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Tim Brinton, NewsArt

22 votes for a pastor -- for progress

  • Article by: AMEY SCHNABEL
  • July 9, 2012 - 6:14 PM
My hometown church, with a little more than a hundred members, recently voted on whether to call a new pastor. It has been without a permanent pastor for almost three years, during which the call committee has been working to fill the position.

As with most small-town churches, the budget is tiny. This one allows only for a three-quarter-time position. Paying for the pastor's health insurance is another obstacle. So is finding someone willing and excited to live in a town of 300 people.

The call committee worked a miracle. It found a pastor who loves small towns and wants to live in one. The limited income is workable. And he already has health insurance. His references are impeccable, and he seems perfect for this particular congregation.

But ...

He is in a committed relationship.

With a man.

Gay exists in small-town America. But it's rarely acknowledged, and even less commonly accepted.

Five years ago, not a single member of the call committee would have considered calling a gay pastor.

But this time, it was different. This committee could see that this pastor was a good fit -- not only because he is good at what he does, but because he truly wants to do it, and in a small community.

He was married to a woman when he was a pastor at a small-town church, and when he came to accept who he was, his congregation did not. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) did not, either. His congregation asked him to resign, and the ELCA dropped him as a pastor.

But he couldn't stay away. The ELCA recently voted to allow openly gay pastors in committed relationships. He felt so strongly that when he was finally allowed, he made his way back through a complicated process and is once again able to be called as a pastor by ELCA congregations.

By changing the policy, it seems that the ELCA accepts that if one segment of the population is excluded from consideration for a position, then those talents, skills, passion and experience will go wasted. Excluding pastors because of sexual orientation meant excluding talented and committed ministers who could serve congregations who may not otherwise find a suitable pastor.

The call committee from my hometown church found someone who was not only willing but thrilled to serve this small-town church. He was qualified and affordable. His health insurance was covered by his partner's plan.

The congregation had meetings to discuss the pastor's candidacy. There were literal translations of old Biblical passages, and pleading that the congregation could not afford anyone else.

It came down to a vote.

One way to interpret the outcome is recognizing that my hometown church still doesn't have a pastor. When I was a kid in the hospital for a reason I didn't understand, my pastor was there for me. A little kid who is in a similar horrifying scenario today won't have the comfort of being visited and consoled by someone who taught his or her Sunday school classes.

Another way to look at it is that there are 29 members who submitted ballots demonstrating that they would not, or maybe could not, look past their own values to call a committed minister to lead them in worship.

But those are not the ways I want to look at it.

Here's my take:

There are 22 members of my hometown church, deep in the heart of small-town America, who are way ahead of their time, and are willing to read deeper into the meaning of what was written in the Bible, and to accept that God loves us, every one.

Twenty-two votes were cast in favor of love and acceptance. Twenty-two votes in favor of calling a gay man in a committed relationship to the pulpit in an arena where, not three years prior, it wasn't allowed.

I am proud to say that the church in my hometown is home to 22 people willing to cast votes in favor of progress, love, equality and acceptance. These 22 people truly live up to their church's own mission statement: "a congregation strengthened by God's Word, reaching out to all people with Christ's love."

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Amey Schnabel is a consultant for a legal-technology company in Minneapolis. She grew up in northwestern Minnesota.

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