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National/Synodical Consultation, 2001

[Jesus said] Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven...the one who eats this bread will live forever. He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

John 6:56-69

The Gospel of the Lord.

I have been asked by the planning committee for this event
to give you my vision for this church
and of my ministry as its National Bishop.
The time allotted does not permit an exhaustive presentation,
but it does give me a chance to outline
my understanding of how this church works.

Three Congregations

The Roman Catholic church uses the word congregation
to describe various constituted gatherings
throughout the hierarchical structures of that church.

I like that use of the term
      and suggest it as a way of understanding the make-up of this church.
We congregate around three arenas of ministry:
            Synod, and
We don't all congregate all the time.
The local parish congregates at least weekly.
The synod congregates once every two years in convention and
      in other ways a few times a year.
The national church congregates once very two years in convention and
      in other ways a few times a year.

But in each of these congregations we are gathered around the mission
      as it is stated in our constitution
      and commented on in the Evangelical Declaration.
While they have overlapping concerns and responsibilities,
      each of these congregations also is a unique body part
      in the body of Christ.
One part cannot say to another, "I don"t need you."

These are not hierarchical relationships,
      they are complementary.
The church is not whole without all three.

      the National has some exclusive ministries
            and some which it shares with Synods;
      the Synods have some exclusive ministries
            and some which they share with National and Congregations;
      Congregations have some exclusive ministries,
            and some which they share with Synod and National.

We are all members of all three.
The local parish is not doing the Synod and National a favour
      by distributing part of its income to those ministries.
The stewardship of those ministries
      is equally part of our baptismal call.
We do not live in a parochial world.
We do not even live in a national world.
We live in a global world that includes relationships with other churches.

As I see the purpose of this consultation,
      it is to define which tasks most appropriately belong where.
When we have done that,
      we can being to evaluate the resources each congregation has
      and what it can do within the expanse or limits of those resources.
Finally, we need to interpret our ministries to each other,
      to set our goals in common through consultation
      and then to be accountable to each other.

The factors leading up to this event are known to all of us:

  1. Decreasing financial support of the national church,
  2. The future of shared programming in light of cutbacks,
  3. The ambiguous status of the Working Groups,
  4. The necessity to adapt our mission outreach to a changing society.

The evaluation of the effectiveness of the Working Groups
      not only reflected on the particular work of those groups,
      but raised a series of questions
      that point to the need for a more general review
      of how national and synod ministries relate to each other.
There are questions about how synod members on national structures
      fit back into the local synod's structure and network of emphasis.
There are questions about whether every synod
      needs to have a seat on every national structure.
There are questions about which programs need standing structures
      and which ones can be handled in a more ad hoc way.

Questions are also being raised
      about the number of executive and management personnel
      required at the national level.
Can more work be done by junior people supervised by fewer managers?
The Working Groups were extensions of an interim structure
      designed to get us from the pre-1995 model
      to a post-1995 one.
In my opinion, the continued existence of the Working Groups
      postponed the completion of the intended restructuring;
they were attempts to carry out an unrealistic program agenda
      which should have been critiqued and ranked in priority
      back in 1995
      and a budget set which would have had us living within our means.

      two sets of experiences led me to suggest this approach
      to defining the structural organization of this church.

They are:

  1. The effectiveness of previous national/synodical consultations, and
  2. Issues and approaches taken by the Conference of Bishops.

I found those experiences helpful in sorting through agendas and gaining a vision of how to proceed.

With those initial comments, I will now proceed to a discussion
      of the national church's relationship with synods.

Inherited Relationships

As you know, this church is an amalgam.
Nine Lutheran church bodies,
      originating in the United States,
      merged in various combinations until they were two.
The Canadian sections of each of those two merged to form the ELCIC.
The mergers were based on the premise
      that the various bodies agreed on more things than they disagreed
      and found sufficient cause for union in that exercise.
The Canadian merger had a strong nationalistic tone to it,
      the theme being that we had more in common with each other
      than we had with our sisters and brothers in the United States.

However, there were also some assumptions brought into this merger
      that have turned out to be erroneous.

Since things were going well when we were part of the US churches,
      we thought they would go better
      when we had more self-determination.

Things went well in the old days
      because there was political expertise and money in the US.,
On our own, we were unable to sustain the infrastructure we adopted,
      (no, assumed)
      and have not yet found the appropriate scale of operation
            that we can afford and lead as a Canadian community.
The reason we have gone this long
      is that we have ridden on the coat-tails of many US resources:
            Christian education,
            publishing and
            leadership materials, to name a few.
Now, when we are no longer such interesting partners to the ELCA,
      we are finding ourselves having to go begging.

One other factor I want to mention
      is the ambiguous ecclesiology we have adopted
      because we have tried to merge two ends of a spectrum
      that get along better when there is something else in the middle.
In that regard, we are not so different from what is happening in the US.

There are two divergent traditions of church governance
      that came out of the Reformation period.
One is the traditional order of the Roman church
      in which there are bishops, priests and deacons.
This was the church order Martin Luther experienced and assumed.
It is the order which the Church of England continued.

To Luther's disappointment, however,
      none of the Roman bishops joined the new church movement,
      so Luther arranged for the election of other bishops
      who were called superintendants.
The ordination of clergy continued through this line.
Clergy were seen as set apart from the congregation;
      their authority coming from the whole church.

In Bohemia, however, there were not enough clergy,
      even to ride the circuits,
      so Luther counseled congregations
      to select a member from among them
      and ordain that person to be their priest.

In this order, the minister was not separate from the congregation,
      and the minister's authority did not come from the whole church.
This person's authority existed only insofar as the person
      was a representative of the congregation.
Individual congregations in Bohemia had the kind of autonomy
      that was only accorded the whole church in Germany.

As communities of Lutherans emigrated to North America,
      they brought these varying traditions with them.
Our background spans a series of ecclesiologies
      that includes the nearly-episcopal Augustana synod of the Swedes,
      in which the clergy voted in a separate house from the laity,
      to the radical congregationalism of the pietist movements
      of Norway, Denmark and Germany.
When we formed the ELCIC we patched these two polarities together,
      but I think we didn't give enough attention to the middle.
We have a synodical structure
      that suggests a more episcopal theology of ordination,
            in which the church is composed of pastors and congregations.
Pastors have autonomy and initiating authority in that system
      and they are accountable to their bishop,
      not the local congregation.
However, our constitution says that the church is made up of
      the baptised gathered in congregations.
Clergy are not identified except through
      the list of their responsibilities and duties.
We invest a great deal of energy in recruiting, training and discerning people for ordination,
      yet we give them an extremely ambiguous leadership role.
Who are their bosses anyway?
What autonomy and authority do they have?
What is the line of accountability and liability?
Where is their security when they need to challenge complacent congregations?

I believe that this ambiguity in church order
      has led to some of our current confusion,
      not only about the role of clergy,
      but the role of each of the three components of our structure.

Relationships with Synods

There has been considerable ambiguity
      about the extent to which the National Church
      should and can provide direct ministry to congregations.

NC-95-11 lays out two tracks:
      one for national, one for synods,
      but also recognizes that there are areas of shared concern.
These areas of shared concern are fraught with ambiguity
      and should be a major focus of this consultation.
Clarifying who takes the initiative in these areas
      will help tremendously in planning budgets and staffing.
Since money is decreasing,
      and we will not reverse the trend for several years,
      it is important that we define clearly the tasks
      which each arena of this church is able to do.

This calls for a more specific interactive model
      between the national and each of the synods.
Our synods differ in a variety of ways:
      in size,
      in current priorities,
      in local issues,
      in availability of resources, and
      in leadership styles.
Since synods are not uniform in shape and size,
      a single national output will not be equally effective in all,
      and may very well not be effective in any.

I would like to develop a more consultative leadership model
      in which synods and the national are in constant dialogue.
Formal meetings such as this can set the agenda,
      ongoing management can address the specifics.
The Office of the Bishop will have as a component
      a division for synodical affairs.
Regular visits to synod councils and bishops will take place.
More investment will be made in the Conference of Bishops.

I would like to see that programming for congregations
      will be developed only in consultation with synods
      aimed at expressed needs.
Some fine programs have been dragging
      because they were developed at a distance,
      aimed at a theoretical audience, and
      consumed more energy to produce
      than what they delivered in applied ministry.
It is better to develop a program scaled to 25 motivated congregations
      than to launch an entire national initiative
      that has a low participation rate.
Working to appropriate scale is important.
While some program areas will need to be defined as stand-alone structures,
      such as worship, missions, and stewardship;
others can be developed ad hoc or on contract
      by a multi-disciplinary staff team
      which works on projects rather than within fixed job descriptions.
The Office of the Bishop will have a research function as a component,
      which will work in direct consultation with a synod or synods
      on issues that are identified as areas of immediate need.

However, it is also the task of the national church
      to hold the whole-church agenda before synods
      in order to challenge parochialism
      and advocate the complete mission picture.
Therefore, synods will be accountable to the national church
      for their stewardship of the whole ministry of the church.
In the past the national has accounted to synods,
      but synods have had little accountability back.
Congregations show less accountability still,
      yet they are identified as the backbone of our structure!
Synods and congregations
      should and will be asked what they have done with the priorities
      which have been set by the church in convention.

Synods are powerful entities in this church:
      they collect the money,
      they build and maintain the leadership roster,
      they own and support the seminaries,
      they interpret the church to their constituencies,
      they support and encourage the
            stewardship and
            mission activities of their congregations.
It is in the synods that extra-congregational ministries are supported:
      urban core missions,
      campus ministry, and
      ministry with first nations.
One synod, arbitrarily cutting its support to national
      can terminate or delay an entire function in our office.
In the same way, one or two large congregations
      can cripple a synod by withholding funds.
It seems clear to me that developing relationships with synods
      is the only way the national church can do anything about congregations.

As a symbolic gesture,
      in an attempt to keep clear the roles of synods and national church,
I intend not to accept preaching requests from local congregations
      unless it is requested by the synod bishop
      and constitutes a situation
      where synod and national ministries come together.
Finally, communication is a key to much of this interaction,
      but the statement begs the question
      as to what kind of communication we mean.
The Office of the Bishop will have within it a communications function,
      but similar devices need to interact all over the church.
We have invested a huge amount of capital into Project Rasmus
      and we provide periodical print media,
      but how does this fit into the plan?
We need to ask such questions against the background
      of the general organizational principle of this church.

Remember to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing!

Finally, we do this call for one reason:
      The Holy Spirit has called us through the Gospel,
      enlightened us with the gifts of the Spirit,
      and sanctified and kept us in the one holy catholic and apostolic church.

These are not our agendas-
      they are Christ's agendas.
They are the cross we are called to bear at this time in this church.
Let me bring you back to the opening gospel reading:

So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life."

To which I can only say: Hallelujah! Amen!

This paper was presented as the Bishop's keynote address to the officers of national church and synods gathered for a consultation. Winnipeg, MB: October 2001.

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