Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ in the Florida-Bahamas Synod:
Grace, mercy and peace be to you this day. On behalf of the Synod Council, I write at the conclusion of our meeting in Tampa this weekend. It has been an emotional time for all, as we talked with Bishop Schaefer and began to process his decision to resign as our synodical bishop. Our surprise, sadness, and concern for him and his family was mixed with moments of laughter as we remembered our time together. We are extremely grateful for his ministry, and have been blessed by his 3 ½ years of leadership as our bishop. We give thanks for his deep faith, his irrepressible sense of humor, his inspired and clear leadership and his care and concern for God’s church. It has been a blessing to serve alongside him.
Because we really are church together, we have been in contact with Presiding Bishop Eaton and the ELCA Director of Synodical Relations, Pastor Walter May, about care of the Office of the Bishop. Both have repeatedly assured us of their accompaniment and assistance through the process of calling a new bishop. Just as when a pastor leaves a congregation, the Presiding Bishop will identify a candidate for interim bishop and the Synod Council will call someone to that position. If, due to scheduling and the calendar, we are unable to call an interim bishop by March 5, an “acting bishop” will be appointed.
In this transition time, the Office of the Bishop will continue providing vital and substantial presence and leadership throughout the synod. Current ministries and initiatives will continue under the leadership of the Assistants to the Bishop, Pr. Jim Graeser, Pr. Jaime Dubon, Deacon Connie Schmucker, and Michele Hilton. The synod staff will continue guiding congregations in transition, walking with leaders in all ways, and providing resources and information for ministry.
As you might imagine, there are many details to work out to elect and call a new bishop. Given that the 2017 Synod Assembly is soon, we do not plan to hold a bishop’s election at that assembly. It is more likely that we will hold a special, much shorter, Special Assembly for the sole purpose of calling a bishop later this year. We are balancing the need for some time to process this change and to set up a meaningful discernment process, with the financial costs of holding another assembly in this fiscal year. We commit to you to provide you with our plans as we finalize them.
Finally, we ask for your prayers. Pray for Bishop Schaefer and his family. Join us in giving thanks to God for his willingness to use every ounce of his giftedness to further God’s mission in our territory and for his family as they have supported him. Please pray for the staff and their families as they continue to serve in this transition; for our Presiding Bishop as she discerns interim bishop candidates; for the Synod Council as we work to be faithful leaders. We know that this is God’s church, and the work of the synod—through the ministry you all are involved in—will continue.
May you continue to live into the synod’s mission of Boldly Proclaiming Christ, Passionately Making Disciples, and Faithfully Doing Justice. May the Holy Spirit continue to stir in your hearts.
Peace be yours,
Synod Council Vice President