Saturday, May 24, 2008

Full of Sound and Fury...

Shrimp here. We found on the Eastern Synod ELCIC's front page a link to Bishop Michael Pryse's letter to the rostered ministers of his synod the week prior to the extraordinary ordination of Lionel Ketola.

May 9, 2008

Dear Colleagues in Rostered Ministry,

On April 20, 2008, Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church in Newmarket, ON voted to issue a call to a candidate who has not been approved for ordination through the candidacy processes of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). This action marked a serious breach of the constitutional obligation of all congregations and rostered persons to “abide loyally by the constitution, administrative bylaws and enactments of this church and those of the synod of which it becomes a part.” ELCIC Constitution Article VI, Section 3.

Since that time, I understand that many of our rostered personnel have been invited to attend an irregular service of ordination and to participate in it by vesting for the service and/or participating in the rite of laying on of hands. In response, several of you have contacted me to request clarification of any implications such participation might have. Hence, I have written this letter.

After much soul searching and considered reflection, I have come to the conclusion that any rostered person who vests for this service and/or participates in a rite of laying on of hands will have chosen to publicly participate in an action that our church prohibits and, as such, would be subject to subsequent disciplinary action. I have not made this determination lightly nor am I intending to threaten those of you who are considering participation in this liturgy. I am simply trying to clearly and forthrightly inform you of the potential consequences that your participation in this service will bring. This, I believe, is my responsibility, both to you and to the entire church.

As noted in my April 30, 2008 letter to Holy Cross congregation, “I am committed to working toward ending practices that preclude the full participation of all God’s people in the life of the church, regardless of sexual orientation.” I realize that many of our synod’s rostered personnel share a similar commitment and might see participation in this service as a way of giving public expression to this position. Indeed, when viewed from a very local perspective, some may be tempted to think this is an appropriate way to proceed.

However, when viewed from a wider perspective, I believe that this action requires participants to abandon several foundational and confessional principles which inform our church’s understanding of ecclesiastical polity and the role, identity and functioning its rostered leaders. In short, these are principles whose affirmation we owe to one another as we engage important questions as a wider community of faith.

Our individual belief in the justness of any individual cause does not in itself justify the use of any and all means to achieve a particular end. At some point there needs to be a measured deliberation concerning the potential harm or benefit of a particular course of action. In this regard, it particularly distresses me to consider what it would mean if others - as is presently happening in partner churches both here in Canada and around the world - were to follow a similar path to achieve any number of alternate reforms in the life of our church.

In recent years, our synod has advanced the cause of full ecclesial inclusivity for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (GLBT) persons in a number of ways. We have done so honestly and with integrity in a way that is respectful of the opinions of our partners in the life of the wider church. Given our present context - a context that may not be fully understood by some who are supporting this action from beyond the ELCIC - I am unable to discern that this proposed course of action can advance this cause further. Rather, I have come to the conclusion that it may well undermine the considerable, albeit slow, progress that has been made toward that goal while simultaneously doing irreparable damage to the already fragile connecting fabric of the ELCIC.

Simply stated, I do not believe that this proposed “irregular” action will bring us any closer to achieving the full “regular” inclusion of GLBT persons in the life of the ELCIC, a goal that I share with many of you. I believe that ongoing efforts to advance this cause will ultimately lead to an end that is beyond question. As such, I would encourage those who may be inclined to participate in this service to refrain from doing so and rather, to continue the difficult work of engaging the legitimate decision-making processes of our church in all its expressions. These processes, though not without fault or frustration, are ultimately the only effective means of achieving the reform that you and I might seek.

In conclusion, I hope and pray that you can receive this counsel from your bishop as also coming from a colleague who is not insensitive to the significant dilemma this situation presents for many of you. May God grant each of us generous gifts of wisdom and insight in this present moment.

With all best wishes,

Bishop Michael J. Pryse
cc:   Eastern Synod Pastors and Diaconal Ministers
        Eastern Synod Council
        Eastern Synod Ministry Directors
        ELCIC Bishops
        ELCIC National Church Council

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