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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Moving forward

Congregations split, thrive following 2009 Churchwide Assembly action

When 60 Lutherans gathered to worship a little more than a year ago, they had no thought of starting a new ELCA congregation. "We just thought we would get together and kind of hold each other's hands and try to feel better," John Froelich recalled.

Froelich, his wife, Karen, and dozens of others had just left Central Lutheran, Elk River, Minn., after the congregation passed the first necessary vote of two to terminate its relationship with the ELCA.

Central, which had a membership of 4,238, eventually passed the second vote to officially leave the denomination and has now joined Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ. Central left largely because of its disagreement with actions taken by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, which adopted a social statement on human sexuality and made revisions to ministry policy, allowing eligible Lutherans in monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA clergy and professional lay leaders.

Some 307 other congregations, out of 10,396, also have left the denomination, to date, mostly for similar reasons, according to the ELCA Office of the Secretary.

In Elk River, what has happened since they first gathered after Central's vote has surprised the Froelichs and others, John Froelich said.

Our Savior Lutheran Church, Lake Oswego,
A year ago, some 60 people began a new church when their congregation, Central Lutheran, Elk River, Minn., voted to leave the ELCA. Elk River Lutheran just celebrated one year as a new congregation. They gather in leased retail space, led by their pastor, Cynthia L. Ganzkow-Wold, who says it is "a welcoming, biblical and joy-filled place to be."

Within months, they saw their intimate authorized worshiping community of the Minneapolis Area Synod transform into a bustling new-start congregation — Elk River Lutheran — which now has more than 350 members, a full-time pastor, a part-time youth director and choir. In addition, more than 60 children attend Sunday school and confirmation classes.

Currently the congregation holds two worship services in a 10,000-square-foot leased retail space and has hopes to build a church within the next two to three years.

Elk River has grown through a variety of outreach, including door-to-door mailings, a website and e-mail advertising. But most of it has occurred through word of mouth, said Cynthia L. Ganzkow-Wold, pastor. "After visitors worship here, they have the confidence to invite others," she said. "We are a welcoming, biblical and joy-filled place to be."

And that has been an appreciated change for Froelich and the others who left Central. Noting that they had felt uncomfortable judging when it came to the issues surrounding homosexuality and the church, he said: "Before we felt beaten down by the law. Getting to hear the gospel again has been a big deal.

"When the theology that you've grown up with and hold so dear is no longer available to you, it is time to go someplace else. It's not an issue of openly gay clergy. It's really about theology."


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