The Rev. H. Gerard Knoche's mother would be proud.
The Howard County minister has been elected bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - one of the largest Protestant denominations in the country.
"My mother was never happy that I went into the ministry, but she always said, 'If you must do it, at least get to be a bishop,'" Knoche said.
Knoche, pastor of New Hope Lutheran Church in Columbia, was elected on the fifth ballot by the Delaware-Maryland Synod Assembly at Western Maryland College in Westminster on Saturday.
The 57-year-old pastor will assume leadership of the synod Sept. 1, after the retirement of Bishop George Paul Mocko.
Knoche's mother, who died several years ago, had wanted her son to take up the family construction business.
When Knoche showed neither the interest nor the aptitude to be a contractor, his parents reluctantly agreed that he would major in English at college in the hope he might become a lawyer.
But Knoche, who grew up in Randallstown and preached his first sermon in the seventh grade, felt called to the ministry after his freshman year.
He began his career as assistant pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Westminster in 1967 and was an associate chaplain at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania from 1969 to 1974. He spent 17 years as director of the Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Wisconsin before coming to New Hope in 1991.
He serves on the board of directors of Grassroots, a homeless shelter in Howard County, and is a participant in Leadership Howard County.
Knoche holds a bachelor of arts degree cum laude in English from Harvard College in Cambridge, Mass., as well as a bachelor of divinity degree cum laude in Bible studies from Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Conn. He received a master of sacred theology degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.
Knoche said that despite his mother's wishes, he did not aspire to be a bishop in the church. He was one of 101 pastors nominated for the position over the weekend and received 15 votes on the first ballot.
But Knoche said he did not decline the nomination, because he believed God's will would be revealed in the election process. After five ballots, he received the majority of the votes. "I went from the very bottom to the new bishop," he said. "It was a work of the spirit."
Knoche was elected to a six-year term overseeing 11 full-time and part-time employees. As bishop, he will be the synod's spiritual and theological leader, serve as pastor to more than 300 ordained pastors and lay people on the synod's roster, and hold responsibility for the synod's annual budget of almost $3 million.
The Delaware-Maryland Synod is one of 65 such geographical subdivisions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the fifth-largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
Headquartered in the Lutheran Center near Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the synod serves more than 96,000 Lutherans in 190 congregations in Delaware and Maryland, except the Washingtonsuburbs and Garrett County.
The synod was established in 1988, just after the creation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which resulted from a merger of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America. Knoche will be the third bishop of the regional synod.