John Floberg is kind of a “sleeper.” I did not know much about him, but his candidate statement reveals much that is impressive.
For bicultural ministry, Floberg has by far the strongest background and record of achievement of the four candidates. He has been immersed in bicultural ministry for almost 20 years, and since 1991 has served three D/Lakota congregations on the North Dakota area of the Standing Rock Reservation (it extends into South Dakota as well). He says, “I am glad to see the word ‘multicultural’ rather than ‘cross cultural.’ It is my experience that the church often acts as part of the dominant culture. That translates in ministry as doing something ‘to’ others rather than ‘with’ others. The Church has also had the tendency to be doing its work, worship and business in a Western way rather than finding news strategies that work between us.”
This bicultural awareness is evident in his proposals to use funerals (which are a big part of Christian work on the Reservations) and “setting up camp” at Tribal gatherings as a means of pastoral visitation in place of the “annual congregational visitation” (which is more the norm in White/city congregations).
He has been active in raising up clergy vocations among both D/Lakota and Sudanese congregations in North Dakota. His investment in the Reservation people has been recognized by appointments to both State and Tribal Suicide Prevention Task Forces. He has been active at the national level in Episcopal Native American ministry.
Floberg’s three priorities are on target for the needs of South Dakota, and his understanding of ministry is healthy:
1) Congregational Development – “I see the broad development of sustainable and innovative ways of doing ministry. Our ministry is not primarily to a Congregation. Our ministry is a partnership through them into their community.” That is a breath of fresh air in a denomination often caught up in internal matters.
2) Youth - “In many of the reservation communities about half the population is under twenty.” The diocesan profile here calls for investment in youth, and Floberg brings that. “On Standing Rock we have developed resources, ministers and rapport with nearly 250 youth each year to be involved in our summer camps, contacts, weekly bible studies and clubs…developing a vital and relevant faith by providing young people with mentors.”
3) Mission over Maintenance - “The resources necessary for ministry to be accomplished are varied. Money alone is not the answer.” He has a good understanding of people as the primary resource, and says, “’mission’ is what needs to be addressed and ‘ministry’ is the way we address it.”
One of Floberg’s strongest traits appears to be a well developed understanding of the role of the Bishop. Floberg has worked on the national and diocesan level for some time, and this seems to have provided thoughtful insight into just what a Bishop can do effectively. “It is the stewardship of the Bishop to keep a Diocese focused on Christ’s ability to make the Church a place of hope and vitality…the Church can be a place of mission and not simply maintenance in every community… Episcopal leadership is about the ability to live, work and perform well with the variety of people and organizations that are in a Diocese. It is effectively accomplished when a Bishop is concerned about being the Pastor for all and keeping that part of the work central. The Bishop’s work is to honor the gifts and understand the mission that is presented to particular people, groups or ministries, through order and organization…Leadership is visibly fulfilled when it is multiplied. The Bishop recognizes, equips and works with and among the people… A chief serves the people within the village and unites one village to the next, all part of the holy family.”
And he understands that a Bishop’s work is not just diocesan management: “Leadership in the Church has an Apostolic nature. It is rooted and grounded in the confession of the Faith as delivered through the Apostles and understood through the study of Scripture and the ages of the Church’s life.”
Floberg has energy but energetic people can be abrasive. Right off the bat, he’s proposed moving the Bishop’s base of operations from Sioux Falls to Pierre. Whatever the merits of the idea, it seems odd to drop such a big idea in a candidate statement rather than through wider “stakeholder” discussions. So, the question of Floberg’s ability to work collegially (especially with congregational clergy) comes up.
A second concern is whether the diverse ministry needs in South Dakota are the best fit for Floberg. He is in a position right now that really makes excellent use of his gifts in a primarily Reservation-based ministry. Can he be an effective leader to city congregations and build bridges between them and the Reservation churches?
Can he emulate the first Missionary Bishop, and build a unified ministry here?
AFTER ten years of service primarily to the Indians, Bishop Hare received in 1883 a tangible expression of the confidence of the House of Bishops through a change in the limits of his jurisdiction so that they came to correspond virtually with the limits of the present State of South Dakota. For Niobrara, in the title of his jurisdiction, the name of South Dakota was substituted. The change was a clear recognition of a new situation. The towns settled by whites in the eastern part of the state had grown too important to remain, as they had been, a mere adjunct to the diocese of Nebraska. The more recent white population in the Black Hills, along the western boundary, was already separating Bishop Hare's work into two important divisions—the Indian and the white. The new arrangement merely made a geographical unit of all the work for Indians and whites which fell naturally to Bishop Hare's charge. It was a change which he greeted with entire satisfaction. This was expressed in his Annual Report for 1884, when he wrote, "We shall cease to be Missionaries to classes or races, and be Missionaries to men." (Howe’s biography of Bishop Hare)