The comments of pre-identified pastors represent their opinions only. —Synod Council Executive Committee.
The Rev. Sonja Tillberg Maclary
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:
I have been the pastor of a small congregation in a small town for 20 years. Every part of that position is hands on, face to face care and nurture of folks and their faith no matter what their background, current status, or relationship with God.
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:
In my community, I have been a dogged supporter of ecumenical and interfaith relations for 20 years. A joy in this is that I have also been blessed with a community that is also open to dialog and sharing. We began by simply having lunch once a month. From there, our relationship has grown to create an interfaith table of sharing which meets monthly. We work together both as interfaith, or, where appropriate, ecumenical partners, to offer educational and worship opportunities, and to advocate for peace and justice in our community. I do think it is a model for all of us. I am firmly convinced that the people of God are stronger together!
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 the “Listening for Leadership” document I hear a strong desire for the Bishop to be the face and mouth of the synod. I understand that; we desire relationship with the Bishop and connection with the synod. In times of crisis, we need someone to speak pastorally to and for us. However, with regard to leadership, I also think it is important for the Bishop to be the “ears” of the synod. In my observation, one of the most important things the church needs right now is consensus builders; leaders who can help us find places we agree and can work together. That first requires listening.
One experience I think of in relationship to the important listening role of a leader is my role as “Trip Planner”: for my family of 6: 2 adults, 2 teenagers and 2 kids. This is a diverse community with varied understandings of “fun!” As lead planner, I may have a vision and information about where we can go and what we can do. However, in order to have a successful trip with smiling, engaged people; I really need solicit and to listen to the entire family’s dreams and desires for a trip. Further, I need to consider all of their limitations and whether the plan may contain too much walking for one, not enough “down time,” for another, or too many museums for everyone but me! Missing any of these and MELTDOWN! My family has taught me a lot about paying attention to varied needs and perspectives, and the joys that come when all are included.
The Bishop is the “trip planner” a.k.a. Mission Leader of the Synod. This is a role that requires not only vision and information, but also the ability to listen, find consensus, and be aware of caring for the individual in the context of the whole. This is a tough job, to be sure, but the rewards are great in the form of being part of moving as the Body of Christ in the world.
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:
We probably all have something we can do reasonably well, do but don’t entirely enjoy. For me, that something is administration. I honestly don’t enjoy working constitutions, budgets, policies or procedure manuals. (Some people are surprised to know that I was an economics and politics major in college!) It is not in my leadership style to first seek to “fix” problems with policies or rules.
However, my experience as pastor, Dean and my training and role as an Interim Pastor have impressed on me the vital importance of paying attention to budgets, constitutions and sound standard procedure in both our congregations and wider church. Budgets are not only missional documents, they give us information about areas of health and disease in our organizations. Likewise, constitutions define our values and how we care for one another in community. Sound procedure can cure a host of problems before they even start! Moreover, good administration connects us to one another and to our vision and mission for the church. To this end, I think it is also important for the Bishop, in cooperation with the synod council, to organize the administrative structure of the synod to intentionally connect with its constituent bodies.
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?
Disconnect with synod, or other adjudicatory body, is a common theme I hear not only in Metropolitan New York, but also in other synods and denominations. A step in addressing this may be to realize that part of the problem may be bigger than we are: we can’t reorganize the entire church. (Well, at least not quickly and easily!)
Nevertheless, to heal, I think it is important for the Bishop to meet and listen directly to as many folks as she possibly can. Visiting, working, and – don’t underestimate the importance of this – “playing” or just enjoying time in as many conferences and congregations as possible is an important priority for the next Bishop. Listening doesn’t mean fixing or solving, it simply means seeking to understand where people are in their walk with God as a community in Christ.
Beyond that, the Bishop might make use of the plentiful and effective communication tools available to us today to connect with individuals and congregations. This includes, but is not limited to conference calls, video conferencing, “FaceTime,” social media, etc. The purpose of these technologies is to bring people together. The Bishop doesn’t need to be an expert in then, but she will benefit from using them.
Finally, my hunch is that part of this disconnect not only in our church, but in others as well, stems from the basic level of anxiety we have from the decline in numbers we are seeing in church communities. Nowhere do we feel more alone than in our problems. Ever show up to church on a cold, snowy day to find the boiler not working and the property manager out of town? Yup. That is loneliness! However, I have noticed in my experience in the Hudson Conference, that as congregations meet to worship, read scripture, learn, eat, and share joys and sorrows, this feeling of loneliness dissipates. It is replaced by a feeling of shared experience that may still be difficult, but which is more hopeful shared in the community of Christ. The Bishop, simply, but importantly, by having the ability to convene people may be a pastoral presence to the church offering community, grace, and forgiveness of self and others, and hope in these troubled times.
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.
This is one of the major ways our synod (and the church as a whole) is being challenged by change and transition. It strikes me that the word “transition” can be used to describe both birth and death. Labor has a transition stage. (I recall it as painful, but ultimately joyful.) Death, too, has a transition stage. It can be uncertain and painful, too, but it can also be an important time to say what needs to be said to the person you love, spend time with him or her, and, ultimately, say goodbye. Importantly, we don’t control either transition; rather these important moments of change are truly in God’s hands.
It is likely that every congregation in our synod is a congregation in transition to either new birth or to death. Similar to transitions in the birth or death process of human life, these times in the life of congregations are often uncertain and often painful. They involve saying goodbye or letting go. Or, alternatively, they involve the labor and pain of pushing toward a life giving goal. The most important thing for us as faithful people to keep before our eyes is that these times, like all of our lives, are truly in God’s hands. The question, as Bishop Eaton raised it in her February letter to the church, is truly, “What is God up to?”
The role of Bishop, as I see it, is to pastorally attend to these transition processes; not control them. (This is likely not in her power anyway; though Synod Council might provide further encouragement toward these processes.) Bishops, like midwives or nurses, have a role in making congregations aware of dangers both to self and others in the process of both birthing and dying. They also serve as resources of aids or pain relievers to help the process. They might even provide support and encouragement, in the form of prayer, preaching, and programmatic or financial incentives. Ultimately, though, it will be the congregation in dialog with the Holy Spirit who will discern the course to be followed.
What then is a Bishop to do? Anyone who have been a support in labor or death knows that it is difficult sometimes to be the one standing by. However there are things that can be done: family conversations can be facilitated among our congregations to consider the best course we individually and together might follow; relationships with ecumenical partners can be nurtured, again with the Bishop’s convening power; and, perhaps most importantly, in times of fear, the Bishop can point us away from despair and focus on self and toward the life community we all share in Christ.
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.
As I was trying to get my head around this question I read: “Children, youth, college aged, adult, and diaconal formation are especially important.” and I thought, “Goodness! – that is all of it! It’s ALL especially important!”
Indeed, faith formation isn’t just a vital part of congregational life, it is the principal purpose of congregational life. Likewise, faith formation isn’t just for one age group, it’s a life long learning process. Faith formation through hearing the word, and celebrating worship and the sacraments is the purpose of the church. “Disciples” are learners and apprentices of Jesus. Our faith formation leads and informs the apprentice or “doing” part of discipleship.
Such encouraging and strengthening of disciples is the first priority of both the Bishop and the synod. Catechesis is strong in the Lutheran tradition, but it is not just for kids! Disciples, including rostered leaders, are lifelong learners and doers with a need to be supported by the wider church. There is so much in place with this and so many organizations working to promote discipleship, our first task might again be to simply convene them and listen to how they work and how we might work together to be stronger together.
Beyond this, part of growing in faith is understanding one’s self. It is 370 years since the beginning of Lutheranism in New York. It might be helpful to take a step back and reflect on our family history and how we got to where we are today; noting places where we may need to repent and heal as well as rejoice in the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives together as people of faith.
What is your understanding of our synod’s current strategic plan, and how would you advance that plan as Bishop?
The current strategic plan as been an effective, much needed organizing document for the mission of the synod. It has directed much needed support to rostered and lay leaders through Leadership Grants and offered saving support to congregational in the form of Capital Improvement Grants.
Still, there are ways in which the strategic plan has yet to be a connector between the ministries of congregations in our synod. There are probably many reasons for this. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel – the strategic plan is basically sound. But this is probably a good time in the life of our synod to give attention to re-connecting the strategic plan to congregations.
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 for this synod is the changing/declining role of churches in our society and the accompanying falling numbers of participation in and financial support for the church and its ministries. In my lifetime, the church has gone through many stages of grief in regard to this decline: including denial of a problem, anger and blame at those whom we believed caused it. We’ve tried to “fix” the church as many ways as we could.
I think it’s time to accept that for reasons beyond our control the church 20 years from now will likely look very different from the church many of us have known thus far.
I have heard people say, “I don’t want to close churches.” No one does. But the reality is that churches are going to close. The question is how are we as a community of faith going to be present to one another in that process while continuing to nurture places of life and growth within the church.
Meanwhile, we see new ministries emerging and new generations engaging in ways that are significantly different from the church of 50 years ago. This “new wine” simply will not go into “old wineskins.” It will not be the cultural power center of the community, but it will be a place where lives are transformed by the love of God in Christ Jesus. (BTW: Isn’t that what we’re really about anyway?)
I think it is important that the Bishop approach this challenge accepting the reality of the change that is coming. Some may see that as defeatist, but I don’t. I see that as the realization that prompts the hopeful, important question of “What will the church be like in the future?” or, as Bishop Eaton offered to us, “What is God up to?”
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 Compensation Guidelines of our synod state, “a minimum of two days off each week is a requirement. This promotes health/well being for the pastor, his/her family and the congregation.”
The Bishop, as the leader of the synod will do well to follow these guidelines for herself and promote them for her staff, as well as other rostered leaders in the synod. Not only is the sabbath a commandment, but Genesis depicts for us how God also rested for an entire day after creating the world (Genesis 2:2) and Jesus often “went away by himself to pray.” (Luke 5:16). If God can rest – so can the Bishop!
Athletes know that over-training leads directly to illness and injury. Multiple personnel studies have shown that human beings are more productive, creative, and effective when they have more time off. (They are also happier!) Indeed, we all know the saying, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy!”
All of our leaders are carrying heavier burdens now than they did 10 or 20 years ago. Heavy burdens require rest and they require help – the helps and support of human relationship in friends and family and, most importantly, God’s help, which means taking sabbath time in prayer.
For years, I have minimized the number of things I schedule on Saturdays because it is the only day that our family can hope to share together. In our congregation, we schedule classes and special events for Sundays, our principal gathering day, not Saturday. While one of the benefits of ministry is a somewhat flexible schedule, we might recognize that routinely asking rostered leaders (or lay people for that matter) to be available both Saturday (for meetings and trainings) and Sunday takes a toll on family life. If we are serious about wanting to set priorities about rest and self care, not only for staff but for lay people as well, we might seek to limit Saturday commitments.
Congregations, in addition to supporting the Bishop and staff in prayer, can support the Bishop, staff and their own pastor, and each other (!) in understanding that they need rest, too.