Synod chooses Newry pastor as bishop-elect

The pastor of Geeseytown-Newry Lutheran Parish has been chosen as bishop-elect for the Allegheny Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Rev. Michael Rhyne received 139 out of 252 votes cast on the fifth ballot during the ecclesiastical voting process held Friday and Saturday at the synod’s annual assembly at the Blair County Convention Center.

Rhyne, 39, of Hollidaysburg will begin a six-year term beginning in September when Bishop Gregory Pile retires.

“I was surprised and shocked,” said Rhyne when he learned he had been named to lead the synod which has 116 churches in seven central Pennsylvania counties. “I was not planning to leave here Saturday as the bishop-elect of the Allegheny Synod.”

Rhyne explained that his name was one of about 30 nominated for the position Friday, and he did not expect to remain a candidate as the field of choices narrowed with each subsequent ballot.

Addressing the assembly, he encouraged the lay members and rostered leaders to transform the lives of others through God’s love, mercy and grace.

Rhyne, who has served the two rural churches for five years, said he is “fortunate to be in a synod with pastors and lay people who care for each other and want the best for each other.”

He said they don’t always agree, but they can discuss issues and respect one another.

A native of North Carolina, Rhyne is a 2005 graduate of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C., with a master of divinity degree.

He said after graduating he applied for an Appalachian Ministry assignment, thinking he and his family would be living in Georgia, Tennessee or North Carolina. Instead, Pile called him in April 2009 and told Rhyne he had churches for him in Geeseytown and Newry.

“I couldn’t even find Geeseytown on the map,” he said.

He told the assembly that he needed its support and prayers. He especially requested others’ help in maintaining his commitment to his family along with his leadership duties. Rhyne and his wife, Karen, have three young daughters – Lillian, Ella and Willa.

“I have little kids, and they like having Daddy around. I need help and support from you,” he said.

The ministry is a second career for Rhyne, who previously taught theater classes and acted.

He earned a degree in drama and communication studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and an M.F.A. from the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, Ala.

During a question-and-answer period for the three top candidates Saturday, Rhyne, who was baptized a Lutheran and raised a Southern Baptist, talked about drifting from his Christian faith for a time, but reconnecting after an uncle’s funeral.

He said he became aware that Jesus loved him.

“Jesus loves you and died for you. That’s what changes you,” he said.