March 30, 2017
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ in the Florida-Bahamas Synod,
Greetings in the name of our crucified and risen Christ!
Because God is a God who in Christ Jesus brings life out of death, we can always expect to be surprised. Sometimes the surprises are difficult. The resignation of your beloved Bishop Robert Schaefer is among such surprises. As a colleague in the Conference of Bishops, I have valued Bishop Schaefer’s clarity with respect to keeping God’s word of promise in Christ Jesus, focused in Word and Sacrament, central to our life together in Christ. I am not surprised to hear leaders of this synod value that clarity in Bishop Schaefer’s leadership. I have also heard a strong sense of gratitude for the pastoral care and growing sense of collegiality that Bishop Schaefer has fostered through his service. Given the gifts that he has shared with this synod, it is not hard to understand the sadness that many are feeling with respect to this resignation.
Precisely because our hope is in Christ, many in this synod are also able to bless Bishop Schaefer in his decision to resign. They can value both the service he has rendered and the decision to pass this specific call for leadership to another. St. Paul once wrote to the congregation in Corinth: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they each will be rewarded according to their own labor” (I Corinthians 3:6-8). Such a perspective invites humility with respect to our own service, and confidence in the God whose Holy Spirit calls and equips us for service in a particular time and place.
Now God has surprised me with this invitation to serve as your Interim Bishop. As I concluded my 18 years of service as Bishop of the Northwestern Ohio Synod, I indicated that I would make no commitments for 3 months, and would do nothing for 6 months–that it was a time for silence and reflection. When Pastor Walter May, Assistant to the Presiding Bishop/Executive for Synodical Relations called, he noted that it was now 6 months and two days since my retirement, and asked me to be open to this possibility for service. After a time of prayer and conversation with my wife Heidi, our adult children, and several beloved colleagues, I opened the door to this possibility. Following an interview with the Executive Committee, the Synod Council invited me to serve as your Interim Bishop beginning April 1. My first day in the synod office will be Tuesday, April 4.
On March 6-8, I had the privilege of traveling to Tampa and spending 3 days with Bishop Schaefer and the synod staff for a period of orientation. I came away with a sense of deep gratitude for Bishop Schaefer and his leadership, and deep gratitude for the synod staff which is gifted and willing to serve with faithfulness and passion. In the midst of the many challenges that face this nation, this church, this synod, and its congregations and baptized members, it is clear that God has given the Florida-Bahamas Synod gifts that it needs to be a church in mission. It also is clear that the Holy Spirit is at work in many different ways in the life of this synod.
As Interim Bishop, my primary work will be to tend to the Gospel as central to our life together. In doing that, I will work with the staff to carry out the constitutional responsibilities of the Office of the Bishop. I will also work with Vice-President Cheryl Stuart, the Executive Committee, and the Synod Council to prepare the Synod for the election of a Bishop, Vice-President, Secretary and other leadership positions at the Synod Assembly, October 12-14. During this interim period, I plan on working out of the Synod Office in Tampa. The Synod Council has blessed me to work remotely one week a month from my home in Ohio. During my time in Florida I will seek to maximize my presence throughout the synod in an effort to learn about what God is doing in this synod, to be pastorally present, and to work with synod leadership in assessing the needs of the synod and its ministries as we prepare for the next stage of this synod’s life together in Christ. As an interim bishop, it is important to say that I will not be available for the call as your bishop.
As I begin this interim ministry with you, I want to express my gratitude to Bishop Schaefer for the significant work that he has done to facilitate this transition, to Vice-President Cheryl Stuart for her excellent leadership (and many hours!) in creating opportunity for conversation, careful process, and decisions by the Executive Committee and Synod Council. Thanks also to the Executive Committee and Synod Council for their leadership in setting the stage for this transition, and for the significant work that they will be doing in the days ahead.
Transition is not easy for a synod staff. Yet your staff is responding to these surprising days with grace and commitment. Please keep them in your prayers and offer evangelical encouragement.
We best embody Christ when we work together. During the next months, I look forward to working with the baptized members of this synod–with congregations and their leadership, with deacons and pastors, with conference deans, conference chairs, and synod staff–that God may be glorified, that the work of Christ might be made known and that we might serve with faithfulness and joy together.
May our observance of Lent, Holy Week, and the Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord surprise us again – and empower us for the holy work before us.
Together with you in Christ,
Marcus Lohrmann, Interim Bishop