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Beloit Pastor Is One Of The First African-American Women To Become An ELCA Bishop

An African-American woman who has served as interim pastor at two Beloit churches has been elected bishop for the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin of the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States.

The Rev. Viviane E. Thomas-Breitfeld of Brookfield is just the second African-American woman bishop among the 65 synods that make up the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The first, the Rev. Patricia A. Davenport, was elected bishop of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod on Saturday – the day before Thomas-Breitfeld’s election.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said the elections of the two were important developments for the “most white” of the nation’s mainline Protestant denominations.

Thomas-Breitfeld was elected on the fifth ballot during the synod’s annual assembly at Wisconsin Dells. She said she hopes she can help the synod and the entire ELCA become more open to change.

Just days before the election, Thomas-Breitfeld concluded more than a year as interim pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Beloit. It was the first time she had worked for a church in the South-Central Synod. She previously had served as interim pastor at Atonement Lutheran Church in Beloit and Cross Lutheran Church in Burlington.

Born and raised in Manhattan, Thomas-Breitfeld graduated from Cornell University and McCormick Theological Seminary before being ordained in 1980 – one of the first African-American women pastors in the ELCA. She has served as pastor of churches in Brookfield, Menomonee Falls and Milwaukee, Wis.; as campus chaplain at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee; and as campus chaplain at the veterans hospital and St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee. She also has served as chaplain to the Brookfield Police and Fire Departments.

Thomas-Breitfeld has served on various boards of the ELCA and is involved in the church’s world missions.

The ELCA, headquartered in Chicago, came into existence in 1988 through the merging of three Lutheran church bodies. As of 2016, the ELCA has approximately 3.6 million baptized members in just over 9,200 congregations.