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Gay and transgender Lutheran pastors reinstated

Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, July 26, 2010

Seven Bay Area gay and transgender pastors were reinstated into the national Lutheran church on Sunday after being barred for two decades from serving in the denomination.

It was a day of mixed feelings for the “Bay Area Seven” – the Revs. Jeff Johnson, Megan Rohrer, Paul Brenner, Craig Minich, Dawn Roginski Sharon Stalkfleet and Ross Merkel – who saw the event as an act of reconciliation with the church that once shunned them.

“We finally got to the direction we knew the Lutheran church was heading. It just took it longer to get there,” Johnson said.

The pastors were welcomed almost a year after the national assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – the largest Lutheran denomination in the country – voted to allow gay men and women, with partners, to serve as clergy members, making it the latest Protestant church to allow such ordinations.

Gay men and women were previously allowed to become Lutheran pastors but had to take a vow of celibacy. Some within the church saw the rule as discriminatory, and in 1990 two San Francisco churches, First United and St. Francis, defied the policy by ordaining Johnson, a gay man, and a lesbian couple.

As a result, the two churches were expelled from the denomination. In the last 20 years, more than a dozen pastors nationwide were ordained in defiance of the church, three removed by trial and many denied the possibility to serve.

It was “a policy that ruined lives, destroyed faiths,” Johnson said.

Rohrer, who serves in four churches and as a missionary for the homeless, said she did not feel Sunday was the day she became a pastor, but the day “the church gets to receive me as a pastor.”

In an extension of that spirit of reconciliation, on Sunday the St. Francis congregation also overwhelmingly voted to return to the national Lutheran church.

“It’s like an individual who was separated from his family after his mother kicked him out,” said the Rev. Robert Johnson, head pastor at St. Francis. “The mother church has come around and said ‘you were right.’ “

E-mail Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera at amartinez-cabrera(at)sfchronicle.com