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Q&A with Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne on new national church role

“I pride myself in living a life of integrity,” Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne says.   [Times files]
“I pride myself in living a life of integrity,” Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne says. [Times files]
Published Aug. 27, 2016

CLEARWATER — Having served as a colonel in the Air Force and the chief executive of Pinellas County's second-largest city for 15 years, Bill Horne is no stranger to leadership.

But now the Clearwater city manager has stepped into a national role with his recent election as vice president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the highest position a layman can hold.

The ELCA elected Horne with 63 percent of the votes against two other final candidates on Aug. 12 during the 2016 Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans.

The Times asked Horne, 67, about his faith, his work with the city and future plans:

Were you raised in a religious household, or is faith something that came later in life?

I was raised in a religious household. My parents divorced when I was 6 years old, and my sister and I went to live with my grandmother and grandfather. My grandmother, in particular, was an active churchgoer in the national Baptist convention-type church, so I grew up through high school and college and the early work years prior to 1982 being affiliated with the Baptist church. I was in church every Sunday, I attended Bible school during the summer, I participated in all of the church activities. By the time I got to adulthood, I was in college, so I wasn't as active during my college years. Then I got into the military and participated in base chapel, so I've always been in the religious community in some way.

What role does faith play in your professional life and your work with the city?

Because I strongly believe in my Christian values, I let those values and my beliefs shape the way that I interact with people and the way that I resolve issues and problems. The way that I serve as a role model to those who would look up to me as an example, as someone who is a good person, someone who has integrity, someone who is trustworthy, someone who is sensitive to others, someone who has some idea of how to relate to other people who come from different backgrounds and different experiences. … Of course, I'm working in the public sector and I respect our Constitution, so I am one who believes very strongly in behaving constitutionally.

Has your faith ever been tested in a significant way?

It's always been tested when I'm asked or it's implied that I should do something that is dishonest, that I would consider immoral. When you get into that dimension where I'm kind of expected to go along with practices that are not appropriate or not acceptable, I pride myself in living a life of integrity.

How long have you been involved in church leadership? How did you first get involved?

When our family relocated here from Japan in 1995, we joined a local church in Brandon, Apostles Lutheran Church. Inside of a year I was asked to serve on the Church Council for that congregation. The following year I was asked to serve as president of the congregation. That triggered my journey of my leadership in the church because I served two years as the congregation president, then I came to Clearwater and became president of St. Paul's Lutheran Church here for a couple of years. All Lutheran churches are part of a synod, and I served on the synod council for three years, and then I was elected to be the vice president of the synod, the highest lay leader of Florida, for a four-year term. I ended that term last August 2015. A year later, at the assembly last week, I was nominated among about 100 names. I was at the top of that ballot, the No. 1 vote-getter, and that started the process of electing the vice president.

What exactly does being vice president mean, and what are your duties?

The primary duty as the vice president in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America constitution is that the vice president chairs the meeting of the Church Council. The Church Council, we have somewhere between 33 and 44 members from all the synods throughout the church. It meets in April and November of each year for about three to four days. The highest decisionmaking body is the Churchwide Assembly, which met last week. But that body only meets once every three years. In between the three years, the Church Council will make decisions on behalf of the denomination.

What types of decisions do you make as a body?

Making changes in the constitution, making church policy changes, approving budgets, approving policy decisions that reflect the denomination and things we care deeply about as a denomination.

Do you see yourself taking the next step into ministry?

Not right now. I've had those kinds of considerations through my entire life, and I have never felt a sense of calling to be a member of the clergy. You can't say never, but I believe I'm called to be doing what I'm doing as a lay leader.

Do you have any national initiatives you want to tackle as vice president?

As vice president, I'm not a lone ranger and I support the positions and the policies of the church. Because we are a 3.7 million-member church and we are all over the world, every environment the church finds itself in is different. If you go from one end of the country to the other, the environments our members live in are not all the same. We all come together and we often will share different perspectives on what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a Lutheran. My role as vice president of the Church Council is to ensure the council is fully listening to all those different voices and perspectives and to use that input and have that come to bear on the decisions they're making in the church.

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.