In Memoriam

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Krister Stendahl, 1921-2008

“Since I cannot be with you at your ordination which–it seems–must take place extra ordinem, I want to send you a greeting affirming my conviction that the steps that your congregations and you are taking stand well before God.” – Excerpt from Krister Stendahl’s letter to the first extraordinary ordinands in 1990.

Krister Stendahl, the Lutheran pastor and bishop emeritus who first used the words “extra ordinem” and “extraordinary” to describe the ordinations of openly gay and lesbian clergy, died on Tuesday, April 15, 2008, at the age of 86 after several years of illness.

Stendahl was Bishop of Stockholm when St. Francis Lutheran Church and First United Lutheran Church called and ordained Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart and Jeff Johnson. At a time when most church leaders were criticizing the action and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was placing the congregations on trial, Stendahl wrote to commend the congregations for their courage and leadership in supporting openly gay and lesbian pastors. Stendahl also participated in the Extraordinary Ordination of Anita Hill on April 28, 2001. In Stockholm, Stendahl was a noted reformer on issues such as women’s ordination, gay and lesbian rights, and the relationship of church and state.

Stendahl’s words have been used throughout the history of the movement for ordination of people of all sexual orientation and gender identity in the Lutheran church and are central in the identity and name of the group leading this movement, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

Stendahl chose the words because St. Francis and First United were acting “out of the ordinary” practice of the church. The founding documents of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries embrace his sentiment with these words:

If “ordinary” has come to mean “discriminatory,” we have chosen the adjective “extraordinary” deliberately to emphasize the “out-of-the-ordinary” nature of our community. In response to the urgent message of the reconciling and hopeful Gospel of Jesus Christ, we take seriously our responsibility to convey the message of reconciliation, unconditional regard and everlasting love to all people, especially those who have been left out of, or abandoned by the church that bears the name of Christ.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries remembers and celebrates the life of Rev. Krister Stendahl, remembers his family in our prayers, and honors the legacy his words and actions leave to those seeking justice for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the Lutheran Church.

A memorial service is planned for Friday, May 16, at 3 p.m. in Harvard’s Memorial Church.

For a full obituary, please visit the Harvard Divinity School’s website.