calendar May 6, 2006 in News

The Rev. Claire S. Burkat elected bishop

Franconia, PA — The Rev. Claire S. Burkat, a self-described “domestic missionary” and “midwife” to a number of new church plants, was elected the next bishop of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Saturday (May 6).

Pastor Burkat, who as the synod’s mission director has nurtured the process of starting new congregations that reflect the region’s racial and ethnic diversity, will take office July 1 as spiritual leader of the 95,000 Lutherans in 174 congregations in the five-county area. She was elected by a vote of 307-252 over the Rev. Cynthia Krommes, senior pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, Phoenixville, on the fifth ballot.

NEW! Video and audio of the election

Bishop-elect Claire S. Burkat, center, greets Pastor Cynthia Krommes after her election. Bishop Roy Almquist looks on. Photo by Lisa Godfrey

When the Assembly began Friday, 101 clergy were nominated to succeed Bishop Roy Almquist, who is retiring after 12 years leading the synod. By Saturday afternoon the field was down to three – Pastors Burkat and Krommes and the Rev. Dr. James Echols, a Philadelphia native who is president of the Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago.

Pastor Burkat is the first woman elected to head the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, which encompasses Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. There are presently seven female bishops in the ELCA, which is made up of 65 synods across the U.S. There are currently 3,140 women serving as pastors among the ELCA’s more than 17,600 clergy.

As mission director, Pastor Burkat has overseen the startup of new African-American, Latino, Deaf, Russian and pan-African congregations as well as several suburban churches since the early 1990s. She also initiated a redevelopment strategy for revitalizing congregations that has been copied in other synods.

“We want to show the world how much we love Christ, and the way we show that is to love each other,” Pastor Burkat told the Assembly after the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the 4.9 million member ELCA, declared her bishop-elect.

“We are living in the time of the ancient-future church. The ancient Nicene creed can lead us into the future with nine words: We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church,” Pastor Burkat said in her address before the fifth and final ballot.

“One faith, one Lord, one baptism. This is the unity that Christ gives us and it is time for us to claim it. In spite of our differences let us rejoice in our diversity. Our diversity will be a model for all the synods of the ELCA.”

Pastor Burkat’s ministry models the unity of the church, as she is currently also shared staff with the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. Her role as the diocese’s executive director for congregational advancement is one of the first examples of joint Lutheran-Episcopal ministry on the synodical level since the two denominations reached a full communion agreement in 2000. This is just one way in which the ELCA is becoming a denomination that links ecumenical partners, with full communion relationships with the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America and Moravian churches and ongoing ecumenical conversations with Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Mennonite, Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal and Disciples of Christ churches.

“The Lutheran church is the bridge church in ways that we are just beginning to claim,” Pastor Burkat said.

The bishop-elect will be formally installed in a service scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 14, 2006.

— Robert W. Fisher

The Rev. Susan M. Lang contributed to this article.