The Rev. Patricia Davenport has been elected as the first female African-descent Bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She was elected on the fourth ballot in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod on Saturday, May 5, 20018. This is an historic day for the Church, and this iconic image captures what this moment means.
Let’s pause to analyze this image.
This is the face of the new bishop of Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA:
Black. Proud, in the name of Jesus. Faithful. Looking forward unafraid.
This is the face of the Lutheran Church:
Determined in the face of myriad changes. Undaunted. Rising to meet the challenge.
This is the face of women’s leadership in the church:
Experienced. Wise. Holding her head high.
This is an iconic moment.
Notice the sweep of the golden cloth. This is how Pastor Davenport shines with the light of Spirit-filled energy.
Notice the candles in the background – symbolizing the tongues of fire that descended upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost. When Pastor Davenport preaches, that fire ignites listeners and proclaims the Word of God.
Notice her suit jacket – black and white. Whether unconscious or deliberate, even the choice of clothing indicates her efforts to bring together all Lutherans – black and white and everything in between.
Notice the color of the voting card that happens to be showing at this moment – green for YES! Green for GO!
I was blessed for two years to serve the church that Pastor Davenport founded – Spirit and Truth in Yeadon, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia).
I can tell you that her congregation adored her – as well as her husband, Joel, who we lost too soon, but who is certainly cheering her on from his heavenly home.
Pastor Davenport taught me a great deal about the importance of listening to the Black experience in the church, and allowing those from historically under-represented groups to show us the way forward. Her election today has broken the color-barrier, and represents at least one synod’s recognition that the church’s leadership must reflect the diversity of this country.
The theme for the Synod Assembly was “Come, Holy Spirit.”
Indeed, the Spirit is at work in the church today. The Spirit has come and lifted up this amazing woman who has been a pastor, preacher, teacher, synod leader, community organizer, mentor, wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend, colleague, and servant of the church. All of this she brings to the position of Bishop, and all of it will enable her to lead this synod with grace, intelligence, vision, aplomb, humor, warmth, fire for the Word of God, and deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ.
Come, Holy Spirit!
Thanks be to God!
Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church (ELCA).