BAXTER - Close to 600 people on Saturday filled the cafetorium at Forestview Middle School in Baxter to watch a former pastor of First Lutheran Church in Brainerd be installed as bishop for the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
The Rev. Thomas Aitken was installed by presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson at the school where the synod's newest congregation, Rejoice Lutheran Church, conducts its services.
Aitken succeeded the Rev. E. Peter Strommen as bishop on Aug. 1. Strommen served 12 years and was ineligible for re-election. Aitken was elected on the fifth ballot during the synod assembly on May 2-4 in Duluth. There were 18 names on the nominating ballot.
Aitken said in an interview that he never dreamed of becoming the bishop. He said over the years, several people asked him to consider the position and he finally did.
The Rev. Thomas Aitken (center) smiled at relatives as he walked down the aisle Saturday of the cafetorium at Forestview Middle School in Baxter at the end of the ceremony where he was installed as bishop for the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Brainerd Dispatch/ Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"I've very honored and ready to step in this role," Aitken said.
Aitken sees the role of bishop as being a pastor to rostered leaders by guiding, shepherding and encouraging.
"What I'd like to do as bishop is encourage us to be more welcoming, care for the earth, speak out against prejudices and recognize the context which we live in a pluralistic world that people of goodwill are different from ours and that is a good thing not a bad thing," said Aitken. "We need to focus on God's grace of all people and recognize that people are different and we should not fear that but acknowledge the goodness of others."
Aitken also has a passion for youth and part of his vision is they understand that they play a vital role in the community.
Aitken graduated from Northwestern College and Luther Seminary, both in St. Paul. Luther is one of eight ELCA seminaries. While earning his degrees he worked for Boy Scouts of America as a summer program director, camp chaplain and camp director.
Bishops and clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and community members sang Saturday in the cafetorium at Forestview Middle School in Baxter during the ceremony for Rev. Thomas Aitken. Brainerd Dispatch/ Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Since Aitken was ordained in 1985, he served as pastor for the following churches: Immanuel Lutheran Church in Hillman; Immanuel Platte Lake Lutheran Church and First Lutheran Church, both in Brainerd; Bethany Lutheran Church in Loman; and he was at First Lutheran Church in International Falls from 1992 up until his bishop nomination.
Aitken served as a pastor at the Brainerd churches from 1987-92. He said the bishop installation ceremony was held at Forestview Middle School because the synod wanted to highlight its newest church, Rejoice Lutheran Church. The ELCA Northeastern Minnesota Synod consists of 75,000 Lutherans in 149 congregations across 13 Minnesota counties.
Bob and LuJean Meyer of Brainerd said Aitken was their pastor at First Lutheran Church in Brainerd.
"He's very talented and dedicated," they said. "It was an exceptional service ... Good things will come out of his work as the bishop."
The Rev. Thomas Aitken led the congregation before the offering at a ceremony Saturday at Forestview Middle School in Baxter. Brainerd Dispatch/ Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Darlene Munneke of Aitkin knows Aitken through her husband, who also is a pastor. Munneke was at the assembly when Aitken was voted as bishop.
"I was very impressed with how he spoke and his commitment to spreading the word of God," Munneke said.
During the last song of the 90-minute ceremony, Aitken's cousins, who were sitting in the back of the cafetorium, held up signs with numbers, mostly 10s, to rate Aitken's service. One of his cousins said they rated his first sermon and they thought it'd be appropriate to rate Saturday's sermon.
Aitken and his wife, Rebecca, have two adult children. Aitken said the are currently looking for a home in Duluth where the synod office is located. The couple is staying with a Duluth family until they find a home.
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