I’ve noticed this convention cycle that everyone is saying a few words about what they look for in a synod President. I didn’t realize that was a thing. I’m so out of the loop. I guess this is a result of the 2010 convention’s decision to return voting to the congregations and pastors of the entire synod. Fair enough. It’s good for people to discuss the qualifications for office, and what we want the synod to be. (Hint: It has a lot to do with God’s Word.)
Of course, my endorsement isn’t really a big deal. I’m not a power-broker in synod, and (more importantly) I’ve never been shy in my support for one of the candidates. I was for the Stache back in 2010, when he was first elected. And I’m still for the Stache today. Not just because it’s a catchy meme (although it is that). Back then I supported and encouraged others to support him because he is, first and foremost, a pastor at heart.
This election is a little bit different. I’ve known Dale Meyer for years. He is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He’s affable. He remembers everyone he ever meets. Years ago, I shared beers with him. I love that, like President Harrison, he preaches straight from the Greek. So, saying he’s not pastoral at heart isn’t exactly true. He really does try to think like a pastor. But, at this point, his service to the church has called him away from that for nearly three decades. To put it another way, there are men now serving as pastors who were not alive the last time Dale Meyer served a parish.
Now, I had beloved professors at the seminary who had been teaching longer than I had been alive. It’s not a knock on anyone. But, there is something about being in a parish, being surrounded by sinners in need of forgiveness, that keeps a pastor in touch with the church, and what it means to live in the world as a Christian. It’s not that you can’t know that as Lutheran Hour Speaker. It’s not that seminary professors are somehow less qualified. But there is an immediateness to sharing the Gospel with a dying member, especially after you’ve been in a parish for a few years. These aren’t people who are just shut-ins. They were members of boards and committees. You’ve worked and laughed and cried with them. They are your friends, your beloved sheep, and you would give your life for them. But in those final moments, you can’t stop them from dying. You can give them the Word of God, prayer, and the body and blood of Christ. It’s the medicine of immortality. So, when death claims them, you can tell their loved ones about the life that is still theirs in Christ. Anyway, I’m straying from the reasons for this post. It’s not about the pastor as he deals in matters of life and death.
And yet it is.
It always was.
Because that’s the sort of person we need in a synod president. Especially in a time where persecution seems so near on the horizon. We may end up with the chance to witness to Jesus with our blood. God may spare us from it. But whether he does or not, I want a pastor as my synod president who still has fresh in his mind the last time he visited someone in the hospital, and had to stand with their family while he commended a loved one to God’s care. I want someone with the smell of antiseptic still fresh in the nostrils, and the sound of beeping hospital equipment still echoing in the ears.
Again, nothing against any of the other candidates. They have long records of service to the church. They have all served in parishes. But one is still serving there. Free of charge, solely for the pleasure of bringing Christ to the sick and dying, of preaching the forgiveness of sins from a pulpit on a regular basis. Because he believes so strongly that such is the real work of the church. And so, as soon as he had the chance, Pastor Harrison jumped back into the parish. When he signs letters, as often as not, he signs them, “Assistant Pastor, Village Lutheran, Ladue.” It’s not an affectation. He knows that it is not about him. He wants to be where Jesus is given to people. Because that’s what the church really does. And that doesn’t happen in a synod office building or in an ivory tower. It happens at bedsides, in hospitals and nursing homes. It happens at gravesides amid tears that fall like rain. We all say that we believe it. But Pastor Harrison lives it.
And our synod needs that lived-in theology.