Seven openly gay and transgender pastors were welcomed back to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on Sunday after having been excluded from the church's ministry for the last twenty years. The pastors, known as the "Bay Area Seven," were previously banned from the church for refusing to comply with a church policy that said all gay pastors must take a vow of celibacy. According to the Associated Press, the ECLA voted to overturn this policy last year, but Sunday marks the first reinstatement of gay and transgender Lutheran pastors since the celibacy ban was lifted.
The reinstatement ceremony took place on Sunday at St. Marks Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Reverend Jeff R. Johnson, one of the returning pastors, said in a news conference that the Lutheran church was sending the clear message that, "all people are welcome here, all people are invited to help lead this church, and all people are loved unconditionally by God," reports the New York Times.
According to the Times all seven of the pastors had previously been ordained and had been serving in the Bay Area, but were never officially recognized by the ECLA. Megan Rohrer, another reinstated pastor, said she viewed Sunday as the day "the church [got] to receive me as a pastor," not the day she became one, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
With 4.6 million members, the ECLA is now the largest Protestant church to permit non-celibate gay men and women to serve in its clergy. According to the New York Times, since the celibacy ban was lifted, 185 of the 10,396 congregations nationwide have voted to leave the denomination. Reverend Mark Chavez, who leads a coalition of conservative Lutheran churches, told the Times that his group plans to start a new denomination in August.
Lutheran churches across the country, however, continue to plan ceremonies to welcome the 46 gay pastors that have been excluded back into the ECLA. Three more ceremonies are already planned for this fall, reports the Times.
Media Resources: New York Times 7/25/10; San Fransisco Chronicle 7/26/10; Associated Press 7/25/10
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