Lesbian minister, congregation take a step toward change and acceptance

Jodi Barry's ordination by an independent faith group tests the ELCA's "refrain and restraint" policy.


Jodi Barry, an openly lesbian pastor, was ordained Saturday at the Grace University Lutheran Church in Minneapolis as part of the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries efforts to test a new policy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church to avoid disciplining those who ordain openly gay people.

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Jodi Barry is not the first lesbian to be ordained into a Lutheran ministry. But her ordination Saturday was a new step toward what supporters hope will be greater acceptance of gays and lesbian pastors by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

The ceremony was hosted by Grace University Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, where Barry has been a youth minister intern for a year, but it was conducted by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM), a national network committed to full acceptance of gay and lesbian pastors in the Lutheran church.

The ceremony marked one of the first ordinations since the ELCA adopted a "refrain and restraint" policy in August 2007. Intended to ease a divisive issue without changing the ELCA's position against gay clergy, the policy instructs church leaders not to respond harshly when individual congregations or other groups choose a gay or lesbian minister.

Such ordinations, however, are not officially recognized by the national church body and the openly gay ministers are not included on the church's national roster of pastors, according to activists.

"Change comes slowly," Barry said before the afternoon service at this church on the University of Minnesota's East Bank. "It took a long time for Martin Luther. Our goal has always been not to start a new church, not to leave the ELCA. A lot of people are working for full inclusion. Of course I want that. It's frustrating, it's painful."

Attempts to reach Bishop Craig E. Johnson of the ELCA's Minneapolis synod for comment were unsuccessful.

Saturday's service marked the first time a gay person has been called to a special ministry -- a choice usually made by synod officials, not a congregation, ELM representatives said.

Barry has been an uncredentialed chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids for more than five years. Her ordination will allow her to receive full credentials at the hospital.

"Our criteria mirror the ELCA's as far as courses, internships and chaplain training," said ELM co-chair Lois Voss. "The only difference is that they require celibacy of gay clergy, and we do not."

Barry, 41, who grew up in Maplewood, left the Lutheran church for several years, and tried out different congregations that are more accepting of gays before she returned to the ELCA in 2001.

"They weren't a good fit," she said. "The Lutheran church is my home. As a person of faith I have to hope for change, and to fight from within for it."

In addition to friends, family and co-workers, Barry's service had an historically significant attendee -- Phyllis Zillhart, one of the first three openly gay Lutherans to be publicly ordained, in San Francisco in 1990.

"This is another historic first, because it's a noncongregational call," Zillhart said. "We don't want to form our own denomination. We want to be a part of this one."

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046

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