St. Paul Lutheran Church’s Journey into the Light
St. Paul has had a tradition of being actively involved in the life of the ELCA. There has always been a presence from St. Paul at the annual Synod assembly as well as the biennial Churchwide gathering. We’ve participated in Habitat for Humanity house buildings, Women of the ELCA (WELCA), Lutheran Men-in-Mission (LMM), among other activities.
Our participation in the synod gatherings and the biennial Churchwide Assemblies (CWA) revealed to us the national church’s desire to allow practicing homosexuals to be pastors and give blessings to same-gender unions. This effort began back in the 1990s and was voted on and defeated from ‘01 thru ‘07. After the ‘07 CWA, the Coalition for Reform (CORE) invited our church to participate in a Saturday seminar on the subject of homosexual pastors and same-gender blessings. We were introduced to several groups from around the country (!!) that were organized to combat these drifts away from the Holy Scripture. Our pastor and a few of the congregation became members of CORE then; later, at a family meeting, our congregation voted to join CORE. This organization publishes bimonthly newsletters reporting on developments within the ELCA and in the advocacy groups against the direction the leadership of the ELCA was headed. Our Church Council discussed the issues and the proposed Human Sexuality Social Statement from the ELCA and ensured the congregation knew what they knew, using as many means of communication as possible.
Our pastor, Gary Blobaum, refrained from expressing his opinion for a long time, allowing members to bring up the various subjects and discuss what they knew about them. This also allowed him to get a “feel” for where the church was on the subjects, and avoided influencing what the congregation members thought. Finally, however, as shepherd of our church, he expressed his viewpoints from theological and biblical perspectives. He did express his plan to remain the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church whichever way the congregation voted on the Statement. He admitted that he would be in defiance of some of the rules that would invariably come out (and have since 2009 CWA votes), and he anticipated that he would, eventually, be censured, disciplined, and/or dismissed as pastor. Even so, he set up a 7-week study for all who were interested to come and study as many sides of the issues as could be covered in that time frame. He presented papers and quotations from the ELCA proponents and papers and quotations from people that objected to the rostering of practicing homosexuals and blessing of same-gender unions. He NEVER pushed his own opinion of the Social Statement as the direction St. Paul should go. However, when asked HIS opinion on a subject or question, he would give a direct answer, often quoting biblical or traditional, church-father standpoints.
The Church Council also held two Questions & Answers (“Q&As”) sessions leading up to our congregation’s first vote on the issue of staying with or leaving the ELCA. These Q&As were open to everyone, were held on different days at different times to accommodate people’s work schedules. The ground rules for the Q&As and for the family meetings voting on staying or leaving were that questioners were to be respected by all as were people expressing their opinion of whether to leave or stay. Answers and responses were to be directed at the issue or question and not at the person. “Respect” was Rule 1 throughout our entire process.
Our church’s Constitution required that, to leave the ELCA for whatever reason, two votes would need to be taken, 90 days or more apart; both votes needed a b majority vote of voting members at the meeting. Because St. Paul was a former Lutheran Church in America (LCA) congregation, we had the additional requirement to immediately join another Lutheran denomination in order to retain ownership of our church and property. Ergo, we had representatives from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS) and the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) speak to us on separate occasions. Finally, we had to go before the Synod Council to obtain their approval to leave the ELCA, if that was the result of our two votes.
During the time soul-searching, researching, questioning, discussing (& some cussing), other points came to light that many of the congregation were surprised to hear about. Years ago during Congress’ vote on partial-birth abortion, the ELCA Congressional advocacy/liaison office was queried as to why it did not come out against partial-birth abortions when the ELCA was still on record as being against abortions. The answer received was that there was no provision in the bill regarding the mother’s health. Traditionally, before Roe v. Wade, abortions were routinely performed for rape, incest, or the health of the mother, where the intent focused on the physical health of the mother, e.g., can her heart take the strain of the birth contraction process, is there an Rh-factor difference between the mother and the baby, etc. In recent years this exception has been expanded to include allowing abortions for the mother being on the upward career path and her health would be damaged if she lost a promotion because she was taking time to raise the baby, or the baby was the wrong gender, or her mental health would be damaged if she were forced to have the baby, or she just didn’t want a baby right now, and so on.
Another point that came to light was the change in the biblical Book of Psalms and in the hymns in the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) “green” edition, male-gender nouns and pronouns were changed to neutral or common words wherever possible to make the church seem less patriarchal and more all-inclusive. A third point was making the Trinitarian formula optional between “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier” for the same reason.
St. Paul took two votes, one in late January, 2010, and the other in mid-May; both received greater than the required two-thirds majority. We also decided to join LCMC to satisfy our Constitutional requirement to immediately affiliate with another Lutheran denomination. Included in that vote was a decision to also become a member of CORE. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear to folks that CORE was not a denomination but an advocacy group that ensured what the ELCA was doing was made known to everyone and was a voice of support for those who chose to remain within the ELCA. [Some members of the congregation were aware of the new Lutheran denomination, North American Lutheran Church (NALC), coming into existence, but it was not yet formally organized and approved at a convocation of CORE who was helping bring it to fruition. By the time the NALC was voted into existence on August 9, 2010, St. Paul members were expressing confusion with all the acronyms from voting to join the LCMC and CORE, and now wanting to vote to join the NALC. So, it was decided at the Church Council-level to postpone a vote to join the NALC for awhile, even tho’ it does have more of the organization that people at St. Paul want vice the LCMC “flat” organization, no headquarters per se, each congregation on their own to figure things out, work things out, send benevolence money on their own to whomever they decide rather than sending it to a headquarters and let them disburse it, etc.]
St. Paul has been through a challenging five years. In July, 2006, three days after Pastor Blobaum took over as pastor (!!), there was a congregational meeting in our sanctuary to discuss a fracture developing in the church body. It had to do with an interim pastor and the actions of the Church Council President. Afterwards, approximately one-third of the congregation decided to go elsewhere for church. As more people heard about the 2009 CWA vote and the Church Council’s discussion about whether to stay with the ELCA or not, more people left. After taking the two votes to leave the ELCA where the required b vote was more than met, more folks left St. Paul. The numbers are inexact, but St. Paul congregational roster has shrunk between ½ and b of its former size. HOWEVER, it should be noted that the new members joining St. Paul know where we stand on the Bible and traditional teachings (the Bible is primary). Therefore, there is more unity and spirit-led determination to follow the teachings of Jesus and the Bible.
An important factor to our leaving the ELCA hasn’t been mentioned thus far, and that is PRAYER. Before our voting to leave, during our voting to leave, and afterwards, the people of St. Paul were encouraged to pray: to pray for guidance in our decision making, to pray for strength to follow through, to pray for people including those that left to remember that we all are children of God and that we are to love everyone. [especially, see II Chron. 7:14]
When nine or so of us (mostly Council members) went to the Synod office, we spoke with the bishop and to the executive committee of the Synod Council. They asked our process and about the feelings of the people, and our Council President did most of the speaking in response. There was respect on both sides and emotions were not in evidence. We felt the meeting went well and the Synod Council “approved” our desire to separate from the ELCA,
St. Paul is being blest with new members although the numbers are small. However, our Sunday attendance is slowly increasing, and the giving is sufficient to meet our budget requirements! Groups within our church are taking on assignments to spread the Gospel to our community. Our Christian Outreach Committee, for example, will be going door-to-door asking a few questions: Do you have a church that you belong to? Do you have a Bible? If not, we will be giving them one. And we will be giving them a sheet of paper with all the churches in Oregon, IL, and their worship service times, including St. Paul’s. And the Men’s Group at St. Paul will be Prayer Walking around the neighborhood, praying for each family in each house we pass by, for safety of their members and renewal of their faith, and for businesses, for their success and the practicing of proper business practices such as being fair to their customers.
It has been a difficult time for our pastor, our congregation, and for plans we had for the church. However, it does seem that the Holy Spirit has been with us throughout if for no other reason than a remnant of faithful believers within the congregation prayed and continues to pray for our church, our people, and for our pastor. Prayer is THE key factor for churches today or so it seems to many at St. Paul.
[Composed by Mike Krupa]