Who will be the new face of the Evangelical Church in Bavaria when State Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm leaves office after twelve years at the end of the year? At the end of March, the 108 members of the state synod, the Bavarian evangelical church parliament, can choose from four candidates. On Tuesday they presented themselves to the public in Munich.
Synod President Annekathrin Preidel describes the selection criteria as looking for a “team player with a vision”, a person who has “experience in shaping and changing”, “a philanthropist” – the latter in particular should generally be a prerequisite for the profession of Protestant pastor or the evangelical pastor. The four applicants also have very different profiles.
The youngest candidate at 47, the Landshut Dean Nina Lubomierski, comes from Hamburg. In Catholic Lower Bavaria, where the Protestant churches are usually somewhere on the outskirts of the villages and not in their middle, she dared to get out of the church bubble. In Landshut she created the first “pop-up church”, rented an empty shop in the pedestrian zone, offered pastoral talks and celebrated devotions. “We are relevant where we are with the people,” says Lubomierski. “We have something to offer that no one else has.”
In her everyday life, she lets you look over her shoulder on Instagram, on her account “@goodnewsfromLA” she posts, for example, from the train ride to Munich to the press conference, including a little prayer: “Living God, give me strength and joy for all tasks and encounters and patience” – followed by a photo of a raspberry brownie (“regarded as a vitamin injection”). Before she became dean, Lubomierski was a parish priest, a nursing home chaplain, and a religion teacher. “I like to try new things,” she says of herself. The diversity is what is special about the Evangelical Church in Bavaria. To preserve this in a church that is becoming smaller and to break new ground is the challenge.
The second candidate Gabriele Hörschelmann, “bankruptcy talk” in the church can gain nothing. “Church can handle a crisis. It is adaptable, I have seen that again and again.” The 54-year-old has a lot of international experience. She is director of the “Mission EineWelt” center in Neuendettelsau, the largest institution in the Bavarian state church – Hörschelmann himself describes it as a kind of “foreign office” of the state church. The center with 200 employees and a budget of around twelve million euros is responsible for relations with 20 churches on four continents.
During her vicariate she completed a station at the World Council of Churches (ACC) in Geneva. From 2004 to 2015 she lived with her husband, also a pastor, in Hong Kong, where she worked as a professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Hoerschelmann is well networked within the church, she is a member of the state synod and assessor in the synod presidium of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), theologically she is considered liberal. She does not want to leave unmentioned her further training in organizational development. In fact, given the dwindling funds, the regional church is in the middle of the so-called “Puk” process, which stands for “profile and concentration” but ultimately means “saving and cutting back”.
The term of office was reduced to ten years
The Munich regional bishop is already strong with personnel and church development Christian Kopp occupied. He is the only candidate from the ranks of the regional church council, i.e. the governing body of the regional church. “The evangelical church is in a strong process of change,” says Kopp. “It takes courageous, passionate, happy and clever employees.” Kopp, born in Regensburg and raised in Upper Bavaria, was parish priest in Nuremberg for many years and later dean for the south of Nuremberg. He’s also on Instagram, albeit not as active as Lubomierski, his profile there is called “@leuchten Lassen”.
Kopp also advocates transparency in view of the increasing number of people leaving the church: “Every exit is bitter. But I am in favor of communicating very openly and transparently what we offer and where the church taxes go.” If Kopp were elected, he would already be 59 when he took office in autumn 2023 – that means his term of office would end after eight years and not after ten, because at 67 years is the end for the state bishop as for all church officials. At the Amberg synod last November, the church parliament decided to shorten the term of office from twelve to ten years.
Klaus Schlicker on the other hand, he could still fill the full term of office, he is 56 years old. He is the dean of Windsbach and has so far been firmly rooted in Middle Franconia: He studied in Erlangen, was a consultant for the Ansbach regional bishops and parish priest in Wieseth in the deanery district of Feuchtwangen. He has also been a member of the state synod since 2020, where he is spokesman for the working group “Community on the Road”. He is also involved in future church congresses and on the subject of member retention and leaving the church.
Schlicker wants a church that radiates in two directions: encouraging inwards and as a voice of faith into society. “For me, church is always diaconal and missionary,” says Schlicker. “Missionary means: We talk about the love of God. And diaconal means: We pass on love because we are loved by God.”
That’s how the election works
You cannot apply for the office of Bavarian state bishop – you have to be proposed. According to Synod President Annekathrin Preidel, there were 26 proposals this time. Church bodies, for example church councils, or individual members of the state synod are entitled to propose. Only ordained pastors may run for office. The election preparation committee then selects a list of at least four and a maximum of six candidates from all the proposals. This list is submitted to the Bavarian State Government (according to the State Treaty of 1924). The government is also likely to reject candidates. The nationwide associations of member churches, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (VELKD), must also agree. At the synod on March 27, the members of the synod then elect the new bishop.