This event is a turning point for the Evangelical Lutheran Church
History was made by an American Evangelical Lutheran Church on May 5 when the institution elected a female bishop of African-American ancestry. Only 24 hours later, another synod elected yet another African-American female bishop. The two synods are about 900 miles distant from each other. The first synod elected the Reverend Patricia A. Davenport to the bishop's office overseeing Southern Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia. The second synod elected Reverend Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld to be the pastor-elect for Wisconsin's South-Central Synod.
Reverend Davenport will lead the 95,000 member strong Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. This synod has 160 members spread over the city in the four suburban counties. The 63-year-old won the election on May 5, having received 331 of the total 478 votes cast during the annual assembly of the regional group. Her competitors were Reverend Carlton E. Rodgers of Philadelphia's Tabernacle Church and Reverend Julie K. DeWerth of the King of Prussia's Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Davenport will take the reins in August. She succeeds Reverend Claire Schenot Burkat who ascended the office in 2006. Burkat served two successive terms as the local synod's bishop. The national denomination of this Lutheran church has about 3.5 million members sprinkled over 9,400 worshiping communities.
Congrats to Pr. Patricia Davenport @sepasynod and Pr. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld @SCSWELCA the first elected #AfricanAmerican Women Bishops in the @ELCA. 30 years ago I attended a youth leadership event and #Pastor Viviane was my small group leader. Some pix from 1988! #lutheran pic.twitter.com/EmPr2vIkdQ
— Jonathan Rundman (@jonathanrundman) May 7, 2018
Thomas-Breitfield presently works as an instructor in the Christian public leadership school at St. Paul's Luther Seminary, Minnesota. This the largest seminary of the denomination. She expressed her gratefulness towards God for the position he has given her.
Elizabeth Eaton, the Presiding Bishop, said the winning votes for these two candidates are an inclusive step towards the future by arguably one of the whitest mainline Protestant denominations in the United States. Eaton said God has called them to be a diverse, multicultural, and inclusive church. She told a media house that the status quo of 30 years ended. She hopes God will open many eyes to the gift of people of non-European descent.
As per Reverend Leah Schade, Assistant Professor, Lexington Theological Seminary, Lexington, Kentucky, these elections mean poignant moments for this denomination. She spent about 18 years working with Davenport in Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. According to her, this is the ELCA's turning point. It is essential, she said, the women of color reach leadership's highest levels, and all of these are happening in the church.