|Conference of Bishops Report Fall 2012|
By: Rev. Marie C. Jerge, Bishop
The Conference of Bishops met in Chicago the first week in October.
This was my first meeting as chair of the Conference of Bishop's Committee for Synodical - Churchwide Relations. This group deals with all areas of ministry that are shared between the churchwide and synodical expressions of the church including: mission support and designated giving opportunities, the carrying out of the LIFT (Living Into the Future Together) recommendations, the future of the Partners in Worship network, the 2013 Churchwide Assembly and more. After the meeting, the Bishops go to dinner together and share support and laughter as well as food. All Bishops serve on various committees and task forces. For the last 5-6 years, I have also served on the Good Samaritan Committee which makes decisions on assistance provided to individual pastors in need, particularly in providing for health care coverage, when that is endangered.
At the opening worship service, we were extended the opportunity to receive absolution by the laying on of hands. I was one of four Bishops invited to offer individual absolution, then later in the service to assist at the eucharist. What a wonderful privilege it is to proclaim in word and action the forgiving grace of God in and through Jesus Christ. We also sang a wonderful hymn in our ELW #736 - God the Sculptor of the Mountains. I didn't remember singing it before. It is worth checking out.
Diane Jacobson led the Bishops in Bible Study focused on what texts form and shape us as a community of Christ serving in the Office of Bishop. We considered a variety of texts: Philippians 1:27-2:13, John 21:15-19, Mark 8:27-36, Nehemiah 7:73b, 8:1-12, Exodus 33:12-19 that led to rich conversations. How does this Word of God shape your identity and/or ministry? What other texts might you choose?
The ELCA Fund for Leaders dinner honored 16 seminarians who are receiving scholarships. There were some commonalities among them. Many of them have had global experiences within and beyond the church. Almost all of them had been nurtured by outdoor ministries as campers and/or counselors. Quite a few are graduates of ELCA colleges and universities. Thanks be to God for the generous giving that allows us to provide seminary scholarships which help to train and develop the gifts and talents of future leaders.
We were invited to discuss and offer feedback in several areas.
Mission Funding Task Force - For a long time the standard has been that every synod share 55% of income with the churchwide expression. Upstate New York has never reached even 50%. It is clear that income is down in synods and in the churchwide expression and many synods (including ours) have decreased their percentage. Bishops and others have been encouraging conversation about how mission support will be agreed upon in the future. The Bishops discussed a Task Force proposal that would have changed the current way of determining mission support. The Bishops offered feedback and discussion will continue within the church and the region.
Synodically Authorized Ministries and Presiding by Lay Persons - It has been a number of years since the Conference of Bishops has discussed this. We reviewed some past documents and current policy. We will continue to have conversations about the variety of ways that the current policy is implemented in synods. I developed a document a number of years ago regarding how this is handled in Upstate New York. You can request it from Kathy Neugent or me.
Candidacy process - In light of all the changes in theological education, technological advances, etc, ongoing review of the process is a must. Conversation with Seminary Presidents focused on best practices as well as changes in the process, pilots and experiments necessary in order to be more flexible and adaptable to current needs of both candidates and the church. It is not the prerogative of the students to design their own programs apart from consultation with Candidacy Committees.
Missional Vitality - Kenn Inskeep from the Churchwide Office wrote a fascinating paper entitled Patterns of Synodical Life that Effectively Support Congregational Missional Vitality. I am forwarding it to staff and Synod Council for conversation. It is a public document, if you wish to see it and engage in conversation around it, let me know.
Immigration - I have resisted signing up for one of 5 "ready benches" which are informal groups of Bishops who focus on a variety of topics such as the Middle East and the Care of Creation. I chose to sit in on a meeting on immigration and heard amazing stories of things that are happening across the country and the way that our church is engaging in support for fair immigration reform and in supporting refugees, documented and undocumented. After sabbatical I will choose whether to join this ready bench.