It’s been a period of “historic services” in the life of the Lutheran church. And feeling somewhat like Forrest Gump, I’ve been blessed to end up at most of them. And with each service, I’ve felt a wave of gratitude and renewal and faith in the Lutheran church as time and time again people have come together to stand up against insidious and damaging discrimination within the Church and throw open the doors of the church to LGBTQ people. These services have been a blessing to all who witness them.
And somehow, yesterday’s service of Reconciliation, Restoration and Reception at St. Francis Lutheran Church felt wholly new. This is the congregation that, along with First United Lutheran Church, stood up years ago to injustice and spiritual violence in the church when they called lesbian pastors Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart and gay pastor Jeff Johnson, despite a policy barring them from doing so. These congregations issued these calls because they were in the midst of an AIDS crisis and needed the LGBT community to know how truly welcome they were. They issued these calls because they knew that the policy barring partnered lesbian and gay pastors from serving was unjust.
Twenty years later, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American agreed with them. After a period of conversation and discernment the Sierra Pacific Synod issued an invitation for them to return. St. Francis Lutheran Church voted unanimously to once again join the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
At the beginning of a powerful service, Bishop Mark W. Holmerud knocked on the door of the church and was received by the current congregational president and the president serving at the time of St. Francis’ expulsion. These leaders welcomed the bishop. And in an important and moving sermon, the bishop welcomed the ELCA home. You can view the full sermon here.
This is a day of grace for the whole church. How could a congregation that had been forcibly removed from a denomination because they followed the gospel and not a discriminatory policy fraught with human failing decide to return? Why would they? Because God can lead us to places we would not go ourselves. As Paul writes in Ephesians: “For Christ is our peace; in whose flesh both groups have been made into one, who has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
Through Christ, we are all welcomed home.
If you cannot attend in person, join us virtually on Sunday as St. Francis Lutheran Church, expelled in 1995 after calling lesbian pastors Rev. Ruth Frost and Rev. Phyllis Zillhart, is restored as a congregation of the ELCA in an historic and unprecedented service.
We’ll “see” you there!
44 wonderful folks gathered at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Northeast Portland, OR last Sunday night to talk about ELM and Portland-based EcoFaith Recovery. It was an inspiring and energizing time!
We gathered around a drum circle and shared in an incredible buffet of local and sustainable food prepared through the “Simply in Season” groups initiated as a partnership between EcoFaith Recovery and St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Beaverton, OR. Following the music and meal, we shared stories of the exciting ministry going on through EcoFaith Recovery and updates from ELM. EcoFaith Recovery has launched a number of programs, including Table Talks that bring folks together for conversation about the environment, Green Spirit, a spiritual support group for those seeking recovery from cultural addictions that hurt the earth, and the Simply in Season groups: The primary resource is the cookbook and its accompanying study guide for small groups published by the Mennonite Church.(Remember the “More with Less” cookbook? This is the next incarnation of that book.) Group members meet in one member’s home to share recipes prepared using the cookbook. There is even a Simply in Season cooking class for kids!
It was wonderful to create and deepen connections between people who came because of ELM, and those who came due to EcoFaith Recovery, and especially those who just came out to learn about both groups! I left feeling just amazed by this “rainforest” ministry going on…life leading to life (thank you Bishop Brauer-Rieke, who gives a wonderful talk about the “rainforest” church).
EcoFaith Recovery began with a concept grant from ELM in 2009 and continued with an additional grant in 2010. We are blessed to be continuing to fund this growing ministry in 2011, thanks to support from our wonderful donors. Pastor Robyn is an ELCA pastor today because the ELM roster was there to support her ministry when she didn’t see a future in the church as a publicly-identified lesbian called to ordained ministry.
You support ELM. ELM supports Robyn. Robyn supports EcoFaith Recovery. And EcoFaith Recovery is renewing the church. What a joy for all of us to be a part of this!
We share in the good news included in the following press release from St. Francis Lutheran Church…
SAN FRANCISCO – FEBRUARY 13, 2011 – St. Francis Lutheran Church, which was removed from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1995 after ordaining a lesbian couple as its pastors, has taken the final vote required to rejoin the ELCA.
At its annual meeting on Sunday, the 141-member congregation ratified its approval of a new constitution, formalizing a decision to reunite that was made last July. Before rejoining the ELCA, St. Francis had to make minor changes to its own governing document. Members approved the new constitution in October, but the final ratification had to wait for Sunday’s meeting.
St. Francis will celebrate its return to the national church in a special worship service on Feb. 27, when it will welcome Bishop Mark Holmerud of the ELCA’s Sierra Pacific Synod. Members of the media are welcome to attend this event, which will take place at 3 p.m. in the historic St. Francis sanctuary at 152 Church Street.
The return of St. Francis to the ELCA comes at a time of historic change in the national church following a series of votes at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly that changed policies relating to sexual minorities in the church and its clergy. Scores of ELCA congregations have taken steps to leave the national church in protest over those votes. With 4.7 million members, the ELCA is the largest Christian church in the United States to allow lesbian and gay clergy with partners to serve its congregations.
In 1990, St. Francis called the Rev. Ruth Frost and the Rev. Phyllis Zillhart as its pastors, breaking an ELCA rule that forbade churches from calling gay or lesbian pastors unless they had taken a vow of celibacy. The church was put on trial along with First United Lutheran Church of San Francisco, which had called a gay man, the Rev. Jeff Johnson, as its pastor. The ELCA found both churches in violation of the rule and suspended them. After a five-year grace period, both were removed from the ELCA on Dec. 31, 1995.
At the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, the national church repealed that discriminatory policy toward gay and lesbian clergy. Since then, many gay and lesbian pastors, including Frost, Zillhart and Johnson, have been welcomed into the ELCA’s roster of approved clergy. The congregation of First United Lutheran Church is still discerning its future path.
At the Feb. 27 celebration, photographers and video crews will be allowed inside the sanctuary in select locations while the service takes place. The Rev. Robert Goldstein, pastor of St. Francis, and other participants will be made available for interviews following the event.
St. Francis Lutheran Church is located near Church and Market Streets, across from Safeway. Parking permits will be available for media, and the church is easily accessible via public transit.
About St. Francis Lutheran Church
Formed in 1964 through the merger of Lutheran churches founded by Danish and Finnish immigrants, St. Francis Lutheran Church is open to people of all backgrounds and sexual orientations and has been ministering to San Francisco’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities since the 1980s. Visit St. Francis on the Web at www.st-francis-lutheran.org.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) has announced that Lisa Larges will be the keynote presenter for its spring rostered leaders retreat. The retreat will be held April 1-3 near Lake Geneva, WI and is open to all publicly-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Lutheran clergy and rostered lay leaders. The retreat will be the formal launch of Proclaim, a new professional community for LGBTQ rostered leaders in the Lutheran church. Registration information is available here.
A lifelong Presbyterian, Lisa became a candidate for ministry in the Twin Cities Presbytery (a regional governing body in the Presbyterian Church) in 1986, and a publicly-identified lesbian candidate in 1991. The Twin Cities Presbytery affirmed her call to ministry as an open lesbian.
In 1992, that affirmation was overturned by a ruling from the highest judicial court in the Presbyterian Church.
Lisa has continued to seek ordination to Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church for more than 20 years. In a groundbreaking decision the Presbytery of San Francisco approved Lisa to move forward in the Ordination process. The vote by the San Francisco Presbytery to move Lisa forward in the ordination process was challenged, and in the fall of 2009, the highest court of the Presbyterian Church ruled that the Presbytery could bring Lisa forward for the trials of examination for Ordination.
In 2010, the Presbytery voted 156-138 to approve her for Ordination. This decision was been challenged, and will go through the Presbyterian judicial process. A final ruling is expected in early 2011.
“Lisa’s story has parallels and intersections with many in our community,” said ELM Executive Director Amalia Vagts. “Her public identity as a lesbian called to serve has been instrumental in changes within the Presbyterian church. We are delighted to learn more with her!”
Lisa currently serves as Minister Director for That All May Freely Serve, an organization working for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Presbyterian Church, particularly on the issue of ordination.
The Rev. Jay Wilson is a queer and genderqueer transguy, autistic and disabled, who identifies as a Lutheran postmodern, third-wave feminist, academic geek, disability rights activist, and social justice advocate. Jay completed his Masters in Social Work from College of St. Catherine/St. Thomas University and completed his Masters in Divinity from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Rev. Wilson worked at Welcome: A Communal Response to Poverty in San Francisco, CA. He was ordained to serve at Welcome through his work at First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Prior to working at Welcome, Jay worked in St. Paul, MN as a disability rights individual advocate.
Jay has worked with religious communities and diverse organizations as a presenter, educator, and advocate in cross-movement anti-oppression, sexuality and gender identity, Self-Advocacy movement, and community access. He served ELM as chair of the Diversity and Inclusion committee until March 1, 2011.
On January 15, 2011 a memorial service for the Rev. Paul Egertson was held at at the Samuelson Chapel at California Lutheran University.
“Paul Egertson, a senior lecturer at the Thousand Oaks university, was a compassionate man well known in the church as an excellent theologian and great teacher. He garnered widespread national attention, though, as an advocate for full inclusion of gays in the life of the church and the ordination of gay and lesbian candidates for ministry.”- California Lutheran University website
Paul served on ELM’s Board of Directors and was an essential part of ELM’s work towards the full inclusion of LGBTQ Rostered pastors in the ELCA.
In 1990, Rev. Zillhart founded Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministry along with her colleagues, Pastors Jeff Johnson and Ruth Frost, to provide an outreach to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community of the San Francisco Bay Area. These three persons were the first openly lesbian and gay people to be ordained in the Lutheran Church.
Phyllis was ordained extra ordinem on January 20, 1990 in a service at historic St. Paulus Lutheran Church in San Francisco that was attended by over 1000 persons, with participation by over 70 clergy members. She was considered ineligible for placement in an ELCA congregation because of a denominational policy that required a pledge of celibacy from gay and lesbian pastors. Phyllis served as the Associate Pastor for Outreach and Evangelism at St. Francis Lutheran Church, San Francisco. She served in this position from 1990 to 2005.
Phyllis currently lives with her partner in the Twin Cities Area of Minnesota. She currently serves as a Chaplain with Fairview Hospice in the Twin Cities Metro. Phyllis was received on the ELCA Clergy Roster in a special “Rite of Reception” in the Saint Paul Area Synod on September 18, 2010, in a special celebration with ELM roster colleagues Ruth Frost and Anita Hill.
She was issued a Letter of Call to Specialized Ministry on Oct. 21, 2010 through the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA.
Formerly a teacher and drug and alcohol counselor; Ruth was ordained on January 20, 1990 and served as the Associate Pastor for Outreach and Evangelism at St. Francis Lutheran Church, San Francisco. She served in this position from 1990 to 2005.
In 1990, she founded Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministry along with her colleagues, Pastors Jeff Johnson and Phyllis Zillhart, to provide an outreach to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community of the San Francisco Bay Area. These three persons were the first openly lesbian and gay people to be ordained in the Lutheran Church.
Ruth was ordained extra ordinem in January 1990 in a service at historic St. Paulus Lutheran Church in San Francisco that was attended by over 1000 persons, with participation by over 70 clergy members. She was considered ineligible for placement in an ELCA congregation because of a denominational policy that required a pledge of celibacy from gay and lesbian pastors.
An accomplished stained glass designer, Ruth has helped congregations express their mission and identity through the arts. You can see two of her projects at St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco and Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer in Sacramento, CA. Currently, Ruth is working as a chaplain for Hospice of the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
In 2008, Ruth Co-founded, together with her ELM colleague Richard Andersen, a new ministry called Third Act Life Discovery. Third Act invites people to consider the question “Who do I want to be and how do I want to live in the third act of my life?” Check out this ministry at www.thirdactlifediscovery.org
Ruth was received on the ELCA Clergy Roster in a special “Rite of Reception” in the Saint Paul Area Synod on September 18, 2010, in a special celebration with ELM roster colleagues Phyllis Zillhart and Anita Hill.
On Oct. 21, 2010, Ruth was also issued a Letter of Call to Specialized Ministry as Hospice Chaplain for Hospice of the Twin Cities.
Matt James is an approved candidate for ordained ministry with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM). Matt received his BA from the University of Northern Colorado and an MA in Media Studies from The Pennsylvania State University, where he was very active in the Lutheran Student Community. Matt graduated from The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in May 2010.
Originally from Colorado, Matt ventured away from home after his undergraduate work and served for a year with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Washington, D.C. It was there that Matt began to claim his identity as a Lutheran.
While in graduate school, Matt began to sense a call to ministry that combined his passions of his faith, education, and social justice into one vocation. Matt chose to begin candidacy with ELM rather then negotiate the ELCA’s then-present policies for openly LGBT rostered leaders.
Matt met his partner, John Weit, while they were both students in seminary. John currently serves as Director of Music at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA.
Matt is has been approved for ordination by the New England Synod of the ELCA and is awaiting a call to parish ministry in New England.