St. Francis Lutheran Church
152 Church Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
Rev. Robert Goldstein
Stephen Lawson, Publicity Coordinator
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
St. Francis Lutheran Church to rejoin national Lutheran body, 15 years after explusion
-- Reunion celebrates a victory for sexual minority rights in the 4.6 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America --
SAN FRANCISCO - JULY 25, 2010 - St. Francis Lutheran Church, a San Francisco congregation that was removed from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1995 for defying a ban on pastors in same-sex relationships, voted today to rejoin the national church after it ended that ban.
The 129-member congregation voted to accept an invitation from the Sierra-Pacific Synod, the regional organization of the ELCA for Northern California and Northern Nevada. In April, the Synod had voted overwhelmingly to invite back St. Francis and another San Francisco congregation, First United Lutheran Church, that had also been removed for standing up against the discriminatory rule.
Today's historic vote marked a turning point for St. Francis in its long struggle for full acceptance of sexual minority people in the Lutheran Church. Located near the Castro district at Church and Market streets, St. Francis began reaching out to the gay community in the late 1980s, in the midst of the AIDS crisis, under the leadership of Pastor James DeLange. In 1990, it called a lesbian couple, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, as assistant pastors. At the same time, First United Lutheran called a gay man, Jeff Johnson, as its pastor.
At the time, gay and lesbian pastors had to take a vow of celibacy to join the ELCA roster, from which member churches chose pastors. Because Pastors Frost, Zillhart and Johnson had not taken that vow, St. Francis and First United violated the ELCA's rules by calling them. However, both congregations stood by their decisions as the best way to carry out their ministries. After a trial by the ELCA in 1990, St Francis and First United each were suspended for five years and then removed from the national church on Dec. 31, 1995.
In August 2009, after years of dialog within the national church and activism by St. Francis and partner organizations including Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and Lutherans Concerned, the ELCA voted to end its unequal treatment of pastors in committed same-sex relationships. With this act, it became the largest faith group in the United States to welcome gay and lesbian pastors to its roster. Earlier this year, the national church also agreed to recognize the ordinations of more than 40 sexual minority pastors who had not qualified for the ELCA roster because they violated the rules of that time. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries had maintained a separate roster for these clergy and worked to place them in Lutheran churches across the country.
As partners in the movement for full inclusion of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender people in the church, ELM and St. Francis know that the visible presence of openly gay and lesbian pastors sends a message of welcome and hope to others who have felt shut out of their own faith traditions.
"The process of healing from the pain of being removed from the ELCA will take time. However, we all rejoice that the church is now welcoming sexual minority people, and we embrace our future as a member of the larger church with faith and hope," said Congregation President Brandee Marckmann.
The vote at St. Francis took place just hours before a ceremony in San Francisco at which seven members of the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries roster will be received or reinstated to the ELCA roster. The rite will take place at 4 p.m. at St. Mark's Lutheran Church at 1111 O'Farrell St. More information on that event is available here:
At a special worship service on Sunday, Nov. 7, the congregation of St. Francis will welcome Bishop Mark Holmerud of the Sierra-Pacific Synod and celebrate its reunion with the ELCA. The media is invited to witness this festive event, and more details will be available soon.
About St. Francis Lutheran Church
Formed in 1964 through the merger of Lutheran churches founded by Danish and Finnish immigrants, St. Francis Lutheran Church is open to people of all backgrounds and sexual orientations and has been ministering to San Francisco's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities since the 1980s. Visit St. Francis on the Web at www.st-francis-lutheran.org.