Dear Pastors, Deacons and Members of Congregations of the New England Synod,
Last week I attended the Conference of Bishops in Chicago. The Conference meets twice per year to hear reports, to network and to discuss matters relevant to the life of the church. Among the many issues we reviewed, (including a full day retreat focusing on congregational vitality), were two documents that I wish to bring to your attention.
The first is a Pastoral Messagein which the Conference of Bishops acknowledges the hurt and pain caused by the uneven and inequitable ways in which the document “Vision and Expectations” have been applied to the LGBTQIA+ community and others. In my view, this message is our attempt to articulate our regret and grief over the ways in which V&E was used. That Pastoral Message can be found at this link.
The second is a document entitled "Trustworthy Servants of the People of God." We spent considerable time reviewing this document, which, if adopted by the ELCA Church Council, would replace “Vision & Expectations”. As Bishops, we affirm "Trustworthy Servants"as a timely replacement and a faithful expression of our calling to serve as Rostered Ministers in this church. That document can be found here.
You will note that this document is in a draft form as it goes from the Conference of Bishops to the ELCA Church Council. Let me be clear in explaining that while the Conference has initiated this replacement document, it is only the Church Council, as the legislative body, who has the authority to adopt this document. In the period between now and March 18, synodical bishops will collect feedback regarding the substance of this draft. As we gather feedback, should we see cause for a major revision, we will advise the ELCA Church Council. I invite you to offer your feedback to me at Bishop@nesynod.org
As I have begun conversations with some of you regarding these documents, I want you to know that I am seeking ways for us to have a meaningful and helpful dialogue about these documents. More broadly, I think a substantive conversation about some of the topics "Trustworthy Servants" addresses is worthy of our attention. For instance:
- Line 2- "Every church has hopes and expectations for its leaders." In an era, where leaders in business, government, sports, and other organizations are routinely revealed to be sorely lacking in their conduct, what does it mean for a church to have hopes and expectations for its leaders?
- Line 19- What does it mean to be a blessing as a leader "advocating against all the ways that racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of prejudice and injustice limit participation and harm individuals, communities and the whole body of Christ."?
- Line 24- through 63 are the tasks of Ministers in this church. As you review them.... What strikes you? What needs re-reminding? How do the people you serve respond to these tasks which are a part of our calling?
- The document encourages faithfulness and trustworthiness in a number of areas: Health & Self Care (158), Relationships & Friendships (183), Family Life (196), Finances & Intellectual Property (205), Communications (222) Human Sexuality & Gender (231), Sexual Conduct & Speech (238), Marriage (273), Creation (290). As you read all of these sections...... What challenges you? What resonates? What confounds you?
As we engage this draft document, I ask us to be the thoughtful and prayerful leaders I know us to be. As we talk with one another, I encourage us to engage using vehicles of communication that bring out the best in us. I also believe there is wisdom to be gained from conversations that include the breadth of our synod. People in the pews should be engaged as well as pastors and deacons.
This may be time for a broad discussion on leadership in general. As I have always maintained, congregations and ministries serve the Kingdom of God when pastor/deacon and people are bothengaged and exercising leadership. I commend this document as an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue.
Sincerely in Christ,
Bishop James Hazelwood