Bishop Smith offers report

Bishop Tim Smith began his remarks to the gathered assembly on Friday afternoon with an expression of thanksgiving and personal privilege. “A lot has changed personally in the last three years. I went from having no grandbabies and a momma and a dad to having three grandbabies and no mom and dad. I want to say thank you to you on a personal level. I certainly felt—and feel—a lot of support for the crazy work of grief…I have had the privilege of being with you all and a lot of people sharing different things that they’ve been through and I really appreciate y’all sharing so much with us.”

Promising to speak more about the new vision at a later time in the agenda, the bishop said that he believes the church is being called to find ways to be more nimble…and more innovative. A churchwide initiative called “Holy Innovations” is one way that is happening across the church and in our own synod. For instance in looking at parish models, we’re looking again at yoking congregations for sharing pastors, part-time pastors, and certification for lay preachers. The grant for our synod is $62,000 and we’re moving forward with these innovations and more to see what we can learn.

Stewardship for All Seasons is another piece of Holy Innovations and we have 20 congregations taking advantage of this program this year. Congregations have had really good results using this—including a $45,000 increase in annual giving in one congregation; and $100,000 in another.

Additonally, Bishop Smith mentioned the landscape of the synod. Two years ago there were no pastors under 30 in the synod. Currently we have 44 pastors between 25 and 40 years of age and 189 pastors between the ages of 55-70. Pastors are retiring and we need to identify new folks to serve. The bishop urged the assembly to identify people for rostered ministry, and to let the synod staff know so they might be in touch with those people. This affects the call process in an ongoing basis.

Two years ago, there were 27 congregations looking for pastors, now there are only seven. Part of that is due to different ways pastors are serving (term call or part-time call including bi-vocational pastors) and also the our staff working hard to bring the average time of pastoral vacancy down from 17 months to 13 months. The way interim pastors are serving is continuing to change.

There is still a dilemma, the bishop says, that some congregations will tell us they don’t want a woman pastor. With regard to women in ministry, Bishop Smith said, “I do believe that we’ve confused a few things in this church.When we came up with this whole idea when talking about sexuality, about bound conscience, and that congregations who choose to do so in blessing (now marrying) same-gender relationships, there were several different positions of the church that were considered faithful positions on that issue. That does not apply to race and gender in this church. In fact, this church is of one mind about gender equality, about racial equality.” Congregations saying they don’t want a woman pastor will be required to send a letter from their council indicating that position and that will be shared with any male candidate interviewing there. The conversation will continue about the ways women clergy will serve in our synod and how we can do better.

With regard to racism and other “-isms” out there, the synod is going to be especially searching for ways we can be a voice to speak for those who don’t have a voice. “This is not a conservative/liberal thing, certainly not a Democrat/Republican thing—most of my life I’ve been a Republican—but it seems to me to be a Jesus thing,” Bishop Smith said.

With regard to ecumenical relations, we’re looking to be intentional as we renew our relationship with the Catholic church. We are often tied together with The Episcopal Church as many of our small churches are in the same small towns. Also, we’re working with Bishop Battle and the AME Zion Church to gather 15 pairings of pastors—pastors from their congregations and ours—to talk with each other as a way to begin a larger conversation.

Bishop Smith relayed that, along with Virginia Synod’s Bishop Bob Humphrey and other religious leaders, he recently spent three days at Fort Bragg to learn about military chaplaincy. “I was not prepared to be as inspired as I was there. What is it we talk about all the time in the church? What do we lament? We lament our lack of diversity and our lack of young people. In the military, you’ve got an incredibly diverse population of almost all young people!” … “I can’t think of a better place to be church in the world.” The bishop asked all of the synod’s rostered ministers serving as chaplains to stand as the assembly offered standing applause.

Lastly, the bishop mentioned our two companion synods—the Lutheran Church in Costa Rica and the Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea (PNG). We continue to be cooperative and model accompaniment in our relationships, including planning a trip to PNG in 2019.

Photo: Pastor Thomas Nelson is a retired pastor living in Raleigh.

Watch Bishop Smith’s first report on our YouTube channel.