Bishop Smith addresses assembly

Bishop Tim Smith’s address to the assembly began with a video thanking the NC Synod for their giving and lifting up the many ways the synod raises up so many fine candidates for ministry: LRU, LTSS, Agape+Kure Beach Ministries, NovusWay Ministries, campus ministry programs, and LYO.

Then, he stood to address the assembly. (Watch his address here.) He read a letter from a confederate soldier to his wife about God’s will for his life. That soldier died from the complications of a battle wound, leaving his wife to raise their sons, ages one and three. The one-year old son of that soldier was Bishop Tim Smith’s great-great-grandfather. In his letter, he wrote, “If I don’t return, sell two of the six horses and go to Concord and buy a colored man who can work on the farm.” Bishop Smith spoke plainly, “While I denounce the evils of slavery, I am a case study in privilege that has its source in the most shameful of legacies. I’m sorry. I want to do better. I want to be more justice oriented, more reconciling, but there is no question that I am the living embodiment of privilege.” He continued, “I carry in me systemic racism, patriarchy…I know that privilege exists because I’m it.”

Acknowledging that there are many perspectives on the idea of privilege, he offered his assessment as an “I” statement, claiming his understanding as his own.

Bishop Smith reminded us that Jesus was always speaking truth to power, to powerful individuals and systems. And with Jesus as our Lord, that is our call, too.

Regarding the issue of privilege and race, he said, “As bishop, I am committed to our doing better. Our synod council, following the synod mandate, has required that all our rostered and other leaders take the Transforming White Privilege training. It’s hard to engage in this conversation, but that is our work. Even if you have hesitation and disagreement, even if you think we have made this up, for the sake of the church would you have the conversation, would you open yourself up to this conversation, this work?”

Our bishop told us he is learning and trying and asked us to try with him. He said he knows people fear these conversations will have a political slant, and said if we do that we will “get caught way in the weeds on that.” Instead, he said we will stay focused “on Jesus and always be about the work of grace and inclusion which bring transformation.”

Shifting his focus to the recovery from Hurricane Florence, Bishop Smith said New Bern and Wilmington are still suffering. Sixteen congregations had major issues with their buildings from the flooding. Even those congregations with good insurance still have a deductible of more than $100,000 before they get any financial help.

St. Andrew’s in New Bern had 16 families lose their homes altogether; completely gone. So, in March Lutheran Disaster Response and Lutheran Services Carolinas co-sponsored a respite retreat for the pastors and their families who serve those congregations. Bishop Smith encouraged the assembly to keep those congregations in prayer and offer to help them.

Next Bishop Smith spoke about equipping leaders to be working in vital congregations and especially when they are transitioning to a new role. The synod is learning with, and from, Lutheran Services Carolinas about helping leaders transition well.

One highlight of the year included the renewal of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic covenant. And upcoming joy is for the first time ever the NC synod is hosting Bishop’s School at Lenoir-Rhyne University this summer.

Regarding the changes at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary: some of them have been beyond our control, specifically the merger with Lenoir-Rhyne University and declining enrollment. Rising debt and lower salaries also make things difficult, so we are working on preventing the debt.

This year, the synod office building was upgraded with technology, wi-fi, parking lot, ceiling, LED lighting.

In closing, Bishop Tim said, “People ask how I’m doing. I am trying to walk with you the best I can. I am busy, but I’m the best kind of busy, the busy that matters. I’m happy to be tired for you if we are about the business of transformation.”

The assembly stood to applaud at the conclusion of his address.

Story:  Pastor Jennifer Shimota Krushas serves alongside the people of Emmanuel in High Point.
Photograph:  Sage Rufsvold is a graduate student in the Communication Studies program at UNC Greensboro.