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As it embarks on raising more money for mission work, the historically white faith group has also sought to diversify its ranks and has encouraged churches to appoint people of non-European ancestries to leadership positions.
In addition to Eaton’s historic election, Lutherans elected the denomination’s first openly gay bishop in June. Part Osage Indian, he is also the first American Indian bishop in the ELCA.
In 2012, Minneapolis-area Lutherans cast another historic vote, electing the first female bishop — the Rev. Ann Svennungsen — to lead the nation’s largest Lutheran synod.
Outgoing presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, who was defeated by Eaton last month, said he views her win as an indication that church members are seeking out more diverse leaders.
He also sees members making strides in doing mission work in the name of the church.
“Through all of our turmoil over the last few years … what has been consistent is Lutherans have said, ‘We may differ on human sexuality but we do not differ that we need to be a church engaged in response to human suffering, to poverty, to the environmental crisis, and to war … We will be a public church, not a private club.’ ”
“There is great wealth and great generosity among Lutherans,” Hanson said. “The whole campaign is really building on our strengths, not trying to plug up or shore up our weaknesses.”
Even if their numbers are fewer, Lutherans such as Joy McDonald Coltvet, senior pastor of Lutheran Church of Peace in Maplewood, see Sunday’s day of service as an ideal way to mark their anniversary.
“Our congregations … service is their first priority,” she said. “So it makes sense we would celebrate in that way because it’s a core value.”
Rose French 612-673-4352