With September comes the beginning of the school year, and the beginning of the program year in most churches. Next September the Montana Synod will begin a new chapter with the installation of a new Bishop.
The Synod will elect a new Bishop by ecclesiastical ballot at the Synod Assembly May 31-June 2. The new Bishop will take office September 1, 2019, and will be installed September 21, 2019. If you have never been to a Bishop election, you may be wondering what an ecclesiastical ballot is. It is an election procedure that relies on prayer and the Holy Spirit. For the first ballot, after prayer, all eligible voters are given a blank sheet of paper on which they are permitted to write one name, with prayerful consideration. An election team will compile a list of eligible nominees from the first ballot and publish it. Anyone wishing to remove her/his name from the ballot may do so, after discernment.
The second ballot consists of the remaining names, which are whittled down on successive ballots. Before each ballot there is prayer and time for solemn discernment.
People have asked, “How do we prepare for an election?” In some synods there is a pre-identification of potential candidates, who sometimes travel around the Synod in groups, doing presentations and answering questions. We do not do that in the Montana Synod. But that does not mean that we do not prepare.
First and foremost, as we prepare for a Bishop election, we need to pray. We need to pray for guidance, we need to pray for vision, we need to pray for clarity. We need to pray about the future of our Synod, of the ELCA. We need to ask God to guide us into a vision of what our church can be, and what kind of leadership we need to go on that path.
We need to pray to God to give strength and wisdom to potential leaders, so that they might be available to serve God’s people is new ways. We need to pray for the Synod Council and the staff, and all who work with leadership. We need to commit ourselves to this kind of prayer for the next 9 months. And then we need to commit ourselves to praying for the new Bishop for the following 6 years. We need to pray.
We also need to be educated about what a Bishop is and is not in the Lutheran, specifically ELCA, tradition. I frequently tell call committees that I am not Catholic and I am not Methodist—I cannot force them to take a pastor, or, except under special circumstances, to give one up.
The Bishop’s Convocation this year will be devoted to the office of Bishop in the ELCA. Secretary Chris Boerger will guide us through constitutional, historical, ecclesial and practical discussions of what it means to be a Bishop in the ELCA.
Following the convocation, in the new year, we will provide congregations and other groups with discussion questions of the kind of leadership they are looking for in a Bishop. In the end, electing a Bishop is really about call. It is about discerning a call, issuing a call, accepting a call, living out a call.
So let us pray.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA