An urban ministry in San Bernardino, Calif., that aids the poor and homeless has had its official recognition removed by Lutheran church officials in a dispute over an associate pastor who is in a lesbian relationship. The decision by the Pacifica Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which oversees congregations in parts of Southern California, marks the most severe punishment of a Lutheran congregation over the issue of gay clergy in more than a decade. "We thought those days were over," Pastor David Kalke, who leads the Central City Lutheran Mission, told the Los Angeles Times for a Saturday story. "It appears conservatism has raised its ugly head here in Southern California, much to our surprise." Kalke said he intends to lead Central City as an independent Lutheran
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America allows gay clergy only if they are celibate. Thirteen other congregations that have installed openly gay and lesbian pastors have received milder punishments. Pacifica Synod bishop Murray Finck said the Central City mission violated the church's constitution when it installed Pastor Jenny Mason in April because Mason is not on the church's official roster of recognized pastors. He said the October 29 decision has nothing to do with Mason's sexual orientation but also said Mason is not on the roster because she is gay and not celibate.
Discipline was once handled by the national church, but after a 1990 dispute with two San Francisco congregations that had installed openly gay clergy and were ultimately kicked out of the denomination, discipline became a matter that synods handled, said Greg Egertson, cochairman of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries in San Francisco. Since 1990, no congregation has been stripped of recognition for installing gay clergy. National church leaders are studying the issue in preparation for an August meeting of the church's National Assembly. Egertson said the Pacifica Synod may be trying to send a message to the assembly. "It's out of step with what other synods are doing, and it's very badly timed," he said.
Mason previously served 10 years as an officially recognized Lutheran pastor and missionary in Chile, but the church learned of her long-term relationship with another woman and forced her to resign in 2001. "I don't know the good folks who live in Orange County," Mason said, "but that's where our synod office is, and I have a feeling that's what moves decisions more than serving the poor and the oppressed in the inner city of San Bernardino."