Thursday, March 12, 2009

ELCA Grassroots? Clackamas, Oregon

Shrimp here, having caught the following from the weekly Clackamas (Ore.) Review. Clackamas is in northwest Oregon, a suburb of Portland. You will discover that among the members of its ELCA congregation is the Oregon Synod Bishop.

Clackamas congregation welcomes gay community
by Ellen Spitaleri
The Clackamas Review, Mar 10, 2009

"The stars lined up" in Happy Valley, said Rev. Dayle Askey, when her congregation at Creator Lutheran Church voted to official welcome the gay community into its church.

The congregation recently adopted an Affirmation of Welcome that is "designed explicitly to welcome people who have historically been excluded" from churches, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, said Gary Schulstad, a member of the committee that put together the affirmation.

In January, church-goers voted to accept the affirmation with a 93 percent approval rating, resulting in Creator Lutheran officially becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation. RIC is a national program set up in 1984 to recognize Lutheran congregations that welcomed lesbian and gay believers. In 2002, action was taken to include people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the RIC program.

Askey said it was important to adopt the Affirmation of Welcome and become a Reconciling in Christ congregation because although Creator Lutheran was already "known for being friendly, we wanted to take welcoming to the next level — we want to be extravagant in our welcome."

"We wanted this, not just for our members who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual, but for the people who love them. We want to be purposeful in our welcome," added Toni Hartung, office administrator at the church.

Year of discernment
The process of writing the Affirmation of Welcome took a little over a year, but "the congregation has been moving toward this from day one," said Askey, who has been the pastor of the church for 10 years.

Schulstad noted that the committee embarked on "a year-long process of discernment and listening" in December of 2007 that culminated in the congregation voting to pass the affirmation by 93 percent.

Hartung, a committee member, said she and Schulstad were fortunate enough to attend an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America training last March that really got the affirmation process up and running.

Educating the congregation about what an Affirmation of Welcome entails was of prime importance to the committee, Schulstad and Hartung said, so they scheduled an event per month to let people experience the process as it happened.

One activity that was a turning point occurred when a former intern at Creator Lutheran returned to talk about his decision to come out as a gay pastor.

"He was not out when he was here and he was much-loved," Askey noted.

Sharing concerns
People of all sexual orientations were invited to share their stories about past church experiences and members of the congregation were asked to "name their fears and concerns," Schulstad said.

"[The committee] wanted people to feel comfortable expressing doubts and concerns. There were no arguments – we just listened and addressed these [concerns] later," he said.

Last August, Bishop David Brauer-Rieke, a congregation member, put together a Bible study that gave an understanding of how the scripture has been taken out of context in relation to the acceptance of other sexual orientations in church.

"It was an on-line collaboration, with statements from other churches. It was a blog-like presentation, and people added comments," Schulstad said.

High school students in the congregation were also part of the process, and came up with some of the actual wording, including the "come as you are" part of the affirmation, Schulstad noted.

In September, a draft of the Affirmation of Welcome went out in survey form.

The committee wanted to test the waters to see what result a January vote might have, Schulstad said, adding, "A 93 percent approval rate was really important to us."

Schulstad kept a blog and had a "rainbow box" set up at the church for comments, resulting in "so little negativity," Askey said.

She considers the acceptance of the affirmation as significant because "with the percentage, it becomes not only an Affirmation of Welcome, but an identity" for the church.

"It says 'Like Luther, here I stand,'" said Hartung, noting that the affirmation is "another step in our becoming such a welcoming congregation."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So like Luther? Not! Luther would say "Enthusiasts! You think you get your meaning straight from God and not from the Holy Writings! You swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all!

The good ship ELCA...

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