Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Minneapolis Area Synod to elect new bishop early

At a November 20 conference meeting, Minneapolis Area Synod Central Conference Dean, the Rev. Mary Halvorson (left), helps attendees select three nominees for the synod bishop election. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

The largest synod within the nation’s largest Lutheran church family is currently without an elected leader. The Rev. Craig Johnson, who has served as bishop for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Minneapolis Area Synod, resigned two-thirds of the way through his second six-year term. He’s currently serving as lead pastor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, south Minneapolis, following the recent death of the Rev. Paul Youngdahl.

That leaves the Minneapolis Area Synod in an awkward situation. With two years remaining in Johnson’s unexpired term, and no regular synod assembly scheduled before next April, the synod council has taken some unusual steps. They appointed the Rev. Glenn Nycklemoe, retired following service as bishop of the ELCA’s Southeastern Minnesota Synod, to fill in as interim.

They also decided not to wait until April to find Johnson’s replacement. They moved up the date of the 2012 synod assembly by two months and appointed a seven-person Bishop Election Committee to enable the process of selecting Johnson’s successor.

According to Kari Christianson, chair of the Bishop Election Committee, the February synod assembly will not be billed as an “extraordinary” session, but rather “an ordinary assembly scheduled a couple months early.”

Since its inception in 1988, the 65 geographical synods within the ELCA have used one of three methods for selection of a bishop. An ecclesiastical ballot, the least restrictive method, throws the process wide open. Any willing pastor on the ELCA clergy roster can be nominated. This has sometimes created very long initial ballots, occasionally including more than 100 names.

A closed system has been favored by some synods. Candidates are nominated at conference meetings and none may be added. In this process, everybody knows who all the candidates are before the synod assembly convenes.

In recent years Minneapolis Area Synod has adopted a hybrid system. (Christianson calls it a “modified ecclesiastical” alternative.) The 11 synod conferences meet in assembly sessions and each picks its top three favorites. These names (potentially 33 candidates if there are no overlapping nominations) are forwarded to the Bishop Election Committee. At the synod assembly more nominations may be offered from the floor.

That is the system that was begun November 20, when all 11 conferences were convened simultaneously at Christ Lutheran Church in Blaine. According to Christianson, “We didn’t see any favorites emerge. The names were all over the place. This means we’re going to have a very interesting first ballot in February.” (See “2012 MAS bishop nominees,” right.)

The process at the assembly is outlined by the synod constitution. A “nominating ballot” will include all the names suggested in the “final-three” process used by the conference assemblies, along with all candidates nominated at the synod assembly. Potentially, this could be a very long list of names. The nominating ballot is not an electing ballot.

The following ballot, technically called the “first ballot,” requiring a ¾ majority for election, includes all the individuals identified on the nominating ballot, minus those who have withdrawn their names (or have been found, for some reason, to be ineligible).

When there is no incumbent, as will be the case in February, the likelihood that an election will take place on the first ballot is slim.

The second ballot, if needed, will list the top seven vote-getters from ballot #1, plus ties. Again, ¾ of all ballots cast is required for election.

On the third ballot, the top five names will appear. This time, 2/3 will be needed for election. If a fourth ballot is needed, the top three names will appear. Again, 2/3 is needed for election.

The fifth ballot will reduce the candidate list to two. A simple majority will elect.

Why were the names identified at the November conference assemblies being kept secret? According to Christianson, “It’s because the committee needed time to contact all these individuals, determine whether they’re willing to have their names included on the ballot, and secure background checks on all the candidates.”

The background check is a requirement stipulated by the ELCA. It’s similar to the due diligence a call committee is expected to perform when selecting potential candidates to serve a local congregation.

The Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly meets February 17-18 at Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church, Prior Lake. Christianson added, “Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson will be present to supervise the election process. We’re honored to have him at our assembly this time.”

As it turns out, the ELCA’s presiding bishop has been present every time the Minneapolis Area Synod has elected a bishop for an initial term. Dr. Herbert Chilstrom was present when the Rev. David Olson was elected in 1987. In 2001, when Johnson was first elected, Dr. H. George Anderson was on hand.

2012 MAS bishop nominees

Eighteen of the 24 pastors nominated for the office of bishop at the November 20 Minneapolis Area Synod conference assemblies have agreed to have their names put forward. Those individuals are:

* Rev. Mary Albing

* Rev. Nancy Nord Bence

* Rev. Thomas Carlson

* Rev. Kelly Chatman

* Rev. Vern Christopherson

* Rev. Stephen Ganzkow-Wold

* Rev. Karen Geisendorfer-Lindgren

* Rev. Peter Geisendorfer-Lindgren

* Rev. David Lechelt

* Rev. Hans Lee

* Rev. Christopher Nelson

* Rev. Durk Peterson

* Rev. Wayne Peterson

* Rev. Erik Strand

* Rev. Ann Svennungsen

* Rev. Susan Tjornehoj

* Rev. Gerald Wahl

* Rev. Christine Wenzel

More information on the nominees will soon be available on the Minneapolis Area Synod website: http://www.mpls-synod.org/assembly/bishopnominees.

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