A leader is someone that people have seen remain calm under stress and impartial in conflict. A leader knows how to ask purposeful questions that focus on mission and ministry. 

Faith leaders need to model a life that is not holier-than-thou but still a demonstrates a way of being in the world that is marked by Christian understandings and practices. To me that looks more like being an attentive listener than wishing people "a blessed day." 

A leader take stands. As a preacher I have spoken up against discrimination against Muslims and insensitivity toward women. I have lead my congregation to become the first Reconciling In Christ congregation in our conference.
A leader listens to fears, complaints and blame and acknowledges people’s valid feelings; we need to lead from a place of understanding and move the dialogue from problems to issues and strategies.  My training in community organizing has helped me think about how to engage in these discussions. 
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've served in staff situations and been a solo pastor who had to deal with wide ranging responsibilities. I managed volunteers in my previous life in state government. I have put an emphasis on training leaders through resources like Diakonia. 
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 would show up.  

I think our bishop should have a clear schedule for rotation through our synod.  Our synod leadership, and our bishop in particular, needs to visit each conference on a monthly basis at least ten months out of the year until they have visited all the conferences twice.  In between this schedule should be visits to congregations with issues that need attention and congregations that have not had their bishop visit in a while, especially congregations that are at the furthest distance.  

The Bishop needs to read and respond to the reports from leaders under call and parochial reports at least annually. These reports are handed in too infrequently but perhaps because no one seems to read them.  

Congregations need to cooperate with neighboring congregations of the Synod and ecumenical partners on areas like youth ministry, leadership development, teacher training, administration and strategic planning.  Congregations need to move to cooperate from a position of strength and not when their backs are up against the wall. 
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.
The Synod is not able impose decisions on congregations for the big adjustments and transitions that they are facing.  Churches have hard choices about what we can do and what we can't.  Congregations cannot afford to be sentimental about their history.  Our synod leadership must minister to churches feeling adrift and remind us that no congregation will be the same as it currently is and God is always pointing us to see how God is doing something new. 

When congregations are sliding into survival mode, leadership needs to bring them back to mission and provide training for engaging their surrounding community to listen to what the needs are.   
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.
Lutherans are good at music, youth and family ministry as well as education and outdoor ministry.  We could have staff assigned to provide training and collaboration around these areas.  We need to design each of these areas for different age groups and other unique settings.  

I have used first communion preparation as a time to see how congregations can be a village that shares in the work of raising our children.  Surveys show that mentoring programs significantly improve a child's outlook and engagement.  The more adults there are that know a child by name the more likely that child is to avoid risky behaviors and the better they perform in school and in extracurricular activities.  I have used different resources with exercises to create oral history programs, to get intergenerational engagement.  Communion is not just about the elements, it is about the siblings who gather to share the meal and first communion preparation is a time for the congregation to come together for projects and for introductions to various spiritual practices.  Rev. Kathleen Koran brought her own portable Labyrinth for a family night program that helped build community among otherwise busy adults and across generations.  I have written grants and created partnerships with local colleges for mentoring programs for at risk youth.  

A new knitting group has shown me another opportunity for community building that has the high participation and informal interaction that people enjoy.  Blankets are made to be donated to an inner city hospital neonatal unit and prayer shawls are made for people with health issues.  The blankets and shawls are blessed at worship and participants describe their sense of community and purpose for a mission moment during worship.  
What is your understanding of our synod’s current strategic plan, and how would you advance that plan as Bishop?
I think our strategic plan has served us well and should be periodically evaluated in light of what congregations are facing.  The plan was developed in a process of communal discernment.  It is not the Bishop's plan but a Synod strategy. 

Change happens rapidly and churches catch up slowly.  We may find ourselves in a time and place more like the early church than the sprawling Christendom that was advanced by armies and imperial missionaries.  We need to be listening to our nonprofit and for profit neighbors about what changes they are seeing and what strategics they are developing.  This helps us see how we can support our community and how we can learn from and with our partners.  

We must regularly return to our mission and our goals each time we consider how we would interpret the signs of the times and listen for the way God is calling us to be ministers of service, ambassadors of reconciliation and messengers of hope.  
What do you see as the principal challenge of our synod in the next six years, and how will you approach and address it?
We need a clear critique of our society, not just for this strange dystopian moment, but a clear, Christian commentary on the state of our national soul.  America is too often about individualism and consumerism and any moral framework, then, depends on faith communities.  Too often there is a lack of awareness for others and our planet. Americans often fail to see the irony  beneath our boast of being the land of the free and chose to forget the colonization and enslavement that our nation is built on.  We know that Martin Luther King had a dream "deeply rooted in the American Dream", but he also had a prophetic word about racism, consumerism and militarism.  Dr. King had a vision of a beloved society.  We need to ask people to look honestly at an American Dream that will only be for some and speak for an alternative vision, an "American Team" where we have eyes and ears for those who are left out and lost.

I love the Lutheran understanding of paradox and irony but I also know that many times people want a simple message and a tone of conviction and assurance.  I love that Lutherans appreciate other faiths and respect secular humanism, that we are the ecumenical church.  We need to code switch, do Lutheran both/and for some messages but a clearer message for new audiences.  We need a two-track communications strategy: a newsletter for events and updates for internal use but also a proclamation to our neighbors about how we are called to be God's people.  There should be regular messaging that we encourage people to share broadly with friends and neighbors.   These times call for clear messaging as Paul says to the Corinthians:

"Now, siblings, if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?" 

Some people want to avoid being too political but the Bible is all about a mission to the larger society.  The people we read about frequently cross man-made boarders.  The Bible is about governors and pharaohs, soldiers and jailers, queens, judges and generals. 

We should speak out about persecution of groups like the Rohingya in Burma and Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia as well as the Christians in places like Syria.  Only a fragile Christendom thinks we are besieged by a "War on Christmas.”  

The message of the cross should be our lens with which to view the world.  While others choose their agreeable source of news we know scholars and scientists use rigorous peer review and juries and judges evaluate notarized documents. We uphold a commitment to the truth:

“A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the things what it is.” 

"Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil!" - Isaiah 

New York is a great metropolis of gleaming skyscrapers and quiet hamlets, titanic corporations and humble bodegas.  We were not founded as a puritan theocracy or from a slave-owning aristocracy.  We are pragmatic and innovative, a crossroads of cultures and a marketplace of ideas.   We are Yankee ingenuity and Hamiltonian hustle.  

Our Synod's life is broken in places, as is our larger society.  We would like to be a model of love but we are more like the world than not.  

Our priorities are worship, study and service; each should have cooperative efforts for innovation and excellence.

Authentic community is and will increasingly be rare and people will hunger for a place where it happens.  Churches don't always do this well but Lutherans have made it our brand.   
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?
After five years in ministry I had learned important lessons about myself.  After ten years in ministry I learned that those lessons were not learned once for me to then move on; rather we return to the lessons again and again not able to correct things about ourselves easily or quickly.  I'll let you know what I learn after twenty.  

The Bishop could have a weekly worship service where a community of prayer and concern can support each other in sacramental fellowship as a holy communion.   Expectations about the Bishop should be spelled out clearly.  Bishops might have a tendency to see the Synod council as an obstacle to their will instead of a partner in facing the difficult parts of our life as a church.  A Bishop should trust the council as a source of spirit led-discernment.  When Bishops take decisions upon themselves they bring more scrutiny to themselves when they should model trust and shared leadership.