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Synod Bishop Lifts Sanctions Imposed On Two Lutheran Congregations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Information: Beth Helgen, Communications Director, Saint Paul Area Synod, 952-927-0232

January 16, 2003

SAINT PAUL, MN-The Rev. Peter Rogness, Bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) announced yesterday that he is lifting the sanctions imposed in 2001 on Hosanna! Lutheran Church*, Lakeville, and St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, St. Paul, following their violation of the ELCA constitution earlier that year. The action is effective immediately.

Former Saint Paul Area Synod Bishop Mark Hanson, who was elected ELCA presiding bishop in August 2001, took disciplinary action against the two congregations in June 2001, for calling and installing pastors not on the roster of the ELCA. Though the circumstances differed, the constitutional offense was the same, and both Hosanna! and St. Paul-Reformation were censured for their actions. In addition to the admonition, sanctions were imposed that precluded members of the congregation, including clergy, from serving on the synod council, as a conference officer, or on any leadership team, board, committee, or task force of the Saint Paul Area Synod.

Since that time, the pastoral ministry of those called and installed who are not on the ELCA clergy roster continues in the congregations. Bishop Rogness noted that both congregations have remained engaged and contributing congregations of the ELCA and have exhibited vigor and growth that suggest they have much to offer the wider church.

The Saint Paul Area Synod assembly passed a resolution in April 2002,* requesting that the new bishop remove the censure imposed on St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church. In the fall of 2002, Hosanna! Lutheran Church again expressed its need for and desire to commission two or three members of current staff for pastoral responsibilities within the congregation.

Rogness, who made the decision in consultation with the synod council, said his decision is one of "posture rather than policy," and explained that while he is removing the sanctions, the admonition will remain in place. In addition, those called and installed by the congregations will still not be pastors in the ELCA, unless ELCA policies change or they comply with the ELCA's standards for ordination.

"The wider issue," he said, "is the need to diversify ministry leadership and to continue discussion about meeting a variety of leadership needs as the church faces a rapidly changing society. With increasingly diverse and missional contexts, we need to affirm and encourage congregations in their faithfulness, both to their denominational theology and traditions and to their mission zeal in their particular context."

Local leadership, he said, is often the key to strong ministry. Bishops in urban settings are tapping the potential of indigenous leaders in the ethnic minority and immigrant populations, while bishops in rural settings are tapping local lay leadership for roles previously restricted to clergy.

Rogness cited trends suggesting that congregations experiencing the greatest growth are not in areas of traditional Lutheran strength, but are those in immigrant and minority communities and new or large congregations able to reach the unchurched. He noted that leaders throughout the ELCA have identified the need for more missional leaders.

"Clearly," he said, "governing documents and guidelines are being applied variously throughout the ELCA as mission needs dictate. Lutherans believe in good order, but also in the priority of Word and Sacrament and mission over matters of church structure. We find ourselves already with emerging, diverse patterns of ministry. Consistency and commonality are needed for a clear sense of identity and unity. Flexibility and diversity are needed for effectiveness in mission in a diverse and changing world. We are living in the midst of tension between these two needs. I believe it can be a creative, rather than a destructive, tension."

He said that sanctions clearly indicate the sanctioning body's disapproval of the offending action, but beyond that response, sanctions often fail to either effect change or bring reconciliation. "Sanctions that remain in place after they have served the purpose of signaling disapproval, " he said, "become punitive and serve to further alienate the parties involved.

"It is possible to not only affirm the censure of admonition and the imposition of sanctions as a clear response to two congregations acting contrary to ELCA governing documents, but also to affirm that the evolving life of the congregations and their church body may call for a continuing relationship without the continuation of sanctions.

"It is time to recognize anew and communicate clearly that what binds us together as Christ's church is far more central to our common life than the constitutional infractions of the past. This is not to take lightly the call we have to relationships of mutual commitment and accountability or the seriousness of stepping beyond those defined parameters. A decision to remove the sanctions is not a dismissal of the seriousness of these matters, but rather a decision to recognize that our relationship with these congregations is focused on mission and ministry and not on rules."

The Saint Paul Area Synod is one of 65 synods in the ELCA and includes 119 congregations with some 157,000 baptized members in Chisago, Dakota, Ramsey, and Washington counties and parts of Anoka, Scott, and Isanti counties. St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church and Hosanna! Lutheran Church are congregations in this synod.

*Editors: The legal name of Hosanna! Lutheran Church includes the exclamation point.

Full Story from the Miami Herald