Friday, January 6, 2012

Bishop's Election, Part One

In my little corner of the church, in the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), we have begun the process of thinking about electing a bishop.  What this means, for us, is that people have submitted the names of people who they'd like to see be considered in the election for bishop.  Given the fact that our polity and policy is for nominations to be made at the assembly that will elect the bishop, these submissions don't carry any real weight.

There are 64 people on the list of potential nominees ~ but the reality is that if any of these people are not nominated at the assembly, they won't be considered for bishop.  Also, there could be any number of other people who are not on this 'potential' list that do get nominated.  For instance, Pastor Bob might have been potentially nominated (his name is on the current list), but unless someone writes "Pastor Bob" on the nominating ballot at the assembly, he won't be considered.  Also, Pastor Lisa might not have been potentially nominated, but if someone writes "Pastor Lisa" on the first ballot, she could be elected bishop. 

Also, those 64 people now have the opportunity to write biographical information that will be published, so that assembly voting members can make themselves familiar with those on the potential list before the assembly begins. 

Besides the obvious problems with this process (that these 64 people will have greater name recognition, and therefore greater elect-ability at the assembly; and that it's convoluted and relatively unclear to many people), I also see problems with the demographics of the list.  As I peruse the list, I see only three out of the 64 who are younger than 50.  I have to admit that I'm guessing about people's ages, but I'm pretty sure I'm right. 

Now, there's nothing wrong with people over 50 ~ absolutely nothing.  The problem is that the church doesn't seem to recognize leadership potential in younger people. And before you say 'A bishop really ought to have some significant experience in church leadership', I'll tell you (my seven readers) that we used to much more regularly elect bishops when they were in their 30s and 40s than we do now.  Of course, the people who were in their 30s and 40s then are now in their 50s and 60s and 70s. 

We used to elect younger people to church leadership positions in synods and in congregations and in all expressions of the church.  However, it seems to me that over the last couple decades, the baby boom generation has not been willing to let go of power.  Sure, boomers are willing to let a 20- or 30-year-old lead, as long as the younger people do things the old way; but that's not giving up power, it's just managing from a distance. 

(Yes, I realize I'm stereotyping; yes, I realize that not everyone in the age groups I'm identifying fits the profile I'm articulating; yes, I understand that you might be different; you have to also admit that, despite examples to the contrary, there's truth to what I'm saying.)

So, to have a potential slate of 64 'potential nominees' which contains only three who are under 50 reflects the unfortunate reality that the church is aging (which we knew).  I think it also reflects the fact that the church is afraid to allow younger leaders to really lead. 

I think many people in the church long for perceived-but-never-really-lived glory days of the church.  Because of this, we continue to look for leadership from those who were around then, and neglect leadership from people who might have a different vision of who we are called to be as people of G-d in the world right now. 

I'm not trying to get rid of older people; I am, however, advocating for some room in leadership for some younger people to serve.  Electing, or at least seriously considering, a 40-something-year-old bishop would be a good start. 


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your reflection on this Matthew. As one of those 30-somethings whose name has been "potentially nominated," I am honored. However, my dilemma is also recognizing my first call to my family (especially as a father to young children) and to my congregational context (called just over 3 years ago to a conflicted congregation that had seen way too much pastoral transition). As I write this, I wonder if this might be part of the issue: as both gender and generational roles have been in flux, those who are reluctant to give up power in the church are also those who saw their call to family in a different way (ie. providing financial stability over presence).