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Partners in Mission Together,
It has been a year now since we last gathered, and looking back and forward is good. Staffing for our work was a key early focus. I was grateful Tyna Oslie was willing to stay in her position. Her loyalty and institutional memory are a gift. In addition, Jason O’Neill (communications) and Jeanne Heggen (finance) provided consistency. Our Synod Executive Team of Deacon Stephanie Varnum (VP), Todd Weiss (Secretary), and Mark Bradley (Treasurer) provide strong leadership. Synod volunteers, part time staff, and conference Deans give depth and breadth to our work together.
Two major searches took longer than hoped, but the time was far from wasted. We conducted a national search, but in the end, it was apparent the leaders we needed were already among us. I was pleased to add to the team the Rev. Kris Totzke (Bishop’s Associate for Leadership Formation and Congregational Care) and the Rev. Irma Bañales (Director for Evangelical Mission). I am thankful for staff, executive team, and leaders, particularly the Rev. Jeff Borgwardt (Chair, New and Renewing Team), for their support in this interview process.
A major learning has been awareness of how tightly staffed we are. Our budget is substantial, but the demands of the office, the need to be responsive to congregations and pastors, as well as participating in the life of the wider church, stretch our capacity. The many and various needs can quickly distract us from keeping a wider vision and perspective. As a result, I have cast the vision that we are “In Mission Together.” The work of the office of Bishop is not independent but an extension of the work of our congregations and churchwide expression. If we stay focused on key points, we will accomplish our mission together. During the Bishop Election process, I outlined five key points that I would attend to. Since the election in April, and taking office July 1, these have been my foci for our work together.
First, be present with our leaders and congregations. I have met with each of our Synodical conference gatherings and been present for installations and other gatherings. Additionally, I have been in worship, meeting, or another special event, on the campus of over 70% of our congregations and have scheduled visits with the majority of the rest. My staff members, the Rev. Kris Totzke and the Rev. Irma Bañales, have also been active visiting congregations. If we haven’t visited or don’t have a visit planned, please have your pastor or leadership invite us.
Second, encourage creative growth. In these visits, I have seen how congregations are engaged in their communities. Rural, urban, and suburban, I am hearing of vital ministry and growth happening in NT-NL. These are happening in new ministry plants, caring for the poor and forgotten, expansion of existing facilities, and other creative options for inviting others to know God’s love. We have opportunity and context to multiply ministries across our synod. The key is developing leaders to serve those contexts. To do so, and because of NT-NL’s faithful stewardship response, we have increased our budgets for 2017 and 2018 to fund the Parish Lay Ministry Academy and Seminary Scholarships by over 300%. This will continue to be a priority.
Third, we must have accountability with our Latin@ and ethnic-specific congregations. Calling a DEM raised up as a leader from these communities is part of a strategy to ensure authenticity and action. NT-NL has worshipping communities in five different languages, and members from each prayed at the installation liturgy in September, reflecting our diversity.
Fourth, our investment in Briarwood must pay dividends. The Briarwood staff, led by Executive Director, the Rev. Phil Geleske, does a wonderful job growing the camper and
retreat ministry base. In 2017, they are reaching out to the communities directly surrounding Briarwood with BASE Camp. Additionally, big strides technologically have been made to
fulfill the promise of off-site, online, interactive learning. I am committed to finishing the task and deliver on the promise this leadership center can bring.
Fifth, we must name privilege and work for justice. This is work with a multitude of priorities, communities, and ecumenical and interfaith commitments. Less than a week after taking office, five Dallas Police officers (including the stepfather of a classmate of my eldest daughter) were murdered protecting a peaceful Black Lives Matter movement protest. I responded publically
in the press and with participation in community forums as did our Public Witness Team (PWT). We gathered to lament, learn, grow, and connect, and the PWT continued with book studies as well as other events highlighting creation care as a part of justice work. In February, the Lutheran Legislative event gave us an opportunity to engage our public servants around issues of Immigration, rights for LGTBQ individuals, school funding, and health care.
A sixth, unexpected focus has been on building ecumenical ties. This work impacts presence, witness, justice work, and is a focus of this assembly. In January, I visited Mother Emanuel
AME Church in Charleston, NC, and preached at Baker Chapel AME in Fort Worth on MLK day, part of a desire to forge deep ties between our denominations and address systemic racism. I was honored to represent you and welcome Edward Burns as Bishop of the Roman Catholic Dallas Diocese. This March, I participated in an interfaith community Seder as a guest of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. On Pentecost, Churches United in Christ will host an event in North Dallas at Christian Chapel of Faith (CME), an opportunity to commit to interfaith cooperation for justice and anti-racist work. Such events are meaningless, however, without local connections. It is local pastors and leaders, connecting with their communities, that make the most profound impact.
These focus points continue to develop as we move in mission together. Your communities and your leaders are in our prayers, and we covet yours. We ask ourselves “What Does This Mean?” What does it mean to be Lutherans in our context today? How are we positioned to witness to Christ? What challenges and opportunities has God placed before you and your community? How will we respond together? These are but a few of the questions we should be engaging.
For the trust you have placed in me as your Bishop, I am honored. Living in the hope of continual reformation, I look forward with anticipation to 2017.
In Mission Together,
Bishop Erik K. J. Gronberg, PhD