National Lutheran News

Canadian Lutherans elect first-even female national bishop

ELCIC chose Susan Johnson to lead the national body

The larger of two Lutheran church bodies in Canada has made history by elevating a female clergyperson to its highest office.

The Rev. Susan Johnson, of Kitchener, Ontario, had been serving as assistant to the bishop of the Eastern District of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) when voting members of the denomination’s national convention chose her to be its next national bishop.

Johnson, who succeeds retiring Raymond Schultz, began her leadership of the 187,000 member denomination on September 1. A smaller and more conservative Canadian church body, The Lutheran Church—Canada, with 59,000 members, does not ordain women.

Johnson was elected on the sixth and final ballot, defeating the Rev. Edward Skutshek, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Kelowna, British Columbia.

Like the ELCA, with which ELCIC is in fellowship, Johnson’s church body has been experiencing a slow decline in membership.

The new bishop said her vision included “being one part visionary, one part enabler and one part cheerleader.”
Perhaps half-jokingly, she told voting members that, since she was an oldest child with a Type A personality, she is more likely to forgive others before herself.

Like the ELCA, members of the ELCIC have wrestled with questions of ministry to church members in same-gender relationships. At this year’s convention, voting members debated whether to authorize a blessing for same-gender couples. The final vote, 181-200 to defeat the proposal, indicated that, like their U.S. cousins, the ELCIC is deeply divided on the issue.

An organization calling itself Solid Ground opposed the resolution. The Rev. Edward Shutshek, whom Johnson defeated for the leadership position, has been active in supporting Solid Ground. The issue is likely to resurface when ELCIC members gather again in 2009.