Why are we making changes to the process of electing a bishop? It’s not the first time. For the first several elections, there was no pre-work at all, only a nominating ballot at the assembly. Later we followed what a number of other synods had done, which was to identify nominees beforehand and hold forums for those willing to be in the election. We continue to seek improvement.
Are the changes at this time because of our track record? Yes and no. Many synods tinker with changes to the process. In our case, we recognize that only two of our six bishops have left office at the conclusion of a term. There’s no one single reason, but it does suggest we could make changes that would allow for more thought and consideration to candidates prior to the election.
So what are the key differences being introduced this year? There are several:
- Town Hall meetings will draw on broad input from around the synod to describe the synod and what we need in the person elected to be the bishop. We’ll develop a “bishop profile,” that should guide our thinking about who best could serve.
- Conferences will be asked to convene and discuss possible nominees. Names may still be put forward by individual persons or congregations, but would need to be supported by a conference to be sent on further into the process.
- A Bishop Call Committee will do the work similar to a Congregational Call Committee – gather personal and background information, do interviews, and pass on to the synod as a whole 4-6 names of persons they consider the best fit for the synod’s needs. By the time nominees are presented to the synod assembly, there will have been thorough vetting and support.
Who will be on the Bishop Call Committee? The members of this committee will be appointed by the Synod Council in January. It will be separate from the existing Bishop Election Task Force, which deals only with the process. Deans are invited to suggest persons to serve by December 10.
Isn’t every synod supposed to use an “ecclesiastical ballot?” The model constitution for synods describes an election process via the “ecclesiastical ballot,” which means the first ballot is a nominating ballot. But it is not a required provision, and the constitution of the South Central Synod of Wisconsin says “The Synod Council shall be responsible for determining the process to be used in the election of a bishop.” (S9.04.01)
Have other synods used a process like this? Yes. To cite some neighbors: the Lacrosse Area Synod begins the process by involving assembly voting members at a “conference nominating caucus,” that raises up nominees; no further nominations are allowed at the Synod Assembly. Northeast Iowa elected its current bishop using a Synod Call Committee that gathered nominations, did work similar to what we propose, and forwarded five names to their assembly. In recent elections, both Northwest Washington and Eastern Washington-Idaho synods had a pre-nomination process and no floor nominations. These are only a few examples.
Doesn’t this call for much more involvement by people throughout the synod? Yes. Especially if you are a rostered leader or a lay member identified as a voting member of the synod assembly. You should plan on participating in (a) a Town Hall meeting; (b) a Conference Nominating Caucus; (c) two synod assemblies (the regular May 1-2 Assembly, and the one-day June 20 election assembly); and (d) a forum in your area to become familiar with nominees.