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Chicago Lutheran Congregation On Gay Pastors "Takes Matters Into Their Own Hands"

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Members of Ebenezer Lutheran Church, Chicago,
decided to take matters into their own hands and rewrite their
constitution as a matter of justice. According to the congregation's
president, Stephanie Frank, "All people are entitled to an equal
opportunity to serve at every point in the life of the church."
A congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA),
Ebenezer is in search of a pastor. Its 250 members want someone who can
engage in mission and ministry in the neighborhood.
Located in Chicago's Andersonville area, Ebenezer has a diverse
membership with "a good mixture of families. We have families with two
moms and families with two dads. We also have lots of children under age
6 that have different combinations of parents," Frank said.
"Engaging in the community and addressing social justice issues are
legacies of our former pastor, the Rev. Paul F. Koch," who retired in
June, Frank said. "It's also important for us as a congregation to take a
stand on equal rights for gay and lesbian people," particularly partnered
gay and lesbian Lutherans seeking to serve as pastors in the ELCA, she
In calling a pastor, "we ultimately want the best person for the
job," Frank said, but do not want the congregation's choices to be
Since the formation of the ELCA in 1987, the denomination's ministry
documents state that "ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self
understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual
This summer the ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved a series of
proposals to change ministry policies, including a policy to allow
Lutherans in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender
relationships to serve as ELCA associates in ministry, clergy,
deaconesses and diaconal ministers.
But members of Ebenezer felt they couldn't wait for the assembly's
decisions and changed their constitution, creating an avenue to call a
gay or lesbian pastor in a committed same-gender relationship. "The
constitution identifies who we are as a congregation," Frank said.
"Two months before the assembly, I wasn't sure that (the proposals
to change ministry policies) were going to succeed," said John Elmquist,
a member of Ebenezer. He said the assembly's actions are a "positive
step in the right direction" and have taken "the edge off" in the
congregation's work to modify its constitution, a process that began two
years ago and ended in May. Elmquist took an active role in reworking
Ebenezer's governing documents.
The constitution reflects two intentions of the congregation,
Elmquist said. One is to consider clergy not only from the ELCA clergy
roster but from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM), an organization
that credentials qualified candidates of "all sexual orientations and
gender identities" for ordained ministry. The second was to make the ELM
provision effective immediately, despite any possible recourse from the
wider denomination.
"For many years we've had same-gender couples as members of Ebenezer
who lead us in ministry in so many ways. They've kept the church door
open, particularly with their passion for ministry. There's nothing that
should disqualify (partnered) gay and lesbian Lutherans for the
ministry," Elmquist said, adding that Ebenezer has been blessing same
gender relationships for about 10 years.
Elmquist and Frank informed the Rev. Wayne N. Miller, bishop of the
ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod, of Ebenezer's intent to change its
constitution. "We were aware that it's the bishop's job to honor the
integrity of the ELCA constitution. (Miller's) response was that the
congregation's constitution should be in line with the governing
documents" of the church at large, Elmquist said.
"We have a friendly working relationship," Miller said.
"When members of the congregation came to see me, we talked about
calling a (partnered) gay or lesbian pastor and whether or not the re
engineering of their constitution is the right way to do it," Miller
said. "A congregation's constitution is a covenant between Ebenezer and
the other 10,396 congregations of the ELCA. I consider this relationship
a union that cannot be negotiated unilaterally. Both sides of the
covenant must be in the conversation."
Miller said he offered Ebenezer two choices. The first was "changing
the constitution and stepping out of covenant with ELCA congregations.
The other choice would be to defy its own constitution and provoke a
response from me," he said. "What I said to them is that they can
observe how I've behaved in the past, but I wasn't going to promise
With the assembly's actions, the situation changed, Miller said.
"A new course has been determined. We don't have a policy change at the
moment, but we've signaled our intent for change. So, the position that
puts me in as bishop is that if the congregation were to begin an
interview process with a rostered openly gay or lesbian partnered pastor,
I would urge the congregation to move slowly until the ELCA churchwide
organization implements the changes. That would not trigger a
disciplinary action because it's a matter of time."
"If the congregation chooses to call a pastor not on the ELCA
roster, that would be more of a problem for me, because it opens up a
loophole through which many people can jump," Miller said, adding that
he's not comfortable with the idea of clergy being called to serve a
congregation based on a single issue.
"There's a great deal more involved in choosing the right pastor
than that person's opinion on a particular issue," Miller said. "It's
also important to say that that can filter up. (Synod) bishops could be
elected based on this or some other issue rather than a complete picture
of the synod's needs."
Miller said the ELCA is "in a transition period, and common sense is
in order." He said the objective "is to move through this transition in
a way that's fair and orderly and reasonable."
- - -
Information about Ebenezer Lutheran Church is at on the Web.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or
ELCA News Blog: 

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