Churches stay with ELCA, for better, worse

For many Lutherans in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the past year was spent deciding where they belong. After the synod approved homosexual men and women to become ordained pastors in ELCA churches while involved in a monogamous, same-sex relationship, some Lutherans stayed in the synod when others voted to leave.
While hundreds of churches decided to leave the ELCA after the August 2009 decision became public, other churches in the synod stayed.
“’Where do you stand?’ became the topic of church life from September (2009) to April,” said Pastor Chris Christopher of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Startown Road in Newton. “(As a church), we studied the issues (of the ELCA) and had outside speakers from different sides of the issue speak at the church. From the pulpit, I didn’t make a personal statement (about thoughts on homosexual pastors and their relationships).”
However, away from the pulpit, Christopher told individuals who sought his opinion that “the church’s decision says a lot about how we treat each other.”
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which is 105 years old, has members who attended the church for most of their lives, Christopher said. When the homosexual discussion came up in the church, it brought a great deal of controversy.
“Everything stopped,” he said. “This was the sole topic of conversation.”
Pastor Richard Fritz, of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church on Lenoir-Rhyne University’s campus, said the ELCA was created to be modern compared to other Lutheran synods.
“The ELCA was created to be a new, nationwide service with what many perceive as flaws,” Fritz said. “(Homosexuality) is a derivative issue that matters to (congregations) enough to make them care. There are very highly respectable leaders considering leaving the church; others who don’t think it’s good at all to leave; and others think it’s an important improvement.”