The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has elected the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton of Ohio as the denominationâs first female presiding bishop. Eaton received 600 votes while the current Presiding Bishop Rev. Mark Hanson received 287.
Eaton, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod, is married to the Rev. Conrad Selnick, an Episcopal priest. Similar to Hanson, she is considered a moderate who supported the denominationâs decision to allow partnered gay clergy while allowing room for churches to disagree, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A native of Cleveland, she received a master of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School.
“We are a church that is overwhelmingly European in a culture that is increasingly pluralistic,” Eaton told the ELCA assembly in Pittsburgh shortly after the election. “We need to welcome the gifts of those who come from different places, that is a conversation we need to have as a church.”
The ELCA, which has lost members nearly every year since its founding in 1987, experienced a dramatic drop when it lost nearly half a million members in 2010 and 2011. The ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S., with more than 4 million members in 9,638 congregations.
The election was a surprise to many, as the current presiding bishop who oversaw the denomination for 12 years was expected to be re-elected. Hanson was the third presiding bishop in the denominationâs history. Three of four finalist for the position were women.
“When I stood before you 12 years, I told you this is not an election won, this is a call received. And now this call has been extended to Bishop Eaton,” Hanson said at the assembly. “This is a humble and a holy privilege to serve the gospel as the pastor of this whole church.”
In June, the ELCA elected its first openly gay bishop, four years after the denomination voted to allow gay men and lesbians to serve as clergy. In 2006, The Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori became the first woman to lead a church in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Eaton will serve a 6-year term beginning Nov. 1.