Ruth Frost, Anita Hill, and Phyllis Zillhart are three women well known in ELCA circles for their boundary breaking courage. All three are lesbian clergy who bucked the system despite the certainty of official ELCA sanctions and personal opprobriation. Here are snippets from a sermon delivered by Pastor Hill following one public act of civil disobedience against the former ELCA policies toward gay clergy:
There was disapproval raining down on our heads … I heard the tension in the murmurs and groans of many voting members. … We risked our reputations, risked losing the respect of the church we’ve been nurtured in along with our families for generations.
Ruth and Phyllis are a lesbian couple who made national news in 1990 by accepting a joint call to the ministry as co-pastors of St Francis Lutheran Church of San Francisco. In response, the ELCA kicked the congregation out of the denomination, and refused to recognize the ordinations of the two women. This was the beginning of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM); by the time of the ELCA Church Wide Assembly of 2009 (CWA09) when the voting members reversed the restrictive LGBTQ ministry policies, ELM had ordained thirty or so extraordinary persons extraordinarily. Here is a video about the historic events of twenty years ago.
Similarly, Pastor Hill made national headlines when she accepted a call to St Paul Reformation Church in 2001. This time, the denomination placed sanctions on the congregation, but it was not expelled from the ELCA. Here is a link to the Minneapolis Star Tribune interview with Pastor Hill dated May 5, 2001. Pastor Hill’s story was the subject of a ninety minute award winning documentary in 2003 entitled “This Obedience.” I couldn’t find a good video about the documentary to post here, but I did find one in which Pastor Hill speaks as an advocate for marriage equality.
Past is prologue, as they say, and the ELCA ministry policies have changed–thanks in no small part to those who have risked “disapproval raining down on our heads”. On Saturday next, these three pioneering women will be formally received onto the roster of ELCA clergy in a public Rite of Reconciliation. Details about this celebratory event may be found on the website of Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA), ELM’s blog, and the website of St Paul Reformation Lutheran Church where Pastor Hill continues to serve. Pastors Frost and Zillhart have returned to Minnesota (they had attended seminary at Luther in St Paul), and both serve as hospice/elder care chaplains.
The service promises to be festive with many clergy and bishops past and present. St Paul area Synod Bishop Peter Rogness will preside, and the sermon will be delivered by another well known Lutheran LGBTQ activist, Barbara Lundblad, professor of homiletics at Union Theological Seminary. This will be the second highly publicized Rite of Reconciliation in the ELCA. A few months ago, seven LGBTQ clergy were welcomed onto the ELCA roster of ordained clergy in California. Pastor Jeff Johnson, featured in the video along with Pastors Frost and Zillhart, was one of the seven.