The life of a new synod bishop
Michael Rhyne is anticipating how to balance his life as a newly elected synod bishop with his family and personal time – and singing in a sea chanty choir.
By Jeremy Lensing
In the ELCA, there are 65 synods that help take care of congregations in a specific geographic area. The leader of a synod is called a bishop and is elected by the members of the synod.
But, what do synod bishops do?
You are not alone if you’re unsure of what challenges bishops encounter in their day-to-day life. The election – or spiritual discernment – process to become a synod bishop is an emotional roller coaster in itself, just ask the newly elected bishop of the ELCA Allegheny Synod, Michael Rhyne.
“I had no intention of becoming bishop at this time in my life,” said Michael, a 39-year-old pastor. “My wife and I did not feel we were ready for me to be bishop having three young girls at home. Also, I had only been in the parish for five years, so it seemed impossible for people to vote me in with little experience. Only problem was, I had many people coming up to me and asking if I was going to leave my name on the ballot. My wife and I did not want to at first, but then something told us internally that God has a plan, and we need to follow.”
Becoming a bishop was a shock
When the Synod Assembly started, Michael ended up being nominated with nine votes. He seemed pretty confident though that he would not be elected heading into the fourth ballot.
“I am a person who is going to try my hardest in everything I am doing, even if I don’t want to be in it,” said Michael.
When the fourth ballot results came, he had moved into the lead.
“I let out this noise of shock and felt as if the world was standing still,” said Michael. “Thankfully, some of my friends pulled me aside and said, ‘Let’s go pray.’ After we (prayed), we came back to the room where the voting was happening, but I could not watch the final ballot because I was so nervous, so I left again. After what seemed like forever, [Presiding] Bishop Eaton came into the room I was in and told me that I was elected bishop. All I could say was ‘OK.’ I was not only in shock, but in fear, because I was worried about my family and children.”
Prior to the assembly and elections, Michael had known that bishops had to travel all over the country and did not want to miss the family time he and his wife held dear to their hearts.
Balancing family and work
“Bishop Eaton and Barbara Pile (wife of the former bishop of the Alleghany Synod) really put my wife’s and my mind at ease by telling us that family time is possible; you just have to schedule the time for it,” said Michael. “I think getting elected shows that I am not really in control of my life, but God is and he will carry out his plan for all of us. If it were up to me, I would probably not be bishop, but looking back, I am thankful for what has happened and look forward to helping fulfill his plan for my life.”
Michael feels his life will be different and really busy.
The former bishop of the Alleghany Synod, Gregory Pile, “asked me if I was nervous for what I was about to get myself into,” said Michael, “and I told him yes, but I had no idea what to expect. He told me on the first day, ‘You will walk into the office, the phone will ring, and away you go. After that, you will never not know what you are going to be doing ever again.”’
Being busy with God’s people is only part of the job. Michael knows how he wants to start his time in the synod and thinks he will have no problem achieving this in his first year or so.
“I plan on preaching at every congregation in the synod on a Sunday,” said Michael. “Since there are not enough Sundays in the year to preach or visit every congregation, it may take two years to complete. I also plan on attending some Wednesday night services or other special events throughout the synod.”
Although Michael anticipates a busy schedule, he still plans on having fun with his family and friends outside of the office. Michael is a part of a sea chanty choir that dresses up as pirates and sings old sea songs. The group performs across central Pennsylvania and does not involve any musical talent, just loud yelling in tune. On occasion, he finds time to play the ukulele and exercise.
On a serious note, Michael said his faith has grown and reminds him of what he may have forgotten.
“This process so far has helped me really grow in my faith,” said Michael. “I relearned that God is the one who is really in control, not me. This has reiterated to me that I am just God’s tool to do his work. I can only imagine what will happen when I am full-time bishop. Although I am nervous, I am very excited about what God has in store for me and for our synod.”
Jeremy Lensing is a public relations intern at the ELCA churchwide organization and a student at Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill., majoring in multimedia mass communication and communication studies.