Pumping up those ELCA churches

The Rev. Jack Horner has got a tough job now. And he knows it.

He is the new Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelical Mission in the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

His job is to travel around the vast synod — we’re talking about 200 churches from NYC up to Sullivan and Ulster — and help congregations develop mission strategies and strengthen their congregational outreach.

In other words, stand up straight and get their spiritual act together.

I talked to Horner recently at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Mount Kisco, where he was the pastor for a decade. Until two weeks ago.

Only days after his final service as pastor, he returned in his new role. He jokingly introduced himself to his “old” congregants and handed out his new business cards.

Horner, a tall minister with a red goatee and a lot of energy, has to pump up congregations with stagnant or shrinking memberships in a synod that has been — ministers say — somewhat stagnant.

And shrinking.

But Horner told me that his new job is not about counting members.

“I’s not just about numbers,” he said. “It’s about thinking as missional churches and missional people, understanding themselves as people sent by God to do his work in the world. You can have a vibrant church with 75 people on Sunday, if there is great outreach and mission, loving God and love each other.”

He does believe, he told me, that great things can happen.

“When I read the Book of Acts, a lot of amazing things occur,” he said, laughing.

Horner is still living in Mount Kisco and his wife, Linda, remains outreach coordinator at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, a vibrant place where a sign facing those leaving the church reads: “You are now entering the Mission Field.”

“All churches have to be the Lutheran church of the resurrection,” Horner said. “I believe that to my core.”

The once and future Bishop Rimbo

I had a nice visit yesterday to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Central Park West and 65th Street.

That’s right across the street from the park, where the traverse road goes through. What a spot.

b20ac448-c8a6-4092-a6e5493fd61400b6.jpgI stopped by to interview the Rev. Robert Rimbo, who was recently elected to serve as the next bishop of the Metro NY Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He’ll begin a six-year term on Aug. 1.

I’ll write it up for the Journal News/LoHud over the next few days.

Rimbo’s story is an interesting one. He served as a pastor in several states, including a stint on Long Island, before becoming bishop of the Southeast Michigan Synod in 1998.

He was in the first year of his second term as bishop when he had lunch in early 2005 with Bishop Stephen Bouman, then the head of the Metro NY Synod. Rimbo said that he hoped to pastor a church again someday, and Bouman responded “Boy, have I got a place for you.”

Holy Trinity was looking for a pastor and Rimbo left Michigan a few months later to take over.

He did not expect to become a bishop again. Important note: In the ELCA, when a bishop leaves office, he does not remain a bishop. So Bishop Rimbo became Rev. Rimbo again — and will soon become Bishop Rimbo II (so to speak).

Rimbo will face a lot of challenges. I asked him about many of them, and I’ll include his answers in my article.

I can tell you that many of his answers had to do with discerning God’s role in ELCA congregations and ministries and then moving from there. He wants to improve Christian formation for pastors, lay leaders, families, everyone, before addressing the more parochial concerns, however serious, facing the synod.

“We are supposed to be teaching the Gospel of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead,” he said.

He also needs to buy a car. The synod is awfully large…

Bishop list whittled down for ELCA

The second ballot has been tallied for the election of the next New York bishop of the ELCA.

Seven names survive — and will be moving to the third ballot this afternoon.

thumb-wollenburg.jpgGetting by far the most votes on the second ballot was the Rev. Bob Wollenburg, a staffer for the Metro NY Synod. He is assistant to the bishop for resource development and planned giving.

Wollenburg (that’s him) got 164 votes. The Rev. Gary Mills, chief of staff for the synod, was second with 49 votes.

Who wants to follow this man? (Is Ironman available?)

tjndc5-5dxoalzio0h226pio0o_layout.jpgHe is Bishop Stephen Bouman, the last leader of the New York jurisdiction of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Metropolitan New York Synod of the ELCA begins a three-day assembly in Tarrytown today — facing big-time challenges.

An internal report on the state of the synod this:

When asked about primary issues facing this synod, an active synod member voiced the theme that was heard repeatedly in response to this topic: “This is a synod that is in crisis, and it has been denying this over the last 20-30 years. Now, the crisis is more acute. The viability of congregations needs to be addressed, even though it is awkward.”


And the summary included this:

While much of the fear and anxiety was openly voiced, there seems to be a broader layer of fear and anxiety underlying much of the mission and ministry of this synod. Many individuals and congregations are operating in a crisis, and many are focused primarily on the scarcity of resources.

Double outch.

Clergy and lay leaders will begin a balloting process this afternoon to elect a new bishop. They should have someone by late tomorrow or Saturday.

What will the new bishop face? Start with: poor clergy morale; declining membership; the need to possibly close hurting churches; the different needs of city, suburban and country churches; and the usual conflicts over homosexuality that dog every mainline Protestant denomination.

Several pastors told me in recent days that they need a bishop who will attend to their needs and the needs of their congregations, who will pay them visits and answers their phone calls. It doesn’t sound like a lot to ask — but a lot of people sound overwhelmed and uncertain about the future.

One line from the internal report struck me: Pastors feel they are expected to be both traditional and innovative. They are supposed to be old-time Lutheran pastors, holding on to tradition, and innovators who devise new ways to grow their churches and build exciting ministries.

I’m sure the same thing will be expected of the new bishop, on a much larger scale, and it won’t be easy.

Bouman was a popular fellow — energetic and engaging — who reached out to immigrants and those in need. Everyone seems to appreciate his efforts, but the consensus is that the synod’s core — its churches and ministries — now need to be streamlined, refocused and strengthened.

You can download the internal report from the top of this page.

iron.jpegOn the question of what is expected of the next bishop, the report notes:

The “Metropolis” home for superheroes Superman and Superwoman is often associated with New York City. These superheroes are expected to stop speeding bullets, be faster than a locomotive, and leap over tall buildings. The range of criteria which we heard in terms of the characteristics and expectations of the next bishop rivaled those of these superheroes.