The Rev. Robert F. Humphrey, 61, currently senior pastor of Muhlenberg Lutheran Church in Harrisonburg, on June 11 was elected bishop of the most numerous branch of Lutherans in the Virginia Synod. He will succeed the Rev. Dr. James Mauney who has been accorded the title of Bishop-emeritus in retirement. Mauney, whose office is on the Roanoke College campus, served for 17 years.
The election of Humphrey, whose 36 years of ministry have been entirely in the Waynesboro and Harrisonburg areas, took place on the fifth ballot in which he outpaced the Rev. Kelly Bayer Derrick, 37, the current pastor of St. Philip Church at Hollins. Tellers, using individual electronic machines, recorded 384 votes cast. With 193 needed for election, Humphrey received 217 to her 163.
Voting for the new bishop was the major business of the 2017 Synod Assembly held each June in Bast Gymnasium of the college for business, worship and fellowship. Pastors and lay delegates come from throughout Virginia with the more numerous congregations in the Shenandoah Valley and more recently in Northern Virginia although a few historic parishes have been long established in the Piedmont and Tidewater areas.
These Lutherans are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) which was formed 30 years ago with the union of several groups of English and German origin. The Roanoke area is home to at least three other groups, all taking more conservative stands on cultural and theological questions than those in the ELCA, the religious parent of Roanoke College.
Since Mauney announced last year that he wished to retire in 2017, a transition committee has been at work surveying members on qualities they hope to find in a new leader. They were invited to nominate male or female pastors to be considered for the role. Many nominations were received, and in recent weeks the list was narrowed to seven with voting starting on Friday when the delegates assembled.
Other clergy who were finalists in the voting were the Revs. Cathy Mims of Norfolk and John Wertz Jr. of St. Michael Church in Blacksburg.
The new bishop was educated at the University of Richmond and at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Between pastorates in the Waynesboro area, he spent a year with a counseling center in that city and took some additional study in the field at the University of Virginia. He has been active throughout the synod especially in the fields of human relationships. He served on several boards related to public education in the Augusta County community.