Monday, July 26, 2010

An Amazing Day for the Lutheran Church

Yesterday afternoon, a packed sanctuary at St. Mark's Lutheran Church here in San Francisco witnessed an amazing event.

A group of seven Lutheran Pastors, all openly Gay or Lesbian who had been denied official recognition by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) were officially rostered, as called and ordained clergy in a "Rite of Reception" service.

In her opening remarks, St. Mark's, Pastor Elisabeth Ekdale welcomed the standing room only crowd saying; "We've been expecting you ! For about twenty years now...!" 

The special service was designed by the ELCA specifically to welcome Gay and Lesbian clergy who had been ordained under what was called the Extraordinary Candidacy Process.

The seven ministers welcomed at the ceremony on Sunday were already ordained and serving at churches or other ministries in the San Francisco Bay Area, but they had not been officially recognized on the ELCA clergy roster. Until now. (From the Extraordinary Candidacy Project website:)

"In 1990 two San Francisco Lutheran Churches, St. Francis and First United, defied the policy that prevented openly GLBT individuals from serving as pastors when they ordained a gay man and a lesbian couple. As a result the two churches were expelled from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). More than 20 years later: 18 pastors have been ordained in defiance of the church, 3 pastors were removed by trial and and countless others were denied the ability to serve openly as GLBT pastors in the Lutheran Church."

The first Pastor to be officially "received and reaffirmed" was Rev. Ross D. Merkel, the current pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Oakland, CA. Merkel was first openly Gay Pastor to be removed from the ELCA roster by ecclesiastical trial in 1994.

The event at St. Marks featured a sermon by Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber ,who is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints a Lutheran mission church in Denver Colorado. She is author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television (Seabury 2008) a cultural commentary based on her experience of watching 24 consecutive hours of Trinity Broadcasting Network.   Her amazing remarks  nearly brought down the house.

The pastors were welcomed almost a year after the national assembly of the ELCA- voted to allow gay men and women, with partners, to serve as clergy members, making it the latest Protestant church to allow such ordinations. For those of us at St. Mark's it was an incredible honor to be able to host the service. Which featured clergy from all over the United States, and musical prelude featuring a wonderful performance by the Oakland Gay Men's Chorus.

There are some Lutheran churches that have decided to leave the ELCA as result of all of this. Some of the more conservative congregations feel they cannot be open and welcoming to LGBT Lutherans. While this is unfortunate, the crowd at St. Mark's didn't allow it to dampen any spirits.

The service on Sunday afternoon was a boisterous celebration of what has been a very long road for not just the seven Pastors recognized at St. Marks, but for all members of the ELCA who have worked for a more inclusive, fair and welcoming Church.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Great post - thank you, David!