12 August 2013

Churchwide Assembly 2013

It's that time again:  Lutherans from around the United States are landing in Pittsburgh for the 2013 Churchwide Assembly.  Church nerds like myself are sitting at home pining for the day when we get our chance to join in all the fun.  
The theme for our 25th anniversary and this year's Churchwide Assembly.
Click here for the ELCA Churchwide Assembly page.
This year there's more import to what we do, for two reasons:

1.  The offices of Presiding Bishop and Secretary of the ELCA are open for election, and
2.  This is the first time we'll be meeting in triennial fashion, so whatever changes are made on a churchwide level will not be addressed again in assembly until 2016.  

Elections for church offices like bishop or secretary (in our tradition, the first is for clergy only and the second for lay or clergy folk) are always a bit bizarre to me.  Our official practice is what's called an "ecclesiastical ballot," which means we are supposed to refrain from campaigning or doing anything that might smack of politics beforehand, trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us in discerning the sources of  our new leadership.  Which is all well and good, except the election process requires candidates to be available for Q&A sessions, so anyone who's going to be nominated that has a fighting chance of being elected has to be contacted ahead of time so they can be there if they aren't already present as a visitor or voting member.  

Our current Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson, has indicated he's willing to serve another six year term if elected.  Honestly, I'd be surprised if it goes past two ballots, and a single ballot wouldn't be out of the question, either.  Mark has been in the office for 12 years and I think he's done an outstanding job on the whole, given everything that's happened in these 12 years.  I don't know of anyone who's chomping at the bit to get a shot, nor do I know anyone I think is more qualified for the post at this time.  (I do have a few candidates in mind for 2019, but that's another story).  

Looking for leaders within the church is a bit of a confounding practice.  Most of us Lutherans have a profound suspicion of anyone who displays too much desire to be in a position of authority - credit our long history of rebellion and reformation for an ongoing distrust of church authority, and for the most part I believe it serves us well.  But there are some folks who genuinely do have the gifts and skills to carry out those offices well, and it's no sin to acknowledge that good leadership helps all of us do the work of ministry that much better.  

Earlier this year, during a goal-setting meeting with some members of our Church Council, one of them said, "What if you thought you could be a bishop, Pastor Scott?  Is there anything you should be doing now to move in that direction?"  First I winced, then I laughed, as did the rest of the group.  This was the first time the possibility had been floated out there for me.  I'll credit it to still being in the honeymoon phase at a new call.  :-)  But the truth of the matter is, the only thing any leader in the church should be doing to prepare for the possibility is this:  lead the church.  Discover your particular gifts in proclaiming the gospel and leading a community of believers and put them to work.  Everything past that really is the work of the Holy Spirit.  I 100% truly and completely believe it, even though sometimes we carry out the work of the Spirit by placing people in positions for all the wrong reasons and then experiencing the consequences.  

While visiting my sister-in-law and her family this weekend, I saw a new picture she'd put up in their house.  It said, "Find what you want to be and be that thing."  Exactly.  Maybe that thing will turn out to be a bishop.  Maybe that thing will be a beloved local pastor.  Either way, what God wants us to be will win out in the end.  Now, as our Churchwide Assembly convenes, we're called to trust and commit ourselves to the next three years together.  My prayers for all of you gathering in Pittsburgh:  it's good to be church with you.  Travel safe, friends.

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