It happened last weekend as the Southwest California Synod met in Assembly in Woodland Hills, California. One can see the towers of the Marriott Hotel where the election happened from the front porch of my parents' home. As if that weren't personal enough, Dr. Erwin, the Gerhard & Olga Belgum Professor of Lutheran Confessional Theology at California Lutheran University, is the Interim Pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Canoga Park. He's my mother's pastor. She speaks very well of him.
But there is more to the story. Prof. Erwin's ordination was the subject of an article in The Lutheran magazine's July 2011 issue entitled "R. Guy & Keith Fry ...." Subtitled "Ordination stories move church forward," the article began,
R. Guy Erwin's ordination on May 11 proved quintessentially Lutheran: Two ELCA bishops and a former bishop played key roles; the service doubled as a "teaching" moment for California Lutheran University students, and the 75-member university choir led the 450-strong congregation in singing the final hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."You can read more of that article here, but the full article is behind a pay firewall. Yes, I had some thoughts on this when I read it, which I put into a Letter to the Editor -- which did not get published.
The symbolism rang poignantly true since Erwin, 53, serves as the Gerhard and Olga J. Belgum Chair in Lutheran Confessional Theology at CLU in Thousand Oaks; taught Lutheran studies and church history at Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Conn., for several years; and studied in Germany for his doctoral thesis on Martin Luther's era.
Editor, The Lutheran magazine:Two years later, nothing has happened in the ELCA to make me feel any better about progress on answers to my questions. But I don't want to make this post sound like sour grapes, so for the moment at least, I'll just let my comments of two years ago stand. Because what the election of Pastor Erwin is show me just how much my thoughts of four years ago have settled in my spirit. The heart of my letter to the congregation I serve from the 2009 Churchwide Assembly remains true, except that it is not the open wound of August 2009. I quote two paragraphs in full:
The article "R. Guy & Keith Fry... Ordination stories move church forward" (July, pages 32-33) exemplifies much more than simply "how openly gay leaders are finding their full expression as rostered ELCA pastors." While the 2009 Churchwide Assembly committed the ELCA to "finding a way" for those in committed same-sex relationships to serve as rostered leaders, that same Assembly resolved only a few moments later, "to recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church should not call or roster" such persons. As I read these enthusiastic reports of partnered gays and lesbians being received or ordained into the ELCA, I find myself wondering if we are already at the stage of needing to "find a way" to include those of us ELCA clergy who remain convinced this church has made a grave error.
Furthermore, R. Guy Erwin's ordination exemplifies even greater change in the ELCA's standards for ordination. For years some of us have argued that the ELCA needs to be more flexible about the lengthy and expensive requirements for ordination to enable congregations that cannot support full-time compensation to nonetheless be served by called pastors, only to be met with either silence or great resistance from ELCA authorities. Now we read of a college professor flying through the candidacy process in 9 months and being ordained to serve a "specialized call" that doesn't appear to be anything different from his prior vocation -- two things that have been virtually impossible. How is it that these sorts of changes in ELCA ordination practice suddenly become accomplished, without discussion or even prior announcement, when the candidates are in committed same-sex partnerships?
The Rev. Steven P. Tibbetts, STS
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church
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."Since 2009, the church I serve has still not bothered to offer justification for what its leadership is implementing full steam ahead. As I wrote elsewhere, "but I'm discovering that I did my mourning for the ELCA as a church in 2009-10. I'm sad, but in the same way I was sad when my Grandmother, who had slipped into dementia years earlier and would not have known who I was, died. Memories for what was, and now the lingering is over."
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.