She was a reluctant candidate, recognizing the many challenges of Christian leadership, tight finances, and declining membership among them. But the Rev. Patricia Ann Curtis Davenport of East Oak Lane was overwhelmingly elected in May to lead the 80,000-member Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

On Saturday afternoon, in a ceremony attended by approximately 2,000 worshipers and religious leaders from throughout the region and country, Davenport, 63, a widow and mother of three, was installed as bishop — the first African American woman elected to the post in a denomination whose 3.5 million congregants are 96 percent white.

The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton (left) applauds as Bishop Davenport is installed.
DAVID MAIALETTI
The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton (left) applauds as Bishop Davenport is installed.

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She succeeds the Rev. Claire Schenot Burkat, 66, who served two six-year terms. With the installation Saturday of the Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld, who was elected one day after Davenport in the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin and is also African American, 13 of the denomination's 65 bishops are women.

Song and prayer were part of the installation service for Bishop Davenport (right).
DAVID MAIALETTI
Song and prayer were part of the installation service for Bishop Davenport (right).

Leading Davenport's installation ceremony at New Covenant Church in West Mount Airy was ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.