The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America frowns on gay clergy, but the parishioners at a Lutheran church in Minneapolis applauded and stomped their feet with joy when Jay Wiesner was ordained on Sunday. Wiesner will be installed at Bethany Lutheran Church next month. His ordination was the third of an openly gay pastor from an ELCA congregation in the Twin Cities.
In a bellowing voice, the ordaining minister on Sunday asked the packed house about their commitment to the would-be pastor, and in one voice the crowd of more than 100 twice answered, "We will." Then, with a resolute "Amen. Thanks be to God," the audience ripped into an unbridled display of clamorous applause, joyous hollering, foot-stomping, and fist-pumping. "I kind of feel like we're paving the way for the Lutheran Church," said Dora Lofstrom, a Bethany parishioner of 20 years. "I think the tide is with us. I think little by little the church will come."
Wiesner, 30, a native of New Ulm, Minn., began serving Bethany two years ago as a pastoral minister and quickly made a name for himself with his outreach work and skill at attracting new members. ELCA policy forbids the ordination of anyone in a same-sex relationship unless they practice celibacy. Bishop Craig Johnson of the ELCA Minneapolis Area Synod did not attend Sunday's ceremony and in the past has not officially recognized a local lesbian pastor. Johnson could impose sanctions against Bethany, from a reprimand to removing the church as an official ELCA congregation and firing its pastor, said the Reverend Steven Benson. Benson said he does not know what, if anything, Johnson might do. "The most important thing is for a person to live with integrity and to live with honesty," Benson said. "To do otherwise would be frightening."
The Reverend Roy Harrisville III, executive director of Solid Rock Lutherans, a national group based in St. Paul of ELCA leaders formed this year to fight change in the church's ordination standards, criticized the event. To ordain an active homosexual man is to reject the foundations of scripture and the Lutheran confessions," Harrisville said. Members of the Bethany congregation said some people have left the church over Wiesner's ordination, while others quietly grumble. "They say, 'Why do we have to do this?' " said Dennis Tollers, a Bethany member of more than 50 years who supports the ordination. "That 'it should be a man and a woman.' That 'this way isn't right.' " Tollers--who grew up in the church, raised three kids under its auspices, and regularly performs janitorial duties on Saturdays--said it took him some time to accept the ordination. For more than a year the congregation discussed Wiesner's ordination in hourlong "coffee talks."
Loren Halvorson, a retired professor of Minneapolis's Luther Seminary, said Wiesner's ordination is a sign the Lutheran Church is growing more accepting of gays and lesbians. All movements in the Lutheran faith have started on the fringes, Halvorson shouted above a raucous crowd at the reception. He predicted that the practice of ordaining openly gay and lesbian pastors will become the norm in his lifetime. "I believe we've already reached a critical-mass point," Halvorson said.