BY TODD NELSON
A St. Paul congregation sanctioned in 2001 for ordaining a lesbian pastor in violation of Lutheran church policy has had the penalty lifted under a bishop's ruling issued this week.
The decision favoring St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church is one of "posture rather than policy," and rules against gay and lesbian pastors still stand, said Bishop Peter Rogness of the St. Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
An admonition then-Bishop Mark Hanson issued along with the sanctions against St. Paul Reformation remains in place, Rogness said. Hanson acted after the congregation installed Anita Hill as pastor in April 2001, five years after her relationship with a woman had been blessed in the church.
The congregation, calling the ELCA policy against gay and lesbian pastors "unjust and restrictive," takes Rogness' decision as a hopeful sign, Pastor Paul Tidemann said in a statement.
The decision comes as the ELCA is studying the policy, which pastors discussed during a gathering Thursday with the bishop.
Hill and Tidemann both expressed appreciation for the bishop's decision. St. Paul-Reformation has been recognized throughout the synod for its urban and youth ministries and its ministries with gays and lesbians.
"We see it as a sign of hopefulness for us to live within our synod as congregations with differing views yet held together in unity as Lutherans in this metro area," Hill said. "We have hopes it will be seen as a helpful move in the discussion for our whole denomination."
Rogness said the disciplinary action had served to signal the synod's disapproval with Hill's installation but that the time had come to lift the sanctions, which precluded congregation members -- including clergy -- from serving on the synod council and in a variety of other synod positions.
"There was a growing sentiment within the synod that they had served their purpose, and that our continuing conversation around these issues would be better served by striking a more reconciling posture toward one another," Rogness said.
Although the ELCA policy remains, Rogness cited the emergence of diverse patterns of ministry and the need for diversity for missions to be effective. He wrote in a letter announcing the decision that "some congregations see a need for public ministry by persons who are gay or lesbian, whose conduct parallels the standards expected of heterosexual clergy.
"The church," he continued, "may be best served by some discerning flexibility."