The Rev. John A. Tietjen, installed less than a month ago as the first bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the new Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, announced this week he was resigning because of a dispute with the leaders of the synod over staff appointments.
Tietjen, 59, who drew national attention 15 years ago for his central role in a heated theological dispute that resulted in a schism in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, took the action after the 20-member Metro Chicago Synod Council rejected for the second time one of the bishop's nominees to serve as his administrative assistants.
"I am convinced that it is not possible for me to be the bishop of Metropolitan Chicago," Tietjen wrote in a letter Tuesday explaining his resignation from the job to which he had been narrowly elected in June and in which he was installed on Oct. 24.
"I did my best to meet the concerns and criteria articulated by the synod council at the Oct. 3 meeting," Tietjen wrote, referring to a meeting in which he proposed a list of assistants. At the time, the synod council rejected all of them.
"That synod council has now twice told me that I may not have the people I would like to have as my assistants. Because the synod council represents the people of the synod, I have concluded that it is not possible for me to be the bishop of the synod," the letter said.
Tietjen's resignation from the important Chicago synod is viewed by many as an embarrassing and painful development in the church, which will have its national headquarters here when it officially comes into existence on Jan. 1. The church is a newly merged 5.3 million-member denomination composed of three Lutheran bodies: the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church and the American Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Deposed in 1974 as president of Concordia Seminary, a school of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Tietjen led a faction of theologically moderate faculty and students into the formation of what is now called Christ Seminary-Seminex. He was also a leader of the moderate faction that split from the Missouri Synod to form the American Evangelical Lutheran Church, now a part of the larger Lutheran denomination.
The Rev. A. Craig Settlage, synod secretary and longtime friend of Tietjen's, said the resignation came as a shock to council members. "A number of people spoke very quickly to affirm his leadership," said Settlage, who described the resignation as the outcome of an "impasse between a strong bishop and a strong synod council."
Presiding Bishop Herbert Chilstrom said in a statement, "I regret the decision of Bishop John A. Tietjen to resign . . . this event is surely a setback for the church and the Chicago area. I am convinced, however that the members of our churches in this synod will respond to this time of uncertainty with great wisdom and commitment."
Tietjen, who has lived in Chicago since 1983, when the faculty and administration of Christ Seminary-Seminex was moved to the city, won a narrow victory in balloting for the office of bishop. He defeated the Rev. Sherman Hicks, a black pastor, by a vote of 443-430.
But Tietjen insisted that he enjoyed "good credibility" among the black Lutheran congregations, adding that he also had made strong appeals to the city's Hispanic Lutheran contingent.
But, he charged, his efforts were finally unavailing because there were "simply too many special-interest groups insisting on having their own way" in the leadership of the church.
A new bishop will be elected at a special meeting scheduled for Jan. 9, church officials said.