CUYAHOGA FALLS: As a young child, the Rev. Abraham D. Allende used to don a white neckband made by his grandmother, stand on a chair in the living room and preach.
“I probably wasn’t making any sense — but it brought joy to my father, whose dream was for me to be a pastor,” Allende said. “My father was a man of great faith. He died when I was 13 years old, and after his death, I was really angry with God. For about four years, I wouldn’t go to church and didn’t want anything to do with God.”
At his late mother’s suggestion, Allende talked with a friend’s pastor and worked toward reconciliation with God. After college, he went back to the church and became an active member.
In 2003, he was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
Last month, he was elected to become the next bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the ELCA.
“People keep addressing me as bishop-elect and it’s been a little strange — it’s going to take me a while to get used to that,” said Allende, 69. “To be honest, I never expected to be elected and it’s still hard to believe. I expected someone much younger with more experience to be chosen. But I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit spoke through the process and that God has a purpose for me.”
Allende, who was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Clairton, Pa. area (where his family moved when he was seven years old), will be the first Hispanic bishop to serve the Cuyahoga Falls-based synod when he takes office Sept. 1.
His sister, Drusilla Allende, of Akron, said she was not surprised by her brother’s election. She said she believes it is all part of God’s plan.
“I think it’s an awesome way to end his [pastoral] career. I know our father and mother are looking down, smiling and saying ‘look at our son.’ He kept saying he would never be elected, but I believe the people of the synod see that God is working through him,” Drusilla Allende said. “He’s one of the most honest people I know. He’s gracious and humble. He’s just a good person and God is not through with him yet.”
The second-career pastor taught Spanish and French for six years in the Akron City Schools at the former West Junior High School and Buchtel High School. He left teaching to go into broadcasting – using the professional name Allen Davis as a sportscaster.
After working for more than 20 years at various radio and television outlets in North Carolina and Ohio, including six years at WKYC Channel 3 and eight years at WEWS Channel 5, he became director of community relations for the Cleveland Indians. Allende left the Indians after five years in 2000 to go to seminary.
During his discernment process, Allende consulted with Bishop Marcus Miller, who is retired and serving as interim bishop in the local synod. Miller, of North Carolina, presided during the local synod meeting where Allende was elected in mid-May; he expressed full confidence in Allende’s ability.
“He’s got the gifts to lead the synod and move it forward. He’s a dedicated minister of the gospel and cares deeply for the church,” Miller said. “He’s a man of deep faith and he exhibits a calm, steady, faithful presence.”
Allende succeeds Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, who was elected ELCA presiding bishop at the 2013 ELCA denominational meeting. Allende has served as pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Covenant in Maple Heights since 2009.
After earning a certificate in Theological Education for Emerging Ministries, a program that leads to ordination, at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, he was pastor and mission developer of Iglesia Luterana La Trinidad in Canton [the first church in the local synod to worship in Spanish].
Allende has served on the local synod council’s executive committee and on the boards of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton, the Hartville Migrant Ministries and the board of Catholic Charities Housing Opportunities of the Diocese of Youngstown. He earned his undergraduate degree in education at California University of Pennsylvania. He has also done graduate work in Spanish literature at Kent State University.
He and his wife, Linda, live in Stark County’s Plain Township. He has one adult son, David, who lives in Akron.
As he transitions into the bishop’s office, Allende said he has plans to develop a communications committee and increase the use of social media to tell the story of the synod and to strengthen and build relationships between parishes and the synod office. Among his challenges are finding ways to effectively address declining membership and finances.
The Northeastern Ohio Synod includes 182 congregations in a territory bordered by the Ohio/Pennsylvania line on the east that runs from Ashtabula County down to Jefferson County and extends west to Richland County. The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the nation, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations.
More information about the local synod can be found at www.neos-elca.org.
“We are a very diverse synod, with urban, rural, African-American and Latino congregations. I want us to become more unified because we’re all in this together. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. I want all voices to be heard and appreciated,” Allende said. “Together, we want to find effective ways to strengthen our faith and engage in the study of the scriptures in a way that it connects in our daily lives.”