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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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October 30, 2010

First female presiding bishop for Norway's Lutherans

The Church of Norway has its first ever female presiding bishop, at least until mid-2011.

Helga Haugland Byfuglien, bishop of Borg and a Lutheran World Federation vice-president, was elected Oct. 21 by her fellow bishops as the 3.9-million member church's presiding bishop. She succeeds Bishop Olav Skjaevesland of Agder, elected in 2006. Byfuglien also chairs a national church project to reform religious education and serves as secretary general of the Norwegian Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Associations.

"I will strive to play a unifying role in the meantime [while a presiding bishop is chosen]," Byfuglien said. According to the church's news service, she sees the church's main challenge as sharing the "message of love, forgiveness and hope in such a way that people find our words and deeds relevant."

In a letter to Byfuglien, LWF General Secretary Martin Junge wrote: "We celebrate this new evidence that, within the span of a single lifetime ordained women's leadership is becoming visible at the most senior levels of our churches."

Byfuglien's interim will end sometime mid-2011, when Norway's government will establish a permanent office of presiding bishop. Whereas in the past one of the 11 diocesan bishops would simultaneously serve as presiding bishop from his or her diocese, beginning in 2011, the presiding bishop will be dedicated to that role and based out of an office in Trondheim. Byfuglien would be eligible to run for the seat, if she so chooses.

The Church of Norway has a high percentage of female bishops: four of the church's 11 bishops are women. In the ELCA, by comparison, six of 65 synod bishops are women. 

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