The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has re-elected their first female presiding bishop, the Reverend Elizabeth A. Eaton, by a large margin.
At a vote taken on Tuesday at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the Rev. Eaton won re-election on the first ballot, receiving 725 votes out of the 897 votes cast, or 81.19 percent.
“We're church, church first,” stated Eaton in her address to the Churchwide Assembly following the election results. “Our lives are not only supported but our lives are surrounded, and our lives have their basis and meaning in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
“And especially as we experience that in our lives and are changed by that in word and sacrament. That's where we get any authority or certainly any integrity to do works of love and justice, because we're church.”
The highest legislative body of the ELCA, the fifteenth Churchwide Assembly, is being held Aug. 5-10 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The Assembly meets every three years and holds elections for presiding bishops every six years. The theme for this year’s gathering is “We are church.”
The Reverend William Boerger, secretary of the ELCA, explained in a sermon during opening worship on Monday what the theme for this year’s Churchwide Assembly entails.
“We gather here in Milwaukee with this theme. We are church. But we do not say, 'We are the church.' We know the church of Jesus Christ is much larger than the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. But we are part of it,” said Boerger.
“We are the church because of what is happening here among us … the gospel is being preached, the sacraments are the center of what's happening here this week. … We are the church because of what God is doing.”
In 2013, the Churchwide Assembly elected Eaton as the first female leader of their denomination with 600 votes to defeat incumbent Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, who received 287 votes.
The bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, Eaton explained in her remarks following her 2013 election that she wanted to advance diversity in the ELCA.
"We are a church that is overwhelmingly European in a culture that is increasingly pluralistic," said Eaton at the time. "We need to welcome the gifts of those who come from different places, that is a conversation we need to have as a church."