Religion professor chosen as ELCA bishop

Guy Erwin to guide Southwest California Synod

The Rev. Guy Erwin was elected May 31 to a six-year term during the synod’s assembly in Woodland Hills.

Photo: Brian Stethem

The Rev. Guy Erwin, CLU’s first Gerhard and Olga J. Belgum Professor of Lutheran Confessional Theology, has been selected as the new bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Erwin was elected May 31 to a six-year term during the synod’s assembly in Woodland Hills. The fourth bishop in the history of the 26-year-old synod, he will begin his duties presiding over 120 congregations in five counties in September.

An ordained minister since 2011, Erwin will be the ELCA’s first synod bishop who is openly gay. An active member of the Osage Indian Nation, he is also the first Native American to serve as bishop.

Erwin’s accomplishment will further a rich CLU history of service to the synod and the ELCA. The previous three bishops also have had close connections to CLU: the Rev. J. Roger Anderson, who was a former Convocator and Regent; the late Rev. Paul Egertson, who was a faculty member; and the Rev. Dean Nelson, who has served on the Board of Regents throughout his 12-year tenure as bishop.

Last year, two CLU alumni were elected bishops of synods on opposite ends of the continent. Shelley Wickstrom '81 is bishop of the Alaska Synod, and James Hazelwood '81 is bishop of the New England Synod.

Of the three final candidates, two were part of the CLU family. Campus Pastor Scott Maxwell-Doherty and Erwin received the highest number of votes in the sixth and final round.

A faculty member and administrator at CLU for the past 13 years, Erwin is director of the Segerhammar Center for Faith and Culture and served as faculty chair. He is interim pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Canoga Park, not far from his home that he shares with partner Rob Flynn in Woodland Hills. He has served as the ELCA representative to the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches since 2004.

Erwin brings a special blend of parish experience and university and seminary-level teaching to this leadership role. He has a strong sense of these vocations and their meaning within the Lutheran community.

“As a historian and Luther scholar, Guy Erwin will bring to the bishop’s office a rich and nuanced appreciation of the importance of tradition in shaping the future of the church,” observed Joan Griffin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Faculty Chair Julia Fogg said Erwin has demonstrated a commitment to ecumenical teaching and relationships with multiple faith communities. At CLU and in the community, she said, he works “to help both Lutherans and non-Lutherans better understand Luther’s teachings and to empower the priesthood of all believers for self-reflective servant leadership.”

From 2010 to 2012, Erwin served as interim pastor for two ELCA congregations in California. Prior to that, he was minister for worship and education at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in North Hollywood and, from 1993 to 1999, principal instructor for the Lutheran Studies Program and lecturer in church history and historical theology at Yale Divinity School. He served as parish associate at Emanuel Lutheran Church in New Haven from 1986 to 2000. He also served on a variety of boards and committees for ELCA-related institutions and agencies.

Erwin earned a doctorate in the history of Christianity and two master’s degrees at Yale University and an undergraduate degree in history from Harvard University. He engaged in seminary studies at the University of Tübingen and the University of Leipzig in Germany. Fluent in German, he has shared his expertise in Lutheran theology and history as the leader of CLU’s Lutheran Identity Travel Seminar for the past few years, and on numerous global study tours for students and faculty.