As we approach our 2019 Assembly, Gwen Arneson will share some reflections on being our synod’s Vice President. Gwen has announced she will not be available for another term. We hope her reflections will help people imagine who might serve in this call.
Reflections of a Synod Vice President – Part 1
+ Gwen Arneson
When I was first elected as Synod Vice President more than 19 years ago, I had no idea of the inspirational and life-changing ride I would enjoy. I still remember attending my first meeting of the Synod Council and making my share of beginner’s blunders in leading the meeting. The people around the table were gracious and encouraging, and amazingly came back for the next meeting! Click here to read more.
Reflections of a Synod Vice President – Part 2
+ Gwen Arneson
One of the top five strengths revealed to me after taking the StrengthsFinders survey a few years ago was that I am a “Learner.” This quality has been put to great use over the course of my time as a Synod Vice President. I have had the privilege to learn about our synod, the ELCA, a variety of social statements, mission support, companion and domestic partner synods, Roberts Rules of Order, capital campaigns and funding initiatives, AMPARRO, personnel policies and interviewing techniques, disaster relief, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Synod and Churchwide Assemblies, ecumenical relationships, and so very much more! My eyes have been opened and my mind and heart have been filled. I count it all as a joy and an honor to have been a recipient of such opportunities.
I’ve been known to say that I don’t mind going to meetings – if they accomplish something fruitful and have a purpose! Not everyone shares this sentiment, as I’m well aware! Over these many years, I’ve participated in A LOT of meetings that were productive, life-giving, energizing, sometimes emotionally draining for the weight of the topics discussed, and have always come away blessed by the people around the table. As a vice president, one might expect to be a part of many meetings.
My vice president colleagues across the country have taught me more than I could have imagined about leadership and challenges, friendship and compassion, encouragement and accountability. Together we have learned “at the feet” of ELCA attorneys, Churchwide officers, leadership of the various ministries and partners, and from one another. We share best practices from our varying contexts and experiences. We ask questions of one another in order to grow in our capacity to serve. The vice presidents have had the privilege of hearing about changes taking place in seminary education, and of sharing in the joy of the recipients of scholarships at the Fund for Leaders banquet in Chicago. We meet at a concurrent time with the Conference of Bishops every two or three years, allowing conversation to take place among the 65 bishops and vice presidents. From the perspective of all the vice presidents, these conversations are rich and helpful. All this being noted, however, it is fair to say that each vice president serves in a unique context that is not duplicated elsewhere in the ELCA.
As a voting member, I have seen the Churchwide expression of this denomination at work during several Churchwide Assemblies under the leadership of three Presiding Bishops: the Reverends H. George Anderson, Mark Hanson, and Elizabeth Eaton. I witnessed the elections of Bp. Hanson and Bp. Eaton. To have been “in the room” for worship, deliberation, debate, demonstrations, speakers, communal observance of landmark decisions and achievements, and elections at Churchwide Assembly is a powerful memory I will treasure. There were many, many holy moments for me in those times.
As a side note, I would add that I have also served on the ELCA Nominating Committee during my time as a vice president. I want you to know that the care with which that committee does their work of identifying and considering nominees for every ballot at Churchwide Assembly is impressive. It is important work and once again, folks from across this denomination gather to accomplish the tasks before them with great collegiality and careful attention to details.
Several years ago the ELCA Churchwide Assembly began to incorporate more deliberate communal discernment into the conversations and decision-making that took place. That invitation to communal discernment was initiated at our own Southwestern Minnesota Synod Assembly and passed along to the larger church. It was a fruitful recommendation and an important tool for our life together in God’s church.
We have had leaders from SW MN sharing their voice and time and talents in the ELCA over these many years. Most recently, we remember Church Council members (presently, Pr. Joyce Graue); the Task Force for the Justice and Women Social Statement (Pr. Bruce Berg); the Future Directions Table (Bp. Jon Anderson), just to name a few. It was a joy to be at the Churchwide Assembly when Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, Coordinator for the ELCA Malaria Campaign, spoke as the campaign’s $15 million goal was realized and celebrated. Pr. Andrea came to serve as a SW MN Synod Minister shortly after her work concluded with the Malaria Campaign.
The ELCA’s day of service, “God’s Work. Our Hands.” has been born and continues to grow across this church in the years I’ve been a vice president. It is great fun to read about the ways congregations across the country bring GWOH to life in their communities.
I’ve learned more and grown in my awareness of racial inequities and injustices through shared experiences and difficult (and convicting) presentations over the years. I have so much more growing to do in intercultural competency and pray that I will be intentionally open to doing so. This denomination has a long way to go to be as racially diverse and inclusive as it might be if we were to expectantly and gratefully receive the gifts of God together alongside all our neighbors.
At the 2016 Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans, I had the humbling honor of being a nominee for the office of Vice President of the ELCA. Praying with the other nominees and our assigned “shepherds” throughout that process was so meaningful for me. Both the current and former ELCA Vice President first served in the role of Synod Vice President, and are friends as a result of that connection. One of the greatest learnings I have enjoyed is being absolutely confident that God places each of us in the midst of a myriad of incredible Jesus followers to accompany us on this wild journey of faith.
There is so very much that I will miss when my time as a vice president comes to a close. It has truly been a gift to me, and I will be forever grateful for that gift. It has been a privilege to share in the ways God continues to surprise us with grace and growth, delight and challenge, call and life! Thanks be to God!