The Rev. Dr. Lowell G. Almen, on August 1, 2017, became the fifth bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton appointed him to the interim position with the concurrence of the Synod Council.
The Synod Council decided to schedule the election of a bishop at the Thirty-First Annual Synod Assembly, scheduled for June 14-16, 2018, at Resurrection Lutheran Church, Oro Valley, Ariz.
Upon the constituting of the ELCA on April 30, 1987, Dr. Almen was elected the ELCA’s first secretary. He served in that capacity for 20 years, stepping out of office on October 31, 2007. (The ELCA was formed through the uniting of the 2.85 million-member Lutheran Church in America, the 2.25 million-member American Lutheran Church, and the 100,000-member Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.)
Prior to his election as the ELCA’s first secretary on May 2, 1987, Dr. Almen was editor of The Lutheran Standard, the official publication of The American Lutheran Church. He was called first as the magazine’s managing editor, beginning July 15, 1974, and became editor on January 1, 1979.
He served from 1969 to 1974 as associate campus pastor and director for communications at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. During that time, he also assisted in pastoral ministry in Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead.
His first parish assignment was at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Dresser, Wis. He was sent there to prepare the way for the merger of St. Peter’s, an ALC congregation, with Bethany Lutheran Church, a LCA congregation in that town. Eventually, the two congregations did merge to form Peace Lutheran Church.
Dr. Almen has been involved in the church’s ecumenical endeavors in all settings of his service. As ELCA secretary, he led several ecumenical delegations, meeting with Pope John Paul II on five occasions and with Pope Benedict XVI on four occasions. He happened to be in Rome in St. Peter’s Square on the night Pope Francis was introduced as the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. He also engaged in consultation on five occasions with Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church in Istanbul, Turkey. In addition, he has been a participant in ecumenical meetings at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva, Switzerland, as well as with the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury in London.
He has been a member of the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue since 1998 and co-chair since 2005. He edited the report of Round XI of the dialogue, The Hope of Eternal Life, which is available on Amazon.
He was the first chair of the Lutheran-Reformed Coordinating Committee. The committee was responsible for implementing the agreement of full communion between the ELCA and three churches of the Reformed tradition: Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, and United Church of Christ. The document establishing that relationship, Formula of Agreement, was approved by the churches in 1997. A primary responsibility of the committee was creating policies for the orderly exchange of clergy appointed to serve under the agreement.
Later, he was appointed to the Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee. That committee had responsibility for implementing Called to Common Mission, an agreement of full communion approved by the ELCA in 1999 and the Episcopal Church in 2000.
Formal full communion relationships of mutual recognition also have been established by the ELCA with the Moravian Church and the United Methodist Church.
Dr. Almen undertook for six months in 2016 a special assignment at the request of the ELCA’s Rocky Mountain Synod. He served as transitional senior pastor in First Lutheran Church, Colorado Springs, Colo., following the retirement of a long-serving senior pastor.
Almen was born in Grafton (Walsh County), North Dakota, on September 25, 1941. His parents owned a farm about 10 miles northwest of Park River, North Dakota. He attended a one-room, rural elementary school, and was the only person in his grade. He then went to a residential parochial high school, Oak Grove Lutheran High School in Fargo, N.D., graduating in 1959.
He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1963 from Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn. He had a major in history and political science and a major in philosophy. He once suggested that the major in philosophy prepared him for the study of theology and the major in history and political science helped guide him in church administration.
Almen earned as Master of Divinity degree in May 1967 from what then was called Luther Theological Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. During his senior year in seminary, he edited church school curriculum for the ALC’s publishing house. His work included a senior high course on World Religions and Christian Mission and another on Our Neighbor’s Faith.
He engaged in graduate study at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, the St. John’s University Graduate Program in Theology at Collegeville, Minn., and the Strasbourg, France, Ecumenical Institute. He was awarded honorary doctor’s degrees by Capital University, Columbus, Ohio, Carthage College, Kenosha, Wis., and Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.
Almen is author of One Great Cloud of Witnesses on the ELCA’s history and polity and More to the Story, a history of Lutheran pension and benefit plans for the ELCA and its predecessor church bodies, stretching back to 1748. He also helped write and then narrated the ELCA’s video, Lutherans in North America.
Lowell and Sally Almen were married on August 14, 1965, in Messiah Lutheran Church, Fargo, N.D. They have two children, Paul and Cassandra, and three granddaughters.