A man who said he resisted God's call to service for most of his life was installed Saturday as bishop of the Maryland- Delaware Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America before 500 in a Baltimore church.
At a ceremony that alternated formal religious rites and lighter moments, the Rev. Wolfgang D. Herz-Lane told a crowd that included the presiding bishop of the ELCA that he first heard God's call as a schoolboy in his native Germany. But he pursued careers in journalism and social work before entering the seminary in his early 40s.
"The more he called, the more I resisted," said Herz-Lane, 56. "But God has his ways, doesn't he? When God wants something, he usually gets it."
Herz-Lane, who recently moved with his family to Baltimore from Camden, N.J., was elected in June to a six-year term heading the 180-church Maryland-Delaware Synod. He has served as a director for domestic mission and bishop's assistant in three synods: Delaware-Maryland, Metropolitan Washington and New Jersey.
Herz-Lane was the founding pastor of Bridge of Peace Community Church, a 10-year-old Lutheran congregation in Camden. He graduated from Philadelphia's Lutheran Theological Seminary in 2001.
He succeeds Bishop H. Gerard Knoche of Randallstown, who retired last fall. The Rev. Theodore F. Schneider, former bishop of the denomination's Metropolitan Washington Synod, had been serving as an interim bishop.
Knoche placed a pectoral cross around Herz-Lane's neck during the ceremony at New Psalmist Baptist Church in the Southwestern neighborhood Uplands. The rites also including the laying-on of hands and ritual foot washing. The new bishop accepted a shepherd's staff and donned cream-colored vestments before addressing the congregation.
"This thing is heavier than I would have thought," he said, referring to the robe.
In his address, Herz-Lane urged followers to help him make the church "less of an institution and more of a movement" — one in which "every member is a missionary."
"God doesn't call us to sit inside our comfy little church waiting for people to come to us," he said. "Go and make disciples."
In a more playful moment, Herz-Lane pulled out a stuffed animal, a purple gorilla, and introduced it as his auxiliary bishop.
The presiding bishop of the ELCA, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson of Chicago, delivered a sermon that addressed challenges that the church has faced in recent years, including controversies over gay clergy and same-sex marriage.
At a church-wide assembly in August 2009, church leaders voted to allow non-celibate gay men and women to serve as clergy, so long as they were in committed relationships. The church does not have an approved rite for blessing gay unions, but the assembly voted to "find ways to allow congregations that so choose to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable people in lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships," according to the church's website.
With 4.5 million members, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the nation's largest Lutheran denomination. Hanson said the ELCA faces a choice: It could be "a timid church" or a "confident, courageous" one that preaches "the gospel of radical inclusion."
"God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline," he said.
Along with Herz-Lane, four assistants were installed: the Rev. Ed Kay of Timonium; Linda Chinnia of Baltimore, the Rev. Roland Hobbs of Hagerstown, and Deaconess Kati Kluckman-Ault of Arbutus.