Nearly 20 years ago, the First United Lutheran Church, a San Francisco-based congregation, ordained openly gay pastor Jeff Johnson. Even though the Lutheran Church disapproved of such an action, First United stood by its decision, ultimately leading to the congregation’s suspension in 1990 and formal expulsion from the church in 1995. This came in the same year as the expulsion of another San Francisco congregation for its support of two lesbian pastors.
But on Sunday, the church’s 17-year-long schism came to an end when First United voted to rejoin the Lutheran Church. The decision came approximately three years after the Lutheran Church voted to accept gay and lesbian pastors as members of the clergy. According to the San Francisco Examiner, this prompted the church to send a letter of apology to both First United and St. Francis, the other congregation that had been expelled.
Although St. Francis accepted the invitation to rejoin the Lutheran Church, First United was more cautious. Opinion within the congregation was quite divided, with some eager to rejoin and some still needing time for their wounds to heal. But after years of discussion, the congregation finally arrived at a decision. First United voted unanimously for the reunion.
The two congregations will now join a larger group of 200 Lutheran churches throughout Northern California, known as the Sierra Pacific Synod. The synod’s bishop, Rev. Mark W. Holmerud recently commented on the contributions of First United and St. Francis to the greater Lutheran community:
“There’s been an acknowledgment that these two congregations were forward-thinking and committed to their ministry,” Holmerud noted. “They took a stand, paid the consequences, […] and we’re all better for it.”
Take Action: The experiences of First United and St. Francis prove that you can be a person of faith, loyal to your religion’s teachings, and someone who supports their LGBT friends and family. Want to learn how? Well be not afraid. Help is on the way! It’s the new Straight For Equality in Faith Communities publication—be not afraid: help is on the way! Straight for Equality in Faith Communities—that will have everyone talking! Download your free copy here. Still have concerns? We’ll do our best to help. Browse our website at www.straightforequality.org, check out us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter. Creating change is not always easy. But with a network of supportive PFLAGers by your side, everything is possible!