December 5, 2009

Rev. Jeff Barrow elected to lead Lutheran synod

Rev. Jeff Barrow, center, applauded after his election
as Bishop in Milwaukee (Photo from ELCA synod website)

The Rev. Jeff Barrow, senior pastor of Holy Communion Lutheran Church in Racine for the past 18 years, today was elected Bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

He starts the new job on Feb. 1, with his official installation on March 14 for a six-year term. As Bishop, Barrow will become the spiritual and administrative leader for 137 Lutheran congregations in Southeast Wisconsin, with some 91,000 members.

The synod runs from the state line up to Sheboygan. There are three other synods in Wisconsin.

Originally from Billings, MT, Barrow, 58, was ordained in 1979 and has been a pastor in Wisconsin for 30 years. He and his wife, Kate, a teacher and familiar presence on the stage of the Racine Theatre Guild, have two children: Jackson, 19, a student at UW-Milwaukee, and Anneka, 15, a student at Walden HS.

Asked about the challenges he will face as Bishop, Barrow said, "Goodness gracious, a lot of our churches are in old neighborhoods. In Racine, for example, there are 15 ELCA churches, a lot on top of each other. It's like having 11 1957 Buicks parked in the same garage."

Major issues facing the church are economics and unrest over the national church body's recent vote to allow gay and lesbian ministers.

"I am very grateful to be a pastor in this church," Barrow told the ELCA News Service. "I am hopeful for what is ahead for the Greater Milwaukee Synod and the wider church." Barrow said his experience as a parish pastor was helpful as he worked with congregations in his role as assistant to the Bishop. "I think I will always look at things through the eyes of a parish pastor," he said.

Barrow once served as pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, where the synod offices are now located. He also was on the synod staff part-time, helping congregations with transitions.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the largest Lutheran church body, and the election of a new Bishop -- the vacancy caused by the resignation in September of Bishop Paul Stumme-Diers, who left to become pastor of a church in Washington state -- is a grassroots affair. Lay delegates chosen by each of the congregations in the synod, and all the ordained pastors, got together in Milwaukee Friday night -- 370 voters in all.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson led the process with a worship service. Then each of the voters submitted the name of one nominee. Thirty-six pastors received nominations, many with just one vote. Barrow received 50 votes on this first ballot, nine more than the pastor in second place.

Overnight, the nominees were contacted and the list reduced to seven. Each gave a five-minute presentation today, and then on each subsequent vote the list was reduced until on the fifth vote Barrow won election by 209-185 over the Rev. Susan Tjornehoj, director of Evangelical Mission of the Minneapolis Area Synod..


  1. Congratulations Pastor Jeff! :)

  2. Way to go! They are in excellent hands. He is a wonderful Pastor, compassionate person, and pretty good softball player. He is the best!

  3. The synod chose wisely. They have picked a humble, compassionate, calm leader who has a deep love as well as a powerful vision for the church in these challenging times. Congratulations and know HCLC will miss you but it grateful you've been their pastor for the last 18 years.

  4. And he's a champion speller, too! Will he have to miss the Literacy Council spelling Bee this year?

  5. I mean -- next year, of course.