When I put myself up for Circuit Visitor of Rochester-West I had two ideas in the back on my mind. The first would go under the label fraternity. I’ve been in this circuit and this district 12+ years, and the relative lack of brotherhood hurts. Especially when I hear the experiences of others elsewhere. This is part of what I’ve taken to saying in other forums “the theology didn’t fail, the sociology did.” All those faithful women that used to run the social aspects of congregations? Gone, or no longer feeling the burden to carry them. The honest brotherhood of disciples? Seemingly gone, in its place an ersatz therapeutic bonhomie and a retirement plan. I wanted to attempt to address that. One of the ways I did that was through starting a content heavy newsletter that a friend calls my epistles. I hoped to model and encourage by sharing and expressing some of my struggles in the office and how I worked through them theologically. Take a look at my publications for a good idea. I was hoping it might encourage a sense of shared mission and honest exchange. Not psychology, but fraternity.
The second idea in the back of my mind was that the animating force of any brotherhood was the Word of God, Christ our brother. Which is why I insisted on a solid bible study in our circuit winkels. Something that had not been happening prior. It is part of why when I hosted I composed a fresh sermon with the winkel in mind. It is also why “my epistles” were invitations to solid theology. If all I was after was the Elks, my favorite member of St. Mark’s could have gotten me in there. The church is not the Elks.
The LORD knows that there are lots of “unsolvable” questions before us collectively. How do we arrange ourselves? With a year long effort at re-doing our circuits that is reshuffled at the last minute? That doesn’t pay attention to the reality of congregations other than building in “future loss safety margin?” This is a much deeper question than voting circuits. Are there not ways that instead of being in competition we could arrange ourselves for solidarity and local mission? The virtual church that many of us started in February is now three churches: the in person, the online and the missing. Can a sacramental church really do virtual? Are you really ever going to get someone who came in the virtual door, to come in the real door? Are you going to get people who have accustomed themselves to virtual church to come back? Is there a way that we could collectively address this so that we don’t have patchwork of underfunded attempts? And then there are the hidden in plain sight issues of what does the district do beyond exist? When was the last mission plant? What was the last teaching or challenge you heard from the President’s office? What was the last thing we collectively did together that wasn’t on auto-pilot?
By now you’ve received President Wicher’s note about not running for office again. Nominations will be open from September until January 2021. Given the comments I’ve made here it would not be a big surprise to anyone my saying that I feel like from a leadership perspective the past twelve years have been a void. You might have heard me joke about how we pick our DPs as designed to produce a void. You have to be over 55, but under 60, with 30 years in the ministry and at least 20 in your current place. You have to be from a big enough congregation not to be a loser, but you can’t be from too big a congregation to encourage envy. And you have to appear more energetic than Joe Biden, but not energetic enough that you might actually do something. And most importantly, you must not say what your real agenda is, in fact it is preferable that you not have one.
I break all of those. I don’t care. I’d like to stand for the District Presidency, knowing that it is a quixotic run. (As John Adams sang in 1776 I’m obnoxious and disliked or haven’t you heard.) But I’m running for the very purpose that I will most definitely have an agenda. And along the way hopefully making those who meet my tongue in cheek criteria explain theirs. A bishop’s seat should not just be “it’s his turn.” It should not just be the reward for the best glad-hander. Not when the questions before us are tough, large and existential. The two biggest planks on my agenda would be rebuilding a sense of fraternity in the ministerium, we have chosen a noble task if not an easy one, and an emphasis on a life under the Word which is the call of all Christians. The more practical agenda items, which I’ll be writing up and explaining, would include: focusing resources and the remains of strength, using the office as the public teaching office it was meant to be, and putting real skin in the game that we are in this together. You’ll notice that these are all stewardship points. We have been terrible stewards of the resources and opportunities given to us. I’ll be posting a series of letters here. I hope that you would read them, think about what they are talking about, and ask any other potential candidates to explain their agenda.
So, if anyone is willing to put my name in that nomination pile, I’d be appreciative. I’d be open to talking to you or any of your congregations. If you have any questions please ask. I promise I’ll answer to the best of my ability. And if I don’t call me on it.