Lousy election. Great call.

Posted by brianmaas in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

The recent ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh was historic in many ways. Most noted in the larger culture was the election of Rev. Elizabeth Eaton as Presiding Bishop-elect of the ELCA. Too many news outlets wrote of it in the only terms they understood–as an election, a contest with winners and losers.

They don’t understand Church, and they don’t know Mark Hanson or Liz Eaton.

From the perspective of a reporter covering an election, the events in Pittsburgh were interesting to say the least–a presumed front-runner receives a smaller portion of the initial vote than most anticipated, and his number of votes continues to dwindle. A candidate further back in the “pack” continues to grow in support, until she “wins” and the incumbent is “defeated.”

Rev. Elizabeth Eaton at her installation as a synodical bishop, applauded by others, including Mark Hanson.

Rev. Elizabeth Eaton at her installation as a synodical bishop, applauded by others, including Mark Hanson.

For those of us who attended, however, and who are oriented toward the movement of the Spirit through ecclesiastical ballots, this was not a contest, and it wasn’t about winners and losers. No one framed that better than Bishop Hanson himself, who spoke of the honor and joy of serving in what he has called “the best call in the ELCA” for 12 years–12 often tumultuous, difficult years. He also spoke of the Spirit’s work in the call of Bishop Eaton, and she used similar language in speaking of what happened. Both exhibited great grace and the kind of solid leadership with which the ELCA has been blessed throughout its 25 years.

Some who watched the live streaming spoke of not understanding what was happening in the process. To be there at the assembly, though, was to perceive something tangible in the unfolding of events–a true sense that the Spirit was moving and calling us to a new day, a new direction and a new presiding bishop. That is definitely NOT to say that the assembly in any way rejected the leadership of Bishop Hanson. The persistent and nearly unanimous expressions of appreciation, support and congratulations for him were warm, frequent and sincere. No one who attended the assembly as a voting member would have said that Bishop Hanson was “defeated.”

So what does this mean for the ELCA? In truth, it’s way too soon to tell. I think we saw over the course of the election and in comments afterward the kind of leader Bishop-elect Eaton is likely to be. She speaks directly, passionately and with a keen wit. She values the unique contribution of the Lutheran Confessions to the Church as a whole, and sees preserving that heritage as an important element of being a good and true partner in ecumenical and even interfaith efforts. She has called attention to those whose “bound conscience” puts them squarely in disagreement with some of the decisions and actions of the ELCA as a whole, and has called us as a church to be mindful that, as in this election, there are no “winners and losers” in decisions of the church–only redeemed sinners who occasionally disagree, sometimes quite passionately. I am guessing that people who have felt the ELCA has become too “liberal” will find hers a more “moderate” voice, as unhelpful as those labels usually are.

I have no particular insight into Bishop-elect Eaton’s intentions, but I would be very surprised if there are any sudden or drastic changes within the ELCA. She is a thoughtful, intentional leader, and I believe changes in priorities, programs or personnel (most of which aren’t solely the prerogative of the Presiding Bishop) will be unrushed, thoroughly vetted and well-communicated.

Personally, I can tell you that Liz Eaton is “good people.” She is witty, honest, fun, thoughtful, self-deprecating and respectful. When you have the opportunity to meet her (and we will be getting her into the Nebraska Synod as soon as her schedule permits!), you will enjoy her.

More thoughts on the Churchwide Assembly are for another entry. For now, let it be enough to say that we are blessed to be part of an effective, Spirited and graciously imperfect church. Our leaders have consistently reflected that reality, and continue to. Please keep Bishop Hanson and Bishop-elect Eaton in your prayers.

13 Responses to Lousy election. Great call.

  1. Mary Hock says:

    Thanks, bishop Brian…it’s hard to explain the process so folks can understand!

  2. Maxine M. Washington says:

    I am sooooo excited. May God continue to bless the ELCA. At this point in my life, I have retired twice…..I really wish I could start all over again. To God be the Glory! At present I am waiting for my next “opportunity for growth.”

    May God lead and guide Bishop Elect Eaton and Bishop Hanson in his next “opportunity for growth.”

  3. Shawn Carter says:

    Thanks for explaining the process Bishop Maas.

  4. Keith E.O. Homstad says:

    I’d make the headline, “Lousy media coverage of fascinating call process!” or words to that effect. :-) Your OP is spot on whereas the general media missed even their minimal standards for eyewash coverage. Pity.

  5. Darleen says:

    so what are you telling us???

    • brianmaas says:

      That as a secular election, this was a disappointment–the story of a “defeated incumbent.” But as the movement of the Holy Spirit to call a leader for Christ’s Church, it was a great experience.

  6. Deborah Hammer says:

    I feel very blessed to have been present at the assembly as we felt the Holy Spirit move through all of us!!! This fascinating call process of the ecclesiastical ballot was truly God at work through the body of Christ! I was especially amazed at how cordial and loving Bishop Hansen is with everyone he meets, including our new Bishop-elect Elizabeth Eaton. Bishop Hanson lives and walks like Christ and leads us by his wonderful example of how we should all live.

  7. Doug Larson says:

    “God is here! As we your people …. “

  8. Mary Williams says:

    One of your statements was particularly significant, Bishop Maas. You stated how different it was to observe and participate in the event of this election if you were present. I don’t think that we can count on being present as a way to observe and present the actions of the synod. We live in a digital, virtual world and that cannot be held back. I am hopeful that Presiding Bishop elect Eaton will embrace this new world and see all the possibilities that exist in it. We are on the cusp of change and growth in a new direction. God’s grace hovers over us and blesses all that we do. Thank you for your reflection on the process.

  9. Pastor Kim Osborn says:

    Well said!

  10. Autry Talley says:

    Great “report”, media insight continues to be slippery. It is a shame that journalistic intent requires analysis before you can interpret their reporting.

  11. Mary Monson says:

    In a “Get Well” message to Pastor Dan Monson, former Bishop Herb Chilstrom said that he had been to the event and said that he thought the Church was strong and moving ahead.

  12. Casey Lieneman says:

    I am excited most by your conclusion…. “I can tell you that Liz Eaton is ‘good people.’ She is witty, honest, fun, thoughtful, self-deprecating and respectful. Good people, I like that!

    Truth is people make mistakes. We all do. Even though Liz Eaton is our new presiding Bishop I’m sure she’ll make some mistakes too. But in my experience it’s the “good people” on earth who are the best leaders because they admit them, adapt, and forge forward. Keep that “good people” attitude Bishop Eaton and God will guide you. I’m eager to be a leader in the church and see what the years ahead hold for us!

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