Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Condolences to the New Bishop

The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, Bishop of the ELCA's North East Ohio Synod, has been elected presiding bishop on the fifth ballot.  She will replace the Rev. Mark Hanson, who has served in that capacity for twelve years, and who was one of the candidates this year as well.  Eaton will be the first woman to hold the post.

Many readers will know more about the events of the day than does poor Father Anonymous, who has been busy unpacking boxes in the Specus Pecuniarum.  It was surely an exciting election.  The day that Stephen Bouman unseated James Sudbrock for the episcopacy of metropolitan New York remains one of the most memorable, and harrowing, experiences of our ecclesiastical life.  This will no doubt be as memorable for many of you.

We know little about Bishop Eaton.  Months ago, we very seriously considered a call to a splendid congregation in her synod, and although her name came up rarely, it was then spoken with warmth.  We came away with the sense that she was popular and distinctly liberal.

Truth be told, we know little enough about Bishop Hanson.  We met him once, for about five minutes, in his office.  He was wearing a gray striped suit that looked ghastly with his clericals.  He seemed earnest and distracted.  Come to think of it, that is how his tenure as PB has impressed us:  earnest but distracted.  He has stood up for all the things his church wants him to stand up for, especially the left-leaning ones.  He has given sober sermons and seemed like a decent fellow.

To our way of thinking, however, Hanson's signature achievement is the restructuring of the ELCA's churchwide organization.  Managing decline is neither sexy nor popular, but it is what mainline leaders are often called to do lately, and when the time came, Hanson was forthright about it.  Not everybody would have been.

And if it seems to you that we are removed from all this, not just geographically but emotionally, then you are correct.  A turn of events that would once have excited us very much indeed, and provoked days of armchair analysis, seems at present mildly interesting.  Less pressing, certainly, than the young mother struggling with cancer in our congregation, or even the nice couple wooed away by the  predatory NALC pastor down the street.  Always local, we seem to be entering a stage of life that is truly and deeply parochial.

Still, we can't help noticing this sort of dumb paragraph in a news report by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, who writes for RNS and GetReligion, and really should know better:
Eaton joins Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who in 2006 became the first woman to lead a church in the worldwide Anglican Communion. The two churches share a full communion agreement that allows shared clergy and joint ministry.
It's not wrong, mind you.  But it certainly is strange; Anglicans and Episcopalians have nothing to do with this.  A better paragraph might have read:
Eaton joins Church of Norway Presiding Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien [EDIT:  and Canadian National Bishop Susan Johnson] on the very short list of Lutheran national primates who are women.  Bishop Margot Kaessman, leader of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) resigned her post in 2010 after a DUI arrest.  Although Lutherans began to ordain women in the mid-20th century (1948 in Denmark, 1958 in Sweden, 1961 in Norway, 1970 in the US), it was only in 1992 that Maria Jepsen was chosen to be the first female Lutheran bishop, serving the see of Hamburg in the North Elbian Landeskirche.
Anyway.  We extend our deepest sympathies to Bishop Eaton and her family, and assure them all of our fervent prayers in the coming six years.


Geoff said...

Lutherans in Canada still have a woman primate!

Father Anonymous said...

Thanks, Geoff! I should have gone there first, since the ELCIC is really our closest partner.