Advocate for Full Inclusion and Staunch Ally, Former Bishop & Former Soulforce Board Member Paul Egertson Died Today

From Lutherans Concerned North America:

Paul Egertson smiling holding a rainbow umbrella and wearing a rainbow print stole around his neckFormer Soulforce board member Paul Egertson died suddenly this afternoon, January 5, 2011, in his home in Thousand Oaks, California. Egertson, staunch ally and advocate for full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church, had championed the ordination of LGBT candidates for ministry and an end to the policies and practices of the church that relegated LGBT people to a second-class.

While bishop of the ELCA Southwest California Synod, he participated in the 2001 ordination of Pastor Anita C. Hill of St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minnesota. For this act, he subsequently resigned his position as bishop, and tirelessly advocated for the policy change that finally occurred as a result of the decisions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

Egertson was awarded the Jim Siefkes Justice-Maker Award by Lutherans Concerned for his efforts on behalf of LGBT Lutherans.

Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned, said, “Paul Egertson stood up for us and in opposition to the discrimination of the church against us when that was neither popular nor safe. His witness to Christ’s redemptive grace and his commitment to helping the church see the error of its position are a shining beacon of prophetic righteousness in the face of determined opposition – and he did it with grace and eloquence, as befits a follower of Christ. He was a friend and mentor — always available, with words of calming wisdom. He made a profound difference. He will be missed.”

“All of us at Soulforce grieve with Paul’s beloved family at his passing and we celebrate with them the memory of his world-changing prophetic witness to the worth and dignity of all people and to the Spirit that animates us. Paul was with us for our board meeting in the summer in Texas. We will cherish his counsel and his great smile, his abiding faith and conviction in a God who is big enough to include everyone,” said Rev Dr. Cindi Love

Paul Egertson, born in 1935, is survived by his wife, Shirley, also a Siefkes award recipient, and their 6 sons. Funeral arrangements will be communicated as soon as they are known.

ELCA Reinstates Openly Gay Minister Couple in a Committed Relationship

A visible sign of the wondrous changes in the Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America (ELCA) is the reinstatement of Pastor Bradley Schmeling and
Pastor Darin Easler to the roster of ministers of the ELCA.  Both had been
removed from that roster for being in a committed, same-gender
relationship.

As a committed, same-gender clergy couple they will serve openly on the
roster of ELCA ministers under the now-revised policy.  The new policy is
the result of the decisions of the August 2009 Churchwide Assembly
directing the removal of the barriers to service in the church by
ministers in committed, lifelong, same-gender relationships.  That new
policy was implemented by the actions of the ELCA Church Council in early
April 2010.

Schmeling was on the roster of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA at St.
John”s Lutheran Church in Atlanta.  In 2006, he told his previous bishop
that he had found his partner for life.  That bishop filed ecclesiastical
charges for violation of the-then policy that required celibacy of gay
ministers.  Famously, at the end of the 2007 trial, the Discipline Hearing
Committee”s ruling said that they found nothing wrong with his ministry
or commitment to the work of the church, that they would hold him up as
exemplary, and that they thought the policy was wrong and ought to be
changed.  But, they said that, obedient to the law, he was to be removed
from the roster.

Schmeling”s congregation, which had thrown a celebratory party when first
told about his commitment to Darin Easler, informed the bishop they were
keeping him as their pastor, as they have done for the last three years.
No formal charges were filed against the congregation.  However, from that
time, the ELCA officially considered the pulpit at St. John”s to be
vacant.  But, no more.  Pastor Schmeling”s ministry will be officially
recognized by his reinstatement to the roster.

Darin Easler was on the roster of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the
ELCA, successfully came out to the congregation he had served for five
years in Zumbrota, Minnesota, but because of the previous policy, chose to
leave his call in 2003. He was later dropped from the clergy roster solely
because of his committed relationship with Schmeling.  Subsequently, he
received ministerial standing in the United Church of Christ, who welcomes
gay ministers in committed relationships.  His ministry in Atlanta is as a
chaplain and grief counselor to patients and families in hospice care.
Pastor Bradley Schmeling says, "One of the stones of injustice has been
rolled away from the door, and Christ now lives more fully in the life of
the church.  The old policy, a dead end for so many for so long, has
fallen in the face of Easter’s gracious power.  It’s been striking how
deliberately and how clearly the church has moved forward to make the
assembly’s witness a reality.  These are exciting days to be part of the
church, and I’m looking forward to years ahead in ministry both with the
church I love and with the partner that God has given me.  To be on the
roster together makes Isaiah’s vision of an everlasting place within God’s
house a wonderful, living reality in our lives."

Easler said of the reinstatement, "Today is a day of hope, not only for
those of us in the LGBT community who can return to our church family and
to the ELCA clergy roster, but for all those, young and old alike, who can
now imagine a future in the church, and truly experience the church as a
place of full welcome and unconditional love."

Laura Crawley, Congregational President of St. John”s Lutheran Church,
said, "St. John’s has seen history turn many corners in its 140-plus years
as a Lutheran congregation in Atlanta. With the change in ELCA policy that
enables Bradley and Darin to return to the ELCA roster of ordained
ministry, we rejoice that we’ve been a part of righting one of the wrongs
of history."

"The larger church continues to struggle with this issue. Many people are
saddened by the policy change and worry for the future of the Lutheran
church. I hope they’ll come to St. John’s to worship with us one Sunday,
so we can welcome them and make them feel at home again in their church.
"The St. John’s congregation never doubted Bradley’s and Darin’s calls to
ministry. We’re honored by their ministry gifts and by the example of
their loving, committed relationship. We’re so glad the ELCA is welcoming
them home!"

Ross Murray, Interim Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned/North
America, said, "We celebrate that Bradley is the first pastor to be
reinstated to the ELCA roster and that Darin is being restored to the ELCA
roster, both under the new policy.  And, we celebrate that they are able
to serve openly in the ELCA  as a same-gender clergy couple. Our continued
prayer is that they will be the first of many people who are able to come
out and serve the church with honesty and integrity.  Such a day calls for
celebration, not only in Atlanta, but by all who value full participation
and the continued spread of Christ”s message.

Murray continued, "We look forward to celebrating with every pastor and
lay leader who is being received or reinstated onto the ELCA clergy
roster, every person who is able to be more honest about his or her
personal life because of this policy change, and every congregation who is
freed to call the leader with the gifts that will suit them best.  There
is still much work to be done to achieve full inclusion of LGBT people in
the life of the church."

Pastors Bradley Schmeling, Darin Easler and the congregation of St.
John”s Lutheran Church will jointly celebrate the reinstatements at a
congregational event to be scheduled for mid-June.

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About Lutherans Concerned:
Working at the intersection of oppressions, Lutherans Concerned/North
America (LC/NA) embodies, inspires, advocates and organizes for the
acceptance and full participation of people of all sexual orientations and
gender identities within the Lutheran communion and its ecumenical and
global partners. LC/NA is based in St. Paul, Minnesota.