Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton serves as the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). 

The 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly elected the  Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton  as this church's fourth presiding bishop. Her six-year term began on November 1, 2013. 

Born in Cleveland on April 2, 1955, Eaton earned a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., and a Bachelor of Arts degree in music education from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio. 

Ordained June 4, 1981, Eaton served as assistant pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in Worthington, Ohio; interim pastor of Good Hope Lutheran Church in Boardman, Ohio; and pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church in Ashtabula, Ohio. She was elected bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod in 2006 and re-elected in May 2013. 

Eaton is involved in a number of boards and committees. She is a board member of Trinity Lutheran Seminary and Capital University, both based in Columbus, Ohio. She is a member of the Lutheran Episcopal Coordinating Committee and the ELCA Conference of Bishops Executive Committee. She also serves on the Conference of Bishops Domestic Ready Bench and serves in roles with the ELCA Malaria Campaign, the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, PORTICO Philosophy of Benefits Task Force, Ohio Council of Churches and Lutheran Planned Giving in Ohio. 

Prior to her election, Eaton was the liaison bishop to the ELCA Church Council and a member of the ELCA Memorials Committee for the 2007, 2011 and 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assemblies. She served as a delegate to The Lutheran World Federation Assembly in Budapest in 1984, on the review team for Lutheran Episcopal dialogues in 1982, and she was a part of the delegation from the ELCA's predecessor church bodies to the German Democratic Republic in 1982. 

Eaton's husband, the Rev. T. Conrad Selnick, an Episcopal priest, is pastor of St. Christopher's-by-the-River in Gates Mills, Ohio. They reside in Ashtabula and are parents of two adult children, Rebeckah, who is married to Michael Ray, and Susannah.

Day1 Weekly Programs by Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

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Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Truth and Dare

Tuesday October 24, 2017
In her sermon on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton says the Gospel that Luther discovered and that set him free, the truth that forms us into God’s liberated people, is God’s promise that the former things are past. In Christ, the one who is true, we are free.

Articles by Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

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Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: What Masks Do We All Wear?

Thursday January 20, 2022
What masks do we all wear? Some are appropriate—we don’t have to emote all over everyone all the time. It’s good to have boundaries—some are needed for safety. But none of these is who we truly are, and all of these take energy.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: God Has Given Us a Mission

Thursday November 18, 2021
There was and is enough brokenness in the world to go ’round. But the brokenness is not outside of us—in institutions, politics, religion—it is within us. The only way to construct utopia is to get rid of people. Imagine.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: We Are Invited Into Silence

Thursday October 21, 2021
Spending time in silence is a spiritual discipline, says the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Music Is Personal and Universal

Thursday May 20, 2021
Like God’s love, music is at the same time deeply personal, sounding deep within an individual’s soul, and universal, ringing out to an entire community.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Connected, Generous, Free to Serve

Thursday January 21, 2021
We have been living with this pandemic for nearly a year. So much has changed. But the pandemic has also revealed the remarkable resilience and creativity of this church.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Midnight Stillness

Friday December 06, 2019
Advent—a season of expectation. God is up to something. We are urged to watch and wait. “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’” (Isaiah 40:9). “At midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him’” (Matthew 25:6).

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: An Easter Message 2018

Friday March 30, 2018
In her Easter message, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), reminds us that Jesus’ crucifixion is the death of our death.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: A Christmas Message from ELCA Presiding Bishop

Sunday December 24, 2017
In her Christmas message, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), reminds us that Advent is a time to be present and still, to be aware of the promise to come.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Disengage the Autopilot

Tuesday December 12, 2017
I was driving to work one day thinking about my schedule””the meetings I needed to attend, reports I needed to finish, preparations still to be completed for upcoming travel, email I needed to answer, phone calls I absolutely had to make, and compiling a grocery list in my head so I would pick up what I needed for supper on the way home from work. All of a sudden I found myself pulling into the parking garage at the Lutheran Center. I had driven the 9 miles to work and had no idea how I got there.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Living in a Broken World

Saturday October 28, 2017
As I write this the Gulf Coast and Florida are starting the long recovery after hurricanes Harvey and Irma; Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are mostly ­­without electricity and running low on water, food, medicine and gasoline after Hurricane Maria. All of us are reeling from the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. There are no words. We are stunned almost to the point of numbness.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: At the Table Together

Wednesday September 27, 2017
Old recipes are precious things. They give instructions about how to prepare a dish, but they are so much more. They are filled with memories. They connect families as they are passed from one generation to the next. They bring events and people from long ago right into the present.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Living in the Freedom of Christ

Saturday July 29, 2017
Recently I discovered Google Earth. I know, I’m a little late to the dance. But this is fascinating. You type in an address and up pops a photo. You can zoom in on places all over the world. And you can zoom out for, literally, a 35,000-foot view. I invite you to give it a try. In fact, this will be a great group activity for all of us in the ELCA.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Serving the Neighborhood in Charged Times

Thursday June 22, 2017
These are politically charged times. This very sentence in the presiding bishop’s column is likely to raise eyebrows. Across this church I’ve heard stories of parishioners disturbed by the Gospel read on Sundays, believing the pastor chose the passage as a critique of the current administration. The Beatitudes seemed to provoke the most attention. In a way this is good””maybe we are all hearing Jesus’ words with fresh ears.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Falling and Not Afraid

Saturday April 22, 2017
Not long ago a young reporter contacted me wanting to talk about death. She had suddenly come to the realization that she would one day die. She wanted to know what happens to us when we die, was there life after death and what did Scripture say about heaven? These are meta-questions.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Easter, a Time to Rejoice

Saturday April 15, 2017
ELCA Presiding Bishop Eaton wishes us a happy Easter and reminds us to rejoice, even in the midst of suffering.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: “It's Not What We Do”

Wednesday February 15, 2017
At the end of the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to John, many disciples who had been following Jesus left him. Looking at the 12, Jesus asked, “'Will you also go away?' Simon Peter answered, 'Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life' (John 6:66-68). It was a kind of crisis at the beginning of the Jesus movement.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: A Message for Martin Luther King Day

Monday January 16, 2017
On Monday, Jan. 16, our nation will be observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Dr. King’s work called us, all of us, to remember our neighbor. As a civil rights leader, he spoke about a vision of a beloved community and preached a message of love.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Happy New Year!

Saturday January 14, 2017
Here is where the great gift of grace, especially as it comes to us in baptism, helps us make sense of our lives and resolves the stress of New Year’s resolutions””it acknowledges that we are broken and does away with the false hope or the intolerable burden of our being able to make ourselves right.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Home for Christmas

Sunday December 25, 2016
ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton reminds us that regardless of where we might find ourselves this season, through Christ, we can be at home. A message for Christmas 2016

Bishop Michael Curry and Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: World AIDS Day 2016

Thursday December 01, 2016
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, and the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), have issued the following joint statement on 2016 World AIDS Day.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Advent 1--Liberated by God's Grace

Sunday November 27, 2016
Matthew 24: 36-44 is God’s word of promise, a gift to us that we might open ourselves, our eyes, our lives to the incredible, surprising, immeasurable and intimate love of God.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: I Was a Stranger

Thursday November 17, 2016
Today there are more than 60 million displaced people in the world, more than at any time since World War II. From Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Somalia, Afghanistan and Colombia, people are fleeing for their lives from war, famine, gang violence, crushing poverty, drought and floods.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Big Look at Small Catechism

Saturday October 22, 2016
Several years ago my husband’s bishop tried initiating a diocese-wide call to the catechumenate to engage those preparing for confirmation in a period of study and formation. We call it confirmation class or catechism, something generations of Lutherans have gone through. But this was a new experience for the Episcopalians in his diocese.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: A Proclivity for Paradox

Thursday August 25, 2016
Wow, Lutherans love paradox! Law and gospel. Saint and sinner. Free and bound. David Swartling, former ELCA secretary, often noted that we are a 'both and church' in an 'either or world.' This proclivity for paradox, or at least the recognition that this is part of the Lutheran tradition, was often cited as a strength during the churchwide conversation phase of Called Forward Together in Christ.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: What It Means to Be Lutheran

Friday July 22, 2016
Lutherans don’t often garner much media attention. In this country we don’t make up a big segment of the population. When groups of Lutherans began arriving on these shores in the 18th and 19th centuries, they tended to stay in their nationality and language groups and didn’t assimilate completely into the surrounding culture. We kept to ourselves and so went relatively unnoticed. Lutherans, with some exceptions, weren’t part of the political or economic elite. There are both benefits and problems because of this.

ELCA presiding bishop responds to shootings in Baton Rouge and St. Paul

Friday July 08, 2016
In a July 7 video message responding to the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul, Minn., the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), urged members to 'be present in our communities.'

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: From Persecution to Witness

Tuesday June 14, 2016
For many months now people have been asking for some kind of statement about the persecution of Christians around the world. It seems to be a straight-forward issue.... We hear that more Christians have been martyred in recent years than in the first three centuries of the Christian movement.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Love Your Neighbor

Friday May 27, 2016
Lutherans don’t withdraw from the world. Martin Luther believed that people of faith have a duty to participate in the political sphere and, when necessary, to call civil authorities to account.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Can We Answer the Question 'Why?'

Saturday April 30, 2016
Once for continuing education I signed up for an introduction to philosophy course at the community college. I was a music education major in college and never had any philosophy courses. Since philosophy and theology are so closely related, I thought it was about time that I became better acquainted with the Western philosophical tradition. So off I went to learn how the great philosophers have addressed the questions of human existence.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton - Easter Message

Sunday March 27, 2016
On Easter morning we will gather to greet the risen Son and give thanks to God for the new life we have in Jesus Christ.

It is nearly Christmas - ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton - Christmas 2015

Friday December 25, 2015
A Christmas message from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is made up of more than 3.5 million members in more than 9,000 congregations across the United States and Caribbean.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: Open Letter to Muslim Americans

Friday December 11, 2015
I am writing on behalf of many Christians in this country who wish to share a word of solidarity, love, and hope with you in these difficult days.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: A Christmas Message

Thursday December 25, 2014
In her Christmas message, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), said 'The hope of Christmas was fulfilled on Good Friday. The cross is part of Christmas.'

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton on Racial Justice

Tuesday December 09, 2014
Our nation and our church have been and remain deeply besieged by racism. Following the decisions by grand juries in Ferguson and New York, it has become clear that we have different experiences of life in this country. We continue to struggle. We continue to struggle in our conversation about race in our congregations, communities and places of business, even at our kitchen table.

Church leaders call for prayer for South Sudan

Saturday May 10, 2014
Heads of Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Anglican Church of Canada, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada issue 'A Message of Solidarity with the Church in South Sudan.'

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton's Christmas Message - Video

Tuesday December 24, 2013
We all know the story. The shepherds traveled to Bethlehem and found the little Lord Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manager. But what I think we often overlook is what the shepherds did after they left the manager.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: A Prayer to End Hunger

Monday December 09, 2013
Advent is a season of hopeful longing. Hope for the coming of the Christ child and longing for the abundant life Christ promised. But we know many in our communities and around the world are hungry.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton: A Place Called Lutheran

Tuesday November 12, 2013
A first-call candidate as-signed to the Northeastern Ohio Synod came to me about an interesting encounter she had with a waitress. The waitress admired our candidate’s Luther Rose pendant and asked what it was. 'It’s Lutheran,' replied the candidate. 'Where’s Lutheran?' asked the waitress.