For the Rev. Norma Cook Everist, the important thing about her candidacy to become the first female bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was that people were given the opportunity to imagine a woman as bishop.

Everist, a professor at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, and a popular columnist for The Lutheran magazine, withdrew as a candidate just as delegates to the denomination's Southwestern Minnesota Synod Assembly were preparing to vote June 9 for a new bishop.

Everist said yesterday that early in the nomination process she told supporters she would not serve as bishop, if elected, because she felt called to remain a professor of the church.

Everist said she decided to accept the candidacy because she believed it important that women be visible as part of all church processes and because supporters received her with great respect, considering her seriously as a potential bishop.

Everist said a woman "ought to be part of the call process" so that people could consider a woman as bishop and in other positions of authority in the church.

Ultimately elected to head the synod, which includes 288 congregations with 133,000 members, was the Rev. Charles Anderson, 56, assistant to the synod's resigning bishop, the Rev. Darold Beekmann.

Mary Pellauer, coordinator of research and study for the church's Commission for Women, said there has never been a female bishop elected in any Lutheran denomination.

Pellauer said a few women were candidates for bishop when the church elected its first Council of Bishops as three predecessor bodies merged to form the denomination in January 1988.

When she was nominated, Everist said, she did not believe her name "would surface to go further than that" because her support came from individuals and not an organized group.

But when the field narrowed to the top candidates whose names would be presented at the assembly, her name was still there.

Everist said that although she would not accept a call to serve as bishop, she believes there are "a good number of women" qualified to serve who would accept a call.

It is very important that the church elect a female bishop soon, she said, because as long as it lacks females on the Council of Bishops the church is "missing the gifts of half of the population."