Bishop Signs Seven-Year-Old Call Letter: The Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Redeemer Newsletter from Lutheran Church of Christ Redeemer (LCCR) both reported in advance of the event that on May 23, Bishop Craig Johnson (pictured at left) of the Minneapolis Area Synod would sign the letter of call that the congregation issued to Pr. Mary Albing (pictured below right) in April of 2003. (On the afternoon of May 23, Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA) reported that Bishop Johnson had indeed signed Pr. Albing's letter of call.
The bishop had refused to sign the 2003 call letter because Pr. Albing lives in a committed same-sex relationship and until earlier this year ELCA policy excluded non-celibate homosexual clergy. Pr. Albing is on the ELCA clergy roster, but for the last seven years her status has been reported as "on leave from call." For the last seven years the ELCA roster of congregations has listed Lutheran Church of Christ Redeemer as vacant, not served by a pastor under call.
We wonder how many other old call letters there are in synod offices waiting to be signed. We know that several call letters for ELM pastors were simply returned unsigned to the congregations that sent them. Perhaps their time has come, too.
Was That An Earthquake?: On May 24, after a series of interviews at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) in Berkeley, the Sierra Pacific Synod Candidacy Committee unanimously approved the reception of six pastors rostered with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) and the immediate reinstatement of Pr. Ross Merkel and Pr. Steve Sabin who were removed from the ELCA clergy roster in dispciplinary procedures. (Pr. Merkel was removed from the ELCA roster in 1994; Pr. Sabin was removed in 1998). We understand that Pr. Merkel wondered aloud if there was an ELCA-approved rite of refrocking.
Those approved for reception to the ELCA roster include Rev. Jeff Johnson, Rev. Craig Minich, Rev. Dawn Roginski, Rev. Megan Rohrer, Rev. Paul Brenner, and Rev. Sharon Stalkfleet.
A liturgy of reception will be held Sunday, July 25 (one week after the 20th anniversary of the 1990 disciplinary ruling by which St. Francis and First United were expelled by the ELCA). Time and location of the liturgy of reception have yet to be determined.
We found it instructive to read the reporting of this event by other Lutheran groups. As you might expect, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) was first off the mark with a May 24 posting titled Sierra Pacific Synod Approves 8 LGBT Pastors on its blog. The ELM release features remarks from Pr. Jeff Johnson, ELM Co-Chair Pr. Erik Christensen, and ELM Executive Director Amalia Vagts. On May 25, an ELCA news release Two Dismissed Pastors, Others Welcomed to ELCA Clergy Roster followed with a generous quote from Pr. Steve Sabin and remarks from Bishop Mark Holmerud and bishop's associate Rev. Nancy Feniuk Nelson. We note the use of the word dismissed to refer to the Revs. Merkel and Sabin, and we wonder about the relative nuances of defrocked and dismissed.
Also on May 25, Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA) published an abbreviated version of the ELM release.
On May 27, Lutheran CORE followed with a well-detailed blog entry ELCA approves eight more practicing LGBT pastors. The Lutheran Core report is distinctive for two things: extra ordinem ordinations are described as controversial unauthorized ordinations held in defiance of the ELCA’s previous teaching and standards, and Pr. Megan Rohrer's self-description ("the first openly transgender Lutheran pastor ordained in the United States") is quoted.
The Simple Act of Inviting Prayer: In the May 20, 2010 edition of the
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Sierra Pacific Synod Newsletter, there appeared the following prayer request:
Pastor Steve Sabin's partner, Travis Abernathy, for healing
We doubt that this request could have appeared in an official ELCA newsletter before the changes in ministry policy that were enacted earlier this year. And indeed, perhaps the action of a Churchwide Assembly was necessary for a synodical newsletter to refer to Pastor Sabin as "Pastor Sabin", but none of us, we think, is required to wait for permission either to ask for prayer or to pubish a prayer request in a newsletter.
Hard Labor: The New York Times reported that on Thursday May 20, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were given the maximum sentence of 14 years hard labor following their conviction on charges of "unnatural acts and gross indecency."
On December 26, 2009 the men hosted an engagement party (chinkhoswe ceremony) which attracted media attention. They were arrested on December 28 and have been in prison since.
The Times quotes Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa who issued the sentences:
I cannot imagine more aggravated sodomy than where perpetrators go on to seek heroism without any remorse, in public with a chinkhoswe ceremony.
The harsh sentences have been condemned by Amnesty International, Madonna, and Rev. Ian Galloway, convener of the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council. HeraldScotland.com quotes Rev. Galloway:
It is not right to imprison people on the grounds of their sexuality even in a place where attitudes to human sexuality are different from here, and those differences should not stop us saying so.
I am sure that people on both sides of the conversation about sexuality in ordination in the Church of Scotland would wish to see this decision reversed.
Postscript (5/29/2010), Presidential Pardon: On May 29, following a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-mon, Malawi’s president, Bingu wa Mutharika (pictured at right) issued a presidential pardon for Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. In issuing the pardon, Mr. wa Mutharika said:
These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws; however, as the head of state I hereby pardon them and therefore ask for their immediate release with no conditions.
I have done this on humanitarian grounds but this does not mean that I support this.
Red Letter Edition: Lutheran CORE has published a set of potential amendments to its constitution proposed by the Steering Committee for adoption at the Lutheran CORE convocation on August 26 and 27 in suburban Columbus, Ohio. A letter from the steering committee to explain the proposed amendments will follow shortly.
Grateful for the color coding of changes, we took a quick look at the proposals and noticed the following:
Chapter 1.03.c explicitly declares that Lutheran CORE is not a church body.
The 2005 Common Confession has been moved from the body of the constitution to an appendix.
The chapter titled The Nature of the Church has been deleted entirely.
The word reform has been replaced by the word renewal.
Be Provocative: On May 15, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company released Carl E. Braaten's memoir Because of Christ: Memoirs of a Lutheran Pastor-Theologian. A review by Pr. Mike Hoy appears in Thursday Theology #624. Pr. Hoy attributes to Rev. Dr. Braaten the statement:
[W]hatever you do, be provocative.
Our far-flung reporter who was on the scene in 1994 reports that Carl Braaten was a member of the disciplinary committee that removed Pr. Ross Merkel from the ELCA clergy roster. We thought there might be a reference to that event in the book's index. There was not.
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