Lutheran Bishop Lorna H. Halaas

The Rev. Lorna H. Halaas, laughs while standing for a photo at First Lutheran Church in Sioux City. Halaas was elected Bishop of the ELCA Western Iowa Synod in May and her installation service will be Saturday at the Sioux City church.

SIOUX CITY -- The Rev. Lorna H. Halaas used to tease her son Heath that when he went to college at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, she'd pursue her Master of Divinity degree at the nearby United Theology Seminary.

"Then we could become roommates," she said, jokingly. "Wouldn't that be fun?"

Well, it turns out Halaas' son was listening all along.

"When my son went off to school, he reminded me that I promised to attend seminary," Halaas recalled with a smile. "We never became roommates, but my son and I were both college students at the same time."

That was more than a decade ago. 

While Halaas' son is currently a major in the U.S. Army, his mom is slated to be installed Bishop of the Western Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA).

Following a formal ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, at First Lutheran Church, 3939 Cheyenne Blvd., Halaas, 62, will become the first female Bishop in the ELCA's Western Iowa Synod's 31-year history.

Lutheran Bishop Lorna H. Halaas

The Rev. Lorna H. Halaas, talks during an interview at First Lutheran Church in Sioux City, Iowa. Halaas was elected Bishop of the ELCA Western Iowa Synod in May and her installation service will be Saturday at the Sioux City church.

Elected to the six-year term in May, she will succeed the Rev. Rodger Prois, who had served as bishop since 2013.

The ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, with about 3.5 million members in 9,300 congregations. Congregations are, then, grouped into 65 synods. Halaas' synods consists of 125 Lutheran congregations throughout western Iowa.

"Each of the 65 ELCA synods has a Bishop and, currently, 23 of those synods will have a female bishop," Halaas explained. 

That wasn't always the case.

It has only been within the past 50 years that the ELCA began ordaining women. While Lutheran women clergy serve in a variety of roles, including campus ministers, chaplains and missionaries, the majority of ELCA bishops continue to be men.

"This is slowly changing since women, too, have shown a gift for ministry and leadership," Halaas said. 

While the North Dakota native felt a calling toward the ministry, she chose education as a profession when she earned her bachelor's degree from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. 

After teaching, she began working for the Minneapolis-based Augsburg Fortress, the official publishing house for the ELCA for many years.

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"I had spent most of my professional life working for or on behalf of the ELCA," Halaas said. "Once my son was grown, I figured becoming ordained should be the next step."

This is much more common than people think, she said.

"People go into the seminary after careers in teaching or sales or driving trucks," Halaas said. "We all get calling at different times of our lives."

Halaas subsequently served the congregations of churches in Iowa and North Dakota. Most recently, she served the synod as assistant to Prois.

Through it all, she had the support of her husband, the Rev. David Halaas, who is pastor of Sioux City's St. Mark Lutheran Church.

Having husband and wife as pastors is also more common than you think.

"Both David and I know the ropes," she said with a laugh. "We already know we'll work Christmas, Easter and every weekend. Probably, the only free holidays we'll have are Halloween and the Fourth of July."

Even though she knows her life will change after she is installed, Halaas isn't intimidated.

"No church is built around a single person," she said. "We are a community."

This becomes more significant during divisive times.

"In celebrating the word God created, there are no differences among us," Halaas said. "We are one. My election is about continuing God's work among all people wholeheartedly with inclusivity and diversity."

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