National Lutheran News

ELCA bishp resigns

Grand Canyon Synod head admits to sexual impropriety

Michael J. Neils, bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), stepped down and resigned from the denomination’s clergy roster in January.
The former leader of the synod which includes Ari-zona and part of Nevada, Neils sent a January 24 letter of resignation to the pastors for whom he had been responsible.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson informed members of the Church Council and the Conference of Bishops in a memo which said that Neils resigned “after admitting to sexual misconduct with an adult woman and reporting that conduct to me.”

Hanson went to meet with synod staff and synod council members in the Grand Canyon Synod. Meetings were held Febru-ary 5-6. In an advance memo, he told synod leadership, “Ongoing support and care will be provided [for Neils, his wife and family, and] to members of the synod staff and others involved in the situation.” Hanson requested prayers for all who have been affected.

Neils, 56, said his marriage of 35 years was ending. He explained, “Part of the reason for the divorce is my own conduct unbecoming the office of an ordained minister of this church.” He confessed to synod leaders that he had betrayed “your confidence and God’s call.”

Elected to a six-year term in 2001, Neils was the spiritual overseer for 75,000 baptized members in 1,010 congregations across Arizona and southern Nevada. He is the father of two grown children.

Effective February 15, the Rev Alton Zenker became intrim bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod. The 72-year-old pastor was previously bishop of the Central/ Southern Illinois Synod.