Seven gay pastors were reinstated recently into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America after having been barred from service for some 20 years.
The pastors, also called the “Bay Area Seven” are Reverends Jeff Johnson, Paul Brenner, Dawn Roginski, Ross Merkel, Megan Rohrer, Craig Minich and Sharon Stalkfleet.
They will be officially recognized on the ECLA clergy roster, making them eligible to serve in any of the denomination’s 10,500 Lutheran churches.
In September, three more gay pastors will be admitted and in October, one gay pastor in Chicago and two in St. Paul-Minneapolis will be welcomed. All in all, a total of 46 openly gay pastors are slated to be welcomed to the clergy roster.
The ceremony, which was held at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco, is the first of many more that have been scheduled since the ELCA decided last year to accept non-celibate gay ministers who are in committed relationships.
In the past, gay men and women could become Lutheran pastors only if they took a vow of celibacy.
According to The New York Times Rev. Johnson said, “Today the church is speaking with a clear voice. All people are welcome here, all people are invited to help lead this church, and all people are loved unconditionally by God.”
Johnson said the ECLA’s former policy “ruined lives, destroyed faiths.”
Rev. Rohrer said she viewed the ceremony not as her first day as a pastor but a day when “the church gets to receive me as a pastor.” She is a missionary for the homeless and serves in four churches, the San Francisco Chronicle said.
The ECLA, which has 4.6 million members, is the largest Protestant church in the U.S. to admit non-celibate gay clergy. The decision has led 185 of its 10,396 congregations to separate from the denomination.
The United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church permit gay clergy, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) may soon follow suit as its general assembly voted to allow non-celibate gay clergy to serve, however this needs ratification by a majority of the PCUSA’s 173 regional presbyteries.