The Office of the Bishop is pleased to announce a new resource for congregational health, wellness, and vitality. We aspire to have congregations whose faith shines in their relationships with God, each other and their community. At times, distractions may cloud a congregation’s understanding of God’s larger mission or the understanding of their purpose in this time and place. The Listening Team is provided as a resource for the Florida-Bahamas Synod to enable congregations to take a step back, consider all the aspects that contribute to their congregational issues and opportunities for the purpose of strengthening their relationship with God; nurturing relationship with one another; and carrying God’s love and redeeming grace out into their communities.
What is a Listening Team?
The Florida-Bahamas Listening Team is comprised of rostered and lay leaders from diverse walks of life, committed to advocating for healthy leaders and vital congregations. As one body in Christ, it is our desire for all congregations to be vibrant mission outposts.
The Florida-Bahamas Listening Team is a valuable tool in hearing the congregation’s reflections on its own mission and ministry. Bishop Suarez recommends the Listening Team as a helpful tool for congregations in the call process, at times of congregational struggle, at times of missional discernment, and at other times when it seems particularly helpful to hear the thoughts of congregational members and leaders.
The process is designed to help congregations take a step back from presenting issues and consider all the aspects that contribute to their congregational issues and opportunities.
With the blessing of the Bishop, a two-person Listening Team will meet with the rostered leader(s) and council of a congregation to explain the Listening Team process. The rostered leader(s) and council are given the opportunity to ask process questions of the two-member Team.
Letter of Agreement
If the rostered leader(s) and council agree to move forward with the Listening Team process, a Letter of Agreement is signed by the rostered leader(s), council president, council members and Listening Team representative. In signing the Letter of Agreement, all parties agree to follow the interview process toward successful completion.
Using the Listening Team Selection Formula, six members of the congregation are selected for an individual, 15-minute interview with the two-person Listening Team. The selected interviewees should be faithful in their attendance at worship and speak for as wide a spectrum of the congregation as possible to ensure a balanced Reflection Report can be compiled by the Listening Team.
If desired, the rostered leader(s), staff and council president or vice president may also be added to the list of six interviewees. Each member selected for interview will be asked the same five questions. The questions will be shared in advance of the Listening Team meeting to allow for thoughtful response. Others in the congregation who wish to participate in the interview process may also respond to the five questions and send their responses the Listening Team.
Interview Selection Formula
- Two members selected by church council.
- Two members selected by the rostered leader(s).
- Two members selected by the church council and rostered leader(s).
Each pair of members selected for interview should hold differing viewpoints regarding the vision of the congregation, council, and/or rostered leader. Within each selected pair, one person should be viewed as being in agreement with the vision and one person should be viewed as being in opposition to, or conflicted with, the vision.
Listening Team Interview Questions
- What is the congregation’s purpose?
- What gets in the way of that purpose?
- What works well here now?
- What else do you think we need to know?
- How do you think the congregation will be doing in 5 and 10 years?
Following the day or evening of listening, the Team will compile the interview notes and issue a Reflection Report. To maintain confidentiality, individual names will not be included in the Reflection Report. The Report will:
- provide relevant information;
- report what members perceive to be happening;
- discern major issues that need to be addressed; and
- offer observations and questions relative to the information to provoke thinking and action.
The Listening Team will present the Reflection Report at a mutually agreed upon time. The Listening Team will be available for continued consultation as needed or desired.
The Listening Team will remain in relationship with congregational leaders as needed or requested to work with staff and select leaders in the congregation to address the questions and observations articulated in the Reflection Report.
The Listening Team
Kristin Lehman serves as the Listening Team Coordinator. As a past congregation council president and secretary, Kristin understands that congregations do their best work with healthy leaders. She blends her professional career as an environmental consultant with her passion for empowering everyone to act as faithful stewards of God’s creation by serving the Synod as a Level 2 Coach, with specialty tract training in Caring For Creation.
Connie Schmucker, ELCA Deacon, is serving as Assistant to the Bishop for Leadership in the Florida-Bahamas Synod. Her responsibilities include the Listening Team, transition/mobility/Call process, candidacy, interim ministry, diakonia and Synod Parish Deacons. Connie joined the Bishop’s staff in May of 2012 and has served under Call at Zion in Deerfield Beach, St. John in Winter Park and Peace in Fort Myers. In addition, she served Faith in Lehigh Acres and Redeemer in Winter Park in positions related to Pastoral Assistance, Christian Education and Outreach. Connie has served on the Synod Candidacy Committee for 20 years and recently graduated from a 4-year Family Systems Theory program offered at the ELCA office in Chicago.
Pastor Rani Abdulmasih
Pastor Rani Abdulmasih serves as the Associate Pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in The Villages, FL. He currently serves on the Synod Council of the Florida-Bahamas Synod. Pastor Rani Leads the Interfaith group in The Villages and surrounding area. He is passionate about community, mission, and Evangelism. Before moving to Florida, Pastor Rani served for almost 20 years in Michigan as the Pastor Developer of Mother of the Savior in Dearborn, and the Pastor of Christus Victor in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.
Pastor Pam Smith
Pastor Pam Smith. After completing the candidacy process in the Florida-Bahamas Synod and her ordination in 2008, Pam served at Grace in Clearwater for several years. In 2014 she was called to First Lutheran Church in Nashville where she served until her return to Florida in 2019. She is the pastor at Grace in Lakeland. In her professional life before discerning the call to ministry she worked as a social worker, an attorney and a project manager. Pam enjoys a variety of creative endeavors both as an observer and participant. She and her sweet cat, Sadie have been a duo since 2015.
Tom Gemmer is a Retired ELCA Deacon, having served at Emmanuel Naples as Director of Parish Administration. Tom currently helps out on a part-time basis as Parish Life Coordinator at Trinity-by-the-Cove Episcopal Church in Naples. His background also includes many years as an elementary school counselor where he taught active listening and peer mediation to students and staff. Tom also volunteers with a number of local agencies, helping to meet basic needs and feed the hungry.
Rev. Ed Henley
The Reverend Ed Henley serves as an advisor to the Listening Team. He began his study of Bowen theory in 1987 to understand the functioning of congregations and their clergy. He joined the faculty of the Bowen Center in 2017. His clergy experience includes interim service in fourteen congregations, as well as a pastorate of sixteen years (1997-2013) in the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida. His understanding is that congregations calling on the Listening Team can use the presence of careful listeners to clarify their own thoughts and direction in response to the challenges and opportunities of Christian ministry.
Questions? Need more information? Want to schedule Listening Team?
Contact Deacon Connie Schmucker Assistant to the Bishop for Leadership/Mobility Office of the Bishop Phone: 407-620-8564