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The Rev. Bradley Schmeling named Gloria Dei senior pastor

The Rev. Bradley Schmeling was named senior pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul. Photo provided by Gloria Dei Lutheran Church

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St. Paul, recently announced its vote to call the Rev. Bradley Schmeling as its new senior pastor. He will join the Gloria Dei pastoral staff June 17, according to Claire Hoyum, congregation council president.

“Pastor Schmeling is an extraordinary pastor and an ideal match for our congregation’s needs,” Hoyum said. “He is humble and compassionate and a gifted preacher, with a passion for social justice. He is an equally gifted administrator and leader, essential qualities for a pastor leading a large congregation.” Gloria Dei has approximately 2,300 members and is St. Paul’s largest Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) congregation.

Schmeling is currently serving at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta, where he has served since 2000. In 2006, he confided to his bishop that he had found his partner for life — the Rev. Darin Easler. That bishop filed ecclesiastical charges for violation of the policy that at that time required gay ministers to be celibate. After a trial in 2007, the synod’s Discipline Hearing Committee ruled that they found nothing wrong with his ministry or commitment to the work of the church. The committee also stated its belief that the churchwide policy was wrong and ought to be changed. Still, in obedience to the policy, Schmeling was to be removed from the roster.

“Pastor Bradley is a great fit, as evidenced by the overwhelming vote of the congregation.”

The ELCA, at its 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis, changed its policy toward gay and lesbian clergy, removing the barriers to service in the church by ministers in committed, lifelong, same-gender relationships. In April 2010, Schmeling was added to the ELCA roster.

“When I came out in church in 1992,” Schmeling told Metro Lutheran, “I felt I needed to enjoy the ministry I was doing at the time, because I didn’t know how long it would last.” When he was removed from the clergy roster, he knew he needed to focus on the moment. “But when the policy changed, it opened a new door to me and many others to imagine a future in the church we thought we would never have.”

“It is a bittersweet time, saying goodbye to the people at St. John’s,” he said. “They shaped and supported me far beyond what you expect a congregation to do. But God is calling both me and St. John’s to a new chapter of ministry.

“I was drawn to Gloria Dei’s vibrant congregation and its genuine sense of welcoming, hospitality, and desire for outreach to the world,” Schmeling said. “I feel a deep kinship with the congregation’s desire to retain a strong liturgical tradition while strengthening its reach into the community — especially to those who live on the margins of society.”

Faithfulness to the future

Gloria Dei partnered with the Saint Paul Area Synod to manage the 13-month call process. “The Synod identified an excellent candidate roster and made our job really difficult — in a good way,” said Raja David, chair of Gloria Dei’s call committee. “The people of Gloria Dei told the committee what type of pastor we needed, and Pastor Bradley aligns with those needs in every way. We are honored by his acceptance of our congregation’s call.”

Most ELCA congregations use a pastoral transition as a time to re-evaluate the ministry of the congregation. “The process of developing a Mission Site Profile for the synod was a strategic planning process,” Hoyum explained. “We identified the strengths … and needs of the congregation, and the gifts and skills we expected of our senior pastor. … Pastor Bradley is a great fit, as evidenced by the overwhelming vote of the congregation.

“In the selection of a senior pastor, we at Gloria Dei have looked first and foremost for guidance by the Holy Spirit to select a leader who can help us be faithful to our calling into the future,” said Hoyum. “We did not make [former senior pastor] Susan’s [Peterson] gender or Pastor Bradley’s self-understanding as a gay man an obstacle [to the work of the Holy Spirit].”

In addition to serving as pastor at St. John’s, Schmeling is adjunct professor of liturgical practice at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. From 1989 to 1995, he was pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church, Columbus, and from 1999 to 2000 was chapel director at Emory University’s Office of the Chapel and Religious Life.

Schmeling succeeds the Rev. M. Susan Peterson, who retired in August 2010 after 25 years of ministry at Gloria Dei. Peterson was called to Gloria Dei as an associate pastor in 1985. She was called to be the church’s senior pastor in 1990, marking the first time a woman had led an ELCA congregation with more than 1,000 members. The Rev. Dr. John Mann served as interim senior pastor since Peterson’s retirement.

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