Bishop-elect for ELCA’s Minneapolis synod has Fargo-Moorhead tiesMINNEAPOLIS – The Rev. Ann Svennungsen has made a habit of breaking glass ceilings wherever she goes. The Concordia College graduate and former senior pastor at Moorhead’s Trinity Lutheran has been elected to be the next bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
By: Helmut Schmidt, INFORUM
MINNEAPOLIS – The Rev. Ann Svennungsen has made a habit of breaking glass ceilings wherever she goes.
The Concordia College graduate and former senior pastor at Moorhead’s Trinity Lutheran has been elected to be the next bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Svennungsen will be the first woman to serve as bishop in any of the ELCA’s six synods in Minnesota. The pastor for St. Olaf College in Northfield will be installed in office May 6.
It’s the latest of many firsts for the 56-year-old bishop-elect.
As a senior at Concordia in 1977, she was the Moorhead school’s first female student body president.
From 1996 to 2003, she served as the first female senior pastor for Trinity Lutheran.
From 2003 to 2007, she was the first woman president of the Fund for Theological Education in Atlanta.
Svennungsen has family in Iowa and Minnesota but credits the pioneer spirit of Shelby, Mont., where she was raised, for her drive.
“I kind of feel like that’s a part of who I am; it’s that pioneer spirit,” she said Monday.
She won the office with a majority of the 700 conference delegates voting for her on the fifth round of balloting last week at the synod’s annual assembly in Prior Lake.
She bested the Rev. Kelly Chatman, an African-American senior pastor for a Minneapolis church, in the final ballot.
Bishop Larry Wohlrabe, head of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the ELCS, got to know Svennungsen and her husband, William Russell, at Luther Seminary in St Paul, where they graduated with the class of 1981.
“It was clear she had an extraordinary leadership gift – probably one of the best preachers in our class, and still across our church, the ELCA,” Wohlrabe said. “She’s just a splendid communicator of the Gospel.”
He said he would not be surprised if she’s soon recognized as a leader by the wider church.
“She’s the genuine article,” Wohlrabe said.
Fargo attorney Tom Fiebiger was on Trinity’s church council and president of the congregation when Svennungsen was called to be senior pastor.
“I think this is exciting for Pastor Svennungsen and the church. She was just a masterful preacher of the Gospel and forgiveness,” Fiebiger said, praising her creativity, innovativeness and energy.
Svennungsen said she is “deeply and profoundly grateful” for the time she spent in Fargo-Moorhead as a student, and later as a pastor here with her husband and three children.
“I count as one of our family’s great blessings the time we had living in Fargo and Moorhead. … Just the way the community itself embraced our family,” she said.
Svennungsen earned a degree in mathematics from Concordia before attending the seminary.
After graduating from the seminary, she served at churches in Iowa and Edina, Minn.
She’s also served as president of Texas Lutheran University from 2007 to 2010.
She was a resident scholar at The Ecumenical and Cultural Institute in Collegeville, Minn., from 2010-11, before taking the St. Olaf post.
Now she takes on the Minneapolis synod – the largest in the ELCA, with more than 188,000 baptized Lutherans.
“I’m eager to lead this synod and this area in all its diverse ways, in living out that Gospel. But I know I will need to spend time” learning and listening, she said.
The vote for bishop highlighted two leaders from under-represented groups, and is “a vision of a forward-looking church,” she said. “It’s a church that’s seeking to be a place of welcome.”
Minnesota has about 800,000 ELCA members.
There are about 4.2 million members in the U.S. and Caribbean.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583