MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minneapolis-area Lutherans have a new leader, and she’s making history. Pastor Ann Svennungsen was elected as the first female bishop in Minnesota to lead the nation’s largest Lutheran synod.
A majority of Lutherans voted Saturday to install Svennungsen as the new bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which has 192,000 baptized members. She is currently an interim college pastor at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Both of the final bishop candidates were minority leaders who would have changed the future of the church. The other pastor up for the position was Kelly Chatman, of Redeemer Church in North Minneapolis. He was poised to become synod’s first black leader.
It was a close vote between the choices, with nearly 700 votes cast. Chatman received 317 votes, and Svennungsen received 339 votes.
The election comes as ELCA Lutherans are working to overcome declining membership and attract more ethnic minorities to the faith.
“Well, they’ve been white, male, in their fifties since the beginning of the ELCA in 1987,” said interim bishop Glenn Nycklemoe, referring to past bishops. “I think it is more than symbolic, it is real to who we are as a church….We are open to the leadership of a woman, to the leadership of an African American man.”
Svennungsen says she spent a career breaking barriers.
“I come from a long line of Lutheran pastors, all men. So I was the first to go onto the parish ministry in my generation. I have actually in many of my callings been the first woman,” she said.
Svennungsen is married, with three grown children, and she is also a new grandmother. She says she will move to Minneapolis from Northfield for her new job.
Chatman said that even with the close vote he celebrates the diversity in leadership that “comes out of communities overlooked way too long.”
“It was a great voice of our body and the diversity of our church lifting it up…I think it’s an affirmation we have talented and gifted leaders, so I am feeling really food right now. I am not only going back to my church, I’m excited to go back to my church,” Chatman said.
Svennnungsen will now be the seventh female ELCA bishop out of 65 bishops across the country. There are only two non-white bishops in the ELCA nationwide.
The Minneapolis area ELCA synod bishop position opened up because the former bishop, Craig Johnson, became pastor of Mount Olivet Church in Minneapolis, the largest ELCA congregation in the country. He took over after longtime pastor Paul Youngdahl passed away last summer.
The election also follows a decision from church leaders Friday to oppose a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
Synod members say no money will be spent as a result of the decision, and no organized campaign will be launched. They say the main point was to send a simple message of tolerance.
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