San Francisco church rejoins Lutherans years after inclusion of gay pastor

San Francisco, USA - A local congregation rejoined the Lutheran Church on Sunday after 17 years of separation brought on by its inclusion of a gay pastor.

Members of the First United Lutheran Church in Cathedral Hill unanimously voted for the reunion. The move now gives the local church a vote and a voice in the larger church.

“It’s a hard decision to make,” the Rev. Susan Strouse said, “but it gives us a voice and it’s a huge opportunity to look at the denomination and say, ‘You made the right decision and that’s good, but there’s more to do.’”

In 1995, First United Lutheran Church and St. Francis Lutheran Church, another San Francisco congregation, were expelled from the denomination for ordaining an openly gay pastor and two lesbian pastors, respectively. The decisions went against the beliefs of evangelical Lutherans. Both congregations continued practicing independently.

Then in 2009, the leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to change bylaws by adopting a constitution that allows openly gay men and women to serve as pastors. Following that change, the leaders asked the San Francisco churches for forgiveness and to rejoin the denomination.

St. Francis voted to rejoin the church last year. And on Sunday, First United’s 60-member congregation also took the steps to rejoin by voting to rescind its bylaws and adopt those of the larger church.

Though it took two years for First United’s congregation to come to grips with rejoining a church they were once expelled from, members say this is a good move.

“We’ll have more chances to affect change internally,” said church member Mike Barrows, 64. “And it’s an important vote for practical reasons.”

Those practical reasons include the church being able to call on ordained Lutheran pastors to lead their congregation and having a vote in regional councils.

For the 200 Lutheran churches in Northern California, known as the Sierra Pacific Synod, welcoming the two San Francisco congregations is more of a homecoming.

“It’s like we’ve been without a part of our body,” said Nancy Nelson, assistant to the synod’s bishop, the Rev. Mark W. Holmerud. “This is a time to celebrate a painful period in our church coming to a close.”