The Spirit of Pentecost came two weeks early to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as a result of the bishop elections at two of its synod assemblies this past weekend. For the first time in the entire history of Lutheranism in America, two women of African descent were elected to lead their respective synods.
There was an outpouring of celebration among Lutheran African descent clergy on social media on Saturday afternoon of May 5, when the Rev. Patricia Davenport was elected to lead the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. A day later, it completely erupted into hyperbolic happiness as the Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld became the new bishop of the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin.
The Rev. Patricia Davenpor The Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld
The significance of this kairos moment cannot be overstated. It would not be altogether tactless to suggest that, in our church, like the fragmented society in which we live, diversity has been viewed as a threat, rather than a gift from God.
These two elections have triggered a seismic shift in the complexion (pun intended) of the leadership in the ELCA, traditionally and historically dominated by white males. Though recent elections have swelled the numbers of women in the Conference of Bishops, no woman of African descent has ever been counted among them. Bishops-Elect Davenport and Thomas-Breitfeld will blaze a trail for those who follow.
There is a sense among those who have worked for change and for more inclusiveness in the church, that their efforts are bearing fruit.
But change comes at God's time, not human time.
For the 500 years since the Reformation that gave birth to what we know as the Lutheran church, its makeup has been predominantly Northern European, its leadership predominantly male.
The last several decades, however, have seen the growth of the church in general moving toward the global south, to countries where material wealth has been less of an impediment and its people are more open to hear and receive the gospel.
As a church body, the ELCA is thirty years old - still in its infancy, relatively speaking. It was not until 1970, that a woman was first ordained as a pastor in North America.
Today, Lutheran women make up about 35 per cent of the active clergy in the church. They serve in a variety of roles, including campus ministers, chaplains and missionaries. However, there is still an inequity when it comes to receiving calls. For candidates of color, that imbalance is even more pronounced.
I'm often reminded of that scene in Revelation where, "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages," stood before the throne and worshipped God (Rev. 7).
That is God's vision for the church - a vision we all are called to embrace.
As we enter the final days of the Easter season, and witness the transformation of the church, may we also be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and strive toward the unity that Jesus prayed for in the Gospel according to John.
We wish all God's blessings to the Bishops-Elect and pray that their ministry will enrich the church and be a blessing to the people they have been called to serve.
Not to be overlooked in the exuberance of the elections in Philadelphia and Wisconsin, was the election of the Rev. Susan Briner, as the new bishop of the Southwestern Texas Synod. Of the 65 members in the Conference of Bishops, her election increases the ranks of female bishops to 14. There were also two other women re-elected to their calls: Bishop Shelley Wickstrom in Alaska, and Bishop Ann Svennungsen in Minneapolis.
My week is filled with a variety of meetings in the office and with congregational councils.
There is one I want to highlight.
This evening, I will have dinner with members of Ecumenical Partners in Outreach, which represents seven denominations working together in mission. The EPO meets periodically in sites across the nation, and Cleveland is the host city for this gathering.
As a responsibility of her office, our Director for Evangelical Mission, the Rev. Julianne Smith, will be working with this group.
Sunday, May 13, which is also Mother's Day, I will celebrate with the people of God at
Iglesia Luterana La Trinidad, in Canton, one of our two Latino mission congregations. Several of their youngsters will affirm their baptism in the rite of Confirmation. La Trinidad was my first call in ministry, so I always return with a sense of fond nostalgia and a profound gratitude at the growth of those who were toddlers when I was their pastor.
This week and always, may the God of our Lord Jesus Christ give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.
+Bishop Abraham Allende