At the recent Synod Council meeting (June 2-3), Bishop Lohrmann shared the following update and reflections on his time as interim bishop of this synod:
State of the Synod
I want to begin by thanking you for the privilege of serving as your Interim Bishop. Transitions, no matter the situation, are always important. That is certainly the case of this synod as we acknowledge the resignation of Bishop Schaefer and anticipate the election of a new bishop at the October 12-14 Synod Assembly and the Installation of that new bishop on January 20.
In these early months, I want to acknowledge the helpfulness of three particular groups. First, Vice-President Cheryl Stuart and the Executive Committee have been invaluable in terms of setting the context and creating the framework for my work as Interim Bishop. That process has meant extra work and imagination on their part as well as a commitment to serve in a collegial manner. Cheryl and this Committee have been wonderful. This group will be serving as my Mutual Ministry Committee and, through my contract with this synod, have agreed to review our work together every two months.
Second, this synod is blessed with an excellent staff. From my perspective, they have not missed a beat. They work with great commitment and skill. The support staff, including Ileana, Bev, Yuliet and Kim have great gifts with respect to enabling the staff who are on the road to do the work they do. Michele Hilton tends the many matters related to the structure of the synod with great skill and competence. Special thanks to Michele Hilton, Ileana and Bev for finding me a good place to lay down my head during these months. Sister Michelle brings a rich background to her work of faith formation and communication. Connie, does a masterful job at nurturing health among congregations and rostered leaders in transition even as she accompanies the formation process related to candidacy. Jaime Dubón and Jim Graeser, our DEMs and Assistants to the Bishop, watch and tend what’s happening in the mission field as related to the geography, congregations, and personnel of their territories. These people are not just very competent and faithful, it is also a joy to work with them.
A transition related to the change in bishop significantly impacts a staff. Some positions are coterminous with the bishop, but all serve at will. While all have expressed a desire to serve throughout this period of transition, I have also blessed them to do what they need to do as they review their own sense of call. Rick Armstrong will be meeting with Synod Staff on June 22 to process how we are doing together during this remarkable time.
A third group that I want to acknowledge is the Deans. Thirteen of fifteen attended the Deans’ Retreat at Luther Springs with the other two having good reasons for absence. An important part of our conversation included matters related to the bishop and Office of the Bishop and the discerning process. Time constraints limited me to meeting with 9 of the 13 for 30 minutes periods to learn something of their ministries and conferences. This group is vital in terms of providing support for ministries within a given geographic area and augmenting communication with the Office of the Bishop. I’m very grateful for this group and the spirit in which they serve. As a group, they have been more than welcoming. It has been a delight to visit two of the Conference Meetings with rostered leaders in the Tampa Conference and the Mid-Gulf Conference. As you might imagine, matters of transition of the election of the Bishop shaped much of these conversations.
Most bishops will acknowledge that a highlight of their work includes worshipping, presiding and/or preaching in local congregations. At this point I have had the joy of visiting sixteen congregations. Those occasions included sitting in the pews, congregational anniversaries, two ordinations and three installations. I want to note my visit to Our Saviour in Freeport, Bahamas for their 60th Anniversary and the joy of visiting with Pastor Clifford Lewis and his wife, Saida. Each of these congregational visits has been precious in its own right, including a number of opportunities to meet with rostered leaders and, on occasion, spouses.
Learning About Lutheran Service Agencies…
A role of a bishop is that of linking with various ministries of the church, including its social service agencies. I was grateful to meet Dr. Rick Armstrong and to learn a bit about Lutheran Counseling Service which, among other things, is important for the ministry that is provided to many of our rostered leaders and families through an agreement between this agency and the Office of the Bishop. Michele Hilton and I attended the Board Meeting of Lutheran Service of Florida during which an extended presentation offered insight into the opportunities and challenges presented to LSF related to working with refugees and immigrants. The Mid-Gulf Conference meeting at Village on the Isle provided an opportunity to learn a bit about that ministry.
…And Luther Springs
Both the Respite Retreat, held the week after Easter, and the Deans’ Meeting provided me with the opportunity to visit Luther Springs. On one of those occasions, I met with NovusWay Director, Keith Johnson, and learned about the history of NovusWay in general and Luther Springs in particular. Those who have visited and experienced Luther Springs or another of our Lutheran camps know that these are gems which shape Christian faith at the intersection of worship, community, and God’s creation. In addition to providing a beautiful location, Luther Springs offers very comfortable accommodations and welcoming hospitality. Given these realities, it’s not hard to be enthusiastic about Mission Possible, the campaign to raise three million dollars to expand the ministries of Luther Springs and Lutherock. Thanks be to God, to date two million has been raised towards that goal. Special thanks to Sue Mendenhall and her work related to the camp ministry at Luther Springs and synodical youth ministry. A particular gift of visiting Luther Springs was the captivating experience of watching Mission Builders (mostly retirees) using their gifts to construct new facilities. If you have some time on your hands and enjoy construction and Christian community, consider becoming a part of Mission Builders.
Tending to Matters of Transition
A part of my responsibility as Interim Bishop is to “…provide assistance and advice regarding the process of electing a new bishop, as well as pastoral assistance to those discerning their possible call.” During this Council Meeting you will learn a bit more about and contribute to the processes related to: 1) developing a Synod Profile-a team directed by Pastor Jon Keiser and Tom O’Reilly; 2) enabling the synod and its pastors to engage in the discerning process as we prepare for the election of a bishop; 3) preparing for the January 20, 2018 Installation Service for the Bishop’s Installation-a team directed by Pastor Ken Blyth.
As we move forward, I joyfully anticipate the Service of Common Prayer with the Roman Catholic Dioceses of St. Augustine and Orlando, Tuesday June 6, 6:30pm at the Basilica of Mary, Queen of the Universe. In preparation for this service, I viewed the October 2016 500th Anniversary Observance of the Reformation Service in Lund, Sweden involving Lutheran World Federation leaders Bishop Munib Younan and President Martin Junge and Pope Francis. If you have not done so, I encourage you to visit the internet and check it out. The service in Orlando promises to be yet another occasion to celebrate the unity that we have by virtue of our common baptism into Christ.
A second Service of Common Prayer involving this synod and the Archdiocese of Miami is set for Sunday, October 29. Mark your calendar and watch for more details.
On Tuesday, 9:30am-3:30pm, the synod will be sponsoring a Boundary Workshop to be held at St. Stephen, Longwood. A second workshop will be held on September 25, at Emmanuel, Naples. Rostered and Lay leaders of the synod are invited and encouraged to attend. Both workshops will be led by Barbara Keller, an ELCA consultant who has spent her career in matters related to nurturing healthy boundaries and responses when such boundaries are violated. Faithful ministry is trustworthy ministry. All of us need periodic reminders in terms of nurturing faithfulness and trustworthiness in the midst of the reality of human sinfulness.
The State of the Church?
It is a bit presumptuous of me to offer an accurate description of the state of the Florida-Bahamas Synod. I suspect that more than a few of you could do that better than I. But as we come together in the midst of the complexities of the world, the nation and the church, we do so accompanied by the promise of our crucified and risen Lord, that this Lord will not leave us “orphaned”, on our own. Rather the Lord Jesus enters the space of our fears and anxieties, greets us with the incredible gift of peace, breathes the Holy Spirit upon us and so sends us to one another and to the world to be the Body of Christ. Where that word is proclaimed, enacted in forgiveness, baptism, and Eucharist, and received in faith, by the grace of God the church is both well and entrusted with God’s mission. From what I have experienced, that is happening in the life and ministry of this synod.
Together with you in Christ,
Bishop Marcus C. Lohrmann
Florida-Bahamas Synod, ELCA
June 2, 2017