ELCA Synod to Make Call to Lesbian Pastor Official

The pastor of a Lutheran church in Minneapolis will officially be called to service Sunday though she has been leading her congregation from the pulpit for the past seven years.

Bishop Craig Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)'s Minneapolis Synod is scheduled to visit Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer (LCCR) Sunday morning to sign the original Letter of Call that the Rev. Mary Albing got from the church in April 2003.

Johnson had kept the unsigned letter tucked away for the past seven years due to the denomination's ban on noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy.

Following last year's vote by ELCA's highest legislative body to overturn the ban, however, partnered homosexuals are now allowed to be on the ELCA clergy roster and Johnson can make official what he couldn't before.

"On one hand, it's going to be a huge day, and I'm very excited about that," Albing, 55, told the local Star Tribune. "But at the same time, it's not going to change anything in terms of what I do."

While Albring is believed to be the first lesbian to become a rostered ELCA pastor since last year's vote, she may not be because synods are not required to report changes immediately. What's certain, however, is that she's not the first homosexual preacher to take advantage of last year's rule change.

Earlier this year, the ELCA Southeastern Synod approved the reinstatement of both the Rev. Bradley E. Schmeling and his partner, the Rev. Darin Easler, after the denomination adopted revisions to its ministry policies.

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.

Shortly after last year's 559-451 vote, Schmeling said he expects the church body to enter a difficult period as it moves through the ministry policy changes. But he also said he believes the denomination will be strengthened through them and hopes they can "figure this out together."

Since the controversial vote last year, however, hundreds of congregations have taken steps to sever ties with the ELCA.

With 4.6 million members, ELCA is the largest Lutheran church body in the United States and the fourth largest Protestant body.