Shinn column: Dr. Smith: Our new leader, shepherd, bishop

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 31, 2015

What I learned this weekend: If you invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit, you’d best be prepared for what happens next.

The Holy Spirit blew through the Koury Convention Center during the annual Synod Assembly of the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. When it was over, its delegates had elected the Rev. Dr. Timothy Smith as our bishop.

Even though Tim has served at Redeemer Atlanta for the past five years, he grew up in Salisbury and served Grace, Boone from 1993 to 2010. His parents still live in Salisbury, and are members of St. John’s Lutheran Church, where I’m a member. We’re all overjoyed that Tim is coming home.

The election of a bishop for our Synod is a curious thing. You don’t “run for bishop,” per se. Certainly, you might let folks know you would agree to have your name considered, but no nominations actually take place until the first day of Synod Assembly.

In what’s known as an ecclesiastical ballot, voting members may nominate any rostered leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Some 100 names emerged on the first ballot. That number decreased to eight names on the third ballot and three on the fourth, before delegates settled on Smith and the Rev. Dr. Mark Fitzsimmons, pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Nativity in Arden, for the final vote.

Before each vote, there was a time for prayer and discernment, a chance to let the Holy Spirit enter into that place.

Before each vote, delegates sang, “Come and fill our hearts with your will, you alone, O Lord, are holy. Come and fill our hearts will your will, Alleluia.”

Tim and Mark have known each other since they were both students at UNC.

“No matter what happens today,” Mark said before the vote, “I have an exciting call, and I have a bishop that I like.”

The results created great hope and excitement among delegates. You could feel it in the air as the assembly joined in final worship, led by Bishop Leonard Bolick. Bolick, who retires in July, received the title of bishop emeritus during the weekend.

As the three final candidates, Tim and Mark, along with the Rev. Phil Tonnesen, assistant to the bishop, were asked the question, “How do you plan to keep the church relevant and open to diverse populations?”

“It is the Holy Spirit that calls us and enlightens us,” Tim said. “It is the Holy Spirit that is the key.”

Tim said that Millennials are the church’s “biggest harbingers of gloom and doom. They will sniff out your religious attempts from a mile away. They tell us that trying to be relevant is what makes us irrelevant.”

So let us work for justice, let us offer service that appeals to the younger generation, Tim said. “We are people or hope and faith and promise. Keep the church faithful. Keep the church relevant. Keep the church weird.”

The Holy Spirit has moved among the children of God in our Synod. Tim Smith is our new leader, our new shepherd, our new bishop.

Are you ready?

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.