A partnered gay minister who was defrocked three years ago will be reinstated to the clergy roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The ELCA Southeastern Synod approved the reinstatement of both the Rev. Bradley E. Schmeling and his partner, the Rev. Darin Easler, according to the denomination's news service on Tuesday.
"It feels like being back with the family again after a time of uncomfortable separation," said Schmeling.
The homosexual couple's reinstatement comes weeks after the denomination adopted revisions to its ministry policies, allowing those who are in "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships" to serve as clergy.
Last August, the ELCA's chief legislative body had voted to approve a resolution allowing noncelibate gays and lesbians to be ordained.
"For so long people's dreams about serving the church has led to a dead end," said Schmeling, as reported by the denomination. "Now with a change in policy, there are so many that can imagine a future with the church. The Holy Spirit is alive in the church in a profound and new way."
Schmeling, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta, was removed from the clergy roster in 2007 after he announced that he found a lifelong gay companion. At that time, he was in violation of an ELCA policy that banned openly gay clergy.
Later that year, the churchwide assembly voted to encourage its bishops to practice "restraint" in disciplining gay ministers who are in "faithful" same-sex relationships and suggested that such clergy who were removed be reinstated.
Schmeling returned to St. John's despite his removal and continued to lead the flock.
Easler, meanwhile, was removed from the clergy roster in 2006 after having left his parish in Zumbrota, Minn., three years earlier. He transferred to the United Church of Christ, which is a full communion partner of the ELCA.
Since the controversial vote last year to allow the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals, hundreds of congregations have taken steps to sever ties with the ELCA. Some are joining to form a new Lutheran denomination in North America. The new body is expected to be constituted next year.
Other existing Lutheran bodies in the country and overseas have, meanwhile, lamented the ELCA's pro-gay actions. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod said the vote negatively affects their relationship with the ELCA and most recently, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania adopted a new statement reaffirming its opposition to same-sex marriage and partnered homosexuals serving as clergy.
"Those in same sex marriages, and those who support the legitimacy of such marriage, shall not be invited to work in the ELCT," The Dodoma Statement reads.
"This church believes that, based on the teaching of the Word of God, there are values that cannot be adjusted even under the pressure of changing conditions and locations. One of these unwavering values concerns the issue of marriage and its meaning."
The Tanzania church also agreed to reject any money and support from churches that approve same-sex unions and the ordination of homosexuals.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania is one of the largest Lutheran bodies in the world with 5.3 million members. Membership in the ELCA is at 4.6 million.