May 24, 2010
A routine Lutheran candidacy committee meeting turned extraordinary today as the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approved the reinstatement and reception of eight gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clergy.
Today’s meeting opens the door to complete the process of adding all eight to the roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in North America.
All eight are currently or were previously on the roster of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a movement within the Lutheran church to expand ministry opportunities for openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender pastors.
Those approved for reinstatement to the ELCA roster today include Rev. Ross Merkel and Rev. Steve Sabin. Those approved for reception to the ELCA roster include Rev. Jeff Johnson, Rev. Craig Minich, Rev. Dawn Roginski, Rev. Megan Rohrer, Rev. Paul Brenner, and Rev. Sharon Stalkfleet.
Rev. Jeff Johnson said, “Twenty years ago when I was ordained, we could dimly imagine that Lutherans would one day fully recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and celebrate our relationships and marriages. This day is dawning in our church. I’m very thankful for all who have helped to carry this struggle forward and for our church which has finally opened up to the new and exciting future God has in store for us!”
ELM co-chair Rev. Erik Christensen stated, “Today is cause for celebration for these eight people, their families and the communities they have served so faithfully for so many years. It is also a landmark day for the whole church as the ELCA becomes a more fully inclusive denomination. This historic decision is another step toward justice for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the church, and helps open the doors to people from all walks of life who feel called to offer their gifts and talents to the church.”
ELM Executive Director Amalia Vagts said, “This is another important day for so many in the church. It is wonderful to have leaders like Bishop Mark Holmerud and Bishop’s Associate Nancy Fenuik Nelson and the members of the Sierra Pacific candidacy committee demonstrating holy hospitality to all.”
The Sierra Pacific Synod candidacy committee’s actions came as a result of 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly votes to open the roster of the ELCA to gay and lesbian pastors in relationships. Previously, gay and lesbian pastors were required to be celibate.
Plans are underway for a service of reception, reinstatement and reconciliation to be held within the Sierra Pacific Synod later this summer.
This morning, the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly passed a resolution that empowers the Synod Council to act to welcome St. Francis Lutheran Church and First United Lutheran Church back to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and invites these congregations to discern this action. The resolution passed with 291 votes for, 26 against and 10 abstentions. The vote was announced to great applause.
St. Francis (photo) and First United were placed on trial by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1990 for extending calls to openly gay Jeff Johnson and openly lesbian Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart. The ELCA suspended their membership until 1995 and then dropped them from the roster of congregations. Both St. Francis and First United have remained thriving Lutheran ministries since then and have been served by both ELCA pastors and pastors rostered by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
In another step for the ELCA toward becoming a welcoming and inclusive church, Bp. Mark Holmerud (left), Bishop of the ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod, ended his report to the synod at today’s assembly with the news that he was lifting the censure of University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley, CA. The Chapel was placed under censure in 2000, after calling Rev. Jeff Johnson (ELM Roster).
Bp. Holmerud’s announcement was greeted with tears, cheers and a standing ovation from the assembly. Bp. Holmerud has been a strong supporter of opening the doors and pulpits of the ELCA to people of diverse sexualities and genders. Bp. Holmerud has shared his own story of transformation from his decision to not attend the extraordinary ordinations of Rev. Jeff Johnson, Rev. Ruth Frost and Rev. Phyllis Zillhart to his committed and outspoken support in recent years.
University Lutheran Chapel was placed under censure when they called Rev. Jeff Johnson ten years ago. Pastor Jeff was extraordinarily ordained in 1990 (photo at right) and served First United Lutheran Church for ten years before accepting a call to the Chapel. Pastor Jeff was a founder of Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries and Extraordinary Candidacy Project, the predecessor organizations to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Jeff is a visionary and passionate pastor. Pastor Jeff lives in Oakland with his partner, Pepe Sanchez Aldaco.
Pastor Jeff was also elected today to the Sierra Pacific Synod Council, pending his reception onto the ELCA Roster. Stay tuned for more updates from the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly.
We give thanks for the members and friends of University Lutheran Chapel for their long witness to an inclusive and welcoming church, to Pastor Jeff and Pepe, and to Bishop Mark Holmerud!
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries celebrates the good news that Pastor Bradley Schmeling and Pastor Darin Easler have been reinstated to the roster of the ELCA. This is yet another joyful moment as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America takes steps toward becoming a more fully inclusive church.
Pastor Bradley was removed from the ELCA roster in 2007 by church trial after telling his bishop that he was in a relationship with Easler. Easler had already been dropped from the ELCA roster after coming out to his congregation and bishop in Southeast Minnesota.
Bradley and Darin’s stories are two examples of the stories of countless other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender pastors. The actions of the Southeastern Synod to reinstate them are a step towards reconciling those in the church who have been separated from one another because of the ELCA’s former policy barring partnered gay and lesbian people from serving as pastors.
Pastor Bradley, Pastor Darin, and the members of St. John’s Lutheran Church have been a powerful witness in their community and to the church about full inclusion, hospitality and welcome. Bishop Julian Gordy and the ELCA Southeastern Synod are a witness to the power of reconciliation.
ELM donors supported the costs of Pastor Bradley’s 2007 trial with gifts totaling over $12,000. Visit www.elm.org to learn more about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
Many new people are learning about the work of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries following the recent changes in the ELCA’s ministry policies. Part of the work of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has been support of “extraordinary ordinations,” the ordinations of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people who were previously barred from serving in the ELCA.
“In The Beginning” shows rare footage of the first extraordinary ordinations and gives viewers a glimpse at the beginning of a movement that has supported openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Lutheran pastors for twenty years.
The short film was produced by award-winning filmmaker Pam Walton and includes clips from her film, Call to Witness (2000), a documentary on gay and lesbian Lutheran pastors who took stands against unjust church policies barring gay and lesbian people from serving as pastors.
You can view (and share!) this moving and informative short film here: