Article on the Suspension of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Ontario, Canada.

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Congregation punished for gay pastor
November 18, 2008
Mirko Petricevic, Record staff

A Lutheran congregation in Newmarket has been suspended for employing a married gay man as a pastor.

In a letter and telephone call on Saturday, Rev. Michael Pryse, bishop of the Kitchener-based Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, informed Holy Cross Lutheran Church it had been suspended by the Synod Council.

The suspension prevents the congregation from sending voting delegates to national and synod conventions. It also bars clergy and lay people from serving on church governing bodies.

In May, more 300 people attended the ordination of Lionel Ketola at Holy Cross. Ketola is openly gay and legally married to another man.

His ordination is not recognized by the national church. The denomination will ordain gay people, but they must remain celibate. The national church doesn’t perform marriages for homosexual couples.

Holy Cross employs Ketola as an associate pastor and “ambassador of reconciliation.” He advocates for more inclusive regulations in the church. He spoke at St. Mark’s Lutheran in Kitchener this month.

The ruling upset Ketola.

“I mourn the reality that our church is disciplining congregations which have the courage to minister in a relevant way,” he said in a brief telephone interview yesterday.

“I’m very proud of Holy Cross. One of the difficult things for me, one of the painful things, is to see a church paying the price for this.”

Rev. Dawn Hutchings, pastor of Holy Cross’s 220-member congregation, said her church is allowed one voting delegate to national conventions.

“You have to weigh that against the value of Pastor Lionel’s ministry,” she said.

The congregation is suspended from voting at conventions and serving on governing bodies and committees, but it hasn’t been expelled from the denomination, Hutchings noted.

Hutchings was encouraged Pryse’s letter indicated the Synod Council will work toward changing the policies that prevent everyone from “full participation” in church life. She said her congregation is deciding whether to appeal the suspension.