It’s nothing personal, but there are just some things I cannot do for you. Since I’m asked a lot, here are ten of the most common ones. So, please, stop asking! 😊
- I cannot close your church. Closing a congregation requires a 2/3 vote of the congregation at a legally called congregational meeting. Of course, I also cannot save your church. I do not have the authority or resources to keep congregations going perpetually.
- I cannot order a congregation to partner with your church. Been there, done that. Doesn’t work. I can advise, recommend, cajole, predict, even beg. But partnering is the congregation’s decision. We have found that most congregations would rather die than partner because of deep hurts and long histories that pre-date my time in this synod.
- I cannot take a congregation’s assets, including the building. As long as the congregation is a congregation, they determine what happens with their things. Of course, if the congregation ceases to exist or is unwilling or unable to dispose of its assets, that responsibility falls to the Synod. The bishop also has a responsibility to warn the congregation if they are disposing their assets in ways that are inappropriate or unlawful. For example, the 15 remaining members cannot divide the congregation’s remaining $200,000 among themselves and take it home—not without telling the IRS. Money given for the ministry of Jesus should be used for the ministry of Jesus.
- I cannot force a congregation to take a pastor. And pastors, I cannot force a congregation to take you, no matter how much the Holy Spirit has told you you’re supposed to be there. Pastors are called by a 2/3 vote of the congregation at a legally called meeting of the congregation. The bishop’s role is to facilitate a call process and attest that the congregation has followed a legitimate call process. This means, for example, that three members of a congregation cannot hire their cousin to be their pastor.
- I cannot order a pastor to go to your church. Some of us remember a time when there were more pastors than calls and we pretty much went where we were told. The Church has endeavored to become more sensitive to pastors’ preferences and the number of available full-time calls gives pastors plenty of available options. Despite what you may think, I do not have a waiting room full of pastors ready to be sent where I send them.
- I cannot fire a pastor. Pastors are not at-will employees. Terminating a pastoral call requires a 2/3 vote of the congregation at a legally called congregational meeting after a consulting process with the bishop. Oh, and Bishop Eaton cannot fire me.
- I cannot ordain someone just because I like them. I can only ordain people who have fulfilled a whole bunch of criteria (ask a seminarian) including earning a Master of Divinity degree, successfully completing a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education and a year of internship, being recommended for ordination by a seminary faculty and approved for ordination by the Synod Candidacy Committee, and receiving and accepting a call from a congregation. Even Synodically Authorized Ministry has changed. Rather than ministers, the focus is on ministries (congregations that cannot secure a pastor and are either ethnically specific, distant from another ELCA congregation or full communion partner, or are so vital to their community that the community would be diminished if they were not there). Ministers serve in one specific place for as long as there is a need, normally one year, after which they are strongly encouraged to enter into candidacy and seek ordination. I have not implemented these changes out of respect for our SAMs; however, the time will come when this Synod will need to align with the Church and I do not believe it faithful on my part to leave that work to the next bishop.
- I cannot give a congregation money just because they ask and I want to. Some of us joke about the mythical safe in the Synod Office containing the millions of dollars raised for the Center for Mission and Ministry. While it would be nice, it doesn’t exist. The Synod Council recommends and the Synod Assembly approves the budget. I lack both the latitude and the inclination to steal from Peter to pay Paul. Besides, I suspect Rebecca Bossenbroek, Dan Carter, Sandy Schlesinger, and our auditors would have something to say if I tried.
- I cannot unilaterally undo Synod Assembly resolutions and ELCA Social Statements. In fact, I’m to take them seriously. For example, when the Assembly passed a resolution about climate change and reducing our carbon footprint, the Synod is required to take this work seriously, and that has very real implications for our ministry. Additionally, I cannot make our Church either pro-life or pro-choice; neither can Bishop Eaton. Since I represent the Church, my personal convictions get subordinated to the Church’s teachings. However, I recently learned that although I am the presiding officer at a synod assembly, I can speak to resolutions that I believe conflict with things like the Lutheran Confessions because I am the Synod’s pastor. So you can expect me to find ways to do this in the future, though not from the podium.
- I cannot stop loving you, praying for you, forgiving you, and trying my best to help you, regardless of what you think of me. It comes with the job. When I was installed as your bishop, I was asked, “Will you love, serve, and pray for God’s people…?” I said I would and I asked God to help me. Truth be told, I am not always pleased with where loving, serving, and praying for you gets me. But I will not stop.
Please watch for my Thanksgiving greeting on Thanksgiving Day!
The Rev. Craig Alan Satterlee, Ph.D., Bishop