It may not be what churchwide assembly planners had in mind when the theme of this year’s churchwide assembly—“Always being made new”—was selected, but few things can embody that theme better than the history-making, Spirit-infused election that occurred yesterday in Pittsburgh. Forty-three years after women were first ordained in the American Lutheran tradition, a woman was elected presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Congratulations to Elizabeth Eaton, the next presiding bishop of our church!
Elizabeth and eight other women serve as bishops in nine of our 65 synods. The chair of the Conference of Bishops is the Rev. Jessica Crist, one of those nine. As the presiding bishop election process winnowed down nominees, three of the final four candidates were women. Approximately 3,300 pastors, or nearly 32 percent, of our ELCA roster are women. Indeed, our beloved church has been made new in many ways over these last 43 years. The facts clearly reflect that.
As I’ve written before in several venues, including this blog, it’s not just about numbers. To respond to the needs facing the church and society in the 21st century, a collaborative leadership style is needed, and studies show that women more naturally use this form of leadership. “Women employ a more participative leadership style, are more likely to share information and power, and have strong relational skills that make them seem empathic to their staffs,” writes Carol Kinsey Goman, in The Washington Post.
I pray that Elizabeth, Wilma, Marie, Ann, Jessica, Suzanne, Shelly, Tracie, Claire, their 3,300 sisters and all the lay women leaders of our church, standing on the shoulders of so many who have gone before, lean into that participative leadership style for the benefit of the church. May it be so!
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA.
The photo is of Elizabeth Eaton preaching at the closing worship of the Seventh Triennial Gathering (2008) of Women of the ELCA, in Salt Lake City, Utah.