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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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A new presiding bishop

Eaton first woman to hold post, looks to sharpen message, open doors

Photographs by Julie Fletcher

Elizabeth A. Eaton, bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, was elected ELCA presiding bishop and will succeed Mark S. Hanson, who is finishing his second six-year term in office.

Eaton, 58, was elected on the fifth ballot at the Churchwide Assembly, with 600 votes to 287 cast for Hanson.

By the time of her election on the third day, Eaton had addressed several issues facing the church in the years ahead, in question-and-answer periods and in a speech to voting members.

Before her election as synod bishop in 2006, Eaton served parishes in Ohio. Her husband, Conrad Selnick, is priest of St. Christopher's by the River Episcopal Church, Gates Mills, Ohio. They are parents of two daughters, Rebeckah and Susannah.

She is a graduate of the College of Wooster (Ohio) and Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass.

"What excites me about the ELCA," Eaton said, "is that we are a diverse group who find our unity in Christ. When we do this, we are at our best. When the world can see that when people have disagreements, but come together to praise the one who unites us all, this is a sight that the world needs to see."

Eaton saw a consistent increase in votes through the balloting. On the first ballot, where any pastor on the ELCA roster could be nominated, she received 23 votes. Other top candidates on that ballot were Hanson, with 440 votes; Bishop Jessica Crist of the Montana Synod, 53; Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, 36; and Bishop Jon Anderson of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod, 26.

Eaton's votes increased to 87 on the second ballot, but the most went to Hanson, 369, and Crist, 272. Bishop Ann Svennungsen, Minneapolis Area Synod, received 36 votes.

On the third ballot after a question-and-answer session, it was 345 votes for Eaton, 271 for Hanson and 171 for Crist. That ballot narrowed the field to the top three candidates.


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