See a slideshow of photos from the event.
The crowd filling stately Rockefeller Chapel in Chicago burst into loud and prolonged applause and cheers upon the installation Oct. 5 of Elizabeth A. Eaton as the fourth presiding bishop of the ELCA.
Eaton beamed and clapped back to the assembly as she became the first female to occupy the denomination’s top office. She officially assumes the post Nov. 1.
“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else today. I’m contemplating seminary and this is quite an event,” said Mike McDowell of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Bentonville, Ark., who attended with friends from Kenosha, Wis.
“I’m here because it’s historic and because I’m part of a church where men and women work together,” said Carolyn Heider, who will begin her first call as pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Merrillville, Ind., in January. “Look at all of these people gathered here, doing God’s work and having fun doing it. There is just so much joy.”
It was indeed a joyful, emotional celebration. Many of the some 1,500 attendees choked up and became teary, especially when outgoing Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson took off his pectoral cross and placed it on Eaton.
The nearly two-hour service incorporated global music, beloved hymns, choral classics, prayers and readings in a variety of languages spoken around the ELCA, and the musical gifts of people from across the church, including students from Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill.
Eaton had a sense of fun about the day, from the bagpiper she requested to her ready grin as she flung water on those gathered to remind them of their baptism.
The ending hymn and procession from the University of Chicago chapel verged on transcendence. It was a formal setting but managed somehow to feel very personal.
Eleven Lutheran and other Christian bodies participated in the laying on of hands, embodying the whole church’s prayer for the Spirit to sustain Eaton in her new ministry.
Garbed in colorful vestments, they were the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America, Episcopal Church, Moravian Church in America, Church of Christ in Thailand, and the United Methodist Church. Lutheran leaders hailed from Canada, South Africa, Sweden and Nicaragua.
In her sermon, Bishop Jessica R. Crist of the Montana Synod used the familiar story of the sower tossing grains on the path, rocky soil, in the thorns and elsewhere with some landing on fertile ground. Like that person in Jesus’ tale, she told those gathered “to keep on sowing.”
“We are here today because somebody somewhere sowed a bunch of seeds [of faith]. They didn’t all grow, they didn’t all survive, but some did,” she said. “Look at these people. Look at the congregations and places they come from and the ministries they come from. What a wild and wonderful community garden that has grown up from those random seeds.
“We are called to be sowers, scatterers of seeds. You may think that you are pretty much surrounded by rocky soil. You may have the experience of sowing and sowing and always having it end up on the rocks. …
“What matters is that we sow, Bishop Eaton and the Church Council, schoolchildren and pastors, professors and missionaries, bishops and churchwide staff, students and retired folks, lifelong Lutherans and new believers. …
“It is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, in words and actions. It is raising money for world hunger and to eradicate malaria and [for] scholarships and for the poor. It is working for justice for the oppressed. It is telling a friend or a stranger about God’s love. It is listening to another’s pain. It is honoring each and every person as a beloved child of God, created in God’s image, and then acting that way. It is forgiving prodigiously, it’s sharing extravagantly, it’s taking risks for the sake of the gospel. And it’s believing in the promise of the harvest. … So, go, sow! Sow! Go!”
Eaton was elected Aug. 14 to the six-year post based in Chicago on the fifth ballot at the Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh. She received 600 votes and Hanson 287. Prior to becoming bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod in 2006, Eaton, 58, served as pastor of ELCA congregations in Ohio. She earned a master’s of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., and a bachelor’s degree in music education from the College of Wooster (Ohio).
Retired pastor Clyde McGee and wife Peggy of Akron, Ohio, joined a busload of members from Eaton’s synod at 5 a.m. to drive to Chicago for the afternoon installation. “It was absolutely worth it,” Peggy McGee said of the journey. “[The service] was done really well. It was all just wonderful.”
The rest of this article is only available to subscribers.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers