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Service of Godspeed to honor Bishop Leonard Bolick

Lutherans from across the state gathered

By Susan Shinn

For The Salisbury Post

Hundreds of Lutherans from across North Carolina gathered April 25 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Downtown Salisbury for a Service of Godspeed to honor Bishop Leonard Bolick.

Bolick will retire this summer after 18 years of service as bishop of the North Carolina Synod. Bolick and his wife, Rita, have been members of St. John’s for some 27 years. This summer, they’ll retire to Blowing Rock, Bolick’s hometown.

The Rev. Rhodes Woolly, senior pastor of St. John’s, first met Bolick when the bishop informed him he’d be his pastor when he came to St. John’s in 2009.

Bolick, Woolly wrote in the April church newsletter, “has been a remarkable pastor-shepherd for the Synod, guiding us through some tricky waters with the grace, confidence, wisdom and folksiness that only Leonard could provide. St. John’s has been a place of respite for Leonard, a place where he could worship without leading worship, a place where he could be called, well, ‘Leonard.’ I’m so thankful for the chance to be his pastor these six years. More so, I’m thankful that he has been our bishop and friend.”

Members all over the Synod feel the same way.

“Today we gather to make the end of Leonard’s ministry with us as bishop,” said Diana Haywood, Synod vice president. “This is a time for joy and thanksgiving as we remember ministry shared, and a time for sadness as we recognize that relationships important to us are about to change. This is a time to offer thanks and praise to God for the privilege of serving God together.”

This May, a new bishop will be chosen at Synod Assembly in Greensboro.

“The worship service was an opportunity for me to officially and liturgically thank the North Carolina Synod for the opportunity to serve as bishop, and for the Synod to thank me and the entire synod Staff and the Synod Council and officers,” Bolick said Wednesday. “It was a rite of passage as we prepare to call another bishop in May. It is very important to say goodbye before we say hello.”

Bolick continued, “It was a glorious farewell and Godspeed service and helped prepare the Synod to welcome the new bishop. I had an opportunity to thank the marvelous staff with which I work, the deans, Synod Council (our governing board) and most especially my family. I was able to publicly thank my dear wife, Rita, because without her love and support I could not have carried out this ministry.”

By the end of the service, Bolick was overcome with emotion as he made his remarks.

“I’ll be with you in just a minute,” he said, with his characteristic humor and charm, gathering his thoughts.

Bolick will leave office at the end of July, during which time he will assist the new bishop in the transition process.

St. John’s was a meaningful place for Bolick to say farewell, he said. “We gathered at St. John’s where I was installed as bishop on Feb. 2, 1997. It was good to return to St. John’s for the farewell, since the congregation has been my family’s church home for almost 30 years. I am pleased to say the Synod is poised to move forward into the future, where God is present and inviting.”

The Bolicks have two children, the Rev. Joseph Bolick, associate pastor at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Richmond, and Sarah Bolick, a diaconal ministry student at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and the University of Chicago. Joseph Bolick and his wife, the Rev. Sarah Lang, have a daughter, Lucia, and are expecting a second child this summer.

Joseph Bolick served as preacher for his father’s Godspeed service. And he was fine with the fact he wasn’t his dad’s original choice to preach.

“We were talking maybe a month or so before the service,” he said Wednesday. “Leonard felt strongly that it was important for the Synod to have a Rite of Godspeed for the same reasons we do rites for various life passages, such as a marriages or funerals — because a rite makes the transition real. My understanding is that he hoped Elizabeth Eaton, our presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, could preach, and he asked her, but her schedule is full a couple years out, so that was a long shot. He said someone suggested my name and I said, ‘I was wondering why you hadn’t asked me!’ and Dad said, ‘Well, that settles it. You’ll preach.’ I said, ‘OK.’”

If Joseph Bolick was nervous, he didn’t show it.

“So many of the people gathered at St. John’s for the Godspeed service were people who have shaped who I am, prayed for me in my times of need, and represented Christ to me,” he noted. “It was a blessing to be gathered for worship and around the table.”

With his mother’s good looks and his father’s familiar mountain twang, Joseph Bolick said in his sermon, “Today, Dad, we celebrate you and your gifts, and your willingness to share all God has entrusted to you so freely for the sake of the Gospel. We celebrate you too, Rita, for your presence by his side, for your part in his calling, and for your vital role as wife, partner, and friend.

“Thank you for your faithful service throughout 42 years of ordained ministry, 29 years in the North Carolina Synod Office, and 18 years as bishop. We pray the Holy Spirit who has guided you in the pilgrimage thus far, would continue to guide you as you make the transition to a life with far fewer meetings, much less stress and more fly-fishing and grand-parenting.

“Your most important vocation will continue. With all of us, you will continue to be called to witness to the goodness of God in Jesus Christ who has shown his kindness to us in friendship and steadfast love. This call will continue, but your call to serve as Bishop of the North Carolina Synod will soon come to an end.

“Together, we all rely on the power of God to be persistent in proclaiming the Gospel, whether the times are favorable or unfavorable, no matter where we are in our journey through life, but for you, this particular race is coming to an end, and we thank God for the ways in which you have continually and faithfully pointed us to Christ.”

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury. 

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Bishop Leonard Bolick received two gifts during his Service of Godspeed. 

The Rev. Gary Weant, Synod secretary, presented him with a Lutheran Study Bible. On behalf of the entire Synod, the congregation of Grace, Hendersonville, presented Bolick with a 6-foot mahogany cross, which will hang in the chapel at Synod Headquarters.

Dr. Chuck Albers, a member of Grace, designed and made the handsome cross, which is actually several crosses of mahogany joined together, with a brass cross on top.

“When the transition team was meeting, someone mentioned that the bishop wished there were a cross in the chapel,” Albers said Wednesday. “Greg Williams, our senior pastor, said, ‘I know someone who’d be interesting in making it.’”

That was Albers, a breast cancer surgeon in private practice in Hendersonville.

“I was honored and pleased,” Albers said of the project.

Albers was given free reign in the design process. He slipped into the chapel in January, meeting with staff while the bishop was in the Holy Land.

“I wanted to get a sense of the space and what it looked like,” Albers said.

He decided to make a 6-foot cross, and got to work in his shop, which he admitted has all the bells and whistles any woodworker could desire.

The congregation paid for the material and for the cost of hanging. But on the day of the Godspeed service, Albers donated the money to the offering, taken to benefit the Barbara Boland Fund for seminary scholarships.

“Leonard and I have been friends for a long time,” Albers said. “He has been very helpful to me, and to Grace Lutheran.”

 

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