Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

ELCA's St. Paul Area Synod bishop censures and admonishes two churches

Bishop Mark Hanson

Bishop Mark Hanson

Mark Hanson disciplines St. Paul-Reformation and Hosanna! congregations

Two St. Paul Area ELCA congregations were censured and admonished by their bishop in June for breaking the denomination’s rules. Both congregations ordained candidates for ministry whom the ELCA says are not eligible.
The Rev. Mark Hanson received support from his synod council when taking the actions. The congregations are St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran, St. Paul, and Hosanna! Luther-an, Lakeville.
St. Paul-Reformation ordained Anita Hill in late April. She lives in a committed lesbian relationship, which violates ELCA standards for ordained clergy. Hosanna! commissioned and licensed three of its members, Kristi Graner, Patricia Moe and Janine Olson, and has assigned them ministry roles identical to ELCA ordained clergy. While Hosanna! does not describe its three new ministers as “ordained,” Hanson says he cannot tell the difference between the parish’s action and actual ordinations.
The censure placed on St. Paul-Reformation takes effect September 1, 2001, assuming the ELCA Churchwide Assembly takes no action next month to change the denomination’s rule forbidding the ordination of gays and lesbians living in committed relationships.
Discipline will not apply to Hosanna! until September 1, 2002. That allows the ELCA opportunity to respond to the St. Paul Area Synod’s request for a consultation on issues facing congregations with large membership.
Censure and admonition means that members of the congregations, including their clergy, may not serve on any synod committee or leadership team.
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Complete text of Bishop Hanson’s response to both congregations:
The Rev. Mark Hanson, Bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), with the support of the synod council, has exercised his constitutional authority and has placed St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, 100 Oxford Street North, St. Paul, and Hosanna! Lutheran Church, 9600 163rd St. West, Lakeville, under public censure and admonition for willfully violating the ELCA constitution.
St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran has been admonished for calling and ordaining Anita Hill who was not approved for ordination by the ELCA because she is a lesbian woman in a committed relationship. To be ordained, the ELCA requires that candidates comply with the requirement that “ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to refrain from homosexual relationships.”
The consequences of this public censure begin Sept. 1, 2001, if the August 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly takes no action which removes the necessity for such censure. The censure remains in effect until St. Paul-Reformation conforms to the constitutional requirements of the ELCA or until the ELCA changes its requirements that currently preclude from ordination gay and lesbian people living in committed relationships.
During this censure, members of the congregation, including clergy, forfeit the right to serve on the synod council, as a conference officer, on any leadership team, board, committee, or task force of the Saint Paul Area Synod. This forfeiture does not preclude collaborative work with other congregations in the synod’s urban strategy and synod conversations related to ministry to and with gay and lesbian people.
Anita Hill is not now a pastor in the ELCA, and unless ELCA policies change, she will not be regarded as an ELCA pastor as long as she is not in compliance with the ELCA’s standards for ordination.
In response to St. Paul-Reformation, Hanson said, “It distresses me that the congregation has risked undermining its relationship with the ELCA, even though congregational leaders have repeatedly spoken of their desire to remain in the ELCA. The congregation’s actions threaten the ELCA’s unity and sense of common mission.
“At the same time, I believe it would weaken our synod’s commitment to being in the city for good to remove a vital urban congregation which is a strong partner in our synod’s urban strategy.
“I do not suggest that any person by virtue of sexual orientation stands outside the bounds of God’s grace and mercy given in Jesus Christ. My response of censure and admonition is not directed at gay and lesbian persons, but comes because of the action of the congregation which has disregarded our agreements in the ELCA.
“Both the Saint Paul Area Synod and the ELCA continue to address questions about what it means to be in ministry with gay and lesbian persons. I welcome members of St. Paul-Reformation to fully participate in these ongoing conversations.”
Hosanna! Lutheran has been admonished for commissioning and licensing three members of the congregation for full pastoral ministry. These people are not rostered in the ELCA and will not be as long as they do not comply with the ELCA’s standards for ordination.
In the ELCA, congregations are not allowed to set their own standards for pastoral ministry, which includes presiding at baptisms, weddings, funerals, and Holy Communion.
The censure is effective Sept. 1, 2002. This date gives the ELCA opportunity to respond to the Saint Paul Area Synod’s request for a consultation on issues facing congregations with large membership. The censure will remain in effect until Hosanna! conforms to the constitutional requirements of the ELCA or until the ELCA changes its requirements regarding call, ordination, and congregational membership in the ELCA.
During this censure, members of the congregation, including clergy, forfeit the right to serve on the synod council, as a conference officer, on any leadership team, board, committee, or task force of the Saint Paul Area Synod. However, this forfeiture does not preclude Hosanna!’s sharing ministry resources with ELCA congregations or participating in conversations convened for the purpose of addressing issues facing the ELCA by virtue of new models for ministry in fast growing congregations.
In responding to Hosanna!, Hanson said, “Hosanna! is a dynamic, Christ-centered, growing congregation. But by rejecting the ELCA’s standards for ordained ministry, the congregation rejects the ELCA’s understanding of ministry, ordination, and call.”
Hanson continued, “Admonition and censure of these congregations seek to maintain unity without denying the seriousness of the offenses. I want to be clear that consequences follow acts of ecclesiastical disobedience, but I also recognize that the ELCA continues to struggle with questions of sexuality, authority, ministry, and unity.
“As a synod, we will continue to discuss how much uniformity our unity requires and how much diversity our unity permits. While we continue to prayerfully and openly address that question, I believe it is not fitting to remove congregations which can contribute significantly to that dialogue.
“As bishop I have sought to find a response that might be faithful to Scripture, the Confessions and our governing documents, while also recognizing the need for bold witness and creative ministry as we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our growing and increasingly diverse metropolitan community.”
The Saint Paul Area Synod is one of 65 synods in the ELCA and includes 120 congregations with some 165,000 baptized members in Anoka, Chisago, Dakota, Ramsey, and Washington counties. St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church and Hosanna! Lutheran Church are congregations in this synod.
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Bishop Mark S. Hanson
Saint Paul Area Synod – ELCA
Response to Hosanna! Lutheran Church
Regarding Commissioning Kristi Graner, Patricia Moe, Janine Olson
For the past several months our synod has engaged in prayer, public conversation, assembly debate and an on-line meeting. One question among many before our synod is, what is an appropriate response to the actions of Hosanna! commissioning and licensing three members of the congregation for full pastoral ministry?
As bishop I have sought to find a response that might be faithful to Scripture, the Confessions and our governing documents, while also recognizing the need for bold witness and creative ministry as we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our growing and increasingly diverse metropolitan community. I am mindful that these decisions hold the potential for greater healing and for deeper division within the synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
As bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod I am exercising my constitutional prerogative to publicly censure and admonish Hosanna! Lutheran Church, Lakeville, Minnesota for commissioning and licensing three members of the congregation for full pastoral ministry. I do so with full knowledge that Kristi Graner, Patricia Moe and Janine Olson are not rostered in the ELCA and will not be as long as they are not in compliance with the ELCA’s standards for ordination.
I am admonishing Hosanna! Lutheran Church for:
1. Disregarding one of the six foundational agreements for membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). While I recognize the congregation did not call the three as pastors, or use the term “ordain,” in fact the three are functioning as “fully prepared, authorized and called to pastoral ministry which includes, baptisms, weddings, funerals, and Holy Communion.” (Pastor Bill Bohline writing in the Hosanna! Herald.) Such action threatens the unity of this church and synod and shows a disregard for those congregations who faithfully seek to abide by our common agreements.
2. Ignoring the ELCA’s policy and practice for authorizing laity to preside at Holy Communion. Congregations setting their own standards for pastoral ministry and lay presidency is a rejection of the polity of the ELCA and this church’s understanding of ministry, ordination, and call.
The consequences of this public censure are:
1. Members of Hosanna! Lutheran Church while under censure and admonition, forfeit the right to serve on the synod council, as a conference officer, on any leadership team, board, committee or task force of the Saint Paul Area Synod. However, this forfeiture does not preclude Hosanna!’s sharing ministry resources with ELCA congregations or participating in conversations convened for the purpose of addressing issues facing the ELCA by virtue of new models for ministry in fast growing congregations.
2. This censure goes into effect September 1, 2002. This date gives the ELCA opportunity to respond to the Saint Paul Area Synod request for a consultation on issues facing large membership congregations. The censure will remain in effect until Hosanna! conforms to the constitutional requirements of the ELCA or until the ELCA changes its requirements regarding call, ordination and congregational membership in the ELCA.
Rationale for this decision:
1. Hosanna! has commissioned and licensed three members of the congregation for full pastoral ministry. The blessing with the laying on of hands was with these words:
” ____(Name)______, the Lord bestow upon you His Holy Spirit for your service as pastor in this congregation, now committed to you by the authority of this church through the laying on of hands: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
The president of the congregation then said: “Members and friends of Hosanna!, I present to you our new pastors: Kristi Graner, Patricia Moe and Janine Olson. Let’s congratulate them.”
In an article in the Hosanna! Herald Pastor Bohline explained what the commissioning means. “They are now fully prepared, authorized, and called to pastoral ministry which includes baptisms, weddings, funerals and Holy Communion.”
In another Hosanna! document entitled “Evangelical Church Leadership” this explanation was given: “We are not ordaining anyone at Hosanna! although we reserve the right to do so. . . We are commissioning and licensing women and men for full pastoral ministry. They are not “lay pastors” or “para-pastors.” They are doing full Word and Sacrament ministry including the pastoral acts of funerals and weddings. They will have IRS clergy tax status.”
While recognizing that the intention of Hosanna! was not to use the word “ordination” or formally to call Kristi Graner, Pat Moe, and Janine Olson through congregational action to serve as pastors, thus placing the congregation in conflict with ELCA governing documents, Hosanna! appears to have done just that. There is no distinction in title, authority or function between the three individuals commissioned for pastoral ministry and Pastors Bohline and Housholder ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
Thus Hosanna! has violated the intent if not the specific wording of the ELCA churchwide constitutional provision for recognition and reception of congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which reads:
“This church shall recognize, receive and maintain on the roster those congregations which by their practice as well as their governing documents. . . .
d. Agree to call pastoral leadership from the clergy roster of this church in
accordance with the call procedures of this church except in special
circumstances and with the approval of the synodical bishop;” (9.21.d.)
“Approval of the synodical bishop, as required in 9.21.d., involves the bishop’s attesting that a candidate for the roster of ordained ministers of this church has been approved, in conformity with the governing documents and policies of this church, through the synodical candidacy process for first call as a seminary graduate or for call in this church through approval for reception into this church from another Lutheran church body or another Christian church body. Consultation with the synodical bishop in accordance with the call procedures and governing documents of this church and the synod is required for the calling of pastoral leadership from among persons on the roster of ordained ministers of this church or persons who are approved as eligible candidates for the roster of ordained ministers of this church.” (9.21.01.)
2. Hosanna! made no attempt to have the three staff members authorized for lay leadership for sacramental administration as required in churchwide bylaw 7.61.01. and referenced in the ELCA’s statement “The Use of the Means of Grace”.
3. Authority to ordain pastors or commission lay associates in ministry does not reside within the scope of the power of individual congregations within the ELCA. Synod constitution S8.12.c. states the synodical bishop is to:
“Exercise solely this church’s power to ordain (or provide for the ordination by another synodical bishop of) approved candidates who have received and accepted a properly issued, duly attested letter of call for the office of ordained ministry.” Churchwide bylaw 7.31.13. indicates the criteria which must be met by a candidate for ordination as pastors.
The word “commissioning” is used by the ELCA for associates in ministry, who are rostered lay people. Similar to ordination, the bishop’s responsibility in commissioning of lay people for ministry is:
“commission (or provide for the commissioning of) approved candidates who have received and accepted a properly issued, duly attested letter of call for service as associates in ministry. . .” (S8.12.d.)
Because Bishop Hanson neither presided at nor authorized the commissioning and because none of the three individuals have been approved for ordination or commissioning by the synod’s candidacy committee, Hosanna! is in violation of both S8.12.c. and ELCA 7.31.13.
4. Hosanna!’s action reflects a disrespect for the decision of the 1993 ELCA Churchwide Assembly on the ordained ministry of Word and Sacrament. That statement reads in part:
“A. Call and Ordination:
1. To reaffirm this church’s understanding that ordination commits the person being ordained to present and represent in public ministry, on behalf of this church, its understanding of the Word of God, proclamation of the Gospel, confessional commitment and teachings. Ordination requires knowledge of such teachings and commitment to them. Ordained persons are entrusted with special responsibility for the application and spread of the Gospel and this church’s teachings.
2. To reaffirm that ordination to the ministry of this church requires that all candidates will meet churchwide standards of preparation and will be called.
Hosanna!’s Pathway to Ministry program is to be affirmed for equipping laity to discern and use their spiritual gifts for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, when the program becomes a preparation for full pastoral ministry it stands in conflict with the ELCA’s standards for ordained ministry. In the ELCA congregations do not have the option of providing their own alternative path to pastoral ministry. There is a strong indication that Hosanna! intends to continue this practice. Therefore, it is appropriate that they remain under censure until Hosanna! is in compliance with the governing documents of the ELCA.
5. I do not believe there is a compelling case for bringing disciplinary charges against Hosanna! They have indicated that by not calling and ordaining these staff members they have sought to avoid a conflict with the ELCA constitution and guidelines. Although I believe the conflict is sufficiently clear to merit censure and admonition, I do not think it deserves removal from the ELCA.
6. Applying constitutional discipline will further splinter the ELCA and thus diminish our effectiveness in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a time for struggling with questions of how much uniformity our unity requires and how much diversity our unity permits. We need to be prayerfully attentive to God’s Word, the work of the Holy Spirit and the voices of fellow members of the Body of Christ. Hosanna! will add to and benefit from being participants in this ongoing dialogue.
7. Hosanna! is a dynamic, Christ-centered, Holy Spirit filled, growing congregation. Lives are being changed as people hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed. The ELCA will be strengthened in its ministry and mission by Hosanna!’s willingness to challenge the church to change for the sake of effective witness in a dynamic culture. Hosanna! has indicated they wish to remain in the ELCA. Censure and admonition allow the relationship to continue without minimizing the seriousness of the congregation’s offense.
8. The Saint Paul Area Synod Council in January, 2000 adopted the following resolution:
RESOLVED that the synod council of the Saint Paul Area Synod requests that the ELCA Church Council hold a consultation to review the required provisions of the Model Constitution; and be it further
RESOLVED that the Saint Paul Area Synod requests assistance from the ELCA Church Council to design a healthy, respectful process for working with congregations whose constitutions are not in compliance with required provisions.”
As a result of this resolution the ELCA Church Council has called for a consultation on issues facing large membership congregations. It could be argued that no action be taken at this time, pending the outcome of this consultation.
9. I believe this is an important time for the ELCA to struggle with questions of unity and uniformity, identity and mission. Removing congregations from the ELCA because they are challenging current practices may mean we have lost an important opportunity to learn from one another, discern the work of the Holy Spirit, and be open to new forms of ministry as we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our increasingly pluralistic context. Admonition and censure recognize that bishops have responsibility for upholding the standards of the church, yet the relationship between congregations, synod and churchwide ELCA is maintained.
In these challenging and changing times may we listen to the voice of Christ and be open to the work of the Holy Spirit who through the Gospel is continually reforming the church and transforming our lives.
This response is offered in the spirit of Paul’s words to the Ephesians (4:1-6; 1-16).
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”