Last summer I had email correspondence with Pastor Susan Strouse of First United Lutheran Church of San Francisco. This was one of the congregations expelled from the ELCA in the 90’s for calling a pastor in defiance of the ELCA policies of the day regarding gay clergy. My email correspondence with Pastor Susan was for the purpose of obtaining background info on First United and Pastor Jeff Johnson, the gay pastor at the center of the 90’s controversy, which I used for a blog post on August 14th.
Here is a lengthy quote from my earlier blog post:
In 1988, Jeff Johnson received his Master of Divinity degree from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Following graduation, he worked for Lutheran Social Services of Northern California, dealing with the exploding HIV/AIDS epidemic. Then, he received a call to the ordained ministry from First United Lutheran Church of San Francisco, but he was ineligible according to the ELCA policy that required a pledge of life-long celibacy from gay and lesbian pastors.
Nevertheless and despite dour warnings from the synod bishop, “Pastor Johnson [along with a lesbian couple, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, who were called to St Francis Lutheran of San Francisco] was ordained extra ordinem on January 20, 1990 at a service at historic St. Paulus Lutheran Church in San Francisco that was attended by over 1000 persons, with participation by over 70 clergy members.” First United Lutheran and St Francis Lutheran were placed on trial and expelled from the ELCA in 1995.
In 1999, Pastor Johnson accepted a new call as Pastor of University Lutheran Chapel and as Lutheran Campus Pastor of the University of California, Berkeley. University Lutheran Chapel received a “letter of censure” from the synod bishop at that time, but no further action has been taken by the ELCA or the regional synod. Pastor Johnson continues to serve in that call.
First United Lutheran Church of San Francisco has thrived in its ministry to the LGBT population in its community, and continues to maintain informal ties with the ELCA. Pastor Susan Strouse, the present pastor of First United Lutheran, has advised me in private correspondence that the congregation continued to be part of their ELCA conference and Pastor Jeff Johnson actually served as conference Dean for a period! Pastor Strouse continues to be ELCA rostered clergy although she is technically “on leave from call” (and not accruing pension benefits?). She is also rostered with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM). The current bishop has expressed interest in resolving this festering issue, but “much bridge building and healing would have to take place,” Pastor Strouse says.
I bring this up at this time because of news that Pastor Susan’s status as “on leave from call” with the ELCA has been changed. The Sierra-Pacific synod now recognizes her call from First United, and she is back on the ELCA roster as “on call”. We offer our congratulations to Pastor Susan, and our thanks to Bishop Mark Holmerud and Associate Bishop Nancy Feniuk Nelson for righting an earlier wrong. During the church wide assembly, I had the pleasure of several delightful conversations with Associate Bishop Nancy.
Of course, this resolution follows from the ELCA church wide assembly decisions last summer.
This information comes via a blog post from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM), which is the organization that stepped in and offered rostering and other support to Pastor Susan and a couple dozen others who were previously non-rostered by the ELCA.
According to the mission statement of ELM posted on their blog:
Our vision is to create, empower, and sustain a growing number of faith communities that are committed to the full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the life and ministry of the Lutheran church.