The process of leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America began for First Lutheran Church of Harvey on Dec. 6. The congregation, by a two-thirds vote, took the initial step toward cutting ties.
"It's a sad thing that we are put in this position where we have to do this. My heart grieves over that," the Rev. Fred Westerhold of First Lutheran said.
The congregation made the decision after the churchwide assembly voted to allow churches to call clergy who are in committed, same-sex relationships.
Jill Schramm/MDN •
Joy Shirek, Melissa Reinhart and Jessica Hill, members of the handbell choir at Christ Lutheran Church in Minot, rehearse Dec. 16.
The Harvey church now is in the mandatory 90-day discernment period, during which it will continue to discuss its future plans. A second and final vote, which also requires a two-thirds majority, will be taken after that time.
Westerhold said the congregation hasn't determined which of about 18 different Lutheran church bodies that it would join if it does leave the ELCA. Other ELCA congregations in the area also are in discussion about their future plans, and Westerhold said if others decide to break away, they may look at moving together toward some other option.
Interest in joining the new Lutheran CORE also might depend on whether other area congregations go that route. Westerhold said an isolated congregation would have to make a concerted effort to find fellowship with other churches, particularly since the natural fellowship that would exist with the ELCA as a Lutheran body would be strained.
Members who want to stay in the ELCA rather than go with a break-away church face concerns of their own. For members of the Harvey congregation, the nearest ELCA churches, at least for now, would be in Fessenden or Bowdon. Depending on how many churches leave ELCA, the travel distance for those who want to remain in the ELCA could be long.
"There are no winners here," Westerhold said. "There are only losers no matter which way it goes."