Are the United Methodists preparing to follow the lead of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in allowing gay ministers?

The ELCA spent a decade arguing over the matter before it voted last summer to recognize gay and lesbian ministers who are involved in monogamous relationships. The United Methodists aren't anywhere close to taking a similar vote; the best description of their situation is that they are thinking about thinking about it.

At its meeting next month, the Minnesota Annual Conference has agreed to accept eight petitions dealing with the church's stance on homosexuality. But conference officials aren't promising that the petitions will reach the floor. They will be debated "if there is time."

The petitions address specific clauses in church law. They include lifting the ban on gay preachers, deleting the word "heterosexual" from the definition of marriage and removing the statement, "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

Regardless of how the petitions fare, nothing will happen soon. Church law cannot be changed on a state level, and the national conference, which meets every four years, doesn't reconvene until 2012. In fact, if the petitions fail to make it to the floor, supporters can reintroduce them at next year's state conference.

A permanent Pietà

A replica of Michelangelo's Pietà, a life-size sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion, has found a permanent home in the Cathedral of St. Paul.

The sculpture went on display on Ash Wednesday and was scheduled to be removed last month. But an anonymous donor bought it for $250,000 and donated it to the cathedral.

"This unexpected gift is breathtaking both for its beauty and the generosity of its donor," said the Rev. Joseph Johnson, rector of the cathedral. The sculpture will be formally dedicated in September.

Happy unretirement

David Tiede must like retirement parties, because he keeps having them and then unretiring.

Five years ago Tiede, 69, retired as president of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, only to end up a few months later at Augsburg College holding the position of the Bernhard M. Christensen Chair in Religion and Vocation.

He announced that he was leaving that job at the end of this school year, but less than a week after the college threw him a retirement party, he agreed to become interim president of Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.

The job starts July 1. There's no set time for how long he'll serve, but a statement issued by the school's board of directors indicates that they expect him to be around for a while: "We look forward to working with Dr. Tiede in proactive ways to reshape Lutheran theological education in the next 10 years." And then they'll throw him a party.

The singing Swedes

The chamber choir from Hedvig Eleonora Church in Stockholm, Sweden, is here this weekend, with appearances scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, the 35-voice choir will hold a concert of traditional and contemporary Swedish music at Chisago Lake Evangelical Lutheran Church in Center City. There are two appearances on Sunday: The choir will take part in the noon mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul and then perform another concert at 4 p.m. at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis. Freewill offerings will be taken at the concerts. You don't have to have blond hair and blue eyes to attend.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392