Delegates from across the Nebraska Synod gathered in Kearney, Nebraska last week, Thursday May 31st-Saturday June 2, 2018. The assembly’s theme for worship, business, and plenary sessions was, “Building on the Foundations.” To this end, congregations from across the synod were invited to decorate small blocks of wood like bricks, that together made a cross during closing worship.
Important Business at Hand
In terms of summarizing the action, this year’s assembly unlike last year’s, was much more business heavy. That largely had to do with two things:
- It was a bishop’s election year. In the ELCA, there are 65 synods, each of which is led by an elected bishop (at this point, to be eligible to be elected as a bishop, you need to be an ordained word and sacrament pastor in good standing). A bishop’s term last six years. In some synods there are term limits, and in others, like Nebraska there are not. Last fall Bishop Brian Maas discerned that he was willing to stand for re-election as the Bishop of the Nebraska Synod if the Holy Spirit and Nebraska Synod deemed fit.
- There were a number of other ballots which needed to be voted on, especially for all delegates representing the Nebraska Synod to the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to be held next summer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
This was my third assembly in Nebraska already, but because of the election year focus, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. This was also the first time that I have had the honor and privilege to be able to vote as a rostered minister for the bishop.
Bishop Maas was Re-Elected
There was a good handful of candidates who made themselves available to serve as bishop. I am grateful for their willingness to serve.
But most of all, I am grateful that Bishop Maas was re-elected. In my two years serving as part of this synod staff and working alongside Bishop Maas, I have seen not just an able bishop, but a wise leader who continues to grow in his understanding as a leader of this synod and church, but also one who continues to lead and serve in truth, hope, and grace, offering inspiration, grounding, and when needed pushes and challenge to move and go forward.
Since the early part of assembly last week however, I have been sick, and am now recovering from being sick. I think that tells me that I might have been a bit more stressed about this election than I let myself believe I was. I know I shouldn’t have been, and I know that it was out of my control. But the human side of me was a bit nervous, just because, well, my call is co-terminus with the bishop’s.
As a rostered minister who serves on a synod staff, I serve at the pleasure of the bishop. If a new bishop enters the office, it is right that they should have the ability to shape and create their own staff who play to their strengths, needs, focus, and vision. I fully respect and uphold this. It’s just, well, having welcomed a baby into the world just two months ago, the thought of being out of a job and looking for a new call was in hindsight, a bit stressful to ponder. I think my body has been telling me since to slow down, and breathe. And thankfully my voice has returned and my health continues to improve.
Other Assembly Highlights for Me
Outside of being sick and Bishop Mass being re-elected, there were plenty of highlights for me in Kearney. Some of them include, in no particular order:
The way Debbie Maas, Bishop Brian’s wife, stole the whole assembly with her heartfelt words and shared gratitude with Brian upon the news that the assembly had re-elected Bishop Maas to another six-year term. Her words, vulnerability, and openness were moving and inspiring. I couldn’t be more grateful to know her, and to work alongside Bishop Maas for as long as he might have me serve.
- For the third consecutive year, the Saturday morning of assembly featured the Nebraska Synod Ministry Fair. It’s always fun to see and experience people’s energy as they move about the complex, learning a bit more about all of the different ways they are part of the many and various ministries of the church. I especially appreciated many of the conversations I found myself in, some with colleagues and friends, and some with new acquaintances. Even with little to no voice, it was a still an energizing joy. An added bonus was seeing all of the smiling and energetic faces of kids and younger adults as they joined their families in the fun of the scavenger hunts, faith formation, and shared learning together.
On a personal note, it was just kind of special to be able to introduce Caroline to so many colleagues with Allison. I feel bad that I probably didn’t quite pull my weight with Allison to help with Caroline’s needs, but that’s probably to be expected given synod assembly requires synod staff to be on call as much as possible.
- More broadly, assembly is always fun because at least in Nebraska, it kind of feels like a reunion of sorts- a time of gathering with and seeing friends and colleagues in ministry from across the 245 congregations that span this wide and beautiful state.
- With Bishop Maas being re-elected, also came a sense of affirmation of sorts for the whole synod staff. That was appreciated, and I believe humbling. I hope that we continue to serve as called, and continue to help as partners in ministry with all across Nebraska to do God’s work together.
It was a joy before and during assembly to hear the wise words of, and to get to know ELCA Vice-President Bill Horne, who represented churchwide at assembly, and facilitated the bishop’s election.
- Before the heart of assembly kicked off, synod staff and their families gathered for great dinner and conversation with each other, Vice-President Bill Horne and his wife and our companion partner, Pastor-President Gustavo from our companion synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina and Uruguay. It was so much fun to get to know Gustavo a bit more, and to share some laughs with him, Bishop Maas, Allison, and baby Caroline.
For the second straight year, we were treated to the musical stylings and gifts of Jonathan Rundman. It was great to see Jonathan again, and to have his leadership in worship and between sessions.
- Celebrating the career and ministry of Ruth Henrichs, now retired CEO of Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska at the Partners in Ministry Banquet, and then getting to hear from her successor Rev. Stacy Martin as she preached powerfully and prophetically in the assembly closing worship.
Speaking of worship, I enjoyed seeing at least four fellow deacons involved in leadership during assembly worship. It also warmed my heart to see at least two colleagues borrow one of my deacon stoles.
Some Other Learnings and Personal Take-Aways from Assembly
Aside from highlights, I also have a few learnings that I am taking away from synod assembly this year. These include:
- A baby sure takes a lot of stuff to travel for an overnight adventure. I think we seriously multiplied at least five times the amount of things we brought with us this year as compared to a year ago.
- Even with all that stuff, and with not the best health at times because of colds, etc., I was affirmed I think in that we are capable as parents- who can care for a child, and still be present in our ministry and work. I am especially grateful for Allison– for her ability to breathe and take care of what needs to be done, and for her patience with both me (not the smartest dad in the world), and Caroline.
- I also share an even greater sense of gratitude for our colleagues and friends who held us up throughout assembly, as we tried to rest and be present with a newborn, while also alert, engaged, and participating in the work of the assembly.
Professionally, I am taking away the important reminder to always talk about mission share. (Mission share or “mission support” as known throughout the larger ELCA, are the undesignated offerings that local congregations share with the larger church through their synod.) When a congregation reduces and withholds its mission share, it has consequences on the ministry that can be done. This showed up a bit in some of the discussions around passing a budget this year. It also occurred to me, that it’s always important to continue to educate and communicate, even when some potential cuts or shortfalls might be a bit misunderstood and misrepresented from the floor during budget discussions. It’s an opportunity to engage in questions and decision making, but also to open eyes to the impacts and possibilities of being church together, made possible through mission share.
It was fun to hear and share more about Deacons and Word and Service ministry. We even debuted this awesome T-Shirt as seen in the picture here. My only wish is that we as a synod had done a better job on the front end of representing deacons, and sending at least one deacon to Churchwide Assembly next year as a large part of the assembly’s decisions in 2019 will be around Word & Service matters. If I could have done something differently in the months ahead of assembly, it probably would have been related to this.
From where I sit, the 2018 Nebraska Synod Assembly was another great one, and I am grateful for being a part of it, and for being a part of this synod!
At the same time, I am also glad that this year’s assembly is over. It was a bit more packed than previous years, and I look forward to future assemblies with a bit more time for learning, ideas, and story telling, and perhaps a little less electing and work to be done. But then again, that comes with the territory, and will ebb and flow depending on the year and what information and work is before us to accomplish.
Image Credits belong to the Nebraska Synod Facebook Page.