Interview with Bishop Helmut Paul

Can you tell us more about yourself – your upbringing, your hobbies, your family?

Breda is the name of the forestry farm where I grew up – near Piet Retief. As the third of five children, I was nicely in the middle, in the middle of a lot of things, and I often say: I wasn’t brought up too strictly, but I wasn’t spoiled either. I went to primary school in Lüneburg and then to the technical college, Ligbron, in Ermelo. My home parish was Panbult, where I was both baptised and confirmed. From my father I probably got the love of sport, from my mother the love of music, then through the study of theology the love of reading. I can hardly imagine a week without these three areas in my free time. About my family: Since then, I am always amazed when I read on the Medical Aid card that there are five “dependants”: Gisela, Kyle, Helen, Nina, Oliver. And so it continues: nicely in the middle and always surrounded by others.

You are a husband, a father of four, a congregational pastor, as well as bishop of the FELSISA. How are you managing all your obligations?

With thankfulness! What a privilege to share life with another person in marriage, to celebrate highs and go through lows together. And then children, a gift from God! Of course, it has not always been easy and continues to have its difficult moments, but again I am grateful, especially for Gisela, her love, patience, joy and wisdom. And I am thankful at the same time for the help and support of the larger family, which at first in Wittenberg (our first congregation) consisted mainly of Paul or Prigge relatives, and now in Durban consists of Hillermann relatives. I am also grateful for the support of parishioners, for understanding and patience and a wonderful home in the parsonage, first in Wittenberg and now in Durban. When I think of the tasks in the congregation and additionally now also those of a bishop, it helps me to know that I am not alone and also not asked to do everything alone. God has promised us his presence and he showers us with his gifts. Again and again people comfort and encourage me with the reminder that I am remembered in their prayers. Then there is the efficient church council, faithful congregation members, also an eager synodal council and brothers in office who are willing to work. Of course, I have to acknowledge my tasks, think about what needs to be done and do it. But then I must also recognise my limitations. Rest. Switch off. What has not been done can still be done.

Why did you want to become a pastor?

That’s a good question! I’ve asked myself this many times (my children also ask this question sometimes). Maybe I just wanted to get my words out. I still have my grandmother’s voice in my ear: “Helmut, you speak so much, you will certainly become a pastor”. In the meantime, I have learned that the mouth or the tongue is probably not the most important organ of a pastor, but rather the ear, or as Solomon’s wish was, “a listening heart” (1 Kings 3:9). I was moved to study the “trustworthy saying that … Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15). I wanted to bring this word to others – both in the church and outside.

At the synodical convention in Lüneburg in May, you were elected and installed as bishop of the FELSISA. What does the office of bishop in our synod entail?

Here I’d like to point to the synodal order, which repeatedly says that the bishop has duties “together with…”. Together with the pastoral members of the committee, he is to exercise supervision over doctrine. Together with the synodal council, the decisions of the synodal convention are to be carried out. This office also includes some meetings of organisations or commissions of FELSISA. Visits of the pastors, the congregations, as well as official visitations fall under the official duties. The administration of the finances of FELSISA and other administrative tasks in areas such as the pension fund or medical aid are also tasks that are done “together with the synodal council”. External representation and relations with other churches also need to be taken care of, as well as many other things.

Did the time as deputy bishop help prepare you for the office of bishop?

Definitely. I am very grateful for this time and for the good leadership of our Bishop Emeritus Dieter Reinstorf. I was able to copy and learn a lot from his administrative talent. He also gave me a lot of insight into his work as a leader. As the synodal council, we often had his approaching retirement in mind and we considered how we could distribute the bishop’s workload or employ additional support staff.

You recently completed the LLDP (Lutheran Leadership Development Program). Did this course help prepare you for the office of bishop?

I will probably look back on this training course with gratitude many times over the next few years. It was often impressed on us: “To lead is to learn”. I am grateful for the content of the course, for the good teaching, but also for the good relationship with the participants of this course, as well as for the camaraderie among each other. I hope to continue to build on such networks, to learn from and work with leaders of other Lutheran churches.

Even though the FELSISA is comparatively a small church body, what role does the FELSISA nonetheless play nationally and internationally?

FELSISA is indeed small and yet much has been given to it. We can look back on 130 years of history and recognise what treasures God has entrusted to us. May God continue to give us good eyes and ears, love and energy, so that we recognise where we can respond to the needs around us, where we can reach out and where we can learn from others. Above all, may he grant us good cooperation with the LCSA. On the international level, we are part of the ILC and can therefore participate internationally and count on the help and support of international sister churches. Through the Mission of Lutheran Churches (MLC) we can continue to be active in many areas of mission. Also, the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Tshwane (LTS) offers a fantastic opportunity to play a role on a national and international level.

And how do you stay calm in emotionally charged situations?

I think, for one, it is important to always expect such situations, that is, to expect emotionally charged situations, especially when it comes to things that are important to us. Secondly, I always try to keep a healthy distance. Spatial or temporal pauses are sometimes constructive in this regard. Often it helps to ask again before I speak, with James 1:19 always in my ear: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”.

What vision do you have for future of the FELSISA?

A Synod that is at home in our beautiful country. A Synod that knows the treasure of the Gospel, values the comfort of Lutheran teaching and therefore confidently reaches out to others with this treasure. A FELSISA that reaches out and invites and welcomes into its midst.

A Synod made up of congregations that are known in their neighbourhoods as places where the light of Christ shines.

Do you have a motto, for example a bible verse, that guides you in your ministry?

One sentence has been with me for a long time: “Nobody said it would be easy!” I have often said this as a joke and yet many a time I have also meant it seriously. The guiding bible verse, however, is probably Psalm 31:9: “You have set my feet in a spacious place.” In Christ, we are not restricted into a tight place, but in him we are free; it is wide and open for us, we are filled with love, hope, foresight and future. Alongside this verse, I often have in mind the word of the last Synod from 1 Peter 3:15: ” Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

May the Lord guide you and our synod according to his Word and bless you according to the riches of his grace!

The interview was conducted by Pastor Andreas Albers, Our Saviour, Wartburg.

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