Monday, November 26, 2007

Gay Pastor in the Bronx Could Lose Her Collar

That's the headline of an article in Sunday's New York Times featuring Katrina Foster, pastor at Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Bronx. I got to know her a little bit this summer during the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, where she was a Voting Member (delegate) and I was a microphone page during the discussions and debates related to sexuality.

I did my best in a frequently chaotic situation to enable her to speak before the Assembly (that was my job and she was appreciative of that), which she did eloquently for her position. She appreciated my efforts. Nevertheless, it will be clear to you in a moment that I believe her position is very wrong.

The article begins:
In 1994, when the Rev. Katrina D. Foster became pastor of Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Bronx, she threw herself into ministering to her small, mostly Caribbean-born congregation. She not only preached to them on Sundays but lived in the neighborhood and showed up to support them in everything from surgeries to legal matters.

But Pastor Foster was keeping a secret from her congregation. She held onto it even after a woman came to live with her in the parsonage, then joined the church choir.

“Some people would say, ‘It’s so nice you have someone to live with you in that 11-room house,’ ” said Pastor Foster, 39.

But in 2002, when the woman, Pamela Kallimanis, became pregnant, they knew the time had come. So Pastor Foster sat her congregants down one by one and told them that she and Ms. Kallimanis were partners and were expecting a child.

Not one person openly criticized her, she said. Instead, “they threw us the most wonderfully outrageous baby shower in the side yard next to the church,” she said. “The woman I was most anxious about telling” — the church president — “I thought she was going to leap across the table and hug me.”

The response, however, was not all positive. A small number of families trickled away. Pastor Foster said only one member told her outright why she had stopped coming. “I got her on the phone one day and she said she couldn’t sit under a pastor who was a homosexual,” she said.

Now Pastor Foster and her roughly 100 congregants face a new challenge: the possibility that she, along with four other pastors in the New York area and 81 nationwide, could be defrocked in 2009 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The country’s largest Lutheran denomination, it allows openly gay pastors but forbids them from being in same-sex relationships, according to the Rev. Stephen P. Bouman, bishop of the denomination’s New York-area synod.

In August, Pastor Foster was among the clerics who disclosed that they were in such relationships at the church’s biennial national assembly in Chicago, where church policy was decided. The assembly voted to urge synod leaders not to discipline those pastors until the issue of pastors in same-sex relationships could be voted on at the next meeting, in 2009.

Bishop Bouman said he would not have disciplined Pastor Foster anyway. “She is someone whose faith is genuine and she lives it in a very bold and inclusive way,” he said. “She’s not afraid to tell people that she loves God and that God loves them.” When Bishop Bouman leaves to take a national church position in Chicago in March, however, whoever succeeds him in New York may aim to defrock Pastor Foster before the 2009 assembly.

Another pastor in the synod, the Rev. Paul Hagen, of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in the Bronx, isn’t supportive. He said that the “the Bible clearly defines homosexuality as a sin.
Read it all here -- note, you may need to register on the Times' site to do so.

Bishop Bouman's new position is Executive Director of ELCA Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission. As for Katrina Foster, it will take a miracle for the Metropolitan New York Synod to elect as Bishop someone who would even consider disciplining her. Alas, she's in no danger of "losing her collar."

And I wonder, are we going to be seeing this sort of headline and story more and more over the next couple of years?

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