More and More Extraordinary: On April 27, Grace Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas voted to call Lura Groen to serve as pastor. Founded in 1922, Grace is an ELCA congregation in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod
Lura Groen holds a MDiv degee from Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The ELCA refused to accept Groen’s application for candidacy because of her sexual orientation. She was approved for call and admitted to the roster of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM).
Pr. Groen will be ordained extra ordinem in late July.
On April 20, University Lutheran Church of the Incarnation in Philadelphia voted to call Pr. Jay Wiesner to serve as pastor. University Lutheran Church of the Incarnation is an ELCA congregation that also serves as campus ministry for Penn, Drexel, Temple, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
Pr. Wiesner was ordained in 2004 and is rostered with ELM. He has served Bethany Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
Half of Full Communion: On April 28, by a vote of 864-19, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) adopted an implementing resolution to establish full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Full communion will be fully realized by both churches should the same proposal be adopted at the next ELCA Churchwide Assembly, which meets Aug. 17-23, 2009, in Minneapolis.
According to the ELCA News Service, full communion means the churches will work for visible unity in Jesus Christ, recognize each other's ministries, work together on a variety of ministry initiatives, and, under certain circumstances, provide for the interchangeability of ordained clergy.
ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson said:
I always think of full communion as merely a step along the way toward a new, possible future because of the relationship. That new, possible future is the for the sake of the world. It's for the sake of mission. Full communion calls for ecumenical, missional imagination.
Other full communion partners with the ELCA include The Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Moravian Church in America,, Reformed Church in America, and United Church of Christ.
Remembering Bibfeldt: The elusive 20th century Protestant theologian Franz Bibfeldt is most often remembered in academic circles for his doctoral thesis The Problem of the Year Zero presented in 1927 at the University of Worms. Yet Biblfeldt's influence extends far beyond matters of chronology. The New York Times hinted at the source of Bibfeldt's appeal:
Bibfeldt devoted his life to this overarching theme: the search for the missing middle. In his seminal 1951 work, ''The Relieved Paradox,'' he sought to reconcile all to all, to insure that theology fulfills its mission to ''make things come out right.'' He responded sharply to Soren Kierkegaard's ''Either/Or'' with his own treatise, ''Both/And,'' but later, in a conciliatory gesture, published ''Either/Or and/or Both/And.''
Current events indicate that Bibfeldt's influence on contemporary church issues has been vastly underestimated. Though Bibfeldt's own denominational affiliation remains shrouded in mystery, his influence on American theologians has come chiefly through the efforts of Lutherans associated with the University of Chicago.
A Bibfeldt Moment: On April 29, the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ruled that because same-sex marriages do not exist in the Presbyterian Church, lesbian evangelist emerita Rev. Jane Spahr (who presided over several same-sex ceremonies) could not possibly have violated church rules. The 11-page PJC ruling affirmed the rights of gay and lesbian couples to have their relationships sanctioned by the church but declined to view same-sex unions as equivalent to heterosexual marriages.
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A letter from retired ELCA pastor Rev. Paul Feiertag offers a Lutheran commentary on the decision.
Another Bibfeldt Moment: On April 30, delegates to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) approved a resolution opposing homophobia and heterosexism, saying the church is againt "all forms of violence or discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual practice or sexual orientation."
Also on April, 30, the general conference re-affirmed the characterization of homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching" in the denomination's Book of Discipline. The conference rejected changes to the United Methodist Social Principles that would have acknowledged that church members disagree on homosexuality.
The adopted wording in Paragraph 161G also states that "all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God," and that United Methodists are to be "welcoming, forgiving and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us."
Shades of Orlando: On May 1 at the General Conference, more than 200 demonstrators walked onto the legislative floor at the Fort Worth Convention Center. They formed a two-lined cross around the communion table in the center aisle and draped it in a black shroud to witness against the church's stance on homosexual practice. At the podium several Church officials raised their hands in a prayerful gesture.
The 15-minute demonstration which took place during a recess of the General Conference's business session was in reaction to the April 30 decision to retain the denomination's decades-old proscription in the Social Principles and other parts of the Discipline describing homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching."
Lutherans who attended the 2005 ELCA churchwide assembly in Orlando could not help but remember the Goodsoil protest in which nearly 100 protesters marched onto the convention floor in silent witness.
Profoundly Uncanonical: Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has advised Southern Cone Presiding Bishop Gregory J. Venables (pictured) in an April 29 letter that his planned May 2-4 visit to address a special convocation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth "with the expressed purpose of describing removal to the Province of the Southern Cone is an unwarranted invasion of, and meddling in, the internal affairs of this Province."
"I write to urge you not to bring further discord into The Episcopal Church," Jefferts Schori told Venables, who was, according to reports, scheduled to be in Central California on April 29 to meet with church leaders who last year voted to disaffiliate with the Episcopal Church and align with his Argentina-based province.
"The actions contemplated by some leaders in Forth Worth are profoundly uncanonical," Jefferts Schori wrote. "They also prevent needed reconciliation from proceeding within this Province."
At it's November, 2007 diocesan convention, the Fort Worth Diocese approved constitutional changes that would dissociate the diocese from the Episcopal Church, assert the Anglican identity of the diocese, and seek affiliation with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. To become effective, the changes must be approved at this year's diocesan convention.
The Rt. Rev. Jack Iker, Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth responded to the Presiding Bishop in a curtly-worded letter:
I am shocked and saddened by the rude letter you released yesterday to Archibishop Greg Venables, concerning his visit this weekend to the Diocese of Fort Worth. Far from being "an unwarranted interference," he is coming at my request as an honored visitor and guest speaker.
...There are no efforts at reconciliation proceeding within this Province, which is one reason why faithful people continue to leave TEC in droves. Your attitude and actions simply reinforce alienation and bring further discord.
Once again, you are the one meddling in the internal affairs of this diocese, and I ask you to stop your unwelcome intrusions.
At issue in the controversy is the service of women in the priestly office: the Fort Worth Diocese has asserted that “no diocese or parish should be compelled to accept the ministry of word or sacrament from” a woman functioning as a priest.
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