Bishop with local connections making history

SALEM – A bishop with local connections will become the first female presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Rev. Elizabeth Eaton once served as interim pastor of Good Hope Lutheran Church in Boardman and as a bishop, ordained Salem resident Aimee Raymond as a Lutheran pastor.

Eaton serves as bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod and will be installed as presiding bishop over all during a service Saturday at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in Chicago.

She was chosen during the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh in August, becoming the first woman to be elected as presiding bishop since the birth of the ELCA 25 years ago when different Lutheran church organizations merged into one nationwide entity.

“It’s not because she’s a woman – it’s because she’s so gifted,” Pastor Connie Sassanella of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Salem said.

Both Sassanella and Pastor Alan Smearsoll of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Salem spoke highly of the leader of their synod.

“She has shown that she’s well qualified for that position in the national church,” Smearsoll said.

According to a press release from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Eaton 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 in Wooster.

Besides the interim post in Boardman, she served as assistant pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in Worthington and served as pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Ashtabula. She became synod bishop in 2006.

“She’s handled very tough issues – spiritually, intellectually and graciously,” Sassanella said.

Some of those issues included the removal of a member of the clergy and in 2009 when a churchwide assembly voted to allow the ordination of gay/lesbian persons into the ministry. Sassanella said Eaton answered the questions and fallout from those issues very graciously.

The theme of this year’s 25th anniversary for the ELCA is “Always being made new.” When Eaton becomes presiding bishop, the church will be made new again as she becomes only the fourth bishop to lead the ELCA.

Eaton’s husband, the Rev. Conrad Selnick, is an Episcopal priest. The current presiding bishop, the Rev. Mark Hanson, has served for 12 years.