September 3, 2015
Dear People of the Greater Milwaukee Synod:
Make no mistake. I love being your bishop. It is something I have regarded from the beginning as a great privilege and a great trust. Like most of the 65 bishops in the ELCA, the honor of being called to serve the congregations and rostered leaders is a great blessing. Worship on Sunday mornings, whether it is in the synod’s largest or smallest, strongest or most fragile congregation, is the best part of this position. To be gathered around Word and Sacrament, to be immersed in the life of God’s people, to be sent into the world as “little Christs” (Luther’s words), is a wonderful blessing. I do not underestimate the power of such gatherings, and I always marvel at the seeds God is planting in our midst.
Therefore, it is with some sadness, yet with a sense of peace, that I inform you that I have decided not to let my name go forward for bishop in 2016. For the past couple of months, I have been in a period of discernment. In fact, I have driven over 10,000 miles, mostly by myself, which for me has been a time of thinking and praying. I have called it the great flyover, not simply of my life, but also of God’s ministry within me.
I have always claimed that if one ever stops missing being a parish pastor, it is time to quit being bishop as well. I can say with great certainty that I have not stopped missing life in the parish. But even more important, I have always claimed that the primary call of the Christian comes through baptism, rather than through ordination.
I will be 65 at the time of the GMS synod assembly. If someone told me I was too old, that would be incentive to leave my name in the mix. I fully believe that the best years of ministry for me are the ones ahead rather than the ones behind. At the same time, it is the call through baptism that leaves my spirit restless, still calls me beyond my comfort zones, still makes me want to be known first as a child of God and secondarily as an official in the church. I have been honored to wear the mitre, but, let’s face it: the hiking boots still fit me better. Something compels me to wonder what roads God is asking me to walk down next.
Be assured that I am not done being bishop. I have no intention of coasting into the next place. I am blessed with a wonderful staff who make it fun to go to work each day. I have great love for the Greater Milwaukee Synod and even greater hopes for our future. We are at a critical, but beautiful, juncture in the life of the church. If we are faithful, God will bless us beyond our imagination.
I truly believe that the coming year can be the best year of our life together and that together we can bless future leaders with the resources to become an even greater church.
Blessings and love,
Bishop Jeff Barrow