Conclave takes place in Bavaria - fails to elect

Protestant Conclave: Who will succeed Bishop Bedford-Strohm?

An era is coming to an end. Today, the Protestant state synod in Bavaria will elect a successor to state bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm: an exciting election, because there are four candidates, but no favourite.

There has never been such a thing in Bavaria: a Protestant regional bishop. Twice the election of a woman to the highest office of the Protestant Church has failed. In 1998, the theologian Johanna Haberer failed, and in 2011, the then regional bishop Susanne Breit-Keßler lost to Heinrich Bedford-Strohm.

Two women are running to succeed him today. One of them is Gabriele Hoerschelmann. She is the director of the "Mission EineWelt" partnership centre in Neuendettelsau in the Ansbach district of Central Franconia. This is the international contact point of the regional church. Hoerschelmann has been abroad a lot, she lived and worked in Hong Kong for more than ten years.

Despite the church crisis and high numbers of people leaving the church, the second candidate is also optimistic about the future of the church. Nina Lubomierski has been Dean in Landshut in Lower Bavaria for three years and has attracted attention there with new projects: a shop church in the city centre, a Christmas singing in the ice stadium. In her application speech, she explained that she stands for combining tradition and innovation.

Klaus Schlicker, the dean from Windsbach in Central Franconia, presented himself during his presentation above all as an advocate for the local church communities: "I believe that this is exactly what our church needs, this rootedness in the presence of God, this conscious living out of the sources of strength that we have: Bible, prayer, blessing," says Schlicker.

The most experienced among the candidates is the regional bishop of Munich and Upper Bavaria, Christian Kopp. He would be 59 years old when he takes office and, if elected, would be at the helm of the regional church for eight years instead of the possible ten. His goal: to promote the creative and courageous in the church. The church needs restructuring and concentration, says Kopp. One has to say goodbye to the senseless, but unfortunately also to the sensible, the Munich regional bishop continues.

These factors play a role

Even if one hears again and again in the regional church that the time is ripe for a woman at the top: today, gender is - if at all - only one criterion by which the synod members decide. Many factors play a role in the church parliament: Franconian, Lower Bavarian, Middle Franconian or Upper Bavarian? Theologically liberal or rather conservative?

(Cathcon: Protestant politicking, no matter how many times the Veni Creator Spiritus is sung.)  

Bishop election is public

Unlike a conclave in the Catholic Church, the Protestant bishop election is public. But here, too, candidates need a two-thirds majority in the church parliament - at least in the first two ballots. However, such a quick election is considered unlikely. From the third ballot onwards, a simple majority is sufficient.

The new regional bishop will take over from Heinrich Bedford-Strohm on 31 October.

See also below the account of election day.

After six ballots, the church parliament cannot agree on a successor for Heinrich Bedford-Strohm. Nevertheless, he does not want to know anything about a crisis.

In the end, the presidium of the Bavarian Protestant state synod resorted to the last resort: "Come Holy Spirit, with your power", the church parliamentarians were told to sing, fervently and also a little desperately. Actually, the Synod was supposed to elect a new regional bishop this Monday in the Matthäuskirche in Munich. But none of the four candidates could muster the necessary absolute majority of 55 votes at the end of a long day. For the time being, therefore, there is no successor to Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, who will retire in autumn (Cathcon: he has been elected moderator of the World Council of Churches).

Bedford-Strohm had initially appeared quite jovial on Monday. He was looking forward to putting his job in new hands in the autumn, he said. He had come to Sendlinger Tor by bicycle through strike-ridden Munich and had distributed ginger sweets to his seat neighbours between the ballots. But from ballot to ballot, the mood became more tense. Before the sixth and decisive ballot, Bedford-Strohm could be seen with a furrowed brow in crisis mode pilgrimaging back and forth between the synod presidium, the successor candidates and church lawyers.

For if no candidate receives an absolute majority in six ballots, as the Bishops' Election Act states, a new election proposal must be submitted. Twelve years ago, Bedford-Strohm himself was only elected as the Protestant bishop in the sixth ballot. But the fact that even six ballots were not enough "has never happened before in the history of the Bavarian regional church", Bedford-Strohm said in the evening.

Four people stood for election: Gabriele Hoerschelmann, director of the "One World Centre" in Neuendettelsau, Munich regional bishop Christian Kopp, 58, Landshut dean Nina Lubomierski, 47, and Windsbacher dean Klaus Schlicker. In the first two rounds of voting, a two-thirds majority would have been necessary; from the third round onwards, an absolute majority of 55 votes would have sufficed. The Synod has 108 members in total, two were absent with apologies.

Gabriele Hoerschelmann withdrew her candidacy after the third ballot, after she had only received 13 and nine votes respectively. Before the fifth ballot, 56-year-old Klaus Schlicker, Dean of Windsbach, also withdrew his candidacy. Finally, the election thriller focused on Christian Kopp and Nina Lubomierski. In the fifth ballot, there was a stalemate between the two, 51 to 51. Four people had abstained.

These four would then have had to vote unanimously for one of the two candidates in the next ballot in order to achieve the necessary 55 votes - whether this would work was already in doubt for many synod members. They returned from the last deliberations in a depressed mood. They were proved right: In the end, Kopp received 52 votes, Lubomierski 50, with four abstentions. Thus, neither of them had the required majority.



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