Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Holy Saturday for the ELCA according to the AP

Shrimp here. On Holy Saturday as Christians all across the land were transforming their churches from the stark barrenness of Good Friday to the joyous extravaganzas of Easter Sunday, the Associated Press wire decided that the following was the pre-Easter story of your Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The news story appears across the land in headlines like
  • At one Lutheran church, gay, partnered and preaching

  • At 1 Lutheran church, gay, partnered and preaching (imaginative, aren't the headline writers)

  • Lutheran pastor flouts gay partner ban

  • Gay pastor installed at one Lutheran church

  • Lutheran congregation welcomes gay pastor, and

  • As Lutherans mull gay partnered pastors, some congregations already a ways down that road
Here's the story, the early part of which Shellfish reported here in December:

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Brad Froslee was installed as pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church at a special Sunday service attended by dozens of his fellow pastors, as well as Froslee's proud parents and grandmother, all devoted lifelong Lutherans.

But the Minneapolis Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officially lists Calvary's ministry as vacant. That's because, sitting with Froslee's family at his installation ceremony in February, was his male partner of 5 1/2 years — living proof that Froslee has flouted the ELCA's prohibition on non-celibate gay pastors.

"What I heard from the members of the church's call committee was that from the first meeting, they knew I was the one meant to be their pastor," said Froslee, 35. "I've always felt called to this process, and that in a sense God has a guiding hand in this. So I always had a sense it would work out."

But to make it work, Froslee and the church and synod leaders are operating on what church council member Brian Aust called "the margins of the ELCA." It's an arrangement that could be formalized this August, when leaders of the ELCA — the nation's largest Lutheran denomination with 4.7 million members — meet for their biannual convention in Minneapolis.

An ELCA task force has recommended a policy that would let congregations decide whether to allow gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as their clergy. The resolution has been criticized from both directions, with liberals saying it doesn't go far enough and conservatives saying it conflicts with Scripture.

"This isn't about sex," said the Rev. Mark Chavez of Landisville, Pa., the director of Lutheran CORE, a coalition of conservative groups in the ELCA. "It's finally about the authority of God's word."

But the approach envisioned by the task force is already in practice at Calvary Lutheran, a modest 70-year-old brown brick church in a racially diverse neighborhood four miles south of downtown Minneapolis. The 120-member congregation is a mix of young families and single people, middle-aged couples and older established members, and is mostly white despite the surrounding neighborhood....

In college at St. Olaf in Northfield, a theology professor told Froslee his work had uncommon insight and asked why he wasn't considering the ministry.

"I hemmed and hawed for quite a while, and then finally I said I don't think there's a place for me in the church because I'm gay," Froslee said. "And he looked at me and said, 'Brad, that's a cop-out.' And that I think really became kind of a turning point for me in terms of my journey."

Froslee came out to his family while in college, and sharpened his scriptural understanding at Harvard Divinity School. He says he never concealed his sexuality while going through the ordination process, and also made it known his desire to someday find a lifelong partner.

Before joining Calvary, Froslee served as pastor at a Presbyterian church in Minnetonka through a pact between the two denominations. He's also been an activist on issues of homosexuality and Christianity, co-founding a summer camp for gay, Christian youth. And even after meeting his partner, he stayed on the ELCA's roster of pastors eligible to serve in Lutheran congregations — which got his name in front of the Calvary committee looking for the new pastor.

Aust, an attorney who chaired that committee, said Calvary wasn't looking for trouble. "Our simple motivation was find the best person, gay or straight. It wasn't about labels," he said.

The Minneapolis Synod of the ELCA signed off on the arrangement, but lists Calvary's ministry as vacant. "We viewed it as a decision for the congregation to make," said Minneapolis Synod Bishop Craig Johnson.

Froslee and church council members said there are few real ramifications to the vacant designation, save that Froslee can't vote at synod assemblies. But from a symbolic standpoint, they said, it's not ideal.

"It's sort of don't ask, don't tell," said Moberg, the church council president. "It's not necessarily the way we'd like it to be."

Not every gay pastor has been as fortunate as Froslee. In Atlanta in 2007, the Rev. Bradley Schmeling was kicked off the ELCA roster entirely after acknowledging he had a partner — a decision that helped precipitate the ELCA's attempt to find a middle ground. Just a few miles away from Calvary at Salem Lutheran Church, the Rev. Jen Nagel, also partnered, has been kept off the ELCA roster — putting her congregation even further on the ELCA margin than Calvary.

Rev. Peter Strommen, a pastor from Prior Lake, Minn., who led the task force that proposed the policy change, said it's an attempt to officially recognize the lack of consensus across the ELCA.

With rapid social change on gay rights even in recent weeks, including the sudden legalization of gay marriage in Vermont and Iowa, he said the Lutheran church must find a way to proceed amid strongly divergent viewpoints.

"We've tried to stress here that this is not a core issue of our faith," Strommen said. "It's important. But it doesn't get to the level of the risen Christ and salvation."

Read it all here. Note that Pastor Froslee remains officially "on leave from call," a status that usually goes for a maximum of 3 years in the ELCA, though that can be extended for educational purposes. Apparently figuring out ways to work around Vision and Expectations counts for advanced theological education in the Minneapolis Area Synod.

Shrimp out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If anyone would like an alternate view from a former member of Calvary, I am happy to speak with them about how Calvary got to this sorry state. I was a member/leader of the congregation from 1984 till March of 2009. It is a sad story of a strong congregation descending to one that is barely hanging on.

Brian J. Bergs
Minneapolis, MN

The good ship ELCA...

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