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Cali Owings, Published June 08 2013

Lutheran organization encourages churches to welcome gay members

MOORHEAD – While the Northwest Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America convenes here for its annual assembly, the Rev. Anita Hill is talking with congregations about opening their doors to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Lutherans.

The St. Paul-based pastor is the regional director for Reconciling Works, a Lutheran advocacy organization that pushes for the full inclusion of LGBT members in the faith.

The group maintains a roster of “Reconciling in Christ” ministries, congregations and synods that “publicly welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender believers.”

Today, Hill will present the Family of God Lutheran Church in East Grand Forks, with a certificate of recognition as a Reconciling in Christ congregation – the first in the Northwest Minnesota Synod.

On the west side of the Red River, there are two Reconciling in Christ congregations, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and the University Lutheran Center at North Dakota State University, both in Fargo.

The Eastern North Dakota Synod of the ELCA – which covers Devils Lake, Grafton, Carrington, Grand Forks, Mayville, Jamestown, Wahpeton and Fargo – was the first synod nationwide given the Reconciling with Christ designation. It oversees more than 200 congregations.

The designation doesn’t mean that all of the synod’s congregations are accepting of LGBT members. It “encourages the congregations to explore what it would mean to be welcoming,” Hill said.

The Eastern North Dakota Synod surprised many when it became a Reconciling with Christ synod in the late ’80s, said the Rev. Lloyd Heroff and his wife, Doris.

“We were shocked because it was eastern North Dakota and everybody expected this to happen on the coast,” Doris Heroff said.

The pair was attending the synod’s annual meeting at the Civic Center in Fargo. During the first day, they noticed a few resolutions weren’t welcoming to LGBT people.

At home that night, they drafted their own proposal of welcoming based on Reconciling Works brochures.

To their surprise, it passed overwhelmingly the next day.

“Eastern North Dakota was small enough that people knew GLBT people or families … and they value family,” Doris Heroff said. “By appealing to their good sense and generosity and putting things in a positive light, they responded.”

Synods in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles followed shortly after.

“The irony is everyone was kind of looking to those places to take the lead,” Lloyd Heroff said.

Since then, the ELCA has grown more inclusive. In 2009, the church decided it would ordain LGBT members. The first openly gay bishop was elected in the Southwest Pacific Synod on May 31.

Now a pastor in Herman, Minn., Heroff is attending the Northwest Minnesota Synod assembly this weekend.

A church meeting in the ’80s with Hill and Emily Eastwood, another activist, prompted him to go public with his stance on LGBT issues.

“I pledged to them I would never allow myself to be silent again,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599