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Extraordinary Public Witness
Three ordained lesbian pastors are offically received into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. What a great witness for the church of Jesus Christ in a time of hatred and hostility.

By Ed Knudson

It was with a sense of pleasure that a read a recent article in the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, a major paper in the Twin Cities area.
In a ceremony that started with a public mea culpa and ended with a prolonged standing ovation, three lesbian ministers were officially embraced Saturday by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

The three were the Rev. Anita Hill, pastor of St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in St. Paul, and two Minneapolis chaplains: the Rev. Phyllis Zillhart at Fairview Home Care and Hospice and the Rev. Ruth Frost at the Hospice of the Twin Cities.

Although they never had been officially recognized by the ELCA, the three of them have a combined 60 years of service as Lutheran pastors.
This is an extraordinary public witness for the true church of Jesus Christ who preached a gospel which included all in the family of God. I say it is extraordinary because in the public world of today Christianity is associated with a terrible mean-spirited hostility to gay and lesbian persons, folks who have historically been abused and rejected by both society and church. Last summer the ELCA adopted a position which no longer excludes gays and lesbians in faithful relationships from ordained ministry, one of the first major Protestant denominations to officially do so. Since I am a pastor of the ELCA it pleased me very much to see an article in a major paper acknowledging the dignity and equality of gay and lesbian persons. It should remind all of us of the great gifts which have been received by the church in its long history from gay and lesbian persons who now no longer have to hide and wonder whether they are accepted in the grace of a loving God in the practical context of the larger and local church.

I was also pleased to see this article because one of the pastors, Anita Hill, is the pastor of a congregation to which I once belonged, St. Paul-Reformation in St. Paul, Minnesota. In fact, that congregation is the result of a merger of two congregations which had hired me to serve as a planning consultant for the merger. St. Paul was a small congregation of many black members which merged with Reformation, a mostly white congregation. The result was a successful merger, one stronger congregation. I was also then, in the late 1970s, a leader of adult education in the congregation and one of our topics was the status of gay and lesbian persons. We invited a seminary professor to speak on the topic and he used the bible to oppose the gay and lesbian lifestyle. I was pleasantly surprised at how strongly most of the congregation members did not want to hear such an interpretation of the bible. The congregation has gone on be one of the leading congregations in the country for outreach and witness to gay and lesbian persons. The service of reception of Anita Hill is a welcome affirmation of this important ministry over many years now.

One of the other pastors so affirmed was Ruth Frost, the daughter of one of my seminary professors, Gerhard Frost, whom I remember with great admiration and respect. When some years ago when I first read about Ruth's work in San Francisco it made me realize that most of the gay and lesbian persons in our church are the sons and daughters of our very own church, they are not outside aliens trying to damage the church, they are baptized members of the church who want to serve our church and witness to a loving and merciful God. They are themselves, extraordinary, and what a relief it is for me and all of us in the ELCA to finally be able to institutionally experience the fullness of such faith.

For more on the extraordinary ministries of gay and lesbian persons see this website.

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Date Added: 9/24/2010 Date Revised: 9/24/2010 5:08:45 PM

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