Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton is a woman of firsts.
More than six years ago, she was installed as the first woman to lead the Cuyahoga Falls-based Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
On Wednesday, she was elected as the denomination’s first female presiding bishop.
“We are a church that is overwhelmingly European in a culture that is increasingly pluralistic. We need to welcome the gifts of those who come from different places, that is a conversation we need to have as a church,” Eaton said, shortly after her election.
The Cleveland native was ordained in 1981 and began her ministry as pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in Worthington. She also served one year as interim pastor at Good Hope Lutheran Church in Youngstown and as pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Ashtabula.
Eaton received her undergraduate degree in music education from the College of Wooster and her master of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School in Massachusetts.
She met her husband, the Rev. Conrad Selnick, in divinity school. Selnick is an Episcopal priest and pastor at St. Christopher’s-by-the-River in Gates Mills. The couple has been married more than 25 years and has two grown daughters, Rebeckah and Susannah.
Eaton has led the more than 84,000-member Northeastern Ohio synod since 2007. The synod is made up of more than 200 congregations and covers 20 counties in Northeast Ohio, including Summit, Stark, Portage, Wayne and Medina.
The Chicago-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the nation’s largest Lutheran group with about 4 million members. In 2009, the denomination cleared the way for gays to be ordained, prompting some members to leave.
Eaton was elected on the fifth ballot with about two-thirds of the vote during a national meeting in Pittsburgh.
Eaton will be installed Oct. 5 in Chicago, where her new office is located. She will begin her six-year term as presiding bishop Nov. 1.
Eaton, who requested private time with her family on Wednesday night, could not be reached for comment. In speaking to reporters during an evening news conference, she reiterated her commitment to diversity in the church, saying “There is a place for everyone in this church.”
“We don’t agree on everything in this church, but we do agree on the cross of Christ and we do agree that we’re going to stick together to have that conversation,” Eaton said.