Thursday, March 12, 2009

ELCA Grassroots? Brookings, South Dakota

And then there's this from last Friday's Brookings (South Dakota) Register. Brookings is the home of South Dakota State University and is not far from the Minnesota border -- within the geographic heart of the ELCA . Note the responses from three of the ELCA pastors in town.

'Gay clergy' not an issue for local ELCA
Friday, Mar 6th, 2009
by: John Kubal

"Right now (there's) not much at the local level to be involved in." In brief that's the position cited by the Rev. Dave Schoeld, interim senior pastor, First Lutheran Church, in Brookings, relative to moves afoot by some in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to lift its ban on the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy candidates.

The ELCA, 4.8 million members, allows gay or lesbian clergy, but only if they are pledged to remain celibate.

There are seven Lutheran congregations in Brookings:

- Ascension Lutheran Church, First Lutheran Church and the University Lutheran Center are affiliated with ELCA;

- Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church and Peace Lutheran Church with the Missouri Synod; and

- Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church (which also has an SDSU campus ministry affiliated with the Wisconsin Synod).

Schoeld agreed with the Register's premise that the issue is a "non-starter" for the Missouri and Wisconsin synods.

By way of genesis, Schoeld said the "whole conversation began in about '93 or '95." A sort of grass-roots resolution that arose at one of the smaller districts of the ELCA "kept finding feet." Eventually it surfaced at the highest levels of ELCA leadership. A group commissioned a study; now the issue keeps moving and has "morphed and grown."

A definitive look will now be taken when a four-part resolution , contained in a 30-page document , is addressed by a church-wide assembly of more than 1,000 delegates meeting mid-August in Minneapolis. South Dakota will be represented by both clergy and laypeople.

Schoeld pointed out that South Dakota's delegates would vote "not on behalf of South Dakota, but will vote their consciences." The resolution will consider:

- The ELCA's committment to allowing congregations and synods to acknowledge and support "lifelong, monogomous, same-gender relationships."

- The committment of the ELCA to finding a way for people living in such relationships to serve the church as clergy.

- The ELCA's aggreement to "respect the bound consciences" of its church members who do not agree on the issue.

- The ELCA must agree to remove its ban on gay clergy living in partnered relationships.

But when the ELCA's 37-member Church Council meets this month in Chicago, its members could amend the four major proposals for Minneapolis. Schoeld said the fourth resolution was the only one that "really deals with the ordination of gay or lesbian clergy." Along the way, each one moves along the line of "Are we really even ready for the conversation.'"

In simple terms, he said "bound consciences" means that ELCA church members on opposite sides of the issue must have mutual "respect for space and grace of another." Schoeld said he had heard no opinion on the issue "either way from the congregation." But he added, "Part of it has to do with the fact that we haven't made it a big issue here. We have not spent a lot of time in conversation regarding it. It's not been something that truly in any large way has affected this church."

However, he noted that the issue for his congregation had reached a point "where we're probably going to have to have some conversations." For now the issue is "something for study, for conversation and for consideration."

Not an issue for under-30s
The Rev. Robert Chell, pastor the ELCA University Lutheran Center which ministers to students attending South Dakota State University, has by-and-large a younger and more mobile congregation. Most will be part of his on-campus ministry for four years. For them the issue is a non-issue.

"There aren't many people under the age of 30 for whom this is an issue," Chell said. "They're concerned with what they're going to do with their life, who their life partner is going to be and what they're going to do over spring break."

In considering the issue, Chell recalled some words he heard years ago from a Roman Catholic theologian from Notre Dame, whose name he could not recall: "Watch out for people who condemn sins they couldn't commit if they wanted to."

Continuing Chell said, "By putting our energy into this as individuals, as a congregation a church, we're not doing those things that Christ called us to do: whether that's to love our neighbor or proclaim the Gospel."

By way of analogy and some parellels, Chell harked back to the 19th century and slavery in the United States when people came down on both sides of the issue pro or con and used Scripture to justify their positions . He added, "There are some parallels there. The question isn't whether we interpret Scripture literally or not; it's how we interpret Scripture. If it was crystal-clear, we would all be on the same page.

"But it's how we interpret Scripture and which pages we interpret literally." Lutherans are real comfortable with ambiguity."

The Rev. Rhonda Hanisch, senior pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church, referred the Register to the 30-page document on the issue and declined to comment.

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