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The Rev. Pieter Oberholzer

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Rev. Pieter Oberholzer, serves as a Missionary in South Africa, who works with Inclusive and Affirming Ministries with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and is called by St. Francis Lutheran in San Francisco, CA.  In 2011 Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) recieved $8,000 for a mission grant from ELM.

This new grant will fund outreach to churches in southern Africa that are welcoming and affirming, where LGBTQ people can participate fully and be strengthened in their spiritual, psychological and sexual identity as human beings. IAM will host programs that support, empower and stimulate dialogue. Check out their new website (above).

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South Africa has one of the most inclusive constitutions in the world. Sexual minority people herald it as a prototype of ‘how things should be.’ With such a progressive governmental leadership, one might assume that South African churches are equally inclusive and progressive. Not so, says Rev. Pieter Oberholzer. In fact, it is just the opposite, gay and lesbian Christians are not recognized or welcome in the mainstream Christian churches. In fact, they are routinely condemned and despised.

Although there are several Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) congregations, there were no organizations such as Lutherans Concerned, Affirmation, or Dignity. A Gay and Lesbian Christian Outreach (GLCO) committee member recently announced the intention to start the very first Integrity chapter in South Africa at the St George’s Cathedral.

This dichotomy between secular and church realities creates an extraordinary need for ministry to both sexual minority people and the churches themselves. The Rev. Pieter Oberholzer began GLCO in 1995 to address this need. Oberholzer was a pastor of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. A South African by birth, during the apartheid era he took refuge in Holland to avoid threats on his life, not because he is black, but because he is gay.

Oberholzer also wanted to enter the ministry and believed the Netherlands was the only place such a possibility existed. When South Africa ended apartheid and Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994, the new government included in the constitution a bill of rights for gay and lesbian people, the first nation in the world to do so. With a small grant from the church in Holland, Pieter returned to South Africa and started an ecumenical ministry to gay and lesbian people in Capetown. This ministry also provides advocacy to the mainline churches in South Africa. His is a courageous, lone voice crying in a wilderness.

Pastor Oberholzer is the only staff person of GLCO. His ministry includes counseling, resource development, public dialogue, and workshops. In 1998 he counseled 175 individuals, seven couples and five parents. In his sermon at St. Francis in January Pastor Oberholzer told of working intensely with one gay who was estranged from his parents. One night pastor Pieter received a call from the man’s partner that he had attempted suicide and was in a coma. When the man’s parents arrived at the hospital, Oberholzer had to tell them that their son was gay. The parents were so repulsed they refused to see their son and when he died, they denied him Christian burial. More personally, Rev. Oberholzer is not recognized as an ordained minister in South Africa.

Because no church will recognize his ordination and he has been absent from the Netherlands for many years he is no longer on the roster of ordained clergy of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. When asked how he is able to continue in the face of such rejection and isolation, Rev. Pieter Oberholzer credits his life partner and his years in the struggle against apartheid. During that time Pastor Oberholzer was imprisoned with Steve de Gruchy among others. de Gruchy is the son of theologian John W. de Gruchy, a name that is familiar to many U.S. Lutherans.

Two years ago, Pieter visited San Francisco and St. Francis Lutheran Church. He came to St. Francis because of a listing identifying the congregation as a supportive advocate for gay and lesbian people. He and Pastor Jim DeLange became acquainted and a correspondence ensued. LLGM decided to support Rev. Oberholzer and GLCO because of the courageous and necessary ministry he provides and because Pastor Oberholzer’s experience parallels those of other LLGM ministry partners. LLGM is deeply blessed by his presence and ministry among us. On January 17, 1999, in a rite of prayer at St. Francis, the congregation and LLGM made a commitment to continue to support and recognize Rev. Pieter Oberholzer as an ordained minister of Christ’s Church.

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