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With God

Spend an hour with the Rev. Rick Foss and the belief that carries him through life's challenges will creep into conversation: If God is in the mix, we're OK.

Spend an hour with the Rev. Rick Foss and the belief that carries him through life's challenges will creep into conversation: If God is in the mix, we're OK.

It's really that simple, he says. For the past 16 years, Foss has used that paraphrase from Colossians 1:17 to guide pastors and congregations of the Eastern North Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

This summer he will end his call as bishop of the synod, home to more than 100,000 ELCA Lutherans. A new leader will be elected next weekend.

"I think it's an appropriate time," says Foss, 63, who can't run for another term because of term limits. "Nobody brings everything to an office."

But as bishop, he has brought many gifts to the leadership role, including the ability to recruit good people and then trust them to do good ministry with God's help.

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"There's a directness and truthfulness and honesty about him that's appreciated," says the Rev. Randy Schlecht, who served as associate with the bishop for nine years. "He honors and respects you."

Foss, who once was nominated to lead the national ELCA, has never considered himself anything more than a pastor of a very large and diverse parish. He believes that ministry is best accomplished from the congregation up and not dictates from the synod office. As bishop, he serves as a resource and sets vision, but the work is done by the people.

"He brings people together to believe in something and it happens," says the Rev. Sarah Larsen Tade, pastor at Shepherd of the Prairie Lutheran Parish, which includes congregations in Walcott, Christine and Hickson. "He knows how to bring out the best in people and how to connect them."

Larsen Tade first met Foss when she was a missionary in the Central African Republic, one of the North Dakota synod's global companions.

During Foss's first visit to the country, she remembers him telling the Central Africans that that partnership with eastern North Dakotans was a natural because both people are connected to the land.

When he returned to the U.S., he became a strong advocate for the partnership, encouraging the synod's congregations to support projects in the African country.

"He sees the potential of resources in our synod and the gifts we'd gain by partnering with the C.A.R.," Larsen Tade says.

The belief in the best of people has served Foss well as he helped build the largely rural synod's confidence and turned it into a place where pastors want to serve.

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"North Dakota isn't the Siberia of the church anymore," says the Rev. Ray Branstiter, pastor at Fargo's Recovery Worship. "A lot of that is because of Rick's leadership."

Branstiter is a second-career pastor. His kids fell in love with North Dakota when he did an internship at Tri-County Ministry, an ecumenical cooperative ministry in Cooperstown that serves 10 congregations.

After seminary, Branstiter served with Tri-County Ministry for seven years.

Like other seminarians who don't have roots in North Dakota, Branstiter returned because of Foss's leadership and a synod endowment fund that financially helps pastors who are called to serve rural congregations, he says.

The endowment was founded in 2000 after Foss recognized that seminarians often didn't accept calls to rural congregations because they couldn't afford to do so. The fund, which has distributed about $500,000, helps rural pastors pay off educational debt and build their pensions.

In more recent years, other national groups have used the synod's endowment fund as a model for addressing the ever-growing expenses of training pastors.

"All it means is that pastors who are gifted at certain types of ministry can serve where they want to be called and not where they can afford to be called," says Foss, who has become a national leader on the subject. "To find ways to support them is an important conversation to have."

Trust also has carried the synod through trying times, including farm crises, the flood of 1997, an agreement to share ministers and sacraments with the Episcopal church and conversations about sexuality.

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Through it all, Foss claims he has never been nervous about the outcomes of controversy or the next step.

"I don't have the gift of anxiety," he says.

That doesn't surprise those who have worked closely with him and have worried on his behalf about things like timely schedules and road conditions.

"That's just how he lives," Schlecht says. "Whether he's in the car, pulpit home or office, it's a consistent Rick."

Not that he's without his fun and competitive side. Foss is known for a wicked table tennis serve and will happily beat anybody in a game of racquetball, pool or golf.

And he's just as willing to share his other gifts, such as singing the Lord's Prayer during church services he is asked to lead.

"He has a good sense of knowing whether the Spirit is at work or whether we're trying to fuss our way through something," Branstiter says.

That's something he'll apply to his own life after this summer.

The future for the synod is positive, Foss says. Its pastors and congregations are healthy. Members have a strong slate of candidates from which to choose the next bishop.

As for his own future, Foss says he has never planned what he'll do next and he doesn't intend to start now. For example, he never wanted to be a bishop, but says it turned out to be a "pretty good fit."

"It's a call process for me," Foss says. "I figure God has something in mind for me and that will become apparent at the right time."

As long as God is in the mix, it will be OK.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

Spend an hour with the Rev. Rick Foss and the belief that carries him through life's challenges will creep into conversation: If God is in the mix, we're OK.

It's really that simple, he says.

For the past 16 years, Foss has used that paraphrase from Colossians 1:17 to guide pastors and congregations of the Eastern North Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

This summer he will end his call as bishop of the synod, home to more than 100,000 ELCA Lutherans. A new leader will be elected next weekend.

"I think it's an appropriate time," says Foss, 63, who can't run for another term because of term limits. "Nobody brings everything to an office."

But as bishop, he has brought many gifts to the leadership role, including the ability to recruit good people and then trust them to do good ministry with God's help.

"There's a directness and truthfulness and honesty about him that's appreciated," says the Rev. Randy Schlecht, who served as associate with the bishop for nine years. "He honors and respects you."

Foss, who once was nominated to lead the national ELCA, has never considered himself anything more than a pastor of a very large and diverse parish. He believes that ministry is best accomplished from the congregation up and not dictates from the synod office. As bishop, he serves as a resource and sets vision, but the work is done by the people.

"He brings people together to believe in something and it happens," says the Rev. Sarah Larsen Tade, pastor at Shepherd of the Prairie Lutheran Parish, which includes congregations in Walcott, Christine and Hickson. "He knows how to bring out the best in people and how to connect them."

Larsen Tade first met Foss when she was a missionary in the Central African Republic, one of the North Dakota synod's global companions.

During Foss's first visit to the country, she remembers him telling the Central Africans that that partnership with eastern North Dakotans was a natural because both people are connected to the land.

When he returned to the U.S., he became a strong advocate for the partnership, encouraging the synod's congregations to support projects in the African country.

"He sees the potential of resources in our synod and the gifts we'd gain by partnering with the C.A.R.," Larsen Tade says.

The belief in the best of people has served Foss well as he helped build the largely rural synod's confidence and turned it into a place where pastors want to serve.

"North Dakota isn't the Siberia of the church anymore," says the Rev. Ray Branstiter, pastor at Fargo's Recovery Worship. "A lot of that is because of Rick's leadership."

Branstiter is a second-career pastor. His kids fell in love with North Dakota when he did an internship at Tri-County Ministry, an ecumenical cooperative ministry in Cooperstown that serves 10 congregations.

After seminary, Branstiter served with Tri-County Ministry for seven years.

Like other seminarians who don't have roots in North Dakota, Branstiter returned because of Foss's leadership and a synod endowment fund that financially helps pastors who are called to serve rural congregations, he says.

The endowment was founded in 2000 after Foss recognized that seminarians often didn't accept calls to rural congregations because they couldn't afford to do so. The fund, which has distributed about $500,000, helps rural pastors pay off educational debt and build their pensions.

In more recent years, other national groups have used the synod's endowment fund as a model for addressing the ever-growing expenses of training pastors.

"All it means is that pastors who are gifted at certain types of ministry can serve where they want to be called and not where they can afford to be called," says Foss, who has become a national leader on the subject. "To find ways to support them is an important conversation to have."

Trust also has carried the synod through trying times, including farm crises, the flood of 1997, an agreement to share ministers and sacraments with the Episcopal church and conversations about sexuality.

Through it all, Foss claims he has never been nervous about the outcomes of controversy or the next step.

"I don't have the gift of anxiety," he says.

That doesn't surprise those who have worked closely with him and have worried on his behalf about things like timely schedules and road conditions.

"That's just how he lives," Schlecht says. "Whether he's in the car, pulpit home or office, it's a consistent Rick."

Not that he's without his fun and competitive side. Foss is known for a wicked table tennis serve and will happily beat anybody in a game of racquetball, pool or golf.

And he's just as willing to share his other gifts, such as singing the Lord's Prayer during church services he is asked to lead.

"He has a good sense of knowing whether the Spirit is at work or whether we're trying to fuss our way through something," Branstiter says.

That's something he'll apply to his own life after this summer.

The future for the synod is positive, Foss says. Its pastors and congregations are healthy. Members have a strong slate of candidates from which to choose the next bishop.

As for his own future, Foss says he has never planned what he'll do next and he doesn't intend to start now. For example, he never wanted to be a bishop, but says it turned out to be a "pretty good fit."

"It's a call process for me," Foss says. "I figure God has something in mind for me and that will become apparent at the right time."

As long as God is in the mix, it will be OK.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erin Hemme Froslie at (701) 241-5534

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