By The Rev. Lisa Isenhower
In an historic assembly, the South Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church met virtually to elect a new bishop. The Rev. Virginia Aebischer, who currently serves as Assistant to Bishop Herman Yoos, was elected on the fifth ballot to serve as the new bishop of the South Carolina Synod. Rev. Aebischer is the first woman to be elected bishop in this synod.
The election was historic on a number of levels. In the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, creative and careful planning in collaboration with our churchwide leaders allowed the SC Synod to meet virtually. Through diligent training and preparation, participants were able to “attend” the assembly via Zoom; voting was accomplished through Lumi. Both pieces of technology worked well to allow this first-ever remote assembly.
In the election of a bishop, the first ballot, called the “ecclesiastical ballot,” serves as the nominating process in the SC Synod. After nominations close, those who have been nominated have the opportunity to remove their names from the ballot if they wish. This year, 17 ministers left their names in nomination. The second ballot candidates were Virginia Aebischer, Ralph Hill, Jacqueline Utley, David Coffman, Wade Roof, Patti Sue Burton-Pye, Eric Fink, Shannon Mullen, Mary Anderson, Rhodes Woolly, Christine Stoxen, Chris Heavner, Jon Heiliger, Eric Little, Thulie Beresford, James Henricks, and Gary Christensen.
After the second ballot, the top seven vote getters moved to the third ballot. These candidates were Virginia Aebischer, Ralph Hill, Jackie Utley, David Coffman, Wade Roof, Patti Sue Burton Pye, and Eric Fink. These seven addressed the assembly, offering information about themselves and the gifts and skills they might bring to the bishop’s office.
Only the top three candidates—Virginia Aebischer, Jacqueline Utley, and Ralph Hill—moved on to the fourth ballot. Prior to that ballot, all three had an opportunity to answer two additional questions, prepared in advance by the Bishop’s Election Committee.
Of the top two candidates—Virginia Aebischer and Jacqueline Utley—both are women, and one is a person of color. What a marvelous stirring of the Holy Spirit in our synod!