While folks at The Lutheran Center (the formal name of the ELCA headquarters at 8765 W. Higgins Road, Chicago) are still trying to figure out how to re-write standards and policies to respect diametrically-opposed "bound consciences," the Bishop of the Central States Synod (originally called the Missouri-Kansas Synod) has acted in the case of a small congregation that called a lesbian pastor unwilling to live in accordance with Vision and Expectations.
Here's the front page of the February 2010 edition of Making Christ Known, the synod's newsletter:
From the BishopMiss Simon had written about Abiding Peace's censure shortly after the Churchwide Assembly on her PeacePastor blog:
To paraphrase the writer of Ecclesiastes, there is a time for discipline and a time for healing.
I am announcing to the synod that I have lifted the censure that was placed upon Abiding Peace Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Missouri in 2001.
Abiding Peace Lutheran Church in the spring of 2001 called and ordained Donna Simon to serve as their pastor. They did so, however, in violation of the ELCA constitution and bylaws. Placed under censure according to the ELCA procedures for discipline, members of Abiding Peace have been prohibited from serving as elected members of the synod council, synod committees or teams.
Donna Simon, a lesbian, is not on the roster of the ELCA, but she has served as the pastor of the congregation for nearly nine years. In my letter to the congregation, I write that "...though ordained outside the established processes of the Church, Pastor Simon has been a gracious witness among us in this synod as well as in the larger Church. She has spoken the truth in love, and shared her witness and struggle as a baptized child of God, even as she has prayed for a day of wider understanding and acceptance in the Church."
I announced to the Synod Council Executive Committee on January 29, that I have lifted the censure from Abiding Peace Lutheran Church and welcome them into the full life of the Central States Synod. To the congregation I wrote that I have been grateful for their "...continuing partnership in the Gospel over the past nine years. [They] have steadfastly participated in the life of the Synod, supported the ministries of the larger Church and been a constant presence in our life together."
As the Church studied, prayed and conversed with one another over the matters of gay and lesbian people in the Church, Abiding Peace Church might have walked away. But they remained in the Church and stayed in dialog with brothers and sisters who were trying to make sense of these issues in the light of the Gospel. They kept on praying for a better day, a time of wider awareness and acceptance.
We are still not of one mind on these matters. But we are one in Christ. What makes us one is not the purity of our theological thought, nor the soundness of our moral reasoning. Our unity comes from the God and Father of Jesus Christ who claims us in baptism and blesses us with the Holy Spirit.
With the censure lifted, and the decisions made by the ELCA last year, I know the congregation also longs for the day when their pastor might be welcomed onto the roster of the ELCA.
My congregation already has a pastor in a "same gender, life-long, monogamous, publicly accountable relationship." Okay, I'm fudging "publicly accountable" a little, since we are waiting until we live in the same state to take the ELCA up on its support of our getting married (they'd never say "married," but I can. Married married married. That's what they voted on and they know it.).We at Shellfish can imagine just how devastating it is to a small congregation (latest reported average Sunday attendance: 18) not being able to serve on a synod committee. But if Bishop Mansholt appreciates their constant presence, who are we (with "bound consciences" scandalized by Miss Simon serving as a pastor without any sign of repentance on her part) to object to welcoming them back fully?
Our congregation is under censure by our Synod (the regional body--in this case Missouri and Kansas). Under the terms of our censure, we're not allowed to serve on committees of the synod or churchwide expressions. Which does leave us feeling a little cut off, and provides a great excuse to stop paying benevolence to the Synod--which I'm proud to say we have not done. We have done our best to stay in relationship with the larger church, and I'd say it has been mainly mutual. Bishop Mansholt has been expecially gracious in extending a hand of friendship to Abiding Peace.
But being under censure for eight years kind of sucks, and we'll be glad to have it lifted.
And I will be glad to stop suffering the little indignities that arise so often, especially around the first weekend in June, when the whole Synod meets in Assembly. I'll be glad to receive mail from the larger church addressed to "Rev. Donna Simon." I've been ordained almost nine years; I think it would be nice to be addressed properly. Someone in the Synod office actually works overtime making sure that I know that he or she doesn't recognize my ordination. I get mail addressed to "Ms. Donna Simon." If you left off the "Ms.," I'd just think you weren't using titles, and blow it off. But "Ms." says what it is intended to say: "This is the best you're going to get from us."
We submitted a resolution to the Synod Assembly this year, signed by over a hundred people. When it appeared in the Assembly notebook, I notice that my name was one space off of the line at the left margin. This was because they had deleted "Rev." from in front of my name, and hadn't gotten it pulled all the way back to the margin.
Shrimp (with tip o' the claw to pretty good lutherans) out.