Title: ELCA Synod Bishop Censures Kansas City Congregation ELCA NEWS SERVICE April 5, 2001 ELCA SYNOD BISHOP CENSURES KANSAS CITY CONGREGATION 01-074-JB CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Charles H. Maahs, bishop of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), censured and admonished Abiding Peace Lutheran Church, Kansas City, Mo., for "willfully violating" the ELCA's constitution by calling and ordaining Donna Simon to serve as its pastor, according to a March 24 news release from the synod. Simon is not on the official clergy roster of the ELCA. Maahs, however, stopped short of recommending removal of the congregation from the official roster of ELCA congregations, an action he could have taken. His decision was supported by resolutions of the Central States Synod Council, which met March 23-24 in Kansas City. Maahs said he chose not to recommend removing the congregation from the ELCA roster of congregations, in part, because of continuing discussion in the church on human sexuality. "My primary reason for this is that the issue of homosexuality continues to be under discussion in the ELCA, and the Central States Synod can make a contribution to this discussion," he said in a report to the synod council. "I am disappointed that in its professed concern for the ELCA, Abiding Peace is willing to push constitutional boundaries rather than consider other means of partnership that would be less damaging to the potential unity of the ELCA," Maahs said in the report. The ELCA is organized into 65 synods, each headed by a bishop elected by the synod. The Central States Synod, with offices in Shawnee Mission, Kan., has nearly 72,000 baptized members in 219 congregations in Kansas and Missouri. Last year Abiding Peace called and ordained Simon to serve as the congregation's pastor. She is not on the clergy roster because she is not in compliance with an ELCA requirement that ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding refrain from homosexual sexual relationships, the news release said. Members of Abiding Peace, while under censure and admonition, will not be eligible to serve on any council, board, committee or other group of the synod, except by special invitation to discuss issues of homosexuality, according to the release. The censure remains in the effect until Abiding Peace conforms to the constitutional requirements of the ELCA or until the ELCA changes its clergy standards, Maahs said in his report. The ELCA constitution is "the fundamental covenant" describing how the church's congregations will work together, Maahs said. It states that congregations must follow established procedures for calling clergy. "It is a serious matter when a congregation intentionally breaks this covenant," he said. "I have met regularly with Pastor Simon and the leadership of Abiding Peace and have experienced them as people of good faith," Maahs continued. "While they steadfastly believe that the ELCA's official policy of excluding gays and lesbians from ordained ministry is wrong, they have demonstrated an ability for open and respectful dialogue without resorting to coercive and inflammatory tactics which all too often damage the church." The congregation has also said it is willing to have discussions with other congregations, Maahs reported. In a similar case last September, the Rev. Robert W. Mattheis, bishop of the ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod, Oakland, Calif., declined to file disciplinary charges against a Berkeley, Calif., congregation for its decision to call a man to serve as its pastor who is not on the ELCA's official clergy roster.