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Old Lutheran Table Talk • View topic - NW MN Synod, ELCA


This is a place to weigh in with your opinion about upcoming elections that will effect you. Perhaps your District or Synod is electing new leadership. Mabybe there is an election at your National or Churchwide convention. This forum is intended to be helpful for the church. You are expected to be honest but not mean.

Moderator: TravisW

A Missional Bishop

Postby Exile to the East on Mon May 28, 2007 11:51 pm


The word "missional" is rejected by my spellcheck, but it's the latest buzzword differentiating pastors or congregations that wait for the phone to ring (who wait for ministry to interrut their 'office time'), and those who engage the Spirit to create/support/encourage/bless effective mission. It turns out that being "missional" makes all the difference "in the world."

Over lunch at a recent NE MN Synod Council meeting, Bishop Peter Strommen referred to Rick Foss as one of the ELCA's first "Missional Bishops." The conversation went on... At one point Scott Jacob, Assistant to the Bishop in NE Mn recalled a dinner conversation between several Midwestern bishops. Rick, he recalled, was speaking "a different language" than the other bishops at the table. He was speaking the language of mission. (BTW Bishop Peter and Scott Jacob know this language too! That's why, at least for now, I'm grateful to be serving 'in exile' here in NE MN.)

All I know is that I'm still a pastor because of Rick Foss. At a point in time when I was fed up with ordained ministry and was convined that the best path toward being missional was as a career firefighther, Rick helped open my eyes to new approaches in parish ministry. Now I'm having the time of my life, deeply grateful to be a called pastor, and trying my best to be a missional one too...

So, in deference to Old Lutheran's (Dave's) last post, I disagree when he writes,

"The synod is either irrelevant, providing a service, or causing frustration. I believe that all of the adminsitrations that I have worked for have done all three of these things. Who our next bishop is is really no big deal. Life in our congregations, will continue to flurish and flounder. Programs will grow or die. Budgets will rise and fall."

The Synod Office doesn't have to be irrelevant at best or an irritation at worst. I can't believe that Rick Foss' model for leadership was unique to just one person. Rolf, Matt & Jeff, (& more from Marsha, Larry) or anyone else for that matter, this discussion may not be P/C, but believe me, it's necessary. Because take my word for it--bishops are not irrelevant. Offer us your vision. Lead God's people in mission. We need to hear from you.

Mark Olson
Hope, Walker

BTW: I've received some flattering but misguided inquiries about "running" for bishop. First of all being a "40 Year Old Bishop" is as ridiculous as the plot line for a recent comedy movie entitled "The 40 Year Old Virgin" (In a weak moment, I rented it. My advice-don't make the same mistake!) Actually, I'm the father of a two boys, ages 4 & 2, and I was recently accepted into Luther Seminary's five year D.Min program studying Congregational Mission and Leadership. My hands are full, and you have much stronger 'missional' candidates already listed.
Exile to the East
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June 7 and June 11 ...

Postby Ecclesiastes 12 on Wed May 30, 2007 2:00 pm

I've been thinking and praying and wondering... and trying to keep busy with visiting and teaching and preaching... and it does seem to me that the following is true:

"June 7 and June 11 are really not going to be that different of days."

To be sure, for the families of ordained ministers and lay staff members that will be involved in a change (or in the absence of change) of administrations, those two days will be very different. They will be the ones drawing near to June 8-10 with a sense of expectation, perhaps dread and fear, perhaps hope and possibility. But for the rest of us, those two days just aren't going to be that different.

Maybe I'm taking too much direction from the name of my Avatar. Yet indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. The task that we have before us is by and large one of vanity -- chasing of the wind. We rush from meeting to meeting, we look to coin words like "missional" or "evangelical outreach" or "peace and justice", we aim to catch the latest demographic trend. Yet it all is so much vanity. In the end, it's going to be one cross or the other.

In the midst of this turbulence, we do have hope. We do have a God who promises us joy in the midst of our days, satisfaction in the midst of our toil, a beer and a bump from time to time, a evening of friendship with those whom we love. But its not up to us to try to straighten out every bend in the Red River, or to smooth out every hill and valley in the synod. The Lord is coming.. and he will do that in the by and by.

I did get a good run at a Pentecost sermon this week. Seems that Peter and the rest of 'em really did put "repentance" at the center of their message. Like "Repent of your sin, turn from your wickedness and live". Indeed, if we could hear a clear call of repentance from our leadership, that might be a real good thing. Godly sorrow and remorse over our sin seems to be in short supply. What is heard more often is "compassion" and "God is love" and so forth. If you head back into Luther's Works (vol. 40) and check out the Parish Visitation instructions, you do find that front and center. Whether today, 100 years ago or 500 years ago, we don't hear much about repentance and godly sorrow.

In any case... June 7 and June 11. Does that make any sense to you?
Ecclesiastes 12
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Bishops and missions

Postby Eragon on Wed May 30, 2007 6:39 pm

The Shepherd and Bishop of our souls delineated the mission:

"Go therefore and make disiples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to obey all I have commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always to the close of the age" Matt 28:19-20

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS
should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem."
Luke 24:45-47 (RSV)

It appears we have a VISION and a MISSION-





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Postby Marsha Smith on Wed May 30, 2007 7:38 pm

In response to Old Lutheran’s questions and Ecc 12, a few thoughts.

In God’s big picture, of course there is not that big of difference between June 7 & 11. Of course, God will straighten out the roads and rivers when God is good and ready.

But in the mean time we are called to be faithful, and some are called to faithfully lead. I have experienced good leadership and bad leadership, I imagine we all have, and there is a significant difference. I am hoping for good, faithful leadership come June 11th.

What does our synod need to focus on for the next six years?

Conversation, our synod needs a leader who will listen to people, find out where they are at, their hopes, dreams, fears. Then, discerning God’s call, lead them in the next steps towards serving God and our communities in the 21st century.

How about some good, healthy conversation at Fair Hills? Taking time to share our struggles and our strengths, time to listen to each other and empathize, time to encourage and pray for.

I think many of the synod pastors and congregations need a leader with gifts of encouragement and vision casting. There has been so much change in our culture and our congregations that many feel in-effective, overwhelmed and inadequate.

For those who are finding some success in reaching out and connecting the gospel to their congregations and community, they still need encouragement and support. A simple conversation and pat on the back would be great.

What are the characteristics that you think would make a good Bishop?
Leader: Someone who can paint a vision of hope and share with us a call from God for this time and place.

Encourager: To be able to listen well, lift up strengths, offer possibilities and challenge.

administrator: Someone who can figure out 1) where we are at and what we have (talents, skills, gifts, financial resources), 2) what God wants us to do with it all. and 3) how to do what God calls us to do.

God does not ask us to do anything he hasn’t given us the gifts to accomplish. So often we compare ourselves to others and see all the gifts we don’t have.

Instead, we need to see what God give us and then prayerfully discern our call with those gifts. A good administrator will see how to connect resources to needs, gifts to opportunities.

For example, the bridge-builders that Pastor Jill had trained in January. This is an excellent resource, not only conflict, but helping congregation have healthy conversations...a new constitution discussion, starting a new worship service, looking to re-configure a congregational arrangement.

BB are ready to go, they need to be publicized; used at wider events so people can get to know them, and then encourage their use.

Empower-er: a leader who recognizes he/she does not have all the gifts that the organization needs....nor the time and energy. Finds and lifts up those with the gifts, helps them use their gifts well, training and coaching, and then gets out of the way and allows them to do their thing serving God.

courage: a leader who can deal with stress, difficulties and disagreements head on and openly, with healthy, appropriate conversation. This is hard to do in the church, and yet we need it more than most places, because we deal with deeply, heartfelt issues. A good leader will see it as an opportunity to communicate better, build trust and help people grow in their faith.

Fiscally responsible: There is a decline in giving to synod and the wider church, perhaps because there is a decline in people hearing a clear mission and purpose. Institutions are viewed different today than 50 or 100 years ago, therefore they need communicate and function faithfully for this day and time.

Finally, we need a leader who will listen, help us discern a call, point us in a direction, can lead us step by step in that direction, can encourage/cheerleader as we take those steps and will display the qualities that we can trust and depend upon as a pastor for the pastors and congregations.

What questions should the Bishop candidate be asked?

How will they listen?
What do they see as our strengths and weaknesses?
What might God be calling our synod to next?
What are your fears for the ELCA and NWM synod?
What do you love about ministry? What do you dislike?
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It matters!

Postby 2007 on Thu May 31, 2007 1:27 pm

Good words Marsha. I continue to believe that you have many gifts which could serve our synod well if you are called to leadership in the bishop's office. It is clear from the many views on this site that our synod office does matter very much to many of us and we are deeply invested in using our gifts to help our synod be the best that it can be in meeting the myriad needs of our diverse faith communities and leaders. My sense is that for a number of reasons our synod is caught in a culture of fear. I am not willing to lay the blame on one person for this situation nor will I forget the many blessings which have emerged from our synod office these past six years. I will say however, that the only thing that can move an organization from fear to fearlessness is clear communication and leadership from the top. I add my voice to the others who have already called for a word from the bishop on these very important issues which have brought fear into our hearts. I also call on those who would be bishop to remember that the key to leadership is open and honest communication. If you can master this central leadership issue the rest will fall into place.

Fear vs Holy Fearlessness.......

"Fear relishes the weight of our burdens, not the beauty of our hope. It fixates on immediate problems and struggles, blinding us to the great and loving commission to which our Lord unceasingly draws us. It fan disrespect and sasrcasm, driving us to mistrust the faithfulness of our leaders and the good will of people. It saps energy and freezes our souls so that we fail to risk, share and love." Miller

Friends in Christ.....this is where we are and we cannot stay here!
Leadership can point us in the direction of Holy Fearlessness;

"Holy Fearlessness knocks off our blinders so that we see the needs of God's suffering world. It releases hearts to trust one another despite our differences. It melts frozen souls and liberates our capacity for faith, hope and love. It bears the pleasent fragrance of the one who whispers; "Do not fear."" Miller

I am thankful that we are talking. May we continue to remind ourselves who we are and to whom we belong remaining confident in the presence, prompting and purpose of the one who calls and gathers us as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Peace.....Matt Valan
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Before I go fishin'..... a few thoughts

Postby John Hulden on Fri Jun 01, 2007 11:49 pm

Thanks to Old Lutheran for providing an opportunity to dialogue about our Northwestern Minnesota Synod! Thanks also to all of you who have written on these pages and to the thousands who have logged on to read these insights…very cool! After encouragement from a few folks, I promised I’d join in.

My hope for our upcoming assembly is a lively conversation that will set the tone for the future of our synod. Call me a church geek, but I enjoy synod assemblies…. and a synod assembly with an election is even more fun and important! (it’s like comparing a regular season game to the playoffs…)

Along with Bishop Rolf, the list of potential candidates promises a great exchange of ideas for our synod. Here are a few from outside our synod I haven’t seen mentioned….
Sue Tjornehoj (former assistant to the bishop both in NWMinn and St. Paul Area Synod, now serving Christ Lutheran in St. Paul)
Dee Peterson (lead pastor at Bethlehem in St. Cloud)
Tim Stoa (senior pastor at Bethlehem in Fargo)
Naomi Garber (assistant to Bishop Foss in EaND)
anyone else???

From the time I was assigned to go to Barrett MN for my internship 22 years ago, I have had a deep love for the people in this synod. Most of my ancestors immigrated to Northwestern Minnesota, and all of them passed through here on their way to North Dakota or Montana. God grows faithful and steadfast disciples in this part of the country, and I am honored to have been called here to serve.

Tomorrow morning I take off for Montana with my high school daughter for a little fishing with my dad. As the mile markers pass by, you can be sure I will be praying for our synod: it’s leaders, congregations, and growing disciples.
God Bless and see you next weekend,
John Hulden
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Postby Exile to the East on Sun Jun 03, 2007 3:19 pm


How's this for a plank in someone's bishop-elect platform:

Frazee is the largest community in NW MN without an ELCA congregation. It's a growing, vital area, and a former ELCA pastor, Paul Anderson is devoloping a new church start at the Comet Theater in Perham. How about appealing to disenfranchised Lutherans by encouraging Paul & this emerging church to develop a ministry in Frazee?

The ELCA has courted ministry interests and concerns that are politically, ethnically and theologically to the "left" of mainline Lutheranism. Without forsaking these initiatives, could the ELCA also develop ministries that reach out to the "right" or more traditional/orthodox Lutheranism?

When we speak of those interests/mission fields/minorities that exist to our cultural political, or theological "left" we speak of inclusion, unity and tolerance, but Wordaloners and LCMC congregations are branded 'malcontents' or fundamentalists. They are fair game for our prejudice and slander.

Is the ELCA's tent broad enough to appeal to both the "left" and the "right"? If our goal is to bring people into a relationship with Jesus, is that a wide enough platform for diverse ministries? Thousands of former Lutherans have left the ELCA in search of other congregations that correspond to their reading of Holy Scripture. It's safe to say that most of these former disciples have jumped out of the "right" side of the ELCA's boat.

Is that okay? Or can leadership emerge that honors congregations and ministries that cover a whole spectrum of contexts? Please understand, I write as a pastor who travels--most of the time--with my wheels in the left ditch on the road. But I think a church is only healthy when it serves Republicans and Democrats, Pro-Life people and Pro-Choice, conservative and liberal, bringing all to examine their convictions in the light of the Good News in Jesus.

What do you think?
Who can emerge as a leader in such times & circumstances?

Mark Olson
Hope, Walker
Exile to the East
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Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses

Postby putzyparson on Mon Jun 04, 2007 8:20 pm

Dear all,

I've spend the past three days reading through this entire discussion. I know that there is a lot of frustration with the current synod leadership and I share your concerns.

However, I think it's great that as this conversation is winding down, we seem to be ending on a high note. Someone said that any election is more about us-collectively than any individual bishop.

I am a young first-call pastor and have been here close to a year now. And I must say that, despite concerns about the current leadership, I definitely feel surrounded and supported by a great cloud of witnesses. Many of you, officially or unoficially, have been my "bishop." That is, you have been the public face of this synod for me, whether you work in the synod office or not. You have encouraged me as I begin my ministry and have kept me connected to the larger call we share together. How easy it is to get tunnel vision early on in ministry! So, thank you all.

My hope is that after June 10 this discussion will continue, perhaps under a new topic. Perhaps something like "Dreams and Visions for our Synod." I think we all know now that the vision of the synod is greater than the synod office. I give two examples: 1.) Hulden and the TiM program with its intentional colleague group for first call pastors 2.) Trinity-Crookston's Oasis Project for rural congregations (thanks to Randy Smith and Jo Gast.)
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South Dakota bishop election outcome

Postby Larry Wohlrabe on Tue Jun 05, 2007 11:40 am

(Here's an edited form of a statement that my colleague pastor read this on June 3rd before worship at Our Savior's in Moorhead).

As you know, Joy and I have been in Sioux Falls this weekend for the South Dakota Synod Assembly, where I was one of five nominees for the office of bishop. The first two ballots for bishop were held on Friday afternoon and Friday evening. On the first ballot Pastor David Zellmer of Pierre, SD had a strong lead with 319 votes, while I was a distant second with 123 votes. Pastor Zellmer, Pastor Jeff Sorenseon of Sioux Falls (currently on that synod's staff), and I were the three pastors who advanced to the second ballot.

On the second ballot, Pastor Zellmer was elected with a majority of the votes cast--444 votes, and I came in second with 178 votes. There was no need for the third ballot which was scheduled for Saturday morning. If you are interested in reading more about the election, you might want to check out the Sioux Falls newspaper website at http://www.argusleader.com.

The election process was taken very seriously by the people at the assembly, and we trusted that the Holy Spirit was guiding it. I feel at peace with the outcome. Pastor Zellmer and I were seminary classmates and friends--and I believe he will make a very fine bishop. He was raised in South Dakota and served in three different South Dakota parishes over his nearly 26 years as a pastor. From the first ballot it was clear that he enjoyed broad, deep support among the pastors and laity of the synod....

I am looking forward to our NW MN Synod assembly this weekend and eager to see how the Holy Spirit leads us all. Larry
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Four Reasons for Hope

Postby Larry Wohlrabe on Tue Jun 05, 2007 10:59 pm

Several weeks ago Exile to the East asked us to ponder a question. I was so "taken" by this question that I used it as the jumping-off point in one of the prepared statements I shared last weekend at the South Dakota Synod assembly. I share some excerpts here for our common reflection as we prepare for the synod assembly this weekend...

Every once in a while a question comes along, grabs a hold of me, and will not let me go. Recently someone asked me this one: Why do you think our church’s best years are still ahead of us?...

Let me suggest four bright signs of hope in our church today:

1. First, God is raising up 21st century believers who are also disciples, followers of Jesus. We Lutherans know that God alone saves us. Today we’re learning to speak just as boldly about how God sends us into the world, in God’s mission. We’re shifting our focus from church membership to Christian discipleship—practicing our faith, serving joyfully, witnessing winsomely to the love of Jesus Christ.

2. Second, God is renewing congregations, to be life-giving centers for mission and ministry. The church isn’t so much a place where Christians gather as it is a people, sent on the mission of a lifetime--God’s mission of rescuing and renewing the whole creation through Jesus Christ.

In the ELCA we’re learning how congregations of all sizes and shapes become lively, life-giving centers for mission when three things happen: when God leads them to define their purpose clearly, when God invites them to embrace change, and when God calls them to lift up leaders who are passionate about sharing the Good News.

3. Third, God is raising up a new generation of robust, resilient servant-leaders: pastors, lay ministers and ordinary Christians serving God in daily life. I’m excited about the mission-driven focus of these new servant-leaders. For them there is no disjunction between God’s saving of us and God’s sending of us, in mission. They “get itâ€
Larry Wohlrabe
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Show time!

Postby oprah on Tue Jun 05, 2007 11:11 pm

Well well well

I really have enjoyed this chat for the past couple of weeks. The ratings for my show have taken a dip because of so much traffic at the oldluthern website.

I'm a little (just a little) concerned that in the evening of this table talk, that we seem to be pulling back on our passion for change and are "pretty-ing" up for this weekend. Maybe we're scared, worried or whatever. But we can't lose steam at this point.

All I know is that at this hour, no one has this election in hand. I believe that silence is not the answer right now. C'mon candidates...we need to hear and feel your heart and mind.

Love Oprah
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Postby oldlutheran on Tue Jun 05, 2007 11:39 pm

Well said Oprah. The time is almost here. I am hopeful that Sunday will be a new day for this synod. With that in mind, I think it is important to not take Friday night for granted. The first ballot does count. Friday night is the nominating ballot. Any Pastor in the ELCA is eligible to be considered for election. The nominating ballot is often a time that Pastors vote for either themselves or a friend just to see their name on the ballot. This year, I think it is crucial that the first ballot be taken seriously. Vote only for someone who you want to be bishop of this synod. Craig Johnson was re-elected on the first ballot in Minneapolis Synod. Edward Benoway was re-elected by 2 votes on the 6th ballot in Florida Bahama Synod. Let us be clear this week-end. Every vote counts. Majority rules, but nobody wants to be a 2 point majority.

Inform the voting members in your congregation of the issues. Share your opinion on your future hopes and dreams for the Northwestern Minnesota Synod. Speak out with honesty and integrity. If you believe that change is needed, encourage those you know to vote for change. Make suggestions. Point them to Table Talk for information.

If you believe that staying the course is best for the Northwestern Minnesota Synod, tell your story. Speak for continuity. Post your thoughts on Table Talk, this discussion would welcome balance.

Friday night counts. Vote for a clear choice. Don't vote to see your name. Don't vote for the fun of it. Vote for the future. What ever it may be.
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another model

Postby new contributor on Wed Jun 06, 2007 10:29 am

I’ve been hearing about the table talk so I checked it out – and I have appreciated the critiques of the electoral system, and the discussion about how the system itself might be improved. It seems that it might be helpful for those of us who will be a part of the assembly this year to keep thinking (in the back of our minds) about how we might do this better.
I stumbled across some material on the recent Oregon Synod election, and I thought it might be of interest for this purpose. They have an ecclesiastical ballot, but they have a synod-wide discernment process that includes circulating “vitasâ€
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Postby izzy40 on Wed Jun 06, 2007 2:21 pm

While no longer there, the NW MN Synod is still near and dear to me. The entire synod is undergoing several transformations - as a region and as faith communities. Leadership is needed to give vision and a sense of purpose. I also believe these various communities need to be connected to each other.

Too often, we tend to project our own image of the "type" of leader(s) we desire. I think it is more important to identify strengths or qualities that meet the immediate need. From what I read here, there is a need for a calm assuring pastor who is comfortable in her/his own skin, who listens and communicates well, who can place leaders (both clergy and lay) in positions that can implement transformation. While "trust" is mostly earned, the next bishop will need to already possess trust throughout the synod.

While I'm on board with most of you about transforming our vision and work, I also know that many delegates will hear words like "transformation," "paradigm shift," and "new" to mean CHANGE. I'm all for it but it is very threatening for those whose congregations are in turmoil, searching for a pastor, or simply existing. Can we use words like "connections, relationships, shared goals, and partnerships."

But a bishop who can engage people and help congregations and pastors to identify strengths that can contribute to a larger vision, will move NW MN in a positive and wholesome direction. In my own ministry I have found that cooperative efforts at outreach brings the greatest healing.

Finally, will we be committed to "follow" such leadership? It's time for us to get on the wagon as well to help form and implement a tranformational vision for our synod. It will mean taking time to grow relationships with other colleagues and other communities. It will ask congregations who are "thriving" to reach out and partner with other congregations in mission. This is not a winner vs. losers debate. It is about a common faith we share in a Lord who has already redeemed us and is continually at work among us to bring about new life.

My prayers are with you as you enter assembly.
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Election of the Bishop

Postby Eragon on Wed Jun 06, 2007 4:30 pm

The time is short-

Pray! Listen!

Let he (she) who have ears to hear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the church.
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