Monthly Archives: March 2010

Another RIC synod of the ELCA

When my wife and I moved from Upsala to Northfield in November, 2008, we left many church friends behind, not merely in our ELCA congregation in Upsala, but across the Northeast Synod of Minnesota where we had been active in many ways.  We had frequently attended synod assemblies, which alternated between Duluth and Cragun’s resort near Brainerd, and Lynn served as WELCA synod president, board member, and parliamentarian for annual assemblies.

In Northfield, as members of Bethel Lutheran, we are now part of the Southeastern Minnesota synod of the ELCA, and we are learning our way around.  I have attended several conference and synod gatherings, and Lynn and I will be voting members at this spring’s 2010 synod assembly.

JusticeImage So, it was with great interest and pleasant surprise when a news release crossed my desk from Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA) which praised our new synod for its recently adopted statement of affirmation and inclusion.  Turns out that the 2009 synod assembly voted to become a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) synod and to appoint a task force to craft an LGBT friendly welcoming statement.  Our synod becomes the 24th synod of the ELCA to officially become RIC (out of a total of 65 synods nationwide).  In a nutshell, the RIC movement is for synods, congregations, and individuals to become overtly gay friendly and welcoming.

The single element that is central to the program is the Affirmation of Welcome. It is simple, yet powerful in its witness … Making the Affirmation promotes a publicly inclusive ministry and helps heal the pain of doubt.

Here is the full statement of the SE Mn synod:

Affirmation of Welcome

Baptized into the waters of Christ and raised to new life by the strong word of God, fed and nourished by the body and blood of Christ, the people of God in the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America decided in the 2009 assembly to be a Reconciling in Christ Synod. This synod, called by the Holy Spirit, is kept in unity with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. We are freely forgiven in Christ and we are in full service to one another. Whenever we meet in worship, prayer, deliberation and decision, as a large and diverse body of Christians, we recognize various ministries to ensure all people are welcomed into a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. As baptized believers created in the image of God – including, but not limited to, people of every race, nationality, age, political affiliation, marital status, gender identity, economic or social status, sexual orientation, mental and physical abilities – our synod welcomes all people of all backgrounds to become Christ’s devoted disciples.

A Roman Catholic emergency synod of Bishops?

Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger The media and the blogosphere exploded last week with news that the cancerous clergy sexual abuse crisis and its coverup may have reached deep into the bowels of the Vatican.  Was the pope himself, in his prior leadership role as Archbishop, complicit in the coverup of abuse of a German pedophile priest?  Later, as Cardinal Ratzinger and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, did he ignore or coverup memos of abuse complaints?

In response, the Vatican churns out press releases suggesting all the problems are ancient history and that the Roman Catholic hierarchy is currently achieving renewed levels of trust.  The following comes from a press release from the Director of the Vatican press office dated March 27th and reprinted from the National Catholic Reporter blog:

The truth is that the cases that have come to public attention generally took place some time ago, even decades ago, although recognising them and making amends with the victims is the best way to restore justice and to achieve that ‘purification of memory’ which enables us to look to the future with renewed commitment, with humility and trust.

A contribution to this trust comes from the many positive signals emerging from various episcopal conferences, bishops and Catholic institutions in different countries on the various continents: directives for the correct handling and prevention of abuses, which have been reiterated, updated and renewed in Germany , Austria , Australia , Canada etc.

Other spokesmen for the Roman Catholic patriarchy offer a conspiracy theory that blames the liberal media, as reported by the Guardian of London:

At last, one of Pope Benedict’s closest aides uses the word “conspiracy” in relation to the systematic global cover-up of child abuse by paedophile Catholic priests. Unfortunately, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins believes the conspiracy is against the Catholic church, which is its victim.

But there may be a stirring in the lower levels of the patriarchy as a rumbling is rising amongst the episcopate for a special synod, a gathering of bishops from around the world to deal with a problem that seems increasingly beyond the power of the Vatican to control.  As reported by John Phillips and reprinted in the progressive Catholic blog, Englightened Catholicism:

Many bishops have let it be known they want Benedict to convene a special synod or worldwide conference of bishops to examine the problem because of a growing feeling that the Vatican cannot handle this.

Yet to be seen is whether the Vatican hierarchy or a more democratic episcopacy will deal honestly with systemic problems such as a patriarchal, males-only priesthood, mandatory celibacy, secrecy, or the institutional, top-down, manipulative hierarchy itself.  Or, as many fear, will this crisis be seen as merely one of public relations?

All quiet on the Lutheran front

As Garrison Keillor frequently notes, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon.”

Can’t report on the latest gossip from LCMC because the 91 members of the “Friends of LCMC” Google group apparently grew tired of my comments about their comments since they have now made their little group private, preventing outsiders like me from checking in from time to time to see what’s going on.  Don’t think they’d accept me for membership. 

Nothing out of the Lutheran Core camp since their March 17th release of their March newsletter.  I already commented about the overall negative tone of that missive that was their list of things they dislike about the ELCA.

From the ELCA comes fairly routine news; the most recent press releases pertain to a) ecumenical advocacy days, b) HIV religious summit, c) Jerusalem Lutheran hospital, d) other middle east matters, and e) flooding of the Red River along the Minnesota – North Dakota border.

I don’t think I’ll be so bold as to suggest a return to normalcy and away from contentiousness within the ELCA, but that’s been the case this week.

Starring John Boehner

With violent and threatening placards bobbing amidst the tea party protesters, the “N” word shouted at civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, the “F” word shouted at Congressman Barney Frank, news that the FBI is investigating vandalism against the families of Democratic members of Congress–and the list goes on—the question must be asked: is the Republican leadership part of the problem or part of the solution?

Is Sarah Palin’s website graphic that puts gunsights on the districts of certain Democratic Congressfolk evidence of clear-headed, responsible leadership?  Is Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann’s recently repeated rant that our President is un-American the rational voice of the loyal opposition?  And what about that angry, defiant speech of House Minority leader, John Boehner, just before the passage of health reform legislation?

Here is a Youtube video that is going viral starring the esteemed minority leader, the voice of the party of No, cheering Americans to a higher calling.

Crumbling Roman Catholic patriarchy

The patriarchy of Roman Catholicism, even the papacy itself, is under siege. 

The sex abuse revelations that shook the foundations of American Catholicism in the last decade have reached Europe, first in Ireland, then Germany (implicating the brother of the pope), and today the headlines in newspapers around the world proclaim complicity of the pope himself in covering up the sordid history of abuse on the part of a Wisconsin priest.

In the US, the Council of Bishops stood against the health care legislation that has become the law of the land even as American nuns championed the cause of reform.  A small  group of Catholic women are inviting excommunication by challenging male only ordination with their own bishops ordaining females in highly public and visible ceremonies.  An influential Cardinal has publicly questioned the institution of a celibate priesthood.

Progressive Catholic voices rise.  Progressive Catholic organizations such as Voice of the Faithful and Call to Action dare to challenge orthodoxy.

Against this backdrop comes an open letter from Father John J McNeill, not merely a voice for gay rights in the church, but perhaps the voice.  I have previously blogged about the lengthy history of Father’s McNeill’s advocacy and the important role he and his writings have played in LGBT equality issues of the last generation.  Now, in his open letter to the pope and the entire patriarchal hierarchy, his prophetic voice once again rings clear as he speaks truth to power.  His letter, reprinted below in its entirety (with a hat tip to Open Tabernacle blog), is nothing less than a warning that what is presently at stake is the very moral authority of the papacy.

Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI

In my three areas of expertise; spirituality, psychotherapy and theology, I am aware of a desperate need for spiritual transformation in the culture, the nation, and the Church. I will do my best to make a contribution to that need from my perspective as an older man with many years of involved experience.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

An Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Levada, Cardinal George and all Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in the World on the Issue of Homosexuality:

My initial open letter of November 2000 was addressed to the American Bishops at their annual conference. In the past ten-plus years, the contents of the letter have taken on greater relevance and force in the light of new scientific discoveries concerning the nature of homosexual orientation and the psychological and spiritual needs of GLBT people, as well as recent statements from the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching authority out of touch with those discoveries.

As a result, I would like to readdress the letter to the following: Pope Benedict XVI; Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF); Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and his fellow American bishops and, finally, to all the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in the world.

Catholic gay and lesbian people demand that, if the Church wants to be seen as their loving mother, mediating to us God’s unconditional love, the Church has no choice except to enter into dialogue with its gay members. In 1974, the delegates of DignityUSA’s first national convention requested in a letter that a dialogue be opened between the American bishops and the members of the Catholic gay and lesbian community. With very few exceptions that letter was ignored.

Now, 38 years later, once again in the name of my Catholic lesbian siters and gay brothers I call for open dialogue. For over 38 years, I have ministered as priest and psychotherapist to lesbians and gays. I helped found Dignity/New York to provide a safe and loving community within the Catholic Church for gay people. For over 33 years, I have given retreats for lesbians and gays at Kirkridge, an ecumenical retreat center. I have written four books on gay spirituality: The Church and the Homosexual, Taking a Chance on God, Freedom, Glorious Freedom and Sex: As God Intended: A Study of Human Sexuality As Play. I also published an autobiography on my own spiritual journey as a gay priest.

As a result of my experience, I have come to the conclusion that what is at stake at this point in time is not only the spiritual and psychological health of many gay and lesbian Catholics and other lesbian and gay Christians. What is at stake is your moral authority to teach on the issue of homosexuality. In the past, when you undertook a listening process to hear what the Holy Spirit was saying through the People of God, you won our respect. We respected you when you made your statements on the economy, on nuclear warfare and, especially, your aborted effort to draw up a letter on the role of women in the Church. You listened carefully to what women had to say, and drew up your statements responding to what you heard from women. These actions gave us gay and lesbians reason to hope that the Holy Spirit would lead you into a spirit of willingness to listen to us gay and lesbian Catholics.
What is at stake now is your own moral authority! Unless we gay and lesbian Catholics receive the message that you take us seriously and are willing to listen carefully to what the Holy Spirit is saying to you through our lives and our experience, your judgments on homosexuality will be ignored, for the most part, and you will lose what authority you have left to deserve to be listened to with respect on this issue.

I have never heard the same level of courage from the American bishops in dealing with the Vatican as that shown by the Major Superiors of Religious Men in response to the egregious document issued by The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entitled, “Some Considerations Concerning Homosexual Persons” as follows:

“We view (this document) as a hindrance to the Church leaders of the United States in this most difficult and sensitive area of human living. —We are shocked that the statement calls for discrimination against gay men and lesbian women. We find the reasoning for supporting such discrimination to be strained, unconvincing and counterproductive to our statements and actions to support the pastoral needs and personal dignity of such persons. Far from a help to the Bishops and other religious leaders in the United States Catholic Church, the statement complicates our already complex ministry to all people.
“Moreover we find the arguments used to justify discrimination based on stereotypes and falsehoods that are out of touch with modern psychological and sociological understandings of human sexuality. We regret such actions by the CDF and we reaffirm our support for the human rights of all our brothers and sisters.”

As a gay Catholic theologian and psychotherapist, I am fully aware of the enormous destruction recent Vatican and USCCB documents, and news items, as well as actions taken by the USCCB and several state Catholic Conferences in the U.S. leading up to the November 2008 elections, have caused in the psychic life of young Catholic gays, and of the violence they will provoke against all gay people. This is compounded further by the initial Vatican reaction and opposition to the United Nations proposal sponsored by France and backed by 27 European Union nations which seeks to end the practice of criminalizing and punishing people for their sexual orientation—their very human nature and spiritual being. I find myself in a dilemma; what kind of faith and trust can I place in a teaching authority that I see clearly acts in an unloving, hateful and destructive way toward my gay family and is more interested in defending its institutional interest than it is in truth and justice? In the name of the thousands of gay and lesbian Catholics and other Christians to whom it has been my God-given privilege to minister, I make this statement:

At this point, the ignorance and distortion of homosexuality, and the use of stereotypes and falsehoods in official Church documents, forces us who are gay Catholics to issue the institutional Church a serious warning. Your ignorance of homosexuality can no longer be excused as inculpable; it has become of necessity a deliberate and malicious ignorance. In the name of Catholic gays and lesbians everywhere, we cry out “Enough!”

Enough! Enough of your distortions of Scripture. You continue to claim that a loving homosexual act in a committed relationship is condemned in Scripture, when competent scholars are nearly unanimous in acknowledging that nowhere in Scripture is the problem of sexual acts between two gay men or lesbian women who love each other, ever dealt with, never mind condemned. You must listen to biblical scholars to find out what Scripture truly has to say about homosexual relationships.

Enough! Enough of your efforts to reduce all homosexual acts to expressions of lust, and your refusal to see them as possible expressions of a deep and genuine human love. The second group you must listen to are competent professional psychiatrists and psychotherapists from whom you can learn about the healthy and positive nature of mature gay and lesbian relationships. They will assure you that homosexual orientation is both not chosen and unchangeable and that any ministry promising to change that orientation is a fraud.

Enough! Enough of your efforts through groups like Courage and other ex-gay ministries to lead young gays to internalize self-hatred with the result that they are able to relate to God only as a God of fear, shame and guilt and lose all hope in a God of mercy and love. What is bad psychology has to be bad theology!

Enough! Enough again, of your efforts to foster hatred, violence, discrimination and rejection of us in the human community, as well as disenfranchising our human and civil rights. We gay and lesbian Catholics pray daily that the Holy Spirit will lead you into a spirit of repentance. You must publicly accept your share of the blame for gay murders and bashing and so many suicides of young gays and ask forgiveness from God and from the gay community.

Enough, also, of driving us from the home of our mother, the Church, and attempting to deny us the fullness of human intimacy and sexual love. You frequently base that denial by an appeal to the dead letter of the “natural law.” Another group to whom you must listen are the moral theologians who, as a majority, argue that natural law is no longer an adequate basis for dealing with sexual questions. They must be dealt with within the context of interpersonal human relationships.

Above all else, you must enter into dialogue with the gay and lesbian members of the Catholic community. We are the ones living out the human experience of a gay orientation, so we alone can discern directly in our experience what God’s spirit is saying to us. And for the first time in history, you have gay and lesbian Catholic communities of worship and prayer who are seeking individually and collectively to hear what the Spirit is saying to them in their gay experience—what experiences lead to the peace and joy of oneness with the Spirit of God and what experiences lead away from that peace and joy! God gave you the commission of discerning the truth. But there is no mandate from Jesus Christ to “create” the truth. We pray daily that the Holy Spirit will lead you to search humbly for the truth concerning homosexuality through dialogue with your lesbian sisters and gay brothers.

The only consolation I can offer gay and lesbian Catholics in the meantime is the profound hope that the very absurdity and hateful spirit of recent Vatican and USCCB documents, news items and political actions will lead gay Catholics to refuse them and recognize the contradiction of their message, and that of Jesus, who never once spoke a negative word concerning homosexuals.

I work, hope and pray that lesbian and gay Catholics and other gay Christians will exercise their legitimate freedom of conscience, discerning what God is saying to them directly through their gay experience. I hope, too, that they will be able to de-fang the poisons of pathologically homophobic religion, accepting the good news that God loves them and accepts them as gays and lesbians and refusing to be caught in the vortex of self-hatred vis-à-vis a God of fear.

I believe that we are at the moment of a special “kairos” in this matter. The Holy Spirit is “doing something new.” I was the guest at a gay ecumenical community that established homes for adult retarded people in the city of Basel in Switzerland. The extraordinary spirit of love and compassion that permeated that community was a foretaste of what lies in the future. I believe there is a vast reservoir of human and divine love that has remained until now untapped because of prejudice and homophobia. The Spirit is calling on you to help release that vast potential of human and divine love through your actions.

The worldwide prayerful vigils in December 2008 were to raise our concerned voices over the stance taken by the Vatican to perpetuate the criminalization, incarceration and death sentences towards people of a homosexual orientation. It is not only counter – productive, it violates your own teaching that all persons are due dignity and respect and that homosexual persons should not suffer violence, injustice and discrimination. Furthermore, that they should be welcomed as full and equal members of the Church and society. We pray and hope that the same Holy Spirit who has graciously liberated us who are gay to self-respect and self-love will liberate in you, our Catholic leaders, a profound love for your gay brothers and lesbian sisters and melt away all prejudice and judgmentalism in your hearts.

May you make us welcome as full members in your family in Christ.

May God bless your efforts!

Sincerely in Christ
John J. McNeill

Comments from the Editor of Dignity’s Quarterly News Journal:
The open letter to the USCCB of November 2000 is currently popping up on several Internet user groups and blogsites, and appears in the Appendix in John’s latest book, Sex as God Intended:A Reflection on Human Sexuality as Play.

Since the release of John’s open letter, there have been numerous documents and communications promulgated by the Pope, Vatican offices and USCCB on matters related to homosexuality. Even more so during 2008. Except for minor nuances, they contain the same repetitive rhetoric. Repetition of falsehoods, erroneous interpretations and bad logic doesn’t make for “the truth” and mitigates our trust and respect of “the teaching authority.”

I was in communication with John from the last week of December 2008 through early January 2009 . I learned he had but one response from a bishop of the United States in response to his initial open letter. John has issued this update and said that while announced as an open letter to the Pope, Cardinals Levada and George and the bishops of the world, it was also directed to ordinary gay Catholics for their discernment and investigation of personal and collective lived experience.
John suggests that the more out of touch the hierarchy of the Catholic Church get, “…the more we learn in a painful way to let go and grow up spiritually”.  He calls it “…the blessing of fallibility. We are witnessing the birth pangs of the Church of the Holy Spirit.”

Health Care Reform: conservative contrarians

Of the myriad news reports and blog posts about the passage of Health Care Reform, here are a pair of my favorites because they each swim against the tide of their own natural constituencies.  One comes from David Frum, an avowed conservative and former speech writer for George Bush the latter, and the second is from Vox Nova, a Catholic blog generally pro-life.

Frum writes a scathing attack against those responsible for the health care bill in its current form—the Republican leadership.

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: … we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

But Frum reserves his harshest criticism for the Rush Limbaugh types, the “conservative entertainment industry”, that lathers up the froth-jawed tea partiers for their own ratings.  When Rush’s listeners “are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.”

Frum also dissents from the after-the-loss talking points of the Republican leadership that all will be well for Republicans after the next election cycle.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

Much as I disagree with Frum’s policies, I think his political intuition is right on.  “It’s Waterloo all right: ours,” Frum concludes.

The Vox Nova article, Stop the Pro-Life Pity Party, chides the pro-life movement for being all whine and pretense.  Here is a list of critical comments:

the pro-life movement turned its back on health care reform.

With leadership like this, the unborn don’t need enemies.

their initial demand is still largely met, and the caterwauling commences that they aren’t being respected.  Grow up for crying aloud.

Your agenda never included supporting health care reform.  Remember, Scott Brown, a pro-choice Republican, was your savior when he was elected in Massachusetts because he was going to stop the health care bill.  You opposed health care reform and didn’t really care about abortion, and you know it.  (emphasis mine)  Stop blaming others for your faults.  Stupak was handy when you didn’t just want to sound like another shrill partisan.  Stupak managed to give you legitimacy.  You didn’t give Stupak anything. Who was using who here?  That’s right, Stupak was used by the pro-life movement.

Again, I think the political intuition of the blog writer is right on.  He correctly understands that much of the pro-life rhetoric was mere cover for deeper political motives—whether Republicanism or conservative fiscal policies–or even darker visceral eruptions such as anti-Obama racism.  The blog post concludes:

Of course, health care reform is a great thing too, unless you are a pro-life activist in which case it was a bad thing due almost wholly to things having nothing to do with the unborn.

Sometimes, conservatives can shine with brilliant insight.

Lutheran Core is agin it.

Calvin Coolidge 1920’s President, silent Calvin Coolidge, was a man of few words.  When he returned from church alone one Sunday, his wife asked him what the sermon was about. 

“Sin,” silent Cal replied. 

His wife pressed him for more.  “Well, what did he say about sin?” she asked. 

“He was agin it.”

That pretty much summed up the essence of the sermon, and the same can be said of Lutheran CORE.  What is CORE all about?

They’re agin it, and the “it” is the perceived sin of their bogeyman, the ELCA.

The Lutheran CORE March newsletter was out on the 17th.  Seems they could have waited a few days and called it the April issue.  The newsletter contains eleven articles, and four of them are about Lutheran CORE while the point of the other seven is to criticize the ELCA.

What do they say about a group best defined by what it is against?

More details on the ELCA Conference of Bishops approval of ELM ordinations

On March 10th, I reported on the actions of the ELCA Conference of Bishops to welcome to ministry those pastors on the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministry (ELM) Roster.  In my blog, I wondered about the use of the word “ordination” or its lack in the rite proposed by bishops.  I also updated my post immediately with word that Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA) quickly and enthusiastically endorsed the action of the Conference of Bishops.  Since then, ELM has similarly offered its heartfelt gratitude toward the bishops. 

Members of ELM were present as observers during the Conference deliberations.  At one point, Bishop Stephen Marsh offered a motion which passed to allow one of the ELM persons present to have the privilege of “voice”, i.e. an invitation to address the assembled bishops.  On today’s ELM blog, the remarks offered by ELM member Erik Christensen are published, and I reprint them here in their entirety.

Remarks made by Rev. Erik Christensen to the ELCA Conference of Bishops 

Last weekend at the ELCA Conference of Bishops, Bp. Stephen Marsh (Southeast, MI) made a motion to give voice to a representative from ELM. With just a few minutes to prepare, Rev. Erik Christensen offered this response:

Good afternoon, my name is Erik Christensen. I’m a pastor here in Chicago at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square. I did my candidacy in the Southeastern Iowa Synod. I’m a son of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Iowa. And I did my seminary training both at Candler School of Theology at Emory, but also at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. I interned on the Jersey Shore at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Toms River.

I want to say it’s really wonderful to be asked to speak. I really thank you for recognizing the privilege that it is to be allowed to speak to all of you and I thank you for extending that privilege. And I just want to say what you all know is true, but if I say it, it makes it a little less true for me in the moment…this is scary (laughter). So I just needed to say that so I could have permission to shake a little bit in my shoes.

I’ve often been afraid of what bishops think about the work that we do in ELM. And often I’ve been afraid because the way that our relationship has worked out historically has not been so good. But I really enjoy being in the room for the conversation right now because it builds my trust in the shared commitment to the Gospel that all of us have. And I can hear the sensitive, and the probing, and the discerning questions that are being asked, and it builds my trust in the church that we are becoming together.

A lot has been said, a lot has been written about the authority by which ELM has understood its ordinations to take place. So I actually don’t want to say too much about that at this particular moment, because I’m hearing a lot of that language filtering into your conversation. It’s really clear that this room of brothers and sisters has a really strong grasp on the myriad precedents, and that precedent alone isn’t really what we’re discussing here. And so I’ll be happy to entertain any questions, and others would as well, about that question of authority and by what authority we did those ordinations. But I think most of those points have been raised by you in these conversations already.

The contribution I want to make at this point in the conversation is to this question, “Why ordination?” Or why not ordination? How important is that word, really?

I want to lift up an image of my year at the Lutheran School in Philadelphia. I entered candidacy in Southeastern Iowa Synod, I made it through approval, I made it through endorsement, I made it through internship. I completed my M.Div and was in my Lutheran year in Philly and halfway through my Lutheran year, I was removed from ELCA candidacy by the candidacy committee in Southeastern Iowa Synod. And they attached a statement to their decision saying, “the only reason we have for denying approval for ministry is this policy that the church currently holds, and should that policy be removed, we would enthusiastically endorse this person.”

And there it was, I was denied, and I was no longer a candidate. And I was trying to make a decision about whether or not the ELM process had integrity, whether or not it was something I could offer my vocation up to, and put my faith in. So I went to my favorite professor and someone who is still a mentor in his writing and his speaking, Gordon Lathrop, and I said, “I’m trying to understand, Dr. Lathrop, whether or not I should offer myself to this process. Could I really understand an ordination that takes place without the full endorsement of the denomination as a full ordination?”

And he said, “No. That would be a broken ordination.” And I was confused.

And then I said, “Well, Dr. Lathrop, what about your ordination?”

And he said, “No, mine is broken as well. My ordination is also broken by the status of the body that we have right now and all of our ordinations won’t be completed until this reconciliation takes place.”

And so, I welcome the laying on of hands. I welcome the blessing with oil and with prayer and with every other form of public blessing that this church has to offer and I don’t think that “ordination” is the right word for that. Because I’ve been ordained. And you’ve been ordained. And our ordinations have been broken. And the healing and the reconciliation that needs to take place right now is contextual.

And I’m not ignorant to the fact that ordination is a word…it’s so nice to hear that there are these four different words, there are plenty of other words and they are not understood the same way at all moments in the life of the church and the history of the church. And so in one sense, “don’t get too hung up on it.” It’s ordination, it’s not ordination. But at this moment in the church, and in this does have meaning, now, for us. context, it’s a word that does have importance. It’s a word that

And so, if the purpose of the rite that you are trying to craft, if the purpose of this moment is to announce reconciliation and healing, then it will be important what word you choose. Not because that word always means that thing and always has meant that thing, but because you want that word to do something right now. And if you want it to do that thing, if you want the word, if you want the rite to do that thing that is healing and reconciliation in the body, that heals my broken ordination and your broken ordination, then affirm the ordinations that we’ve received. Affirm the calls that we’ve received.

Let’s bless one another in this ministry together.

Your congregation voted to leave ELCA; now what?

Lilly is a frequent commenter on this blog.  Her Wisconsin congregation has voted itself out of the ELCA and now she wonders where to find a church home.  Her husband is excited to return to his UCC roots and has already joined the choir in a local UCC congregation.  Lilly is still torn, and she and the minority that was ousted by their congregational vote are serious about starting an ELCA mission church.

Private emails from a lady in Florida report heavy-handed and unconstitutional behavior on the part of her pastor who is attempting to lead that congregation out.  The first vote barely reached the 2/3 requirement, but there may be serious issues with the procedures and whether that vote will stand due to failure to adhere to constitutional requirements.  In any case, she reports,

My husband and I have been attending a vibrant and welcoming Episcopal congregation and it has greatly restored our souls during this season of Lent.

In Elk River, Minnesota, a group of 100 former congregants of Central Lutheran, which has departed the ELCA, have been worshiping Sunday evenings using the facilities of a local Episcopal church.  They will soon move to an elementary school in order to offer Sunday morning worship.  This group has already received a charter from the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA and has adopted the name “Elk River Lutheran Church”.  Pastor Cynthia Ganzkow-Wold leads the worship services.

The story of Elk River Lutheran is reported in a local newspaper, the Star News, and has received extensive positive commentary on the Facebook group, “Lovin’ the Lutheran Church.”  Here is a sampling of comments:

As a member of a divided congregation, I am encouraged – I hope that I will have the courage to do something similar if called upon.

I see this as one step backwards, TWO steps forward! Good for Elk River!

What a wonderful, heart-warming story. God bless as you continue to preach the love of God for all God’s children.

What say you?  Are you a member of a conflicted congregation?  Has your congregation voted to leave the ELCA or are votes pending?  Please share your experience.