Gathering under the theme “We are church,” more than 900 voting members met Aug. 5-10 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee for the 15th ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
In her welcome, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton gave thanks and encouragement for the assembly’s work that week, saying, “The psalmist says that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’ Sometimes the ‘fearfully’ gets in the way of the ‘wonderfully.’ There is still work to do.”
The assembly heeded her call, making several historic decisions with definitive support throughout the week—the first being their enthusiastic reelection of Eaton as presiding bishop. She is the first ELCA presiding bishop to be reelected on a first ballot.
The gathering saw other “firsts.” Sue E. Rothmeyer was elected secretary, making her the first deacon and woman to hold the office in the ELCA. The assembly also adopted a memorial declaring the ELCA a sanctuary church body, making it the first denomination in North America to do so.
Other major decisions included adopting the “Faith, Sexism and Justice” social statement, endorsing a policy statement for the church’s inter-religious relations, approving a strategy for the ELCA to exhibit racial and ethnic diversity, and naming ordination as the entrance rite for ministers of Word and Service.
The assembly was marked with lively floor debate, including parliamentary challenges and motions to adjust the daily schedule to allow for more discussion time.
The successful end of “Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA” called for celebration among the assembly, as did the observance of three anniversaries—the 50th of the ordination of women, the 40th of the ordination of women of color and the 10th of the ELCA’s decision to remove barriers to ordination for people in same-gender relationships.
The next assembly will be in Columbus, Ohio, in 2022.
Rothmeyer elected ELCA secretary
Sue E. Rothmeyer, a deacon who has served as executive for administration with the Office of the Secretary for seven years, was elected Aug. 9 to a six-year term as secretary. She is the first woman and deacon to be elected ELCA secretary, according to ELCA Archives.
She was elected on the fifth ballot with 509 votes. Lamont Wells, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Roosevelt, N.Y., received 402 votes.
Rothmeyer, 60, is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Chicago. She received her bachelor’s degree in English and speech communication at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, and a master’s in communication arts/rhetoric from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. After graduating, she was a lay campus minister at Iowa State University, Ames, for more than 10 years.
In an interview with Living Lutheran, Rothmeyer said early leadership opportunities—serving as a youth member of her district council in high school and as secretary of the Southeastern Iowa Synod when she was 28—enhanced her understanding of the church’s breadth and ignited in her a passion for involving “youth and young adults in the life of this church.” This passion called her to work with the churchwide organization in various roles for 17 years.
Before her election, Rothmeyer told the assembly her vocation has been shaped by attention to “words and the Word.”
“When I lead workshops on the model constitution for congregations, I like to point out that the required sections are part of every congregation’s governing documents because they speak to the ways in which ‘we are church, we are Lutheran, we are church together and we are church for the sake of the world,’ ” she said, quoting the presiding bishop’s four emphases. “That is true of the constitution for synods and the constitutions for our whole church. And while those documents contain a lot of words, those words are informed by the Word.”