Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
It is an honor and a joy to be writing to you as your new bishop. Since the time of the election in August, I have been humbled by the calling I have received and by the opportunity I have been given to help shape and mold our ministry and mission efforts in the NALC. At the same time, I am fully at peace with this new role and confident that God has prepared me and us for what lies ahead. As we stay focused on the commission given to us in Jesus and the promise secured for us in His cross and resurrection, we can be certain that God will use our efforts to the glory of His Son.
In this, my first article in the NALC News, before sharing a bit about the priorities toward which I am working and the ways in which I am using these first few months in this office, allow me to introduce myself.
The second of six children, I grew up in a family in which the Christian faith has been central in my life since birth. My father was a Lutheran pastor. My mother was a role model of Christian sacrifice and service. I grew up learning the faith by watching it being lived out and by hearing it taught and preached each week. After finishing my formal education at San Jose State University and Luther Seminary, my wife, Mary, and I joined our lives together and have now been married for more than 33 years. Mary has been and continues to be one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. She has a heart for the Lord, a love for His Church, and a desire to use her life in ways that honor Jesus. Together we have four grown children, two boys and two girls, and two less than one-year-old grand-children. They all live in California, in the San Jose area, and each of them is a gift to us. For now, at least for the first six months in this new role, we plan to stay in our home in California. If it turns out that the church will be better served if we move to a more central location, we are more than willing to make that change.
Since my ordination in 1986, I have served two congregations and have been blessed by each of those church families. In the four weeks following the election in Indianapolis, I closed out my ministry at St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church in San Jose, which I had served for nearly 25 years. It was a fast-track closure, to be sure, and an emotional goodbye to a congregation and people I had come to know and love. Nonetheless, it was a joyous farewell, celebrating the years we had shared, and a faith-filled departure, trusting that God has something already planned for us in our respective futures.
In these early weeks since officially taking office in October, I have been working to develop relationships with our staff, gain a better understanding of the purposes and roles of each of our leadership teams, and make personal contact with each of our mission district deans. As pastor to the pastors, I want to be as available as possible to the pastors in this church. Knowing, however, that we are intentionally structured in mission districts for the purpose of sharing in mission and providing personal and pastoral care, I plan to use our deans in ways that will leverage the structure we have and strengthen our shared witness.
I have also already had the opportunity to take part in two mission district convocations and have been invited to share in several more. As schedules allow,
I hope to be in as many mission districts as possible to support the work that is happening throughout our church. I am also working, during these early months, to develop a vision for where I believe God is leading us as a denomination. With the Great Commission and Great Commandments as our foundation, the four Core Values of the NALC as the guiding principles for the work we share, and the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions as the source and norm of what we teach and preach, we need to continually assess where we are at in the NALC and where we believe God is leading us in the future. I am working with our staff, the Executive Council, the Board of Regents, and our deans to set priorities for the next four years. As a church body, since the time we began in 2010, we have made tremendous progress in moving forward as a denomination. Some wonderful work has happened. Some strategic and significant steps have been taken to set a direction and form an identity that is rooted and grounded in nothing more nor less than the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To his credit, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, Bishop John Bradosky has laid a strong foundation for our collective future. We have been blessed by his leadership and have become more focused in our response to the calling and commission we have been given by Jesus. At the same time, we are not today where we were when we first started, and we have opportunities currently in front of us that we had not previously had. We need to set a vision based upon our current situation and circumstances that will guide us in moving together and forward in the work entrusted to us in Christ. The commitment we now have in place to encourage pastors and lay leaders to develop disciple-making cultures in their congregations, and to train and empower our people to make disciples in their everyday lives, is one of the major priorities that will guide my work in the years ahead.
If for no other reason than this is the very commission we have been given by our Lord, we must and we will continue to work to equip and empower our people to share in this urgent and essential task. I will be working closely with our Life-to-Life Discipleship Team to ensure that this central commitment to our shared life and calling continues. In that regard, I urge your attendance at the NALC Ministerium meeting and Disciplelife 2020 gathering in Orlando, Florida, this coming February. In partnership with our sisters and brothers in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), we will be using our time to focus on ways in which we can partner together to strengthen our disciple-making commitment. Featured speakers for Disciplelife 2020 include the most Rev. Dr. Foley Beach, archbishop and primate of the ACNA; the Rev. John Bradosky, bishop emeritus of the NALC; and the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba, assistant to the bishop for missions of the NALC. There will be plenary and breakout sessions during the conference, along with an opportunity for our NALC Ministerium to meet. The conference is open to all pastors and lay leaders and promises to be an exciting, energized and worthwhile event. I encourage your attendance.
Another high priority for me, related to our seminary, includes strengthening our seminary faculty and curriculum, more deeply incorporating discipleship into the training for our pastors, and increasing the number of seminarians enrolled in candidacy with the NALC. With a strong foundation for pastoral training already in place and the selection of the Rev. Dr. Eric Riesen as the new president of the North American Lutheran Seminary, we are well-positioned for a new chapter to begin in which we will be able to train an increased number of candidates for the ordained ministry. We owe our thanks to the Rev. Dr. Amy Schifrin and the Board of Regents for their strong leadership in the early years of our seminary’s life.
Other priority commitments include providing pastoral support for our congregations and training for our lay leaders to preach and to offer Holy Communion in those locations where regular pastoral support is not available.
We have a theology that allows us to increase access to the Sacrament where needed, without decreasing the “good order” required in our confessions or compromising the office of ordained ministry which is foundational in the life and work of the Church. I am committed to working with our deans and the Commission on Theology and Doctrine to find ways to be supportive of each of our congregations in this regard.
As the vision for these next four years becomes clearer and more well defined, I plan to share it more broadly throughout the NALC. I shared an early draft with our deans at our meeting this month. I plan to share a more fully-developed version with our Ministerium in February, and a final version with the NALC Convocation when we meet in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, next August. I ask for your patience and your prayers in this process, as we set and more clearly define the next steps for us in our shared life.
I want to assure you that our staff is doing everything it can to support each of you in your congregational settings. As a denomination that is Congregationally Focused, we see our role, as continental staff, as one of supporting the work that happens in and through congregational life. Please do not hesitate to call us if there is something you need that you believe we can help to provide.
I also want to assure you that we are not afraid of taking on the challenging issues we face, nor of being as open and transparent with you as possible regarding how situations are being handled. In this regard, you may be aware of what transpired and has transpired leading up to, during and since the 2019 Convocation, in relation to an accusation made against Pastor David Wendel last year at this time. Much conversation has taken place since, and many conclusions were drawn that were not only based upon false and limited information, but that were also unfair to Pastor Wendel, to the Inquiry Panel, to Pastor Mark Chavez, Bishop John Bradosky, Seminary President Amy Schifrin, to the elected leadership of the NALC and NALS, as well as to those involved in bringing the accusation. The misrepresentation and mistaken assumptions and facts were widespread.
Suffice it to say that we followed our own NALC process in addressing and dealing with what became an unfortunate and difficult situation. Following the accusation, an Inquiry Panel was convened, resulting in a conclusion that there was no basis for any disciplinary action to be taken. The Executive Council has accepted that conclusion, as have I, and the case is now closed. No further action will be taken. In the Church, we must be willing to face difficult situations head on, take the necessary steps to deal with the things we face, and then forgive and move on as the Body of Christ. I give you my promise that we will always work collectively to do what is right and to never waver in doing all we can to remain faithful to our Lord Jesus and to build up the Body of Christ.
In closing, I ask you to work with me in the coming years to stay as focused as possible on the things that unite us as believers and to allow whatever differences and personal preferences we might have to be set aside for the sake of Christ. He is our Lord. He is our Savior. He is the one who has brought us together as we are. We are here because of what He has done. We are who we are because of the life He has given for us. It is now our calling and responsibility to share with those we meet, what God in Christ has done for them. Once again, thank you for the chance to serve. I am honored and humbled to serve as your bishop, and I look forward to finding out together what God has in store for us.