It’s been 17 years since the First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco has been an official part of the larger Lutheran religious structure. The community was barred from Lutheran inclusion in the 1990s after they ordained an openly gay pastor. Another church, St Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco, was barred at the same time for ordaining two lesbian pastors, the San Francisco Examiner points out.
The ban became effective in 1995 and it wasn’t until 2009 that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) voted to change the rules. Openly gay men and women were suddenly welcomed back into the Lutheran community. Leaders in the ECLA even asked current reverends of both of the churches that had been barred from acceptance for forgiveness, hoping the congregations would come back to the denomination.
Reverend Susan Strouse, a current pastor at First United Lutheran Church, notes on her blog how confusing the decision was to rejoin the denomination after so many years of exclusion:
Everyone immediately wanted to know if we’d be coming back. St. Francis began their process towards reinstatement. Opinion in the community was divided. Some asked, “Well, why wouldn’t you?” Others, “Why would you?” Within the congregation there didn’t seem to be much incentive to make a change.
The church finally decided to return to the congregation on Sunday, July 15 after a few years of reflection and discussion. Reverend Strouse argues that the move allows members and leaders of the community to make a bigger impact in the wider Lutheran community. In her own words, “it gives us a voice and it’s a huge opportunity to look at the denomination and say, ‘You made the right decision and that’s good, but there’s more to do.’”
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is one of the first denominations to completely change their stance on LGBT rights in the religious community in recent years. This past May, leaders of the United Methodist Church voted against changing language in the Book of Discipline that would have allowed the inclusion of LGBT leaders or community members. Yet, like the ELCA, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church also voted to amend language in order to be more inclusive, the New York Times notes.
Bishop Mark Holmerud of the ELCA stated his approval regarding the two San Francisco churches. “They took a stand, paid the consequences, and our church has finally seen the wisdom of our opening the rosters to all committed gay and lesbian couples. And we’re all better for it.”
The story sheds a hopeful light on religious communities that embrace a wide variety of people in the hope of building stronger communities and happier leaders.
Photo Credit: Wild West Fisch