Sunday, May 5, 2013

"Chance" Encounters and Discernment at a Gathering to Elect a Bishop

I am running shorter on writing time than I thought I would be this morning.  If you want a more detailed meditation on my experience at the Synod Assembly where we elected a new bishop, see this post on my theology blog.

The short version:  I'm happy with the candidate we elected, Robert Schaefer.  He's a man who seems to have a good sense of humor, a man who smiles frequently.  He seems to have a gentle spirit, a non-combative approach.  He's worked within the system, so he's not a tear down the institution to save the institution kind of candidate.

The electing approach wasn't as interesting as I thought it would be, although as we narrowed down the candidates, it got more interesting.  We never had an opportunity for in-depth discussion with the candidates.

And we never had an opportunity to do much else either.  There was no session for those discerning a call.  There weren't as many people in the marketplace, which in retrospect, is not a surprise, because we had even less down time than usual.  No networking, no innovative worship services, no interesting Bible study.

However, I did have an experience that seemed so extraordinarily outside of the realm of possibility that I'm unable to write it off as coincidence, even as I know that my scientist friends would scoff at me.

About a month ago, a friend at Create in Me told me that Luther Seminary has a low-residency track, and I did some research and found out that the low-residency is for the whole program, not just the first year.  I tucked it away and didn't think about it much more in the past month.

At lunch on Friday, our pastor told us that lots of seminaries are creating low-residency options and all kind of other approaches for people who can't just pick up and leave.  And then, we returned for the afternoon's smaller group sessions with the bishop candidate.

I found myself sitting beside a man who is a student in the low-residency program at Luther Seminary!  What are the odds of that?

I found out because I asked him if he'd be going to the dinner to honor the Bishop.  He said he had to finish a paper for seminary.  He said, "You wouldn't expect it, would you, that I'd be working on a paper, for my seminary in Minnesota?"  Something clicked in my brain, and I blurted, "Are you part of the low-residency program?"

Indeed he is.  I asked lots of questions, and I am just so happy to have met a real, live person who is experiencing the program.  He spoke very highly of it.  He's managing to go through without taking on debt, through grants and scholarships and careful budgeting.  He said it's a great option in that he doesn't have to pay for a whole year at the beginning of the year.

He said it is somewhat exhausting to continue to hold down his full-time job, which involves working outdoors, and doing the school work.  As summer has approached, he's felt even more tired.

He praised the community that he feels, which has been one of my concerns.

It was interesting to me that just as I was despairing about the lack of anything other than electing the bishop, I sat beside just the person I needed to meet.

I'm sure I'll be writing more on discernment as the weeks go by.  I don't feel like I'm any closer to knowing anything for sure.  But I do know that it was an important encounter that I had this week-end at Synod Assembly.  It doesn't feel like it was random chance.

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