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.
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© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers