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October 22, 2008

Passing the crozier

Last Saturday I attended the installation of my friend Jim Arends as bishop of the LaCrosse Area Synod . Jim and I are in a covenant group that formed as part of the Grace Institute for Spiritual Formation (which we attended from 2003 to 2005). The two-year program has long since finished for us (check the Web link if you're interested in attending an upcoming session)—but our covenant group continues to meet two to three times a year. So, of course, several of our small group made the trip to share the day with Jim.

The service was inspiring and wonderful, and the sermon by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson beautifully wove together all three texts, repeatedly asking Jim the question from the Isaiah 40 text: "Bishop Arends, what shall you cry?" Hanson also underscored the gospel text from John 21: "Feed my sheep." A pastoral colleague crafted a beautiful crozier (a shepherd's staff) for Jim, a sign of the office of bishop—an always present reminder to tend God's sheep.

While at Jim's installation, I was carried back in memory to October 1992, when I also attended the installation of that same synod's newly elected bishop. It was an historic installation—the first female bishop in the ELCA: April Ulring Larson.

When I returned to the office, I went back to The Lutheran's August 1992 issue, where I had written about Larson's election as our first female bishop. I thought about the changes in the ELCA since that time, about the fact that more women have been elected since that historic first. I thought about all the leadership gifts brought by both men and women to this church—both lay and clergy. And I thought about all the transitions, of older leaders passing the baton to younger ones, about men sometimes passing it to women—and then women passing it (or the crozier, in this case) to men again, about the white majority passing it to people of other communities. So much change. So many good things happening. Such diversity—of race, gender, nationality, age and more. So remind me, why is it we're afraid of change?

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