When Paula L. Schmitt, bishop of the Allegheny Synod, was praying to discern her call, three words kept coming up: rebuild, reunite and revive. “My hope for the Allegheny Synod is that we will rebuild resources and relationships, reunite with communities and partners, and have our souls revived through the power and promise of the Holy Spirit,” Schmitt said.
“Even in the midst of challenging times, Christ is with us, guiding us and calling us back to our primary identity as beloved children of God.”
Schmitt, who was installed as fourth bishop of the synod on Sept. 19, 2021, was initially surprised when informed of her election. She had served as an assistant to the bishop from 2014 to 2020 and then left to accept a call as an intentional interim pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Latrobe, in the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod. “As the [synod] assembly approached, I was asked by a number of people whether or not they could nominate me for bishop,” she said. “I agreed to be open to the Spirit’s movement—never dreaming the result would be my election as bishop.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve God’s people in this place, and I look forward to [seeing] how the Spirit will continue to surprise me.”
“I look forward to [seeing] how the Spirit will continue to surprise me.”
Schmitt graduated from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C., in 2005 and began a position in the ELCA churchwide organization’s Office of the Presiding Bishop. In 2008 she was called to the Allegheny Synod to serve her first call, at Trinity (Sidman) and St. John (Summerhill) Lutheran churches. She was called to serve as interim pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church in Altoona in 2010 and in 2012 was called as full-time pastor.
Before entering seminary, Schmitt graduated from Pennsylvania College of Art & Design and worked as a graphic designer for an advertising agency and a free newspaper. She took up watercolor painting while in seminary but then “got away from creative endeavors for a while.” While serving as an interim pastor, she returned to painting, this time doing more abstract work. “Painting is a way for me to disconnect from the often-harried pace of the Office of the Bishop,” she said.
“I have an Instagram account where I sometimes upload photos of my work, which has been an experiment in vulnerability for me,” Schmitt said. “It can be difficult to allow others into that space, but I am learning.”