RESOLVED, that the ELCA commit itself to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered leaders of this church.
This resolution didn’t actually change ministry policies, but effectively committed the church infrastructure to do so. The process is underway but not yet completed to amend the multi-page 1990 document entitled Visions and Expectations, to wit, the one sentence out of the lengthy document that stated,
Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.
Due to the 1990 policy, many gay and lesbian persons simply abandoned their call to the ordained ministry. Emily Eastwood, the head of Lutherans Concerned North America, is one example. Others left the ELCA and pursued their call to the ministry in other denominations such as the UCC or Episcopal Church. A few found Lutheran congregations willing to call them, despite the potential for ELCA punitive measures (the first congregations were expelled from the ELCA but later congregations were merely censured).
Although the revised ministry policies are not yet finalized or effective, the process of reconciliation and restoration is already underway. I previously reported on a San Francisco congregation that was expelled that is now engaged in discussions about returning to the ELCA and about their pastor’s restoration to the ELCA clergy roster.
The past week saw a few more examples of healing.
The blog of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) reports that a Missouri congregation that has been under censure for a decade has been restored to the good graces of the ELCA.
The censure against Abiding Peace Lutheran congregation in Kansas City, Missouri which has been in effect since March 2001 has been lifted. The censure was put in place because the congregation called and ordained ELM roster member Pastor Donna Simon the previous October. Bishop Gerald Mansholt of the ELCA Central States Synod lifted the censure.
Pastor Donna has served that congregation since her ordination and call. Donna Simon is a 1999 graduate of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, CA. She was extraordinarily ordained by ELM in 2000.
Her service and ministry drew praise from the bishop. In his letter to the congregation, he said of Pastor Donna, a lesbian not yet on the roster of the ELCA, and her service as pastor for nine years: “…though ordained outside the established processes of the Church, Pastor Simon has been a gracious witness among us in this synod as well as in the larger Church. She has spoken the truth in love, and shared her witness and struggle as a baptized child of God, even as she has prayed for a day of wider understanding and acceptance in the Church.”
Bishop Mansholt, in notifying the synod of the lifting of the censure, repeated the above praise for Pastor Donna and commented on the faithfulness of the congregation at Abiding Lutheran: “As the Church studied, prayed and conversed with one another over the matters of gay and lesbian people in the Church, Abiding Peace Church might have walked away. But they remained in the Church and stayed in dialog with brothers and sisters who were trying to make sense of these issues in the light of the Gospel. They kept on praying for a better day, a time of wider awareness and acceptance. . . . I know the congregation also longs for the day when their pastor might be welcomed onto the roster of the ELCA.”
Blog friend Susan Hogan at Pretty Good Lutherans also posts on this announcement, and there are some great comments following her post such as this one from Pastor Christine Iverson:
I served Abiding Peace as an intentional interim for more than 3 years. They called Pastor Simons a few years after I left. They never did want to leave the ELCA and the bishop at the time and they tried to find ways to continue together. The process that led to the censure decision was done with great care and inclusion and I think that probably had a part in the congregation’s decision to hang in there with us. Unfortunately, the bishop, synod council, pastor, and the congregation were bound by the requirements of the ELCA constitution.
On a personal note, when my daughter was very ill, Donna came and ministered to us both for which I will always be grateful. She is a gifted colleague.
On the other hand, conservative blogger “Shrimp” at Shellfish blog, offers the following condescending, sarcastic commentary:
We at Shellfish can imagine just how devastating it is to a small congregation (latest reported average Sunday attendance: 18) not being able to serve on a synod committee. But if Bishop Mansholt appreciates their constant presence, who are we (with “bound consciences” scandalized by Miss Simon serving as a pastor without any sign of repentance on her part) to object to welcoming them back fully?
And a comment to Shrimp’s post adds:
I just read of a pebble tossed down the slippery slope of an apostate church. Everyone therefore make a joyful noise, for avalanche starts in this very way.
It strikes me as revealing that the Henny Pennys who cluck about the demise of the ELCA do so with such self-righteous glee.
The same Extraordinary Ministries blog also reports on a former LCA pastor who left and became a UCC pastor because of the former ministry polices but now seeks to return to the ELCA. Pastor Vince Lavieri:
values the home that the UCC has given him during his time of exile from the ELCA, deeply appreciating the UCC’s particular insight that God Is Still Speaking. Vince is at core a confessional Lutheran who yearns to return to parish ministry in a Lutheran context.
Welcome home, Pastor Vince.