National Lutheran News

Another Twin Cities ECP ordination

Jay Wiesner, left, receives an embrace from a participant at his ordination

Jay Wiesner, left, receives an embrace from a participant at his ordination

Bethany-in-Seward calls lay minister Jay Wiesner to serve as full pastor

Defying ELCA guidelines for who may properly be ordained a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a south Minneapolis ELCA congregation took matters into its own hands on July 25. Bethany Lutheran Church, 2511 E. Franklin Avenue, set aside the 5.1 million member denomination’s official parameters and proceeded to ordain its lay minister, Jay Wiesner.

He was presented for ordination by an independent ELCA group called “Extraordinary Candidacy Project.” The Rev. Anita Hill was ordained as an ECP pastor two years ago in an equally-dramatic act of “ecclesiastical disobedience.” She serves St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Because Bethany Church has limited seating, Wiesner’s ordination was moved to the more spacious Plymouth Con-gregational Church, about 30 blocks west. Over 900 worshipers, many of them Lutherans who disagree with the ELCA’s ordination policy, filled the worship space.

Wiesner, who is gay and lives in a committed same-sex relationship, is not eligible for ordination, according to the ELCA ministry document, Vision and Expectations. The Rev. Steve Benson, pastor of Bethany Church, admitted that the step opened both him and the congregation to possible censure or other discipline from the ELCA.

Minneapolis Area Synod Bishop Craig Johnson had asked the congregation to wait until the national church body had voted, in August 2005, on the question of changing ELCA rules concerning ordaining gay and lesbian persons living in committed same-sex relationships.

At a press conference before the ordination service, Metro Lutheran asked Benson why the congregation was taking the step before the ELCA Assembly had acted. He replied, “To let the discrimination [against gay and lesbian candidates for ordination] go on longer would be intolerable.” Benson said he hoped the step would have “a positive influence on the decision” the ELCA makes next summer.

In defense of the action they took, the leadership of Bethany Church took the unusual step of quoting from an almost-forgotten Lutheran statement drafted in 1537. In A Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Lutheran theologians quoted the church father, Jerome, who argued that “when the regular bishops … are unwilling to administer ordination, the churches retain their own right.”

Bishop Craig Johnson told Metro Lutheran that his response to Bethany Church would be shaped by recommendations from the Minneapolis Area Synod Council, which meets later this month.