Eastern North Dakota Synod-ELCA elects bishop
GRAND FORKS — The Rev. Terry Brandt, who has served six years as associate with the bishop of the Eastern North Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was elected bishop of the synod on Sunday in Grand Forks.
Brandt, 43, officially assumes the position in August, stepping in for Bishop William Rindy who is completing a six-year term and did not seek a second term.
Brandt was elected on the fourth ballot, drawing 271 of the 363 votes cast. A total of 218 votes were required for election.
Two Grand Forks pastors remained on the final ballot after earlier votes narrowed the field to three candidates during the two-day synod assembly which ended on Sunday.
The Rev. Lynn Ronsberg, senior pastor of Sharon Lutheran Church, and the Rev. Roger Dykstra, senior pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church, each drew 27 and 65 votes, respectively, in the final ballot.
‘A vote for stability’
“I think, given that Bishop Rindy wasn’t standing to serve another term, it was a vote for stability,” said the Rev. Rich Fitzer, a voting delegate and pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Valley City, N.D.
“We had some good choices (for bishop),” he said. “Any of them could have served well.”
“The biggest challenges — the more painful work — is behind us,” Fitzer said. “Bishop Rindy saw us through those years.”
Those challenges included dealing with financial pressures that resulted when levels of annual giving that did not meet budgetary requirements, particularly in 2008 and 2009 when the effects of the nationwide recession were first felt, he said.
The final decision on a new bishop “was partly a vote for some consistency,” he said, citing Brandt’s six years of experience serving with Rindy on the synod staff.
“The table is set for the next six years, where we’re more forward focused — and that’s a good thing,” Fitzer said. “Bishop Brandt will bring good energy and vision to the synod.”
Among the most pressing issues the synod faces have to do with “our changing communities,” Brandt said after the election.
“Our rural areas are seeing declining demographics. We need to find new ways to do ministry there.”
With declines in rural population, “people are wondering, ‘what does that mean?’” he said. “We need to raise up new lay leaders and to create multi-point parishes to be in full communion with other denominations.”
The synod is forging “new partnerships” with denominations including the United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Methodist, the Reformed Church, the Moravians and Episcopalians, “especially in rural communities,” he said.
He also cited the synod’s role in addressing cultural shifts as new Americans move into the eastern third of North Dakota.
The Rev. Bob Bekkerus, a pastor at Living Waters Lutheran Church in Fargo, said he is “so excited” that Brandt was elected to head the synod.
“Terry has been a good leader over the last six years,” said Bekkerus, who was called to pastor a church in Langdon, N.D., in 2009 after graduating from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.
“When I came to the synod, he made me and my family feel so welcome,” he said. “He made us feel that this synod was our home.”
Shar Gumke of Jamestown, vice president of the synod, said she is “excited and thankful and optimistic” about the new bishop.
Brandt is “a team player,” she said. “He has a deep compassion and love for people. He is a visionary. I have a great trust in him … He’ll be a great pastor to pastors.”
Brandt holds a bachelor’s degree from Southwest Minnesota State University and a Master of Divinity degree from Luther Seminary. He was a pastor at churches in Fairmont, Clarksfield, Appleton and Alberta, Minn.
He and his wife, Kristi, the principal at Valley City High School, have three children — Lindsay, 17, Austin, 11, and Kallie, 5.
Rindy told the synod assembly on Sunday that his future plans are not yet decided.
“I don’t know exactly what’s next,” he said. “So I go forth, not knowing where I’m going but I know who’s leading the way.”
A total of 207 congregations, with 102,000 individual members, are affiliated with the Eastern North Dakota Synod-ELCA.