BISHOP'S ELECTION: A CONVERSATION OF MUTUAL DISCERNMENT
Jan 08, 2019
By Deacon Margy Schmitt Ajer
Assistant to the Bishop for Congregations
There’s been lots of talk throughout the synod about the selection of our new bishop. We’ve completed our eight Town Hall meetings, at which people throughout the synod had the opportunity to share hopes for our synod, talk about the strengths we bring, and think together about the gifts that will be important in our new bishop. There are also lots of conversations taking place in less formal ways, as people gather throughout our synod.
Part of my ongoing guidance to congregations seeking new pastoral leadership and to pastors thinking about a new call, is to frame our thinking as not a hiring process, or a job interview, but as a “conversation of mutual discernment.” It is important in any call process that we discern together what God has in mind for us, and how the Holy Spirit is at work bringing people and pastors together. Mutual discernment means we spend less time looking at which pastor is better than another (this shouldn’t be a competition), we spend less time focusing on finding the perfect match (they don’t exist), and we don’t try to make ourselves look good (that only leads to disappointment). Instead, we practice discerning together what God is calling us to do, and who God is leading to serve with us as bishop.
I believe this is all true for our synod as well, as we seek a new bishop. Although we call it an election (and there are indeed elements of that), this is first a discernment process. As people of the Metro New York Synod, we are discerning what God is calling us to be, and how God is setting our mission before us, including the kind of leadership that will best help us serve that mission. In a similar way, there are pastors among us who are discerning if God may be calling them to use their gifts in leading this synod to answer the call before us.
The important thing to focus on is that this is about discernment together. It is not a competition, it is not about seeking a “promotion,” it is not about campaigning. It is an ongoing, mutual, conversation together, to discern together who God is calling to serve as our bishop.
The process moving forward is designed to support this idea of mutual discernment. The Town Hall meetings gave opportunity for us to talk together. There will be a report coming out soon that will provide a summary of those conversations so that everyone can be a part of the conversation. We are also preparing a Synod Ministry Profile, which is a way of telling our story to those who may be sensing a call to consider serving as bishop.
There will be a period of pre-identification of those who are open to serve. These are NOT candidates. They will be pastors who have been identified by others and will have an opportunity to communicate their vision and gifts for this call and for this synod. There is no limit to how many pastors may be pre-identified. These are NOT nominees! This is simply a process of sharing ideas and information that may be helpful in our discernment together. This will be added material for prayer and reflection, as we continue to discern who God may be calling. The information regarding these pre-identified pastors will be posted on the synod website this spring, and will remain there until shortly before the beginning of the synod assembly. We will remove this information at that time, to emphasize the fact that at this point there are NO nominees.
At the assembly, any pastor of the ELCA (not just MNYS) is eligible for consideration. There will be a nominating ballot early in the assembly, at which time each voting member of the assembly will be asked to prayerfully submit the name of one whom they believe could serve well as our bishop. All names submitted on the first ballot are considered nominees. But the discernment continues during the process of election. As we hear from nominees together, as we ask questions together, as we engage in reflection and conversation together, as together we pray for God’s wisdom and guidance, we will trust that God is leading us to a final discernment of who we (along with the Holy Spirit!) will call to be our bishop.
And because we have been in discernment together, we will thank God for the leading of the Spirit, and we will move forward together, along with the one who has been called as bishop, as the community of faith God has called us to be.