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St. Francis Votes to Rejoin ELCA

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We share in the good news included in the following press releaseĀ  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At the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, the national church repealed that discriminatory policy toward gay and lesbian clergy.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.

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