Monday, January 22, 2007

Trial of Pastor Bradley Schmeling, a preamble

Trial of Pastor Bradley Schmeling, a preamble
Thought to give you some feel for the place and the people.
It's cold in Atlanta. Though it is, indeed, the "sunny South" it is also in the grip of the same cold snap the rest of the country is enduring. Temperatures have ranged from the twenties to the forties [Fahrenheit], and it has been windy at times. Overnight, a winter storm came through, and this morning we awoke to rain, freezing rain, fog, and sleet variously in some areas of and around Atlanta. Definitely inside-weather.
The hotel, the Sheraton Midtown at Colony Square is a tall, thin, 27-story building, located north of central downtown Atlanta, just over 1/2 mile east on 14th Street from Interstate 75/85, which runs north to south through Atlanta. Georgia Tech University sprawls just under a mile away on the other side of the interstate highway. Piedmont Park and Botanical Gardens are two blocks further down 14th Street. Looking east from above the 5th floor of the hotel, you can easily see Stone Mountain, a trapezoidal hunk of rock sticking well above the relative flat of Georgia. Stone Mountain plays in the history of St John's Lutheran in that the fortune that built the mansion that forms part of today's St John's was made quarrying Stone Mountain and environs.
The hotel itself is a relatively modern building with all of the attributes that you associate with the name Sheraton. Staff are helpful, cheerful, and greet you with ease and eye contact. If you look in need of some, they stop and ask if they can help. Service is prompt. The lobby is a whirl of people coming and going for meetings, conferences in the various facilities, and reunions with family and friends that can be observed simply by hanging out in the Reception area.
The meeting space in which the trial of Bradley Schmeling is to take place is typical of multi-use facilities found in hotels all over Atlanta and throughout the country. It will be equipped with tables and chairs, and outfitted with pitchers of water, coffee and tea, as meetings always are in such venues.
All of this bright-eyed, motivated, efficient, even caring normality belies the serious capital ecclesiastical trial that is going to take place starting Friday morning. The sign on the entrance to the room and in the hotel lobby will most likely simply say "ELCA." The door, on the day, will be guarded, access restricted to the participants. That's because the ELCA wants to have a closed trial, in the middle of a nation and people that believe no trial should ever be secret.
Capital ecclesiastical trial? Being struck off the roster of clergy is the most serious negative outcome possible in this trial, there being no more serious ecclesiastical punishment that can be imposed. However, it is also possible that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit and moved by the evidence presented, the Hearing Committee could elect to take no action in this case and ask that the policy which caused it to be convened be reviewed for relevance to our current understanding of Scripture. Or, they could take no action in this case pending the issuance of the Social Statement on Sexuality in 2009. Between no-action and struck from the roster are suspension and censure, in gradations.
In a weird coincidence, just across the street from the Sheraton, the 14th Street Playhouse is currently playing "Defending the Caveman," a one-man show started in 1991 by Rob Becker, since 2003 handed off to others to present. In ninety minutes, the play delves with humor, compassion, and insight into the real differences between the thinking of men and women, differences that may stem from genetic sources, the result of human evolution across the millennia. The presentation's central theme is that if we recognize those stark differences instead of making judgments according to one's own gender-biased ideas, it is possible to understand rather than judging people hostilely. Couples attending this play usually start by poking each other as points are scored for one side or the other, but end up leaving the theater holding hands. It is no stretch at all to find the ELCA's policy, and the trial across the street that results from it, completely incongruous to the reality and hope Becker presents.
So, who is going to be in the room during the trial? Here are the persons who will participate:
Hearing Officer: James Ellefson, Southeastern Iowa Synod
Hearing Committee Members: 7–12 individuals (up to 6 from the ELCA elected list and 6 from the Southeastern Synod, names are withheld here as is common with juries)
Counsel for the ELCA: Daniel Connolly
Counsel for the ELCA: Erik Jorstad
Facilitator for the ELCA: The Rev Herbert Carlmark
Facilitator for the ELCA: David Hardy
The Rev Bradley Schmeling
Counsel for Bradley: The Rev Jane Fahey, Presbyterian Church (USA)
Counsel for Bradley: The Rev Robert Rimbo, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, New York
The Rev Darin Easler, United Church of Church, Bradley's partner
Mrs Judy Schmeling-Arnette, Bradley's mom
Ms Laura Crawley, President, St John's Lutheran Church, Atlanta
There are various events taking place at St John's in Atlanta beginning tonight with a prayer service, continuing with a prayer vigil, Prayers at the Cross on Friday night, a concert on Saturday night, and Sunday worship and evensong. Details are on
I will write to you again tonight and every night through the end of the trial, and then when the decision of the committee is announced, which could be up to 15 days from the completion of the trial.
"The Lord bless and keep us; the Lord make His Face shine upon us and be gracious to us; the Lord look upon us with favor and give us peace…"
…and justice.
Phil SoucyDirector Communications LC/

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The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...