I was presenting at the Saint Paul Synodical Women’s Convention as election results for synod bishop were live-streamed from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Assembly (SEPA) on May 5.
My talk was about Women of the ELCA’s 25th Anniversary trip to Liberia, and just as the Rev. Patricia Davenport was elected bishop of SEPA, her photo popped up on my PowerPoint slide. She served as chaplain on the trip to Liberia.
I left for the airport immediately after my presentation so I could be in my congregation on Sunday to observe Rachel’s Day, a time set aside to mourn the loss of our children and to renounce the forces of violence and fear. I had no one to dance and squeal with in the airport.
I wanted to shout the good news to someone, anyone, that the ELCA had elected its first African American female bishop.
Then even more good news came my way.
God is up to something
God is always up to something even though my eyes are not always focused to see it. I thought I was overjoyed and as overwhelmed as I could be by the news of Davenport’s election. I thought, “Wow this is the first All Anew moment I’ve had in a while.” (All Anew was the theme of Women of the ELCA’s Tenth Triennial Gathering in Minneapolis last July.)
Then 24 hours later the Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld was elected bishop of the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin. Two women of African descent elected and three other women over the course of the weekend!
I thought then, as I do now, “This will not be your run-of-the-mill synod assembly bishop elections.”
Yes! I am in awe at this new thing God had done. Two African American women elected bishop—a historical moment for the ELCA and an extraordinary blessing for the ELCA African descent community.
Our participants should celebrate
And, it is also another reason for Women of the ELCA to celebrate All Anew.
Both Davenport and Thomas-Breitfeld are active members of our organization and have served in many ways long before becoming bishops-elect. In addition to serving as chaplain for the 25th Anniversary trip to Liberia, Davenport is also one of the trainers for WELCA Today’s Dreams Tomorrow’s Reality antiracism network. And, Thomas-Breitfeld currently serves on Women of the ELCA’s executive board.
Both are triennial convention and gathering regulars, and I think they will be present at the Eleventh Triennial Gathering in Phoenix in 2020.
The synod assembly season is not over until June, and I have a feeling that there may be more All Anew moments to celebrate. Keep watching.
Valora K Starr is director of discipleship for Women of the ELCA. Photos: The feature photo was adapted from artwork by Vonda Drees created at the Tenth Triennial Gathering in Minneapolis last July. Above is Davenport, left, when she served as chaplain of the 25th Anniversary trip to Liberia and Thomas-Breitfeld serving as worship leader at Women’s of the ELCA’s October 2017 board meeting.