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June 5, 2010

Synod bishop concerned after Minnesota congregation's close second vote

The bishop of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Jon V. Anderson, said he is "concerned" about the members of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Hutchinson, Minn., following the congregation's "very close second vote" May 23 to end its affiliation with the ELCA.

Anderson made the comment in a June 3 e-mail message to the synod. Christ the King Lutheran Church has about 2,500 baptized members. The congregation was told after votes were counted that 232 votes of 348 ballots cast — exactly two-thirds as required by the congregation's constitution — favored the resolution to terminate affiliation with the ELCA, Anderson said in his message.

Two days after the vote, "it was revealed to me that there was an additional ballot that had not been reported in Sunday's (May 23) results," Anderson wrote. "How this single ballot is counted could change the outcome of Sunday's decision to disaffiliate. The congregation's leadership is working to resolve this matter."

According to a statement posted on Christ the King's Web site, the congregation council reported that one person marked a ballot "but neither on the YES or NO line provided on the ballot."

"Since it wasn't clear to the counters, it was decided that this ballot should not be counted in any way, leaving a total of 348 votes," the statement said.

The ELCA Model Constitution for Congregations and the congregation's own constitution require that "a two-thirds majority of the voting members present" must be achieved on a vote to terminate affiliation. Congregations are required to take two such votes, and there must be a 90-day consultation period with the synod bishop between votes.

On May 26 the congregation council reviewed all ballots, including the ballot in question. It declared the intent of the voter who submitted the questionable ballot to be a "yes," the council statement said. The council vote was 10 in favor with three abstentions, Jon Lindekugel, pastor of Christ the King, told the ELCA News Service.

The congregation council ruled that 349 voting members were present, and that 233 members voted yes, 112 voted no and 4 abstained, a 66.76 percent majority. Had the vote failed to achieve two-thirds, the process to leave the ELCA would have ended and would have to be restarted, if members still wanted to leave.

The congregation president and pastors presented a certified copy of the resolution and voting results on May 27 to Anderson. Anderson said he and a synod staff member met May 27 with Lindekugel and the congregation's president, Peter Royer.

Anderson wrote that he did not take a position on the ballot in question but did receive a copy of the resolution and the council's ruling.

"That does not mean I endorse their decision concerning this ballot," Anderson wrote. "As I understand our polity and policy in this situation, my opinion about the ballot and the process is not determinative. This matter will need to be resolved within the congregation in accordance with their constitution," Anderson's statement said.

Anderson also offered to "assist as requested and to support all of the members of the congregation as I am able."

Lindekugel explained that over a period of many years, members of Christ the King felt "a distance between themselves and the leadership of the ELCA," and that actions of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in recent years had "widened the gap."

The human sexuality actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly were the last straw, Lindekugel explained. The resolution the congregation voted on May 23 included a number of concerns about the ELCA, not just human sexuality, he said.

Lindekugel said only one person has raised questions about the outcome of the second vote, since news of the questionable ballot became known. He said he is not certain how many people are needed to challenge such a vote formally and if so, how long the congregation must wait for such a challenge.

"Bishop Jon (Anderson) has been really helpful to try to look for alternative ways this could be solved," Lindekugel said. He also said if the process must be restarted the congregation will do it.

Lindekugel said the council did not make its decision to avoid restarting the process to leave. "The council acted, I think, in good faith and assuming some responsibility as elected leaders, they made the decision that the intent of the vote was yes," he said. The council will meet next week and consider what, if anything, it needs to do, he added.

Read the Christ the King Lutheran Church congregation council statement at the congregation's website. 

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