Tuesday, May 25, 2010

ELCA News Release: Two Dismissed Pastors, Others Welcomed to ELCA Clergy Roster

ELCA News Service - May 25, 2010

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Two dismissed pastors have been welcomed back to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The candidacy committee of the ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod, Oakland, Calif., met May 24 and unanimously approved the reinstatement of the pastors to the ELCA clergy roster, and it also approved for reception six pastors from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM).

According to the synod, a formal Rite of Reception for the pastors will be offered this summer.

The Rev. Ross D. Merkel, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Oakland, and the Rev. Steven P. Sabin, Christ Church Lutheran, San Francisco, have been approved for reinstatement.

In 1998 Sabin was removed from the ELCA clergy roster for being in a committed, same-sex relationship while serving as pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Ames, Iowa. His removal by an ELCA discipline committee drew national attention.

"I am relieved and happy that a long and painful episode in my relationship with my church family is ending. I look forward with hope to the restored partnership and opportunities for service that the actions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly and the Sierra Pacific Candidacy Committee have made possible," said Sabin.

"For two decades, many have been grieved and alienated by the ELCA's exclusion of gay and lesbian pastors blessed with loving spouses. I hope and pray that they can, like me, lay aside the hurts and take hope from the gracious power of God to renew and direct the church into evermore faithful and effective proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope that this will be the beginning of a new period of evangelical outreach for the ELCA aided by our new witness to the forgiveness and grace of God truly being for all people," said Sabin. "Like the psalmist, I can only observe with awe and gratitude: 'This is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.'"

ELM pastors approved for reception to the ELCA clergy roster are:
+ the Rev. Jeff R. Johnson, pastor, University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley, Berkeley, Calif.
+ the Rev. Craig Minich, pastor of youth ministries, Oakland-Berkeley Lutheran Youth Program
+ the Rev. Dawn Roginski, pastor of parish programs, St. Francis Lutheran Church, San Francisco
+ the Rev. Megan Rohrer, executive director, WELCOME, San Francisco
+ the Rev. Paul R. Brenner, St. Francis Lutheran Church, San Francisco
+ the Rev. Sharon Stalkfleet, Lutheran Ministry to Nursing Homes, Oakland.

ELM is an organization that credentials qualified candidates of "all sexual orientations and gender identities" for ordained ministry.

"Twenty years ago when I was ordained, we could dimly imagine that Lutherans would one day fully recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," said Johnson in a May 24 ELM news release. "I'm very thankful for all who have helped to carry this struggle forward and for our church which has finally opened up to the new and exciting future God has in store for us," he said.

"I was very pleased by how the candidacy committee came together," said the Rev. Mark W. Holmerud, bishop, ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod. "This was a special meeting of the committee. We in the synod felt it was important to move forward with this process in a timely manner, so the committee agreed to this special meeting," he told the ELCA News Service.

"I am deeply grateful to the ELM pastors, and the two pastors who were removed from the ELCA roster, for their grace and good will in being a part of this process; to the members of the (Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary) faculty who made arrangements to be at this meeting, and to the candidacy committee for their faithful deliberations which have made it possible for these pastors to be brought onto the roster of the ELCA," said Holmerud.

"One of the things that was lived out yesterday was the sense that we were not examining the candidates but rather hearing stories of ministries from pastors who were already actively carrying out the gospel mission. That set the tenor of the meeting," said the Rev. Nancy Feniuk Nelson, bishop's associate, ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod.

"This was by no means an examination. It was a sharing about ministry and a celebration of ministry. We had a worship service that included the former ELM candidacy committee, the present ELCA candidacy committee, the ELM pastors and faculty from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, including the seminary president, the Rev. Phyllis B. Anderson. It was a very moving worship. Bishop Mark and I did the first interviews of all the candidates, and I became profoundly aware of how grateful I am to be a part of this process in this time of the church," Nelson told the ELCA News Service.

Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary is one of eight ELCA seminaries.
Earlier this month at the synod assembly Holmerud lifted a public censure and admonition placed on University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley in 2000 for calling the Rev. Jeff R. Johnson, who was not a member of the ELCA clergy roster. Johnson was also elected at the assembly to the serve on the ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod Council.

In a May 6 letter to the congregation, Holmerud said by "lifting this censure, the members of the congregation of University Lutheran are hereby welcome into full participation in the mission and ministry of the Sierra Pacific Synod" and the ELCA.

Holmerud wrote that the actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly "have brought us to a new day."

The 2009 assembly called for revisions to ministry policy documents, making it possible for Lutherans in committed, publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA clergy and professional lay leaders. The ELCA Church Council adopted the revisions to ministry policy documents April 10.

"This is another important day for so many in the church," said Amalia Vagts, ELM executive director. "It is wonderful to have leaders like Bishop Mark Holmerud and Bishop's Associate Nancy Feniuk Nelson and the members of the Sierra Pacific candidacy committee demonstrating holy hospitality to all," she said.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director
(773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org
Twitter: http://twitter.com/elcanews