Obituary: Paul Abbott Tidemann was hero in the LGBT community

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 9, 2014 - 4:40 PM

Paul Tidemann didn’t just preach against injustices. He fought to end them.

The former pastor at the St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church doggedly fought for people of color, the homeless and immigrants. He created after-school and summer programs that were more than just Bible school — they were a place for kids who had nowhere else to be.

But Tidemann, who died July 26 after a heart attack at age 76, is probably best remembered as a hero in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, fighting for the inclusion of all in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and relentlessly pushing to change a policy that banned sexually active gays and lesbians from ordained ministry.

In 1993, Tidemann set a goal with his congregation that the church would have a noncelibate, openly gay minister by the year 2000, said the Rev. Anita C. Hill.

But by 2000, the church’s policy hadn’t changed, and Hill, a seminary graduate and openly gay, didn’t meet that requirement. So, Tidemann took matters in his own hands. He presided over a ceremony ordaining Hill in April 2001, knowing he likely would be disciplined, Hill said. His congregation was censured and sanctions were imposed, she said. “Year after year, Paul would push to change the policy,” Hill said. And, in 2009, the policy was changed.

“He was just way ahead of his time,” said Emily Eastwood, head of Reconciling Works, an advocacy group for LGBT Lutherans.

Tidemann’s drive for inclusion was partly personal. He was a pastor in Chicago when the police called him to identify his brother’s body in a bar.

“[His brother] was closeted and drank himself to death,” Eastwood said. “Paul had no idea his brother was gay. He was a pastor, and his own brother couldn’t tell him. It was a pivotal moment. Paul had a sense that this shouldn’t have happened, and it should never happen again.”

Eastwood first walked into the St. Paul-Reformation church on Ash Wednesday 1983, knowing gay people were welcome. “I lost my church, my family and my vocation in 1979 when I was outed in seminary,” she said.

“When I walked through the door, I thought I was wearing a sign with a big fat L on my forehead for both lesbian and loser,” she said. “But I knew I wasn’t going to get the boot” from Tidemann or his congregation. “Through his leadership, he gave me back my family, church and vocation.”

He was an outstanding pastor, Eastwood said.

Although an introvert, he was a “performance extrovert” in the pulpit who could elicit a standing ovation. He played the French horn and loved music.

“He was still playing in an orchestra right to the end,” Eastwood said. “This man lived to the moment he died.”

Even after he retired, Tidemann never stopped being a pastor, said the Rev. Bradley Schmeling, senior pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul, where Tidemann was a member.

“He was always involved with issues of justice and trying to move church and society past the barriers that get erected between races, peoples and classes,” Schmeling said. “He really had his hand in a future that most of us aren’t able to see clearly … He would say this is where we need to go. This is the world we need to create.

“And you knew he was never going to let it go,” Schmeling said. “If you weren’t ready to sign onto whatever it was he was doing then, he would be back and eventually you’re going to be part of it.”

Tidemann is survived by his wife, Janet, of Golden Valley and St. Paul; sons, Peter of Minnetonka and Christopher of Minneapolis; stepchildren, Todd of St. Paul and Julie Schirado of Minnesota; and five grandchildren.

Services have been held.

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