Sunday, June 22, 2008

We Don't Need No Stinking Theology?

Shrimp here. Courtesy of the latest issue of Lutheran True (who offer some thoughtful commentary of their own), here is an e-mail from Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod Bishop Michael Rinehart regarding Lura Groen's, uh, ordination at Grace Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas (find it here):
Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,

Some of you have been calling because you may have received an invitation to the "ordination" of Lura Groen at Grace, Houston. Here's some information in case you are curious.

Grace Lutheran Church has been a lively Christian community in the Montrose area since 1921. This year (2008) they have chosen to call someone who is not on the clergy roster, in violation of ELCA policy and their own constitution. We are currently in consultation with this congregation.

Last Fall, the president of Grace and a few members came to the synod office and shared with me that in addition to the names of potential pastors we had provided for Grace, leaders were considering someone who is not on the ELCA clergy roster, Lura Groen, a graduate of Philadelphia seminary who has never been through ELCA candidacy. I shared with the group some of my concerns with this potential action. Orientation is not the issue here, as Lura is not partnered. Rostering is the issue. Here are some of the concerns I raised with them:

1. Calling someone who is not on the ELCA clergy roster is in violation of the congregation's constitution (*C6.03.c). It is also a breach of their covenant with the other ELCA congregations (9.21 and 9.22 of the ELCA constitution, found at

2. Calling a pastor who is not on the ELCA clergy roster could open them up to disciplinary action.

3. She will not be considered an ELCA pastor, and therefore will not be eligible to vote as a pastor at Synod Assembly.

4. There may be challenges with regards to her health benefits and pension. She would be treated as a lay employee, and therefore not eligible for housing allowance.

5. Accepting this call could jeapordize a future application to be on the ELCA clergy roster.

The group did ask me if someone not the clergy roster of the ELCA would be eligible to vote at Synod Assembly as a lay member of the congregation. Lura could vote as a lay member of the congregation. She would have to be elected as one of the lay voting members.

To be quite honest, availability for press interviews just prior to the event and preferred seating for the press left me and others with the feeling of a publicity stunt. In a subsequent conversation I let Lura know that I will not be available to attend the event. We are curious to know who will be officiating at this event. No ELCA bishop can ordain anyone who has not completed the candidacy requirements of the ELCA, so she would not be ordained into this church or any other church we are aware of.

Please know that Grace and Lura are in my prayers daily, as I pray every morning for the congregations of this synod.Yours in Christ,

Mike Rinehart

Michael Rinehart, bishop
The Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
12707 North Freeway, Suite 580
Houston, TX 77060-1239
Yeah, it's all about being on the roster. It's not about why she is not on the roster. It's not about the theology she proclaims. It's not about the way of life she would bless in the name of Jesus. It's just that she's not been approved for ordination by a synod's Candidacy Committee, nothing more, nothing less.

Questions: Is there a theologian in the ELCA Conference of Bishops? Or is episcopal oversight in the ELCA all about shuffling paperwork around?

Having not offered any theological/spiritual advice, did Bishop Rinehart inquire with an employment or (clergy) tax consultant when offering legal advice in item #4?

Will Bishop Rinehart actually seek public discipline of Grace Lutheran Church in Houston should they install Miss Groen as "pastor?"

Shrimp out.

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