Meet the New Presiding Bishop
by Judy Hoshek
The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton faced 50 people from a congregation considering leaving the E LCA because of disagreements about church policy regarding gay and lesbian clergy. Their questions and comments expressed defiance, accusation, and skepticism. Eaton, at the time the bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod and now the ELCA’s presiding bishop, responded calmly, with patience, quoting Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
In 2009, the churchwide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (E LCA) voted to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships. Eaton offered her understanding of the issues and events raised by the congregation. Throughout the hour-long meeting, she threaded her responses with good humor—a spirit not always shared by the others gathered there.
The congregation had been given materials that accused the ELCA, its leaders, and its policies of heresies. Bishop Eaton continued to smile and address the questioners as “ma’am” or “sir” while stalwartly trying to avoid being defensive. This was one of 69 similar congregational and council meetings she attended during her last years as bishop of Northeastern Ohio.
“Sometimes it feels like the scene in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ where the villagers come up over the hill with torches and pitchforks,” she said. Like the beast, she has avoided being set on fire. But how does she prepare herself for these encounters?
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Judy Hoshek serves as an assistant to the bishop in the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the ELCA. She received her training as a deaconess from the Lutheran Deaconess Association and is delighted to be a member of its class of 1971.
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