The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



March 16, 2010

Synod council denies Florida congregation's request to leave ELCA

The synod council of the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America declined a request from a Fort Pierce, Fla., congregation to terminate its membership in the denomination after the congregation successfully completed two votes to leave as required by the ELCA Constitution.

The decision was a rare instance in which required synod council approval was denied. David D. Swartling, ELCA secretary, said he was not aware of another instance in which a congregation's request to terminate its relationship with the ELCA since the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly had been denied.

St. Peter Lutheran Church, Fort Pierce, was founded in the former Lutheran Church in America (LCA). The ELCA Constitution, section 9.62, states that congregations established by the LCA must "receive synodical approval" before terminating their ELCA memberships.

St. Peter's decision to leave resulted from its disagreement with actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. That assembly approved proposals that would create the possibility for Lutherans in committed, publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA clergy and professional lay leaders. It also adopted a social statement on human sexuality.

The synod council made the decision during its Feb. 27-28 meeting, and the congregation was informed in writing last week, said Edward R. Benoway, bishop, Florida-Bahamas Synod, Tampa. "The synod council prayed about this decision, and for missional reasons, we felt we could not approve this," he said. Benoway told the ELCA News Service that there's no other ELCA congregation in Fort Pierce.

St. Peter's current annual report lists 105 baptized members, with an average worship attendance of 46 people. Members voted 20-0 to leave the ELCA.

"This is the first (former) LCA congregation in the synod that has voted to terminate its relationship with the ELCA. Fort Pierce is an important mission field for us, and we want to maintain our witness to this community. We want to move forward with the people," Benoway said, adding "it will be a challenge." Benoway said he called to inform the congregation's pastor, Theodore C. Rice, of the synod council's decision. He also said the pastor and he agreed to meet to discuss the situation.

"We had a lot of discussion, and we prayed a lot," said Cheryl G. Stuart, Tallahassee, synod vice president and synod council chair. "We took a fair amount of time on this one."

The council discussed St. Peter's request, what it means for the synod council to have authority to grant such a request and the church's mission in that area of the synod, Stuart said. The council's decision was unanimous, she said.

"The council tends to be mission-focused," Stuart said. "It was really about mission for us in the area."

Stuart said the council and synod staff don't have specific plans yet for next steps with the St. Peter congregation, "but we are committed to trying to walk with them and rebuild the relationship."

Rice told the ELCA News Service that the synod council's action had put the congregation into a "dual relationship" with both the ELCA and Lutheran Congregations for Mission in Christ (LCMC), a church body which the congregation joined. He said the congregation didn't want a relationship with both — just LCMC.

Rice said he doesn't believe there's any way the congregation can work with the synod. "How are they going to work with us? We completely disagree with them," he said.

"There's nothing we can do. They don't want to let us off the rolls. We joined LCMC, and that's where we'll do our ministry," he said.

The Metropolitan New York Synod Council has acted on three requests from congregations to terminate their relationships with the synod and the ELCA, but its approach was different. The congregations are Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, New Rochelle; Advent Lutheran Church, Elmont; and St. James Lutheran Church, Stewart Manor. In each case, the synod council adopted a resolution "respectfully" requesting each to "remain in the fellowship of the Metropolitan New York Synod," according to the synod's records.


Jojakim Dettmann

Jojakim Dettmann

Posted at 11:01 am (U.S. Eastern) 3/16/2010

I'm glad that the synod my congregation is in, the Wisconsin Evagnelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) doesn't do this to us. How can Christians do this sort of thing to each other? Not only is the broad path to destruction encouraged, but those who with to depart for the narrow way are chained to be dragged along with them.

See this famous artwork: http://pictureswithamessage.com/81/cat81.htm?743

and judge for yourself who is on what path. When deeds like this are made clear and public it isn't hard to tell.

Christopher Cleveland

Christopher Cleveland

Posted at 12:26 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/16/2010

This makes me very unhappy. Although I support the full inclusion of LGBT Christians in the life of the church, I do not support forcing people who disagree to stay.

We should release them with blessings and traveling mercies as they journey with LCMC.

This is shameful and "lording it over them" behavior which tarnishes our witness.

Let them go in peace and plant a new church or mission in the area that reflects ELCA values and principles.

No good can come from this. I hope that the ELCA will not be following in the footsteps of The Episcopal Church which has chosen to litigate against any church that attempts to leave.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.



Posted at 5:07 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/16/2010

Without a doubt, with this action, the FB Synod and ELCA are breaking the 8th commandment. When the FB Synod prayed about their decision (as mentioned in the article), who were they praying to? Satan?

Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith

Posted at 3:00 am (U.S. Eastern) 3/17/2010

So much for this "respect for bound consciences" [further comment removed for violating Section 5 (vulgarity) of our Terms of Use]

Scott Sink

Scott Sink

Posted at 10:49 am (U.S. Eastern) 3/17/2010

It's hard to believe you guys have strayed so far from Biblical

Truth for the sake of cultural relativity. Also amazing that 40 or 50

people who totally disagree with you can constitute such a strategic

'missional'  outpost. Yes, we are commanded to 'speak the Truth in

love' to be sure...but not love at the expense of,or neglect of...Truth!


Brian Bennett

Brian Bennett

Posted at 1:40 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/17/2010

To be clear here, no one is forcing the members of the congregation to stay.  They can become members of the LCMC, but under a new congregation's name. 

 The real fight is not over the "congregation" but the property.  By refusing to release the "congregation" that is the entity to which individual members belong, anyone who opposed the vote to separate from the ELCA can remain as a member of the congregation.  The members who desired to leave the ELCA may still do so.  But they do so without the property.  



Posted at 9:17 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/17/2010

I don't know about the property rules in the ELCA, but if they're anything like those in the Episcopal Church, then what Brian Bennett says would apply. PEOPLE (as in, individual persons) are free to leave, congregations (w/ property) are not. Those would have been the rules they were founded/covenanted under, and thus, those are the rules they legally have to obey (even if, regrettably, as in this case, where there are misunderstandings about the Biblical case for LGBT people).

As an Episcopalian, I can only share my true JOY w/ my ELCA brothers and sisters, about the consents to the election of Mary Glasspool as bishop! (She will be our first bishop, whom God created lesbian). Merciful Lord Christ, please enlighten ALL of those who refuse to accept and welcome Your LGBT children.



Posted at 9:20 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/17/2010

I agree with Mr. Cleveland.  I am in full support of the decisions at the Churchwide Assembly and I believe that those decisions are in line with what Jesus teaches us in the Gospels and the teachings in Acts, particularly regarding inclusivity. However, if a congregation disagrees and wants to leave the ELCA, let the church send them off with blessings and then start a new ELCA mission church.  

 My prayer is that the Florida-Bahamas Synod will prayerfully reconsider their decision. 

Web Manager

Web Manager

Posted at 3:00 am (U.S. Eastern) 3/18/2010

Comments in violation of our Terms of Use will be edited or removed. All commenters agree to our Terms of Use before posting their comments.

Charlie Geimer

Charlie Geimer

Posted at 10:39 pm (U.S. Eastern) 3/18/2010

Eventually FB Synod will change their mind and allow them to leave.  The damage has been done though and now the ELCA has lost whatever credibility it had left.



Posted at 11:40 am (U.S. Eastern) 3/25/2010

 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner.
1 Corinthians 5:11

Tolerating sin within the church is to invite disaster. The synod should permit this church to separate peacefully with its assets intact. The members of this church supported the structure and the synod, not the other way around.  

Print subscribers and supporting Web members may comment.

Log in | Subscribe

text size:

this page: email | print

February issue


Embracing diversity