Beliefnet
WASHINGTON (RNS)--The congregation at Washington's First Trinity Lutheran Church didn't want to choose.

Due to a complex history of formations and alignments of variousLutheran bodies over the years, the inner-city congregation had for years been amember of both the mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church in America andthe more theologically conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

But in 1998, the Missouri Synod decided that six congregations likeFirst Trinity and nearly a dozen retired pastors and church workers whoheld dual membership had to resign from the ELCA by January 2000 orforfeit membership in the LCMS. The deadline has come and gone, butseveral are still smarting from the way the situation was resolved.

First Trinity's congregation voted unanimously to affirm its statusas a congregation of the ELCA and the Missouri Synod. The ELCA supportedthe congregation's decision, but the LCMS' Southeastern Districtpresident recently removed it from Missouri Synod membership.

"Members are very discouraged and feel that they have done nothingwrong in the sight of God," said Tom Knoll, associate pastor of FirstTrinity. The clergy at First Trinity find themselves counseling angrymembers.

"Institutions like the Missouri Synod and the ELCA are institutionscreated by people and they have their faults and are not perfect," Knollsaid. "So we can't live or die by what an institution's rules andregulations are. We just have to go on and be faithful to what we thinkis right."

Missouri Synod Secretary Raymond Hartwig said he believes there aretwo reasons the issue had to come to the take-it-or-leave-it decision.

"The technical answer is that we have a Commission on ConstitutionalMatters in our church body to rule on bylaw issues," he said. "Theyruled that (dual membership) was contrary to our church bylaws."

That meant action had to be taken. The second reason has less to dowith rules and more to do with feelings.

"There's a continuing, increasing division between the LCMS and theELCA and people were thinking maybe it was time to resolve thesesituations because we do have some pretty different points of view onkey issues," Hartwig said.

Women's ordination, abortion issues, and with whom church fellowshipcan be practiced divide the two bodies.

"We (Missouri Synod pastors) are not allowed to participate in otherservices with other denominations," said the Rev. George Liebenow, whois retired and living in Cincinnati, Ohio. "I've been doing that foryears," he said. "I've been a bad boy."

Liebenow is one of the pastors who had dual membership but wasremoved from the Missouri Synod clergy roster. He remains a good friendwith his district president, he said, adding that when the presidentasked him what he should tell Synod officials, he responded: "Tell themI'm praying for them."

Though obviously frustrated with the LCMS, Liebenow said he didn'twant to leave the denomination. "I was born into the Missouri Synod andI have so many good friends," he said. He would have preferred to beincluded in a "grandfather" clause that might have permitted thosedually aligned before a certain date to retain both memberships, but nosuch clause existed.

The Rev. Fred Klopfer, a retired pastor living in Winchester, Ohio,said his decision was easy. He resigned from the ELCA and maintained hisLCMS membership. He agreed it was important to clean up the membershiproster and do away with questions of dual membership.

"When you belong to an organization, that's where your theology is,"he said. "There's no doubt that the two have different attitudes towardtheology. You're either a Democrat or a Republican, you know," he added.

The Rev. Lowell Almen, secretary of the ELCA, said the wholesituation makes him sad.

His office worked with the LCMS, at its request, to help identifythe dual members. "We have sought to close no doors in our relationshipwith the LCMS. Where those doors have been closed toward us, that hasbeen painful," he said.

Almen said he believes this chapter in the history of the twosometimes friendly, sometime feuding Lutheran denominations representsone more closed door. And Hartwig said it is a sign that the divisionbetween the church bodies is widening.

"I think that the division has created a situation where people aretaking a stronger stand on things than they did otherwise," he said.

As for the other pastors and ministers, district presidents removeda total of seven names from the LCMS roster. Two others were classifiedas paperwork errors and corrected and one pastor died.

St. James Lutheran Church in St. James, N.Y., resigned from the ELCAand retained its LCMS membership, but the United Lutheran Church ofManteca, Calif., resigned from both bodies and joined the splinterAmerican Association of Lutheran Churches.

The three remaining churches are in still in Lutheran limbo.

Palisades Lutheran Church of Pacific Palisades, Calif., and the LutheranChurch of Arcata in Arcata, Calif., are each made up of two separatelyincorporated congregations, one Missouri Synod and one ELCA. At bothchurches the two congregations share the pastor and property.

The Missouri Synod's constitutional committee ruled these churchesdo not hold dual membership.

Immanuel Lutheran Church in Twentynine Palms, Calif., says it's inthe same situation as Pacific Palisades and Arcata. It is waiting for aruling.

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