Tuesday, May 24, 2005

June Pastoral Letter

Probably the most contentious issue facing our denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada – ELCIC for short) in recent memory is the resolution before the National Convention on Same-Sex Blessings.

In our congregation, we have people at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between. There are caring, compassionate, thoughtful, and faithful people on every side of this issue, asking the same question, “How do we minister faithfully and compassionately, and with integrity, to gays and lesbians?” But they each answer the question differently.

So we need to remember that both sides of the debate, at their best, are coming from good places. Some may be “liberal” and some maybe “conservative,” and others somewhere in between. But each brings their own unique gifts and perspectives to the conversation.

Conservatism, at its very best, draws lines that should never be crossed. And liberalism, at its very best, opens doors wide open to those who have been shut out, hurt, or abused.

It seems to me that we need to be both as we struggle, as a family of faith, in discerning what it means to live as people of God in controversial times. We need to be “conservative” in things like being stewards of the mysteries of God and inheritors of the message of salvation. And we need to be “liberal” when hurting people come knocking on our door, hungry for the bread of life and thirsty for living water.

Folks have asked, “If the resolution, in its current form, passes, how will it affect Good Shepherd?”

The resolution will have no binding effect on Good Shepherd in that it will not change any current policy or practice of our congregation. In other words, Same-Sex Blessings will NOT occur at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd unless we, as a congregation, decide to take the necessary steps as outlined by the resolution; i.e., “the consent of the pastor, the consent of the congregation or calling agency as expressed by a 2/3 majority vote at a duly called meeting, and consultation with the synodical bishop.”

Furthermore, I will NOT be forced to bless same-sex unions, if this resolution passes, anymore that I am forced to bless anything else. I will remain free to exercise my pastoral duties without interference from any outside agency.

The current resolution is being dubbed “The Local Option” because its authors recognize that many congregations will, on biblical, theological, and/or moral grounds, oppose the blessing of same-sex unions, and that other congregations will want to embrace this ministry on the same grounds. The churches of the ELCIC are not of one mind on this issue. The National Church Council (the national governing body) recognizes the diversity of opinion in the Church and has tried to supply a compromise. The Local Option, it is believed, helps congregations discern for themselves the course they will chart, thus retaining the autonomy we cherish as Lutherans.

It has been brought to my attention that some of our members are considering finding another church home if this resolution passes. Others have suggested to me that they will attend another church if this resolution does NOT pass. I regret that this issue has caused so much pain for some people and that our family of faith may be smaller after July’s Convention.

Important issues are confronting the church. Our differences do matter. But our common faith matters more.

Our Bishop, Steve Kristenson, reminds us that, as we work through this issue as a national church body, we “must keep our eyes on Jesus, in whom we have our unity…the church has always argued along the way – it is part of human nature. In the end, we must always submit to Christ.”

It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide our national church and our family known as Good Shepherd. Please keep praying for the convention, our delegate Wayne Street and for myself, as well as for the on-going ministry of this congregation. We have challenging times ahead. But the crucified and risen Jesus walks with us.

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