Bishops_Election

The Rev. Paul Egensteiner


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

The Rev. Paul Egensteiner

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:
 
“Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, …not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it.” These words from 1st Peter have been my guiding principle throughout my years of service. Of the many opportunities that come with Word and Sacrament ministry, providing God-centered love and care is the one that I cherish the most and consider my greatest strength. I am by nature very empathetic and when I asked one of my dear colleagues why she thought I might have some gifts to be bishop, she responded, “You have the ability to love the person that is in front of you.” In my work as Dean and Director of Pinecrest, a ministry by and for high school and college-aged youth, though there was a camp to run and program to be done, my focus was always on the campers, faculty, and staff who had come to experience Christian community, both during the week in the summer and at other times. I tried to be certain that, as much as it was in my power, each would leave that experience feeling that they were known and precious to God and that they were part of something bigger than themselves.
 
 
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 will again turn to my service as Director of Pinecrest. Since the campers, faculty and staff come from our entire synod (and beyond), this community was my deepest experience of diversity. There were challenges to this mix in terms of cultural differences, gender identity, perspectives on faith, understanding of family, expectations of one another, etc. One example would be the year we welcomed two transgendered youth to camp. They had both been campers before their transition and the questions about housing, activities, etc. were new but, in love, we found a way to make the experience positive and meaningful for them and the community. Always, always the emphasis was on Jesus being the center of our life together and the model of our behavior and relationships. I feel that over the twenty years I have served Pinecrest this ministry transformed more and more into a loving community of acceptance and growth and continues to grow into a place where the rich diversity of God’s creativity is celebrated and appreciated. This priority for inclusivity was a conscious decision as well as an outgrowth of our practice of community together, based on our understanding of God’s infinite love, most importantly as that love is revealed in the teachings, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
 
 
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:
 
An effective leader treasures what is life- and identity-giving in the organization she/he serves and discerns - in community with others -  a vision for healthy ways to build on these strengths and innovative ways to bring the timeless message of the Gospel to bear on the specific nature of the times and places in which we are planted.
     My first call as pastor of Immanuel, Staten Island was a relationship of mutual learning and growth. I was new. There was a lot I needed to learn. The congregation was gracious and patient. We tried new things, with both successes and failures. At my instigation, we questioned things we “had always done” and asked if they were still relevant and meaningful to our mission as church in that place. We changed. We grew, both inwardly and numerically. But most importantly we worshiped together and cared for each other and the world around us. My pastoral style was to set that tone and model a spirit of welcome and inclusion in my relationship with parishioners and those we met and served.
     I have learned that, if a leader has established a reputation for being trustworthy, thoughtful and loving, changes come more easily and with more acceptance. This reputation, not to be abused or taken advantage of, leads to the willingness of the community to take greater risks and be even more innovative. I feel I have been consistent about this.
     Finally, a leader respects his or her limitations.
 
 
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 the ability to manage many details and responsibilities at the same time, a skill essential in this calling, whether it be coordinating the work of our deacons, meeting with and managing staff, keeping an eye on finances or scheduling meetings and events (e.g. adult ed. offerings).. A number of years ago, at my suggestion, we separated out our annual congregational meeting into two: one in November to consider the budget so we would go into the new year prepared and one in February to focus solely on mission and what we would like to do and be as the church here and now.
    I think I have proven myself open to learning new skills and perspectives and faithful to the oversight of a congregation and the shepherding of the other responsibilities of ministry. I hope I have become something of a nurturer to colleagues, who know they can talk to me in confidence and without judgment, trusting that I will give them an open heart and prayerful attention. One of the characteristics I am most proud of is the way I value confidentiality with both colleagues and parishioners and don’t participate in gossip or inappropriate disclosure.
 
 
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?
 
My number one priority, if elected bishop, would be to spend time with pastors, deacons and congregations, preferably on their territory, to get to know them, provide encouragement, challenge, support, prayer and conversation. In other words, I would see it as my episcopal responsibility and calling to walk with and provide pastoral leadership to the people of this synod. I would expect the same of the staff in the synod office. To be with people where they are, to experience their context, makes a huge difference in understanding the challenges they face and the best way to meet those challenges together. I also feel it is important, and have been most moved, when the bishop reached out to me, either simply for conversation or in my time of need, and expressed support and prayerful concern. I try to do this now with my colleagues in the Tappan Zee conference because I have come to know them and value their partnership and genuinely care about them and their lives and ministries.
    Having said that, I do not know all the responsibilities of the bishop’s office. But I feel that if I set this as a priority going in, there is a greater chance of success in this goal.
    I would also solicit input from and listen to staff, pastors and deacons on the ways they find meaningful to connect with one another for support, ideas and encouragement.
    As an example of this, the improvement in online synodical communications is something to be lifted up. The synod website and e-letter are excellent - attractive, informative, interactive and help people to know what’s going on and participate.
 
 
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 serving as a dean when the vitality norms were under development. I was - and am still - impressed with the thoughtfulness and comprehensive nature of those guidelines. Ideally they serve as an assessment tool for all congregations and ministries to determine strengths and weaknesses (along with other programs available for such assessment). At times those norms were used to tell a congregation they were no longer vital and needed to close. I’m not saying this is inappropriate. But I wonder if it wouldn’t be healthier to have a stronger spirit of cooperation between congregations, conferences and synod that could address questions of vitality all the time, rather than at the “end of life,” and take advantage of the many opportunities there are for renewal and non-anxious decision making?
    I will return to my response to the previous question. In too many cases, congregations and ministry sites function as independent entities and “the synod” only “comes in” when there’s a problem. But if we, as bishop and synod staff, as conference deans and ministry colleagues, as congregations were walking and working together on a regular basis, I believe there would be less of a sense of isolation and more of an ability to address concerns before they become - literally - mission critical. I am aware that some pastors function as “lone rangers.” I also know some congregations are totally devoted to their own building and traditions. We will not reach everyone. The polity of the ELCA does not allow the synod to force itself into a situation where we can “take over.” That’s a good thing! But if we are in the habit of walking together, of communicating, of spending time, of learning together, there is less of a chance for unhealthy isolation.
    What if we offered, in local situations, opportunities for regular fellowship and education that were planned by the pastors, congregations and ministry sites and for which the synod would provide some funding and expertise? What if each synodical staff person had responsibility, with the deans, for praying for and reaching out to specific groups of pastors, deacons and congregations on a regular basis?  What if we developed sister congregations within our own synod to strengthen ministry and understand different contexts of being church?
    In my experience with the synod, I have seen mergers that were sometimes locally inspired and others that were synodically advised. I don’t think either is a necessary formula for success or failure. But mutual care and concern can make these opportunities more organic and, therefore, welcome.
    Finally, I have served the synod with congregations in transition not only as a dean but also as a member of a Bishop’s Advisory Committee on two occasions, helping congregations discern their current struggles and find a way forward. I felt the presence of people from outside the congregation but within the synod helped these congregations to know they were not alone and to find the perspective and peace to confront challenges.
 
 
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 have been a diakonia instructor for many years, serving three different locations and teaching a variety of courses (but, generally, I’m the “Bible guy,” teaching Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament). This has been such a blessing, both to me and the students. The opportunity to interact with people just learning things about the Bible they never knew and then working toward not just information but faith formation has been exciting and challenging. As instructor, one must not only know one’s material but also be gentle and sensitive when dealing with questions and concerns raised by new learnings. I would work with the diakonia board and use the office of bishop to encourage more people to participate in this opportunity.
    As Dean and Director of Pinecrest, one of my main responsibilities was working with the Student Council to develop a list of courses and faculty for the week of camp. These consisted of Life Courses (e.g., “Being a Christian in a Multi-faith World”) and Bible Courses (e.g. “Little Known People of the Bible”). I also lead a brief morning Bible study but eventually turned this responsibility over to individual campers who showed an interest. I felt it was important to empower them to speak their faith and understanding in ways that would communicate the truths they discovered with and for others.
    Especially as a result of my experience at Pinecrest, I would like to see a strengthened synodically led youth and young adult ministry, in conjunction with the work already done by Pinecrest, Lutheran Youth Organization (LYO), Lutheran Ministries in Higher Education (LMHE) and others. Hopefully these organizations could provide leadership and expertise. This ministry initiative would ideally be led mostly by youth from our congregations with appropriate adult guidance and mentoring.
    I would love to see the synod provide leadership in new ways to do Christian education with children, providing workshops and onsite help for churches with a small group of kids or churches for whom Sunday morning is not a possibility. The ideas and strategies are out there and it would be so helpful for the mostly volunteer people who so tenderly care for these ministries if the resources and ideas could be made available to them in a more accessible way. How about a retreat for local groups of Christian educators, professional and volunteer, to gather and share ideas and inspiration?
    The ELCA puts out wonderful materials for Bible studies and other adult formation topics. Maybe a congregation is too small to do a Men’s Bible study alone. How about doing one cooperatively among congregations or on conference-wide basis? Could the synod play a role in helping get such opportunities off the ground? I believe so.
    These are just some ideas and directions for moving forward in this vital area of discipleship.
 
 
What is your understanding of our synod’s current strategic plan, and how would you advance that plan as Bishop?
 
I understand the Strategic Plan to be a way to carry out our mission and vision and a faithful stewarding of the legacies of the past. It was developed in response to the changing times in which we live as Church and to provide guidance as we move forward. I understand the Strategic Plan to serve as both a path and boundaries on that path, flexible but necessary.  It guides us in determining what we do as the Metropolitan New York synod in this time and place. In any decision making process, better decisions are made with a clearer idea of who you are and where you want to go. How do we take the assets of the past, for instance, and use them to assure the strength and vitality of the church in the present and into the future? Through Leadership Development Grants (from which I have benefited), Capital Improvement Challenge Grants and Innovative Ministries Projects, our synod provides resources to ease the burden of building maintenance, as an example, so more money and energy can be devoted to mission and outreach on the local level. Our synod provides resources to help pastors and lay leaders meet the challenges we face and be given the tools and expertise we need so that our focus can be on the doing of ministry and the empowering and equipping of those we serve to be faithful disciples of Jesus.
    I feel we need to be careful and responsible stewards of the resources of both money and personnel. It is easy to feel comfortable in resources and lose the sense of urgency and attention that I feel are necessary aspects of managing the gifts we have.
    Another wonderful advantage I see in the Strategic Plan is the way it has involved more members of our synod, both lay and clergy, in participation in the work we do together, for instance through service on the Claimed, Gathered and Sent committees.
    I would advance the plan by providing oversight, along with other members of synod staff and the synod council, to its use and intentions. We would continue to publicize the availability of resources and make sure the various teams that shepherd the plan remain active and solicit new voices and participation. Finally, if a synod bishop and staff that finds itself in conferences and congregations is a meaningful and doable model (and I believe it is), more specific application of some of the resources could be implemented, matching gift to need.
 
 
What do you see as the principal challenge of our synod in the next six years, and how will you approach and address it?
 
The principal challenge to our synod, the principal challenge to the Church, is the urgent question of how to prepare and nurture disciples of Jesus to be the Body of Christ in the world. Has it ever been different? The Great Commission (“Go and make disciples.”) is our mission statement. What is different are the contexts in which we find ourselves. Our synod encompasses many ministry situations. That is one of the beauties of our diversity!  In each of those contexts - urban, suburban, rural, wealthy, middle-class, poor, Anglo, Latino, African-American, Asian-American, etc. - being a disciple looks a little different. The timeless nature of the Gospel of God’s love must be communicated creatively and urgently to the particulars of our situations.
    I do not for a minute believe the Church will fail. It is supported from above and not below. The burden is on us to be faithful, to live out our calling so that we, too, can grow in grace. I do believe that the Lutheran understanding of the Gospel, the tradition in which I grew up and which I value more and more, is essential in our current cultural and values contexts. I fear that, if we do not share this understanding of God’s free (to us) and liberating grace, other “gospels” will come in to fill the vacuum.  And they will not be life-giving!  Materialism. Acquisition. Supremacy of various kinds. I could go on but I am only allotted 500 words for this question!!
    The principal challenge? How do we live out our relationship for and with Jesus, individually and communally, in ways that will change lives, our own included? What will I do to address it? Pray! (I do a lot of that already.) Preach. Gather in community to worship. Advocate. Seek nurture and support from others and be an active part of that support wherever I can. Lead from a place of grace and love. Listen. Lift up this essential message. Pray! (Did I mention that already?!)
 
 
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?
 
I practice yoga as a prelude to meditation on a regular basis. I do my best to stay physically active, wearing a Fitbit (not necessarily an endorsement) to inspire me to move more. I have an active prayer life, using a couple of devotional writings daily and spending time in prayer. My wife and I have a regular devotional practice. I love being in church and worship, even as the leader, because I find it so energizing and strengthening. Until recently I was part of a spiritual support group, for which I know I need to find a replacement as that group ceased functioning. I meet regularly with colleagues, weekly in text study with pastors of the Tappan Zee conference to share sermon ideas and support and periodically one-on-one with clergy friends for conversation, insight, support and sharing about ministry and life.
    At a conference I attended recently, the presenter shared the opinion that, to be a pastor without a therapist (I have one), coach, spiritual director or spiritual group is a form of malpractice. I stay attentive to my spiritual/mental/emotional state and seek support as necessary.
    I love the cycle of prayer where the synod staff prays for congregations and ministries and then notifies those prayed for. I hope congregations will do the same. I would hope to establish open communication between myself and synod staff and pastors, deacons, deans, congregations and ministry sites so that the synod office could be a place of support and encouragement.
    Another critical way congregations can be supportive of our mutual work is through Mission Support. Congregations and individuals who provide financial support to the synod feel a greater connection to the work we do together, an actual investment. As any pastor knows, when a member’s support decreases or disappears, that is a matter for spiritual and pastoral concern. The same is true for us as a synodical family. And there is the burden on the synod (Council, staff, etc.) to use these gifts faithfully and carefully.
    I have attended the annual Bishop’s retreat since the beginning. I find this an invaluable time to gather with colleagues to be in fellowship, worship and learning. I am thankful that a similar opportunity is offered for deacons. I would like to strengthen this ministry and offer more opportunities to gather, both synodically and on a more local basis. It is important to provide support for gatherings that are already working and develop new ones.
    As I do now with members of the congregation I serve, I would regularly (quarterly?) go through the roster of the synod to see who might need a call or visit, just to check in.
 
 
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