Tuesday, July 10, 2007

If you are going to the CWA,, you already got this. What do you think?

July 7, 2007

Greetings from Atlanta. My name is Jill Henning and, like you, I am a voting member at the 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August. My husband, Matt, and I are both pastors in the Southeastern Synod. Between being pastors and parenting two children, ages nine and five, we know first hand how busy all of our lives can be. Still, I'm writing to you about a matter of real concern for my family, my synod, and the ELCA.

Before we leave for Chicago, I'd like to tell you about my good friends, the people of St. John Lutheran Church in Atlanta and their pastor, Bradley Schmeling. If you read The Lutheran, you may have seen something about them. St. John's is the oldest Lutheran Church in Atlanta. Pastor Brad is a dear man, an excellent preacher, teacher, evangelist, and spiritual advisor. I would love to have Bradley as my pastor. With the leadership of Prastor Bradley, St. John has grown in its membership and service to the community. The pews are filled--well, except in the summer, just like everywhere else--and the members are learning to park down the street so there's room for their many visitors. What a wonderful problem to have!

Pastor Bradley has been open with the congregation and Bishop Ron Warren about this sexual orientation since before he was called in 2000. The Bishop approved his call and has affirmed his outstanding ministry. Pastor Bradley ever served as my conference dean. The congregation, Matt and I were all thrilled when Bradley announced, in March of last year, that he had found a life-partner in Pastor Daren Easler. However, on August 11th, 2006, the Bishop filed charges against Pastor Bradley for "conduct incompatible with the office of ministry." After nearly a year of legal briefs, a trial, a decision and an appeal, the ELCA Committee on Appeals decided on July 2, 2007, to remove Pastor Bradley from the ELCA clergy roster. The congregation recieved the news with tears and resolve to tell their story.

At the Churchwide Assembly St. John's will be joined by 22 synods of the ELCA, representing 40% of the ELCA's members. They have asked the Churchwide Assembly to eliminate the ELCA's policy of discrimination against ministers in committed same-gender relationships and the congregations that call them. Because the Churchwide Assembly is the highest legislative authority in the ELCA, you and I will have some important decisions to make.

To help you prepare for Chicago, enclosed you will find a brief summary of the trial. It includes words from Pastor Bradley himself, his partner, his mom, and the first Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, the Rev. Dr. Herbert Chilstrom. You will also see a timeline that the many congregations and pastors affected by the church's policies of exclusion. It only takes 10 minutes to read, but it carefully asks us to consider, "are we really living together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements?" This is precisely the question that we must answer in August.Thanks for giving me a chance to tell you about these friends of mine. I look forward to seeing you in Chicago!

In Christ,
Jill J. Henning
Trinity Lutheran Church
Lilburn, Georgia

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