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Published April 30 2010

Churches look at severing ELCA ties

Western North Dakota Bishop Mark Narum said there was “no joy in the midst of the assembly” Sunday as First Lutheran Church in Harvey voted on whether it would sever ties with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The measure failed. A 130-100 majority voted to exit the ELCA, but that 57 percent was short of the required two-thirds majority vote.

The Harvey congregation of more than 800 people – according to 2008 numbers – was one of two North Dakota churches that voted against leaving the ELCA on Sunday.

In the Eastern North Dakota Synod, 61 of the 114 voters at First Lutheran Church in New Rockford decided to stay with the ELCA, said Barb Krush Lies, president of the church council.

The New Rockford congregation has 658 members, according to 2008 data.

Of the 418 congregations in the two North Dakota ELCA synods, only eight, or less than 2 percent, have taken an initial vote to leave the ELCA after the denomination’s Churchwide Assembly in August accepted a controversial human sexuality social statement and decided to allow individuals in same-gender relationships to serve in the clergy.

To leave the denomination, a congregation must take two votes resulting in two-thirds majority approval. Sunday’s vote was the second for the Harvey church and the first vote for the New Rockford church.

In the Eastern North Dakota Synod, three of the 228 congregations have taken first votes to leave, Bishop Bill Rindy said.

In addition to the New Rockford vote, a vote at Trinity Lutheran Church in Enderlin failed. Trinity Anselm Lutheran Church in rural Enderlin passed its first vote 24-9, Rindy said. That church has yet to take a second vote.

Five churches have taken first votes in Narum’s synod. Initial votes at Bread of Life in Minot and Oak Valley Lutheran Church in Velva did not pass. First Lutheran in Washburn hasn’t taken its second vote. Peace Lutheran Church in Hazen, a congregation of 1,183, passed a second and final vote to leave the ELCA, Narum said.

As for northwestern Minnesota, a report by Bishop Larry Wohlrabe says that 14 congregations in his synod have taken first votes; 10 passed. Only one church has passed a second vote.

The 1.9 percent of North Dakota congregations taking a first vote is lower than the rate in the denomination at large. Of the almost 10,500 ELCA congregations, 308, or fewer than

3 percent, have taken a first vote to leave, an April 7 report from the ELCA secretary’s office said.

Of those taking first votes, 221 passed, and synods have informed the denomination that 89 second votes have passed.

While the percentage of change in the ELCA is still small, the impact of its August decisions seems to have been significant for another group.

Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, which takes a traditionalist view of sexuality, has added 185 congregations since Aug. 19, when the ELCA passed the social statement. Since then, the LCMC has grown 85 percent.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734