The following was read to the congregation assembled at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peoria near the end of the worship service there this last Sunday morning:
To the Church at Zion,
From Steven, your Pastor.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, peace and all good!
I have been told that, in reports on the ELCA Churchwide Assembly's actions this past Friday, Headline News included a clear shot focussed on me sitting in the Congregational Observer's section. What I do not know, apart from the local headlines and conversations in the streets, is the content of reports you may have seen or heard, especially in Peoria.
In normal circumstances I would have waited until I could speak with you in person about what happened at this Assembly. But I think it important that, since some of you have likely heard in one way or another of the most controversial votes in Minneapolis, you also hear something of my initial response to them.
There have been, of course, many important matters to deal with. And a Churchwide Assembly is always a joyous opportunity for the reunion of friends and colleagues from across the Church. In some respects I have enjoyed this week greatly.
However, on Wednesday the Assembly approved, by exactly the 2/3rds vote required, a seriously flawed Social Statement on Human Sexuality. And by Friday evening, the Assembly had by very strong majorities approved new policies to permit, as the teaching and practice of the ELCA and its congregations, the blessing of committed homosexual unions and removed the impediments to those in such unions from serving in the ELCA as Pastors and rostered lay ministers.
By these actions, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's teaching and practice on marriage, family, and sexuality has not only departed from the faith and teaching of the Holy Scriptures and nearly 2000 years of Christian teaching, it is proclaiming what the Apostle Paul calls "another gospel."
One of the things that I was taught from a young age and have grown to experience more and more over the years is that a Lutheran pastor relates to the denomination differently than the laity and congregations. When I was ordained, the ELCA became my church. On Friday afternoon, I lost my church.
I intend to remain your pastor. I intend to remain a pastor in the ELCA and in our Central/Southern Illinois Synod, to be a voice -- with other pastors and laity throughout the ELCA -- for the ELCA's repentance and restoration into the Faith. Many of you already know that I have been part of groups of pastors and others, in our Synod and across the ELCA, that have been working for this already. These efforts will continue, beginning with a national gathering near Indianapolis on September 25-26.
While some pastors and congregations have already left the ELCA and more will, including several in our own Synod, I do not believe it would be wise for Zion to start thinking about this. I have not given up completely on the ELCA or the faithfulness of its people.
Furthermore Zion's mission and ministry from the South Side, to the prisons, and beyond are closely linked with sister ELCA congregations. We do not need to immediately change those links. We have time to figure out how to best respond to the Churchwide Assembly's actions.
Please pray for me. Please pray for our Bishop Warren Freiheit and the Pastors and leaders of our Synod. Please pray for ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and all in the ELCA in these dark days for our church.
And do not forget that even in this, our Lord is a gracious God. In today's Gospel St. Peter says what we sing every Sunday: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." That proclamation will continue for Zion as long as we are here. For that, praise the Lord.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.