So, what's the Conference of Bishops really like?

I thought you'd never ask.

While I am working on a summary letter lifting up the specifics of our work, I thought I'd take this opportunity to peal away the curtain.

The conference is 66 human beings.  Yup, that's it.  We are people just like you.  We have families, we have hopes and dreams, we have regrets and failures.  We are a collection of people who find themselves in leadership positions in this church called the ELCA.  The story of how each of us ended up in these positions is quite a tale - ultimately somehow the Holy Spirit was involved.  We are not sure how or why, and at times, I'm sure each of us wonder if God got it right.  Doubt is a part of faith - at least it is for me.

Bishop Liz Eaton, NW Ohio Synod - who will probably kill me for posting this photo of here texting.  

These bishops are all people.  Let's remember that next time you want to hold us in high esteem (or tear us down).  I'm not trying to denegrate the office, I'm simply attempting to remind everyone of our common bond with the rest of the planet.  We are also a diverse group.  The diversity is not racial (we are mostly white, with only 2 bishops of color, and I believe there are 10 women), but it is class, geographic, cultural and politically varied.  For instance, as a bishop from New England, I have a different experience of the church than those bishops in Mississippi or North Dakota. We view the needs and promises of our congregations differently.

Example:  Our discussion on gun violence.  Some bishops are hunters, they have been since their grandfathers took them hunting for quail at age 12.  Other bishops from more urban areas have never held a gun in their lives.  Those are two different cultural reference points.

However, what I appreciate about the diversity of thought is the civil discourse on these and other matters.  We model how to talk about tough issues.  This is a good thing.  This is a task for all christians in both the public and private sphere.  What if the reputation in our society around 'hot button' issues was more along the lines of: "Hey, let's call some christians to help us have a civil conversation about our differences."

{Photo at right - Mike Rinehardt, SE Texas/Louisiana and Jim Gonia, Rocky Mountain.  I set this photo up, as I asked, play like you two are discussing matters of passion.}

Some bishops are quiet and reflective.  They prefer to ponder, write and reflect before coming to a decision.  While others are think out loud and speak off the top of their heads. Some of us love process, discussion and a free and spontaneous time of engagement, others prefer a Dragnet, 'Just the Facts,' and let's make a decision approach.

{Ann Svenningsun, Minneapolis, Dean Nelson, So. California, Stephen Talmage, Grand Canyon and Tom Skrenes, North Great lakes (Wisconsin)}

Are the meetings long?  Is there too much sitting for this bishop?  Could we spend more time doing, rather than talking?  Could we move action items down the road more rapidly?  From my perspective, yes.  But, there are 65 other opinions about these matters.  Each of us gets a voice and a vote, there are no dictators, no back room deals.  What's really going on here is people called to be leaders, attempting to both live together in christian community, while also articulating what each of us believes is the right next step for this church.  

Is it messy?  Absolutely.  Does it work?  Sometimes.  Is there a better way?  Maybe.

Some of you may wonder, what's my role in the conference.  What are you bringing to the table, Hazelwood?

Aside from my quirky sense of humor?  (Oh, and I am by far not the funniest person in the room, there are others with great wit and wonderful story telling capabilities)

I'm still trying to figure out my role.  I speak at the microphone, but not often.  I'm not the smartest one in the room, but I do think I bring the perspective of a parish pastor, as well as the voice of a person who came to faith later in life.  

I haven't gotten in trouble, yet, well not too much.  So far, I'm trying to get to know people, make friends and understand the system.  

Oh, and yes, I am the tallest one in the room, but not by much.

Claire Burkat, SW Pennsylvania (Philadelphia)