In a remarkable turn of events, Pastor Bradley Schmeling received sufficient votes for the office of bishop in the Southeastern Synod election that he was able to speak to the full assembly as a candidate. His speech is given below. While Bradley was not elected, a staunch ally, Pastor Julian Gordy of Tennessee will succeed Ron Warren as the bishop of the Southeastern Synod. He will take office on September 1, 2007.
Pr Bradley Schmeling's remarks, Bishop's Election, Third Ballot
Southeastern Synod, ELCA
June 2, 2007
There must be some Pentecost at the Sheraton Midtown Atlanta. When word gets out that my name appears on this list of seven, otherwise, holy ones, people are going to say, "Were they drunk?" But, alas, it is only 9:00 am.
I'm honored to be standing here. And I do want you to know that it is a blessing for me to serve as a pastor with you in this synod.
Not too long ago, a young man came to St John's, rang the doorbell, and asked to speak with the pastor. When I met with him, I listened to his story; a story that I had heard before about the struggle to get a job and find a place to stay in Atlanta. I'll confess to you that it was a busy day, and I was pressed for time, so I waited for a silence to jump into the conversation and say, "How can I help you?" I expected him to ask for money. But what he said was, "I don't want money. I just want someone to tell me that they love me." And he burst into tears.
So I held him and said, "Jesus loves you."
Jesus loves you.
I want our synod to be a better church than I was that day; a church that doesn't wait until people come knocking but is proactive; speaking words of love quickly and without hesitation, with compassion. I'm convinced that the gift of Lutheranism in the Southeast, our niche in the religious market, if you will, is that we are the church that is doggedly determined to begin every proclamation, every conversation with the grace of God. There are plenty of voices in our neighborhoods and in the pulpits down the street that are quick to judge and are harshly rigid in their moral certainty. I want people to know that Lutherans are the ones that say first "Jesus loves you."
Bishop Warren has rightfully pointed us to the thousands of people that are moving to the South. But there are also thousands who have left churches that are too small and shallow in their vision. I want our synod to be filled with even more congregations that seek out the lost; that genuinely welcome them home; churches that can tolerate debate about the difficult issues of poverty, war, and immigration; churches that pour themselves out for the poor in their neighborhoods, not counting the cost.
I also yearn for a church where two brothers in Christ, colleagues and friends, who both pray to serve faithfully and with integrity don't find themselves on the opposite side of the table in a disciplinary hearing room but side by side in the reign of God. I'm praying that the churchwide assembly will change the policy that precludes gay and lesbian pastors from serving in congregations that will call them, not because I think we've arrived at any kind of agreement or consensus, but because I want to level the mission field to make it fair for all those who are lured by the Spirit to announce "Jesus loves you."
I also want congregations to be empowered to call the pastor that will serve the needs of the gospel in their particular and unique place.
What a gift it could be if we could really figure out a way to live together faithfully in the midst of deep and painful disagreement.
Just as important, I think our synod should be a model of racial diversity. The ELCA is embarrassingly pale. We have the potential to be the synod that teaches the rest of the church how to deal with race. Let's change the statistics and become a more colorful place of engagement and respect.
I'll pray for you, Bishop Warren, in your retirement. Thank you for years of service to the church.
I have great hope for our synod and for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.