The Rev. Dr. Harvard William Stephens Jr.

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

The Rev. Dr. Harvard William Stephens Jr.

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 currently have a strong visitation ministry that allows me to accompany God’s people as they seek signs of God’s healing presence.  Physical, emotional, and spiritual concerns completely intertwine, and yet God appears in mysterious ways.  I never repeat a story that is not mine to tell, but I am empowered by the testimonies of people of all ages who help me discern the faithful presence of the Holy Spirit.  Our vocations as synodical leaders are enhanced and made effective when boundaries are respected, personal disclosures are appropriately honored, and our common tasks remain focused on the wonders of God’s grace, justice, and mercy.

Pastoral awareness is also essential to the conduct of administrative tasks.  Professionalism is reflected in our overall competence and preparation, but our vocations as synodical leaders require a steady openness to the Holy Spirit as we serve side by side with other leaders and support staff.  It is important to remember that people may not care about what we know unless they know that we really do care – about them.  This is especially true as we encounter the complex richness of our identities unfolding in the realities of intersectionality. 
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: 
Bridges start to appear whenever we acknowledge and embrace the sacredness of the middle ground that separates us.  Jesus calls us to be merciful to others just as God is merciful to us.  Bridges that are empowered by this imperative free us from the habitual judgments that separate us and undercut our accessibility to one another.  Bridges are vehicles for celebrating the life we can share with others without making them into our own image.  Bridges renew our commonality as creatures made in the image of God.

Synodical leaders must creatively discern the opportunities they have to bring people together without a particular agenda.  In my experience, eating together, enjoying the arts, exploring the distinctiveness of our communities, engaging in service, and telling stories of our journeys as pilgrims in the world but not of the world help fill the middle ground with the substance of things hoped for, the fruits of our faith.  We should encourage more informal ways to gather in community, in dialogue, in mutual support, and in expressions of hospitality that fill the middle ground with signs of God’s new creation.
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: 
Christian leaders need to support and build trust with other leaders within and outside of our church structures. Over the years I have developed working relationships with my local mayor, sheriff, superintendent of schools, and many merchants and performing artists.  This network continues to grow and deepen, giving me access to wise and influential people, especially during times of social trauma and persistent discord.  Building trust at this level also creates space for us to share things personal and confidential that are important signs of our mutual respect.

I have been featured in several video productions, literature of the ELCA, and local newspapers.  I also have enjoyed opportunities for regular preaching on the radio.  However, as a leader within a public church, I am convinced that leaders are at their best when, after serving as a spokesperson and helping to guide and support a community in accomplishing a difficult task, the people say, “we did it” – because the role of the leader did not obscure the people’s satisfaction in what they themselves have achieved or accomplished.
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: 
Prior to enrolling in seminary, I was given a unique opportunity to serve on the staff of the former Maryland Synod of the Lutheran Church in America.  I participated in the administrative work of this synod and helped develop area mission strategies for coalitions and cooperative ministries.  I was able to see first-hand how collaboration at the synodical level empowers congregations and church organizations to find new levels of creativity and self-awareness.  Sound administrative practices also help dismantle the sense of isolation that keeps some congregations from healthy engagement with the Synod’s mission.
A Bishop needs to value the contributions of colleagues, support staff, and other persons who can provide wisdom and expertise to inform the visions and plans of God’s people working together in synodical ministry.  Although leadership styles may vary significantly, administrative officers within the church must create a culture of both collaboration and accountability for the sake of the mission that unites us in Christ.
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?
Togetherness is a gift we nurture and celebrate in many ways as the Holy Spirit works faithfully to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify us in the name of Christ.  Obviously Synod assemblies and conferences are vehicles for bringing us into the same room, but the spiritual and missional unity we need goes beyond the mere fact that we regularly gather for meetings and worship.  Barbara Brown Taylor has written about the peculiarity of our gatherings, noting that “it is our sense of God’s absence, after all, that brings us to church in search of God’s presence.”  When preaching about the ascension of our Lord and finding the assurance that we have not been left behind, she completes the question of the angels – “why are you looking up toward heaven” –  by saying, in so many words, it’s better to look around.  People are energized and empowered when they can come together and refresh their vision and their capacity to discern the meaning of what they see, hear, and experience.  Walter Brueggemann even suggests that God’s energizing word is revealed as we go beyond the things we have and begin to grapple with the things that we are promised and we are about to receive.   This has always been an intriguing idea to me.
Perhaps we will discover together that our current practices designed to connect us as a Synod can be enhanced if we agree to always make some room in our mission plans and strategies to creatively invite our people to look around – together – and acknowledge the questions we share as we faithfully inquire of God, the Spirit, and the Holy Word: what does this mean?  Our heritage as Lutherans is honored as we invite questions, share in mutual discernment, and creatively offer the consolation of grace that builds unity while requiring neither absolute certainty nor uniformity of views.
Some disconnections in our common life may be purely willful in nature; some may be the outcome of wounds and fractures already embedded in our common life.  However, some aspects of disconnection may be remedied by infusing new principles into our planning processes.  We must keep asking at every level of our Synod: what do people find substantive, life-giving, transformative, and healing as we gather and work together?  How can we be more intentional and effective in listening to the stories and questions that emerge from our various contexts for ministry?  Could it be that we will become more connected if we simply express a deeper curiosity about the life we share on the territory of this Synod and purposefully make time, in our own creative ways, to just look around?
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.
Vitality reflects our well-being as individuals, communities, and institutions.  Vitality is sustained by a commitment to the vision we have already been given and by the discernment of new visions calling us to change and evolve.  Vitality is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s capacity to enlighten us with empowering spiritual gifts as we are called, gathered, and sent.  The vitality of our life in Christ appears in our approach to what we begin, what we sustain, and even in what we realize we must bring to an end.
Several years ago Kim Beckmann published a commentary on how the gospel of Luke brings Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount down to the plains.  She wrote: the word raised to life in Christ in this way moves us beyond just sitting next to one another, to deeply knowing one another as peers and kin.  In my experience, the unavoidable pain (and anger) that may come because of mergers is a reminder that our life as peers and kin has not been nurtured effectively.  Unexpected mergers can easily be perceived as unfair.  However, if there is trust in the Synod’s commitment to missional stewardship, interdependence, and renewal of the church through this kind of change, mergers can be life-giving opportunities to enrich the ministry of the body of Christ.  The Bishop has to work diligently to make sure that the decision making process regarding consolidations is preceded and followed by an unwavering concern for the relationships that are critical signs of our life together as peers and kin.
I like these words: peers and kin.  They are not the only words we need in this kind of discussion, but they do remind us of the baptismal promises that unite us.  They deconstruct our assumptions about the implicit hierarchies of the institutional church.  They challenge our unconscious biases about the relative value of large versus small congregations.  Luther said that if the work of Christ remained hidden, no one would know of it and it would have been all in vain.  This is why the Holy Spirit mandates the diversity of how communities are called to proclaim the Holy Gospel.
The Bishop must remain inquisitive and open to the Holy Spirit’s presence as we assess where we are in ministry together.  Some ministries have a calling and purpose that is not solely validated by their ability to pay their bills.  Accordingly, the Bishop must keep listening to what the Spirit is saying – and then, with discernment informed by the faith conversations of the Synod, articulate as clearly as possible a vision of our common engagement of the mission entrusted to us.  Mergers and consolidations should never appear punitive or culturally insensitive.  They should instead reflect faithful decisions that offer the Synod a path to ministry that is renewable, sustainable, and cognizant of the needs of future generations.
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.
This Synod must continuously share the stories of faith that mark our journey together as we teach, live, and share the love of Christ.  How has our faith been tested, lost, rekindled, and renewed?  What might we learn from each other to bring new excitement and confidence in the ways faith formation can empower this Synod?
The apostle Paul reminded Timothy that his faith was blessed with a strong lineage: “a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”  Every successful program, activity, and trusted tradition for faith formation bears the legacy of someone’s story.  These may be stories of grand epiphanies, nights of terror, spiritual pilgrimages, or serendipitous encounters with the divine.  This is why the activities of intentional retreats, outdoor ministries, and mission trips (domestic and international) that take us away from familiar places and regimens often renew us with stories of how we move closer to God and encounter grace that is both profoundly humbling and amazingly inspiring.
The ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission have invited me on several occasions to serve as chaplain for their two major annual events.  There is a discernment event that calls upon the Holy Spirit to guide the process of matching young adults with appropriate sites for one year of international service.  There is also a second event for participants as they return home.  This re-entry time is filled with stories of what has been heard and seen, what has touched one’s soul and changed one’s life, what has been learned, and what questions have become essential – perhaps not to resolve but more to keep close at hand.  The returning young adults form a bond with one another because they realize they will not easily fit into the patterns that shaped their lives prior to their year in service.  Their faith calls them to profoundly say: we are new creatures, no longer what we have been, yet struggling to come to terms with what we are becoming.
The Bishop should claim a prophetic ministry that celebrates God’s promise to lead us into sacred places such as this – places of transition and growth filled with signs of faith’s power to change us.  As Michael Yaconelli writes: “For as long as I can remember, I was told the Christian life was like a mountaintop… (but) I have used the roller coaster as my model for ministry for many years now… Most people believe that following Jesus is all about living right.  Not true.  Following Jesus is all about living fully.”
Faith formation rekindles our passion to find our place in the continuing story of God’s people on their journeys. The good news of faith formation is this: one plants, another waters, but God gives the growth.  I believe that the Bishop is called to enthusiastically honor the different ways we can interact faithfully to plant, water, and celebrate the presence of the Holy One who gives the growth.
What is your understanding of our synod’s current strategic plan, and how would you advance that plan as Bishop?
Strategic plans should connect with a vision that inspires, directs, and invites shared commitments that are grounded and supported by what God calls us to do and become.  As Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People advise, plans should begin with a vision of the end in mind.  The overarching vision of this Synod seems clearly articulated in its statement on Lutheran identity: Lutherans are a diverse group of people, convinced that the Holy Spirit is leading us toward unity in the household of God – (and our members) are connected to the faith of the church through the ages and around the world.  Our unity, it seems, is the value that undergirds our desire to make this strategic plan effective.
The plan emphasizes communication and participation, connecting locations with leaders and ministries, and supporting partnerships for mission and advocacy.  To accomplish these things, three Strategy Committees (Claimed, Gathered, and Sent) will make recommendations with the support of the identified Strategic Enablers promoting diversity and providing financial support.
The statement on Lutheran identity properly identifies our relationship as a household.  This provides a framework that is open to our many and various gifts of ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, language, and generational affinity.  These realities represent particular challenges alongside magnificent opportunities.  The Synod house reflects the eschatological hope of scripture’s house not made with hands while also evoking the magnificent vision of a world house celebrated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others.
All of this reminds me of what I experienced years ago while serving as the Lutheran Campus Pastor at Howard University in Washington, DC.  Our chaplaincy team consisted of a diverse group of leaders from across the ecumenical and interfaith spectrum.  Baptists worked alongside Muslims, and teachers of Bahá’í became friends with Roman Catholics.  The Dean of the Chapel was a very wise African Methodist Episcopal Zion pastor.  As we worked together on a strategic plan, he asked us to submit written descriptions of what we intended to do in the coming school year.  Within a few days, he called us together again to respond to our planning documents.  I will never forget what he said that day: "I can see that what you propose to do are things that you like to do, things you are obviously very good at doing; I want you to now reconsider these plans and prayerfully ask: what does God need for me to do?"
Ultimately the Bishop should work collaboratively to offer this kind of leadership.  Beyond our preferences, our proven aptitudes and talents in ministry, a strategic plan employed by the church of Jesus Christ should be filled with a faithful longing to do what God needs us to do – and if these are not the things we would prefer, then let them become the work we accept as our own because the Spirit has asked: whom shall I send, and we have found the faith and courage to reply: here I am Lord, send me.
What do you see as the principal challenge of our synod in the next six years, and how will you approach and address it?
How can we honor our traditions while embracing change that comes because of innovation?  I want to encourage conversation about this in the Synod.  Established practices in ministry can be refreshed by considering the impact of innovation.  We seem to understand how information technology supports our common work, even though there are congregations who may need help developing this capacity.  However, innovation in the Synod involves much more than this.
We can learn more about the principal challenge of innovation through conversations and focus groups that explore ideas that have not yet been seriously considered.  When we invite cross-generational and cross-cultural conversations about this, the Spirit works to heighten our awareness of how people want to celebrate life, engage questions that are important to them, and creatively respond to the shifting contours of our global village.
Innovations represent the new ways we identify and structure various forms of community – virtual and otherwise.  One intriguing innovation I would explore as Bishop involves short-term ministry.  Often people decline to participate in ministry opportunities because they do not want to make an open-ended commitment.  Imagine the excitement we can generate by developing modules for new ministry, new conversations, and new community interactions that will intentionally end within a few months.  If people have good experiences with short-term ministry, they may surprise us by being the first to ask: when is the next one?
Finally, I want to invite the Synod to revisit the ELCA’s expression: God’s work, our hands.  It is more than a whimsical notion to consider an amplified version of this public precept.  I’ve often thought about the missional impact of expanding this slogan: GOD’S WORK, OUR HANDS; GOD’S WORD, OUR VOICES; GOD’S WILL, OUR CHOICES; GOD’S SONG, OUR BANDS.  Can you imagine the impact an innovation like this might have on our public witness in metropolitan New York?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered a series of lectures for the Canadian Broadcast Corporation during the year before his assassination.  In the third lecture in that series, Youth and Social Action, he said that it is difficult to overstate the creative contributions of Black youth to the struggle for civil rights.  These creative young people had reshaped and developed new forms of demonstrations such as sit-ins and freedom rides.  He concluded: to accomplish these things, they first transformed themselves.  I want to serve as a Bishop who authorizes and encourages this Synod to trust and explore its capacity to bring many innovations into our shared ministries.  I cannot predetermine what they will be, but I want to join you in the spirit of celebrating the rich words we find in Isaiah’s prophecy: I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  Let the Synod say: yes, we perceive, embrace, and celebrate the gifts and the transformations that can happen because of innovation.
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?
Self-care is an integral part of my personal discipline, and as Bishop I would encourage all leaders to take time for spiritual introspection, physical activity, and investing in nurturing relationships.  As a soprano saxophonist, I find refreshment through the power of music, both as a listener and as a performer.  I also began studying tai chi over twenty years ago, and it has greatly enhanced my attraction to Christian meditation.  Since my wife is also a martial artist specializing in tae kwon do, this keeps things quite interesting in our household.  I have connections with the Taizé community and other groups that embrace the mysteries of stillness and silence, but I realize that not everyone will be drawn to these particular practices.  This is why I encourage others to make a commitment to whatever works for them to bring balance to their human journey.  The physical, emotional, cultural, and spiritual dimensions of life are all intertwined, and every one of us needs to avoid normalizing patterns of inattention to the vitality of our mental and physical health.
Congregations who support the office of Bishop should be diligent participants in synodical ministries, willing backers of our financial structure, and prayerful partners who creatively and consistently remember the Synod during worship and in evangelical outreach.  Building mutuality through communications with synodical leaders is critical, but the Synod is not merely a physical office.  Congregations and organizations affiliated with the Synod should develop their own initiatives to appropriately share in missional programs.  
Self-care is reflected in the interdependence of all who identify with the Synod as a viable expression of the body of Christ.  When our churches plan activities together and work cooperatively with community programs that encourage joy, friendship, cultural enrichment, and advocacy for the health and safety of our communities, we strengthen our collective witness to Christ’s loving presence in the world.  Our self-care as individuals, circles of friends and families, congregations, and as a Synod of the ELCA will always find refreshment and a greater relevance as we remain faithfully present among those with whom we are called to serve, the people of God (Lutheran and otherwise) who are our co-workers responding every day of the week to the Spirit’s call to celebrate the signs of God’s kin-dom drawing near.