Dale Horkey
The Rev. James Gonia will be installed as bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012.

DENVER — Utah members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America will be getting a new bishop Sunday when the Rev. James Gonia will be installed over the Rocky Mountain Synod.

The installation will be a rare event as Gonia becomes just the third bishop over the synod, replacing the Rev. Allan Bjornberg, who served for 18 years.

The Rocky Mountain Synod is one of 65 regions of the ELCA and is the church's largest geographically, taking in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas. The word "synod" comes from a Greek word meaning “working together.”

“The size of our synod means we have to work hard to build and tend relationships with one another,” said Gonia. “Yet when we work together, we have a powerful witness to offer."

For Gonia and his wife, the new position provided the opportunity for them to return “home.”

“The 10 years that I served as associate pastor of Atonement Lutheran Church in Denver (from 1988 to 1998) is the longest stretch of time that I have lived in one place, so my roots here are profound; the Rocky Mountains are a place of spiritual refreshment and renewal for me, “ he said.

He most recently served the ELCA’s churchwide ministries as global mission area program director for West Africa, Tanzania and Madagascar. In this position, Gonia was responsible for overseeing the ELCA’s programs and relationships with Lutheran church bodies and partners in nine African countries.

He was elected to a six-year term as bishop over the Rocky Mountain Synod on April 28 at the church’s annual assembly in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Gonia’s wife, Kim, is an ordained minister in the ELCA. They have three children, Caroline, Mallory and Peter, who are all graduates of Lutheran universities.

Gonia received a bachelor of arts degree from Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind., in 1982; a master of divinity degree from Luther Northwestern Seminary (now Luther Seminary) in 1988; and a master of theology degree in Islamic studies at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., in 1997.

The ELCA has 4.2 million members in 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.