Disciples of Christ elect first woman of color to lead a mainline denomination

Despite all the talk of mainline decline, Teresa Hord Owens, the first woman of color to lead a mainline denomination, is not in survival mode.

“The life that we will find is continuing to be relevant to a society that deeply needs to see hope,” she said.

The Indianapolis-based Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) elected Owens, a descendant of one of Indiana’s oldest free settlements of African Americans, as its general minister and president on Sunday evening. The denomination, which has 600,000 members in the United States and Canada, has been led for 12 years by Sharon Watkins, who at her election in 2005 was the first woman to be top executive of a mainline body.

Sitting in her office as dean of students at the University of Chicago Divinity School, Owens, 57, who is also senior minister of First Christian Church of Downers Grove, Illinois, looked ahead to her six-year term.

Her particular role will be to lead people in efforts where they can agree, especially given the Christian Church’s history of making room for “widely divergent viewpoints concerning ‘nonessentials,’” as denominational literature puts it.

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