One of my seven readers posed a question the other day that I hadn't thought much about. She shared with me that when she was younger, she had served on the synod council as the token youth representative.
Then she wondered aloud, maybe since I've been writing about the obvious changes our society has experienced, whether the synodical structure didn't also need to change.
Does it still make sense for a synod to be staffed by: a bishop, one or more assistants to the bishop, and office staff? Does it still make sense for a synod to be governed (between assemblies) by a synodical council?
It might. It might not. But since our world is vastly different from when our current bishop first took office eighteen years ago (think internet), I got to pondering what a synod structure ought to look like, starting at the top.
Should there be a bishop? Because of our constitution, having a bishop is necessary. But beyond that, I believe a bishop serves as the synodical minister of Word and Sacrament. In addition, I believe that a bishop can serve a valuable role as a public prophetic face of ministry in ways that congregational pastors are not always able to do.
One could argue that bishops are not necessary, since those roles can be filled in other ways ~ and those arguments are valid. However, one could argue that pastors are not necessary (and some denominations do). This, though, is not our polity, since we believe that some are gifted by G-d particularly for this work on behalf of the people of G-d.
Assistants to the Bishop
Should the bishop continue to have a staff? Probably. There is a great deal of coordination with and between congregations that has been facilitated by synodical staff. I believe this work is important. In fact, I believe more of this coordination is necessary.
What if the primary role of a synod staff would be to make connections, and then get out of the way? Since congregations are the places where most ministry actually happens, what if the synod staff worked to facilitate connections where they would be appropriate and helpful to ministry?
For instance, what if if there's a congregation doing great work teaching children to play guitar. And what if there's congregation on the other side of town thinking about helping the local elementary school, which has just been forced by the budget cut their music program. The congregations don't have any natural reason to pay attention much to each other ~ but if the synod staff did, then all of a sudden there's the potential for a connection and a sharing of best practices. Ministry is enhanced.
Plus, for the congregations in conflict. Surely there's another pastor who's gone through similar struggles. Surely there's a former congregational president who's waded through that muck and come out healthy. What if the synod staff connects the ones who struggled formerly with the ones struggling currently ~ not to shame, not to dictate, but to share best practices and as a reminder that the struggling congregation is not alone.
I think that, probably, the bishop should still have a staff ~ and that their primary goal should be to make connections between individuals, congregations, seminaries, and other entities in the church … and then get out of the way.
Constitutionally we're stuck with a synod council. Some may think the synod council is unnecessary, since at times (at least in my perception) it seems rather ineffectual. It may be the case that the council is not communicating the work they do very thoroughly. That's easy to remedy.
Or, it may be true that the synod council needs to be re-structured. It seems to me pretty big, and I wonder if it's unwieldy. Right now, each different geographical part of the synod is constitutionally required to be represented on the council all the time.
I wonder if it would make sense to streamline the council. Pare the membership from 24 members down to 10 or 12 (including officers). I wonder if it would make sense for the primary purpose of the synod council to be visioning for the present and future of the synod. And I wonder if the synod council ought to meet more often than three times per year. (Obviously, these meetings wouldn't necessarily have to be in person … there are amazing tools for online and video-conference meetings available today.)
I may not have fully addressed my one reader's questions, but this is a first stab at wondering whether the synodical structure that's been in place since (at least) 1988 is still appropriate 24 years later.