In the moments just before she learned she had been elected bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod, Meghan Johnston Aelabouni was sitting alone in prayer. Throughout the election process, she said, she had been ready to accept either outcome: to return gladly to a ministry in the Middle East she loved or to step into a new role.

Then someone entered the room and shared the news. “What I felt then was an immediate stillness, calm, and a deep sense of call surrounding me and taking root in my heart and mind,” Johnston Aelabouni said. “The process did feel led by the Holy Spirit—I have no other explanation for the peace I felt.”

Johnston Aelabouni, who was elected April 27 and will take office Aug. 1, has served as pastor of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem and as theologian-in-residence with the ELCA Middle East and North Africa desk since 2021. Prior to that, she served as country coordinator for Jerusalem and the West Bank with ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission. A member of the ELCA Fund for Leaders award class of 2001, she is one of the first two full-tuition alumni of the scholarship program to be elected bishop, alongside Timothy Graham, who was elected bishop of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod this year.

Johnston Aelabouni has found that her experience as a missionary in the Holy Land has shaped her as a pastor and as a person. “I have learned so much about accompaniment as a theology of ministry: deeply rooted in relationships, approaching new contexts with curiosity seeking understanding, and seeking to support local leaders and members as they serve their own communities,” she said. “All of these things, I believe, can apply to life and ministry in an ELCA synod as well as in specific global or cross-cultural settings.”

Before her ministry in the Holy Land, Johnston Aelabouni served as a pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Colo., and of Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Elk Grove Village, Ill.

“We are not here accidentally! We are here for such a time as this.”

From the vantage point of having served in a variety of ministry contexts, Johnston Aelabouni believes her synod and the wider church may be uniquely suited to this cultural moment. “In a time of deep uncertainty, when many people—inside and outside the church—are anxious about the future, I believe the Rocky Mountain Synod, like the whole ELCA, has a calling and purpose as members of the body of Christ in our communities,” she said.

“We are not here accidentally!” she continued. “We are here for such a time as this: to love and serve our neighbors, to strive for justice and peace, and, above all, to remember—and share—that we have a source of hope and courage in God’s abundant grace in Jesus.”

Johnston Aelabouni envisions living out that call as a continuation of the accompaniment model that has been so central to her ministry. “My vision is to accompany the people of the synod as we discern and live into who we are and who God has called us to be for our place and our time—and to find the joy of doing that together,” she said.

During Johnston Aelabouni’s time of discernment to her new role, a friend told her that the office of bishop isn’t a promotion but rather a specialized call. “This rings true for me,” she said. “I don’t enter into this season of ministry lightly, or with the hubris to say that I will have all the answers. But I do begin with great excitement and hope.”

As she approaches the call, Johnston Aelabouni continues to prepare in prayer: “I pray that I can use my gifts to help my siblings in Christ in our synod discern all of the gifts and callings we have been given by God together, and to lead us in the faithful discernment, trust, and collaboration through which God’s love can be made known in our communities and the world.”

She will be installed Oct. 5 at Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver.

John Potter
John G. Potter is content editor of Living Lutheran. He lives in St. Paul, Minn.

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