Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Assembly looks toward future

Minneapolis Area Synod voting members make historic decision

Minneapolis Area Synod Bishop-Elect Ann Svennungsen addresses the assembly immediately following the announcement of her election on February 18 at Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church in Prior Lake, Minnesota. Photo provided by the ELCA’s Minneapolis Area Synod

Voting members of the Minneapolis Area Synod (MAS) of the ELCA did a great deal of listening, praying, and voting at their 2012 synod assembly at Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church in Prior Lake on February 17-18. And they came away having elected Minnesota’s first female Lutheran bishop, the Rev. Ann Svennungsen.

Svennungsen was elected to serve a six-year term as bishop. She replaces interim Bishop Glenn Nycklemoe, who stepped into the MAS bishop’s office in August 2011, when the Rev. Craig Johnson resigned as bishop to take an interim call to Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, after the death of the congregation’s longtime pastor, the Rev. Paul Youngdahl. Had Johnson filled his entire term, the MAS bishop election would have taken place in 2013.

The Minneapolis Area Synod initiated a new election process, not yet tested in a election without an incumbent. About five years ago, a bishop’s election task force for the synod developed a process that both allowed nominations prior to the assembly — giving attendees the opportunity to know more about candidates — and, using an ecclesiastical or nominating ballot, at the assembly, allowing for “the movement of the Holy Spirit,” according the Kari Christianson, chairperson of the task force.

The ELCA currently has six women serving in the office of bishop in its 65 synods. Women have been eligible to serve as bishop since the inception of the ELCA in 1988.

Election of bishop adds excitement to assembly

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, formerly a pastor in the two Twin Cities synods, oversaw the bishop election process. As is his custom, assembly participants were asked to prayerfully consider the candidates before each vote. A non-ordained rostered leader in the church (Associate in Ministry or Deacon) was asked to offer a public prayer for discernment. Then, Hanson would remind participants to be refrain from applause when the results of the voting were announced, out of respect for those not continuing in the election process.

On the first ballot (following the ecclesiastical ballot), 26 pastors remained in consideration. The first ballot narrowed the field to seven pastors: the Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, the Rev. Vern Christopherson, the Rev. Jerry Wahl, the Rev. Susan Tjornehoj, the Rev. Ann Svennungsen, the Rev. Christopher Nelson, and the Rev. Kelly Chatman.

Chatman, pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, garnered the most votes with 120. Tjornehoj, director of evangelical mission for the MAS, and Nelson, pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, were tied for second position with 73, Eventual bishop-elect Svennungsen was next with 43. Wahl, Christopherson, and Bence each received fewer than 40 votes. The report of the credentials committee recognized 669 eligible voters for the first ballot, including 27 youth delegates. Because no candidate for bishop received 75 percent of the ballots cast, the voting continued.

The Rev. Kelly Chatman, pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, addresses questions from the voting members at the Minneapolis Area Synod assembly in February. Chatman was one of the final two candidates for bishop.

“When there are gaps between congregations and neighborhoods, Kelly [Chatman] bridges the gap,” said former Bishop Craig Johnson.

These seven remaining candidates then addressed the convention. This was the first time many delegates heard from any of those under consideration for bishop. (All seven had participated in a listening session a month prior to the assembly. At that event, 18 individuals who had been nominated at conference gatherings had the opportunity to talk about their vision of the role of the bishop and the requirements of the office.)

After the second ballot, two candidates — Bence and Christopherson — were withdrawn; still no one reached the 75 percent threshold for being declared bishop. The results of this ballot for the five remaining candidates were: Chatman, 181; Nelson, 143; Svennungsen, 118; Tjornehoj, 70; and Wahl, 56.

During the evening session, each of the candidates answered questions prepared by voting members. Upon completion of this session, a third ballot was cast. Results were made available via Twitter yet that night. Nelson, with 168 votes, Svennungsen with 150 votes, and Chatman, with 121 votes, continued on into the second day.

Before the fourth ballot, each of the three remaining candidates preached a mini-homily before the assembly. Bishop Hanson, in a short summation, said that Chatman reminded voting members “of the power of welcome”; Svennungsen, “of the responsibility and joy of shared ministry”; and Nelson, “that [for mission] we must go but we don’t go alone.”

With credentials approved for 713 voting members, including 180 male clergy and 94 female clergy, the vote was close: Svennungsen, 239; Chatman, 219; and Nelson, 197. One illegal vote was also cast. No one reached the two-thirds threshold, or 437 votes, needed for election. Svennungson and Chatman went on to a fifth ballot.

Each candidate was asked one question. With a deep sense of solemnity in the air, the voting members marked their ballots. Ann Svennungsen was elected bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA by 22 votes, only the third person to be elected bishop in the 24-year history of the synod.

A humane process for assembly voters; a challenging process for bishop nominees

The election required five ballots, the maximum under the new system of voting. Participants gave the process high praise.

The Rev. Doug Mork, Cross of Glory Lutheran Church, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, was a voting member at his first MAS assembly, having only recently been called to this congregation from the Saint Paul Area Synod (and installed the day after the assembly). “I found the process quite humane. As a new person, I believe I had a pretty good idea [about] the candidates as I was voting,” he offered.

“I think the process worked as we hoped it would,” election task force chair Kari Christianson told Metro Lutheran. She mentioned the generally positive atmosphere at the conclusion of the assembly was heartening to the task force.

“This was an historic vote,” said the Rev. Craig Johnson of Mount Olivet after the vote. “The synod would have been in remarkable hands with either of those potential options.

“Rev. Chatman is a faithful, entrepreneurial pastor working tirelessly on the north side of Minneapolis, making it a place where people can thrive,” Johnson continued. “When there are gaps between congregations and neighborhoods, Kelly bridges the gap.”

“Rev. Svennungsen has had prominent leadership positions in many areas of the church, and she has experience with large institutions,” he further explained. “Since the Minneapolis Area Synod has some major organizations, her experience will be a good complement to the bishop’s office.”

Svennungsen has been pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Iowa City, Iowa; Edina Community Lutheran Church, Edina; and Trinity Lutheran Church, Moorhead, Minnesota. At Trinity she served as senior pastor of the largest congregation in the U.S. led by a female pastor.

Minneapolis Area Synod Interim Bishop Glenn Nycklemoe (left) presents the David and Nancy Olson Leadership in Missional Church Award to the Rev. Melissa Pohlman, Christ English Lutheran Church, Minneapolis.

Voting members participated in Bible studies, heard theological reflections, and received an update on Lutheran efforts to eliminate malaria.

In addition, she was CEO of the Fund for Theological Education in Atlanta, Georgia, and the president of Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, Texas. She also spent a year as resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research.

Svennungsen will be installed on May 6 at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

In addition to the bishop election, voting members participated in Bible studies, heard theological reflections, and received an update on Lutheran efforts to eliminate malaria. They witnessed the presentation of the David and Nancy Olson Leadership in Missional Church Award to the Rev. Melissa Pohlman, pastor of Christ English Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, for the congregation’s engagement with people in the community following the tornado in north Minneapolis in 2011. Also given was the Lutheran Social Service Servant of Christ Award. CEO Jodi Harpstead presented the award to Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Maple Grove, for its leadership in justice and social ministries.

Voting members also addressed a variety of resolutions during the assembly’s business sessions. Most interest inside and outside of the assembly revolved around RC2012-3, “A Resolution Opposing Marriage Amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution.” The resolution called on the synod to “oppose the Minnesota state constitutional amendment on marriage proposed for the 2012 general ballot that would prevent one group of committed couples and their families from pursuing ordinary legislative or legal means to gain the support and protections afforded to all other” and to instruct the bishop’s office to “make the synod’s position … known throughout the synod and to the public at large.”

After several attempts to amend the resolution, it passed overwhelmingly.

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