I’ve been mildly amused lately by the number of people who have asked me if I would consider becoming the next bishop of our synod. It’s not been a great number of people, mind you. But it’s more than I would have expected. I am a relative outsider, moving to North Carolina back in 1998. And I suspect that if I have any kind of reputation, it’s for pastoring a church that is not exactly mainstream in the NC Synod. In other words, I would never stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected Bishop of the North Carolina Synod. What are these people thinking? Would I like to run for bishop? Not particularly. I’m having too much fun with Holy Trinity in Charlotte. But will I run? Now, that’s another question entirely.
Bishop Leonard Bolick will have faithfully served our synod for almost 20 years before he steps down next spring. So, our NC synod hasn’t been through this process for a very long time. It’s exciting to think about what it will mean for us to elect a bishop from a wide-open field of candidates that includes every ordained leader in the ELCA. Yes, I will be a candidate for bishop. I’m assuming we all will be candidates for bishop; that’s the way the process works.
I am a big believer in the ecclesiastical ballot because I have faith in the Holy Spirit. I’ve been surprised too many times by the Spirit working in ways that I could never have imagined not to believe that when we open ourselves to the Spirit’s guidance, it always appears. But I’ve also seen, and even participated in, enough attempts to block the Spirit that I know it’s possible for an entire synod to de-rail God’s will.
I hope we can be open to the Holy Spirit calling our next bishop through the assembly gathered next spring. In other words, can’t we refrain from campaigning or garnering support before the fact? That seems to defeat the whole purpose of gathering and discerning God’s will for God’s people in assembly. If we’re going to do that, why don’t we all just stay home and vote via phone or computer? There is something powerful about the Spirit moving in an assembly when the people are truly open to following God’s will, as opposed to deciding for God what his or her will is in advance. Is there any way we can stop all of these side conversations before the assembly? This may be the way political processes work, but I, for one, am praying that we will elect a servant of God as our next bishop and not a politician.
How will we discern who has the gifts necessary to be our next bishop? After serving on the bishop’s staff in my former synod, I can’t imagine that I have the necessary gifts to be a bishop. But I also know that I have entered into every call I’ve received in my life wondering if I had the necessary gifts to accomplish what I suspected needed to be done. Amazingly, God has led me along the way and the gifts seem to appear. I think that’s how God does his best work. That’s when it’s not about us; it’s about God. And so, I don’t think we need to worry too much about a pastor looking the part of a bishop before they actually become a bishop. God can take care of that. The gifts I’m looking for in our next bishop are pretty basic: wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord, joy in God’s presence.
Rather than seeking out candidates in advance of the synod assembly, or even offering ourselves up as potential candidates, I hope and pray that we can be engaged in some serious prayer over the next year. Let’s pray that God will provide the leadership our synod needs. Let’s pray that the synod in assembly will enter the process with an openness to wherever the Spirit leads us as God’s people gather. Like the disciples who were told to wait on the Spirit before the Day of Pentecost, let’s allow the Spirit to do what she does so well. Let’s wait and be surprised.