Each year, the 60 synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have their own assemblies. At these annual events, clergy and voting members are sent by their congregations to make important decisions that impact our churches as well as to hear stories about ministry in their synod and elsewhere. The SWMN Synod Assembly for 2021 is taking place online this year, and will be happening over the course of two weekends, something I will explain in this article. Salem is sending Dave and Judy Johnson as voting members to this year's assembly.

Of course, as with all of the voting members, Dave and Judy will be able to attend this year's even from the comfort of their own home! I am currently serving on the synod assembly planning committee, so I will be in present along with other key personnel at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. My role in the assembly is to provide technical support for voting members, and I have also recruited Salem member Jackie Lindvall as well as my son Thomas to help out. We will be among the folks available through the synod offering technical assistance to those logging into the Zoom call on which the meeting is held. As you already know, we have experience in this from the last year at Salem!

The assembly is taking place over two weekends this year: Sunday, June 6, in the afternoon; and then Friday and Saturday, June 11 and 12. This is because we have an election for a new synod bishop this year. Bishop Jon Anderson has served our synod in this role for 18 years, having been elected for three consecutive terms. As he is retiring, other pastors from our synod and others in the ELCA are eligible to be nominated for this position.

On Sunday, June 6, we will receive the nominations. Potential candidates were given the opportunity to be brought forward earlier in 2021, so we have a number of pending nominees who have been pre-identified. Additional nominations can be made by the voting members on the first online ballot on Sunday, June 6. Over the course of the afternoon, we will get down to seven nominees on the ballot for the second weekend. During the time in-between, background checks are done on the candidates and each will have the opportunity to provide a recorded interview for the assembly the following weekend, Friday and Saturday, June 11 and 12.

Due to the pandemic, most synod assemblies were cancelled in 2020, and those that were held did so online. At the time the 2021 SWMN Synod Assembly was being planned (several months ago), we were unable to confirm that the assembly could be held in person. Therefore, plans were made to hold it online, eliminating the concerns about gathering hundreds of people at an event where social distancing would be difficult to maintain let alone enforce.

The process of creating an online assembly required lots of research into how other synods had organized and facilitated their online assemblies. It was not as simple as holding a Zoom meeting onto which voting members could log in with a link, as we do with worship services and other meetings. There needed to be a way for voting members to register and virtually "attend" the assembly in a manner that allowed them to be counted for credentials purposes. While it is technically possible for a pastor and voting members from their congregation to watch the assembly together on one screen, there needed to be a way for the credentials team to have verification of each person's attendance, just as would be the case constitutionally at an in-person assembly. In addition, there had to be a user friendly as well as accurate and efficient method of online voting for over 400 people. 

To tackle this particular problem, staff in the SWMN Synod office developed a format where each voting member, whether a pastor or congregation member, logs in via a personal and private link on a separate device. So, for example, while Dave and Judy are watching the assembly together at home on their computer, Dave's log in is represented by the computer they are using, and Judy would log in separately on her phone. They can still attend the assembly together, but they each have a separate device that shows their name in the Zoom call, and on which they can vote individually. To explain it further, Judy would leave her phone logged in for the duration of the session, but she would have the camera and sound turned off, and only using the phone for voting. Now, Dave and Judy might not be doing exactly what I'm describing, but at least this provides some idea of how a virtual assembly is done.

As for myself, I will be at Gustavus along with Jackie and Thomas and about 40 others right in the midst of where it is all happening! Am I excited? Yes! For me, and probably for Jackie as well, this is a fun chance to apply the skills we have learned in the past year to help and event like this happen. Fortunately, we do not have to worry about running the actual meeting in any capacity, we simply are on hand to provide technical support for those attending virtually.

The assembly will also be available for the general public to view live. At this time I am not sure that a link is available publicly, as the synod office does not want to confuse voting members and inadvertently have them attend unregistered and therefore unable to vote. If you are interested in watching, you may be able to find this link on Sunday, June 6 by googling 2021 SWMN Synod Assembly.

Finally, to help connect you more with the election for synod bishop, someone many of you have met will be a nominee. It is Pr. Dee Pederson, Director of Evangelical Mission, who came to work with us at Salem in January 2020 for an evening visioning exercise. Wouldn't it be fun to have someone like her with that type of expertise in congregational development as our synod bishop? There will be other fine candidates as well. The synod bishop and the synod office in work behind the scenes to provide professional support for pastors, so it not something that the average church member sees.

Please keep the synod assembly and the bishop's election process in your prayers, and be sure to thank Dave and Judy Johnson for taking the time to attend - and ask them about it!