Since Lutheranism was born and raised in northern Europe, it is not surprising that Minnesota, settled largely by Scandinavian and German immigrants over a century ago, is truly God’s country for many North American Lutherans. Roughly ten percent of all ELCA Lutherans in the US reside in Minnesota, home to six of sixty five regional synods and 1,143 congregations out of 10,400 nationwide.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune (Strib) is the leading Minnesota newspaper, and its Sunday, August 22, edition contained an excellent article reporting on the status of the ELCA one year after the momentous gay friendly resolutions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly (CWA09)—held in Minneapolis, of course.
This blog has long suggested that the defections from the ELCA are best characterized as a trickle but not a torrent. Strib reporter Jim Spencer concurs. The article is entitled “Lutherans bowed but unbroken”, and that is an apt summary of the article that suggests:
Disappointed opponents predicted a fracture that would cause 1,000 congregations to withdraw. A year later, the ELCA remains largely intact. “That 1,000-congregation figure has proven to be wishful thinking on the part of those who wanted it to happen,” said Larry Wohlrabe, Bishop of Minnesota’s rural Northwestern Synod.
Penny Edgell, a University of Minnesota sociologist who studies American religion, said fears of the ELCA collapsing under the weight of gay clergy decision were “overstated.”
But, as Pastor Jeff from Arizona who frequently comments here will remind us, this past year has not been without pain. Many congregations remaining ELCA are roiled with internal conflict. Financial contributions are way down although most observers would agree that has more to do with the Great Recession than ELCA politics. Declining membership continues, but that has been true for decades, and Professor Edgell notes,
“What’s happening to American Christian churches doesn’t have much to do with these hot-button issues,” Edgell said. “It has to do with demographics. Younger generations don’t view these institutions the same way their parents did.”
Cheerleaders for the demise of the ELCA will not go away quietly. Lutheran CORE, the primary ELCA irritant, will audaciously roll out its new denomination this weekend, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), trumpeted as “a reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism.” Spencer’s Strib article suggests:
While fewer than 10 congregations have committed to joining NALC, organizers say hundreds eventually will.
On September 18th, Minnesota will celebrate a Rite of Reconciliation that will formally reinstate Pastor Anita Hill of St Paul and others onto the ELCA roster of ordained clergy. A similar ceremony welcomed seven California LGBTQ pastors onto the ELCA roster earlier this summer. Pastor Hill was mentioned in the Strib article:
“I feel a sense of loss for those who felt they had to leave because I am welcome,” said Anita Hill, a lesbian who is a pastor at St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in St. Paul. Hill defied her church’s ban on gay clergy for eight years as her congregation endured sanctions and battled for change. “I never thought the inclusion of some required others to depart,” she said.
How many church bulletins proclaim “All are welcome”? And mean it? Enjoy this UCC video that is critical of congregations that merely give lip service to full welcome.