Ignominious Anniversary: One year ago, on February 7, 2007 the disciplinary committee convened to hear the case of Pr. Bradley Schmeling of St John's Lutheran Church (Atlanta) issued its decision that Pr. Schmeling be removed from the ELCA Roster.
Hijinx Redux: We reported last week on the plight of Pr. Susan Strouse, an ELCA pastor under call at First United, an independent Lutheran congregation in San Francisco. The Sierra Pacific Synod does not recognize the congregation's call, and has now offered Pr. Strouse a "strings attached" synodical call: she can get the call only on the condition that the congregation applies for membership in the synod, an offer the congregation can only refuse.
Alert readers reminded us that Pr. Strouse is not the first ELCA Pr. to serve at First United since the congregation's expulsion from the ELCA in 1995. Pr. Lyle Beckman (pictured) served at First United from 2001 to 2003.
Those same readers reminded us that the Sierra Pacific Synod issued a synodical call for Pr. Beckman's time at First United. The readers were also quick to point out that Pr. Beckman's call was issued under Bishop Robert Mattheis who was soon to retire and not by Bishop David Mullen, who, whatever his retirement plans, has declined to be a candidate for re-election.
Authoritative Interpretation Redux: On January 26, a special meeting of the Twin Cities Presbytery voted to restore the ordination of Dr. Paul Captez. Dr. Captez was ordained in 1991, but voluntarily set his ordination aside in 2000 because he could not in good conscience affirm the Presbyterian Church's ordination standards which do not acknowledge the fidelity of same-sex relationships.
In 2006, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) endorsed an authoritative interpretation that acknowldges scruples or "departures" that do not violate "the essentials of Reformed faith and polity."
In 2007, Dr. Capetz petitioned the Twin Cities Presbytery to reinstate his ordination and to recognize is conscientious objection to the ordination standards.
The motion to restore Dr. Capetz to the ordained ministry passed 196 to 79 with 3 abstentions. This is the second application of the 2006 Authoritative Interpretation in two weeks. On January 15, the San Francisco Presbytery voted to affirm that Lisa Larges, a lesbian seeking ordination, is "ready for examination."
Dr. Capetz is Associate Professor of Historical Theology, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and his 2003 book God: A Brief History was published by Augsburg Fortress. (There is always a Lutheran angle.)
Methodists Revamp Assembly: In late January United Methodist Communications hosted a news briefing to introduce changes to the format of the upcoming worldwide assembly of the United Methodist Church (April 23 - May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas).
Weary of decades of the church's top legislative meeting being consumed by debate over homosexuality and other hot-button issues, the Council of Bishops and other denominational leaders have shaped a new churchwide agenda with the overarching purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The agenda includes four areas of focus: developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world; creating "new places for new generations" by starting new churches and renewing existing ones; engaging in ministry with the poor; and fighting the killer diseases of poverty such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
Church leaders believe this approach will help United Methodists unite to address the world's core needs, reclaim the church's Wesleyan heritage, start a movement and, as a bonus, reverse decades of declining membership trends.
"This is about alignment--with the Council of Bishops, the Connectional Table, what's happening in annual conferences--and saying we're going to coalesce (and) combine to make a difference," said the Rev. Jerome Del Pino, chief executive of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, which will oversee the church leadership initiative.
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Faithful Journey Redux: Yes, a draft of the ELCA Social Statement on Sexuality will be available in mid-march, and whether you're eager to talk about it or to ignore the whole thing, you should be aware of the schedule of synodical events ("hearings") to discuss the draft. A helpful schedule of synod hearings is available on the Faithful Journey web site.
Ask Pr. Sophie: Pr. Sophie Fortresson, our resident expert on all matters of theology, Lutheran etiquette, and social protocol, answers questions submitted by our readers and occasionally simply volunteers advice when no question has been asked. If you have questions (and who among us doesn't?) send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Pastor Sophie: As a member of the ELM Roster, I am marginally welcomed in the ELCA, where I have been a member since I was knit in my mother’s womb. I am recognized as a pastor, but I can never vote or serve as a dean, Synod Council or as an Assembly Delegate (Synodically or at Churchwide), because I am neither laity nor “officially rostered clergy.” When I am at Synod Conventions I am actually given a scarlet red “visitor” nametag. When I participate at the ELCA’s First Call Theological Education trainings, the worship services say all are welcome and that all can serve God(dess). It makes me feel angry and invisible. The ELCA pastors tell me that the policies of the church are discriminatory and that they support me, but they just don’t understand how painful it is to be in community with the leadership of a church that does not officially recognize my existence.
The last time I met with the ELCA first call pastors, I abstained from taking communion with them. This was in part because it is precisely my presence at a communion table sharing the sacraments with all who hunger and thirst for God(dess) that is “not officially recognized.” But, it is also because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who are not welcome to be a part this communion table of ELCA pastors because their sexual orientation or gender identity. I knew the other pastors and Bishop Mark Hanson who was presiding at the Eucharist, could see me not take communion, but they could not see the others who were not even welcomed to the table.
As the next ELCA First Call Pastors event approaches in April, I wonder if I should commune with the other ELCA pastors and deacons during the worship services. I know that the invitation to the communion table comes from Christ, who welcomes all even when the ELCA cannot right now. I also know that that same Christ (and the ELCA’s constitutional guidelines for pastors) calls me to speak out for justice. What is your advice?
Queer Rookie Pastor
Sierra Pacific Synod
Dear QRP Pr. Sophie thanks you for writing and thanks you even more for persevering (under what might charitably be called "adverse circumstances") in your call to ministry . Being queer is as easy as falling off a log: we don't really have to work at it, do we? But being queer in this society is not so easy. Being a queer pastor is still harder, and being a queer rookie pastor is, well, let's just say "particularly challenging." Pr. Sophie does indeed feel your pain and understands your need to make a statement.
However, your abstaining from Communion at ELCA First Call events touches a nerve that Pr. Sophie holds dear. It is never a good idea to withhold oneself from the Lord's Table even in the interest of conscience. It may not be easy to partake; indeed, as you note, it may be painful, but holding yourself apart from the welcome that God extends in this meal can only do more harm than good.
Pr. Sophie understands the intention of making visible those whom the church does not welcome. She also understands that you are (and should be) reluctant to give your ELCA counterparts the false hope that "things aren't that bad". Things really are that bad.
But, the welcome that is extended in the sacrament is not now and never has been the ELCA's welcome. It is the unconditional welcome that God extends to all humanity, and the church is powerless to redefine that as anything less than the Grace of God.
Pr. Sophie prays that you will have the strength to join in the meal in the future. She also humbly suggests that one way of representing those who have been shut out is to approach the table over and over again until the elements are completely consumed.
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