Citing racism as a factor, an African American pastor severed his ties Aug. 19 with one of Minneapolis' oldest and largest congregations. Craig Lewis' arrival at Central Lutheran in 1999 was heralded as a historic change: He was the first African American senior pastor to serve the church (see April 1999, page 43).
"I've concluded that it is in the best interests of our community and staff to start fresh with a new senior pastor," Lewis wrote in his resignation letter to Central's council and its 3,290 members. "I remain concerned that there continues to exist a lack of clarity about the role of the senior pastor."
Disagreements about the direction of pastoral leadership surfaced more than 15 months ago, church leaders say. To bridge divisions among staff members and lay leaders, the council enlisted the help of Bishop Craig Johnson of the Minneapolis Area Synod. "We encouraged Pastor Lewis to take a number of steps to improve the staff effectiveness and respond to staff concerns," the council said in a statement.
Staff turnover at Central has been high. Last year, six pastoral and administrative staff members left. Past council president Scott Fisher chronicled the departure of several staff in a congregational meeting days after Lewis' resignation became public. Through the church's attorney, he declined comment for this article.
Lewis dismissed concerns about his effectiveness with staff as a smoke screen. "I think the main issue is race," he told The Lutheran. "Central doesn't have much of a history of dealing with nonwhite people and they had a pastor who was nonwhite. They seem to have a lot of difficulty dealing with issues of authority in the hands of someone who is African American."
Insubordination among staff members was a problem, Lewis said. He described some council members as "blatant racists."
Most congregants were shocked by the news of Lewis' departure, which became public in a newspaper the day after the council accepted the resignation. Many said they had no knowledge of the widening rift between Lewis, the staff and the council.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers