(RNS) A Lutheran congregation in Kansas City, Mo., is scheduled to become the first church in a decade to ordain an open lesbian as its pastor, putting the small church at risk of discipline for violating church rules against ordaining homosexuals to the pulpit.
Abiding Peace Lutheran Church, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), will ordain Donna Simon as pastor on Saturday (Oct. 28). Simon is a recent seminary graduate but is not on the church's roster of eligible clergy because she has refused to take a vow of celibacy for non-married clergy. Simon, 35, has been involved in a relationship with another woman for four years.
The 5.2 million-member ELCA calls homosexuality a "departure from the heterosexual structure of God's creation" and says gay clergy must remain celibate. The church also prohibits the blessing of same-sex unions.
The congregation of about 40 people has been without a full-time pastor for several years, and officials with Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries said the church was told by ELCA officials that a pastor would not be available for them.
Mari Irvin, co-chair of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries, said Simon's ordination is the first since 1990, when three San Francisco gay pastors were ordained. Their congregations were later expelled from the church. Irvin's organization maintains an alternative roster of clergy who, like Simon, are ineligible to serve as church-sanctioned pastors.
"Clearly this is an act of bravery on (the congregation's) part," Irvin said. "They very much wanted a pastor, and they were very happy to get her."
Simon, reached at her church, said her ordination was both symbolic and significant.
"What it means for the church is that the gospel will go on, regardless of what the law of the church indicates," Simon said. "This is going to happen, this is going to be happening, because people are tired of having the church say that they want gay and lesbian people welcomed, but then turn around and not ordain us."
Bishop Charles Maahs, bishop of the Central States Synod, was unavailable for comment. Simon said if charges are filed against the church, they would come from either the bishop, or three other congregations that file charges together. Still, she said the synod's staff has been "very gracious" since she arrived.