Claire S. Burkat began serving as interim bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod earlier this month. She told Living Lutheran that she was “more surprised than anyone” to be serving in this role but felt that the Spirit had led her here.

“Less than one month after receiving the invitation call from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, and upon deep prayer and conversations with my trusted networks across the ELCA, I felt assured that the Spirit was guiding me in this new journey as a retired bishop,” she said. “During my discernment, I spent four days traveling throughout this diverse synod and getting to know the contexts and people I would be serving alongside.”

Burkat said she is grateful for the abundant support she has received from individuals and congregations and that she feels “truly called” to serve as the synod’s interim bishop.

On June 25, the ELCA announced that the Sierra Pacific Synod Council had appointed Burkat to serve as its interim bishop. Burkat previously served two terms as bishop (2006-2018) of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. Since retiring in 2018, she has served as interim chaplain of Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pa., and as acting bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod when its bishop, William Gohl, was on sabbatical.

Though Burkat took office a few weeks ago, she is quickly acclimating and getting to know the communities in the synod.

“In my short time here, I’ve been pleased to witness the many treasures of the Sierra Pacific Synod,” she said. “As an East Coast, urban person, the vast difference in culture, geography, generations and lifestyle of the West Coast excites me. Amidst all these differences, the heart of the mission and enthusiasm of the people for the church of Jesus Christ remains steadfast.”

Burkat said her priorities for the synod center on the work of reconciliation, healing and building trust.

“My vision and hope for the Sierra Pacific Synod is rooted in trusting relationships, sincere reconciliation and prayerful healing in partnership with the saints of the [synod] and the entire ELCA,” she said. “During my time among the leaders and partners of the synod, I will encourage, lift up and celebrate the grace-bearing ministries that are already blessing communities and pray that the Spirit will guide us in future initiatives of gospel proclamation in word, sacrament and service.”

Burkat said she also hopes to bring joy to the work put before the synod and to increase its capacity by uniting the congregations across its vast territory into collaborative community.

And, speaking of joy, Burkat said one her greatest joys is hosting people—friends, colleagues, loved ones—for dinner, where she can welcome people to her home for food and fun: “I have a dish towel that says, ‘Love people … feed them tasty food!’ I hope to find a home in the Sierra Pacific Synod that allows me to do the same here.”

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