Being Stewards Open to the Holy Spirit

“This is not something we anticipated, I just wanted there to be a conversation.  I didn’t think it would get this far out of hand.”  These words, though sounding amusing, are some of the first words uttered by our newly elected Presiding Bishop-elect Elizabeth Eaton.  These words, I believe, were an honest, straightforward reflection upon her election.  They clearly reflect her surprise with her new call, but she was not alone.

I think many persons the week after the Assembly are asking, “How did this election happen?”  There was little conversation prior to the Assembly about the upcoming election for Presiding Bishop.  I heard no strong public sentiment to oust Bishop Hanson.  I believe most voting members went to this Churchwide Assembly anticipating that Bishop Hanson would be called once more to serve this Church as Presiding Bishop. 

Bishop Hanson had shared in the fall of 2012 that he was open to serving a third term as the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA.  In the days leading up to the Assembly, I personally believed that by the third ballot he would be recalled to the office which he has served so faithfully over the past twelve years.  But surprisingly voting members were open to the Holy Spirit’s nudge and suddenly reflected this assembly’s theme of … “always being made new.”  So we now embark on the next twenty-five years of the ELCA with a new Presiding Bishop.

Bishop-elect Eaton presently serves as the Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod.  Her call was just affirmed this past June when she was elected to a second six-year term.  She is a graduate of The College of Wooster (Bachelors of Music Education) and Harvard Divinity School.  She served as a parish pastor for twenty-five years before being called to the office of synodical bishop in 2007.

My experience of our new bishop these past six years has been quite positive.  She is Biblically rooted, theologically grounded, confessional, engaging, compassionate, articulate, pleasant, and witty.  She presently serves as a member of the Conference of Bishops Executive Committee. 

When she spoke to the gathered body during the election process she acknowledged the “important and momentous, yet costly decision” the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America made around sexuality in 2009.  It is a decision she contended that some parts of this Church continue to grieve.  Noting that some persons felt marginalized by these decisions she called on all of us to respect one another’s consciences regarding the decisions and encouraged us to find ways to connect more fully with one another.  Otherwise the culture of mistrust which has infiltrated our Church will continue to plague us.  She concluded her remarks reminding us that we Lutherans have much to offer the world in our theology of the cross.  We need to reclaim and see in one another someone for whom Christ died and is redeemed.  I believe she captured the vision and spirit of the gathered body and was therefore overwhelmingly called to the Office of Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. 

Bishop-elect Eaton will be installed in Chicago on Saturday, October 5 and will begin her ministry on November 1, 2013.  Personally I look forward to working with our new Presiding Bishop.  I anticipate she will bring a new and different persona to the office and to the ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  Let us keep her, the newly elected Secretary The Rev. William Chris Boerger, and our whole church in our prayers … daily.

                                                                        +Bishop Gregory