A fresh wind of the Spirit at the ELCA

By Doug Mork

It’s peculiar, really. Prior to last week, I had never even heard of Elizabeth Eaton, the new Presiding Bishop-elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I have been delighted with the extraordinary leadership of her predecessor, Mark Hanson, formerly my bishop and a friend and colleague. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to hear of her election last week as the new leader of our church.

Elizabeth EatonCertainly it’s partly because she is the first woman to serve in this role. I yearn for a day when the gender of the candidates will be of little interest, but that day is not here. While women have been ordained in the ELCA for more than 40 years, there is still much to do. The election of Presiding Bishop Eaton is a wonderful witness to the extraordinary gifts and callings of women.

But I think the excitement I’m feeling is more about surprise and possibility. The challenges of our world can feel pretty overwhelming. Even if we limit our purview to the world of worker justice, it often feels like we are headed backwards. Very few of us would describe their work situations as more stable, more sustainable, more uplifting or more just.

And then some delegates from our more than 10,000 congregations surprise even themselves. It’s another of these little glimpses I preach about sometimes on Sunday mornings: glimpses of the world that God intends rather than our messed up world. It reminds us that God accomplishes extraordinary things most often through seemingly very ordinary people living out their faith and values.

When I despair thinking about the employment practices of Walmart, I see the faces of those who have stepped up and have hope to bring about change. When I am disgusted by coal companies that create shell corporations and use legal maneuvers to end their obligations to retirees, I think of the brave men and women who took on these companies’ predecessors and built an industry with dignity and living wages. When I am frustrated by the lack of progress on immigration reform after so many years of struggle by so many faithful people, I remember the extraordinary perseverance and courage of manufacturing and warehouse workers all across the South who taught me about making the impossible happen.

For my church, I pray that the election of Elizabeth Eaton brings a fresh wind of the Spirit and inspires all of us to open our eyes a little wider and see what God may be calling us to do in this new day. And, as a board member of Interfaith Worker Justice, I will work to bend her ear soon and often about the plight of workers, the critical workplace issues of our day and the role of the ELCA in this work.

The Rev. Doug Mork serves on the national board of directors for Interfaith Worker Justice. He is the lead pastor of Cross of Glory Lutheran Church in Brooklyn Center, Minn., just outside Minneapolis.

Photo courtesy: Religion News Service