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.