“Leaving the ELCA” series

Case Studies

It is often best to learn by example. For this reason our series will include a section of case studies that will grow as we are able to gather them. These are stories of people that have successfully found faithful ways to leave the ELCA in an effort to make a more emphatic response to Christ’s command to go and make disciples. We believe they will encourage and inspire you. If you have a story that you think would make a good case study for this series please contact us at infor@wordalone.org. More of such studies will be coming in soon:

Living Word Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Minn.

graphic of people celebrating new church

Faith gets you where you need to go...

Living Word Lutheran Church started worshipping with 83 people Nov. 1, 2009, in Alexandria, Minn.

By this spring, their number had grown to 150 and they were on the verge of not only calling their first pastor but also deciding whether to buy a vacant church or to buy land and build a church with probably a 300-seat sanctuary.

The new congregation is affiliated with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.

Interim Pastor John Beem said organization of the new congregation began in September after failed attempts to involve Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America churches and pastors in the Alexandria area in discussions about actions taken at the ELCA’s 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

Beem explained there had been an active WordAlone chapter in the area for several years. Prior to the ELCA assembly, the chapter had scheduled two post-assembly meetings to talk about responding to possible assembly decisions.

Action was expected from the assembly on a social statement on the morals of marriage and sexuality and on whether to allow practicing gays and lesbians to serve as ordained or professional lay ministers.

In fact the assembly approved an ambiguous social statement and Okayed changing ministry guidelines from requiring celibacy for self-identified gay and lesbian persons to allowing partnered gays and lesbians to serve as ministers in the ELCA.

The first of the two meetings was scheduled a Mt. Carmel Ministries in Alexandria. Invited to the meeting were Bishop William Rindy of the Eastern North Dakota Synod, Bishop Larry Wohlrabe of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod and WordAlone President Jaynan Clark.

“And as it would turn out,” Beem said in a phone interview in May, “we had 600 (people) at Mt. Carmel.”

The WordAlone chapter’s next meeting was schedule two weeks later. Several pastors were asked to respond but few were willing to take part, according to Beem.

So they rescheduled the meeting and invited Pastor Dale Wolf from Atonement Lutheran in Fargo, N.D., to come to speak about LCMC, as he was one of the founders of the association of churches in 2001.

“After Dale spoke, people from three of the four ELCA churches in Alexandria went to their pastors and got fundamentally no support. Most pastors voted for the sexuality statement,” Beem said. “People from the fourth ELCA congregation didn’t even consider (the matter). It was a non-issue for them.”

Of the first three ELCA churches, one’s church council didn’t want to consider the issue, one’s congregational meeting rejected talking about it and the third congregation “had a keep the waters calm report from the pastors and that was it,” Beem said.

So, he said, there was a initial group of about 25 individuals from Alexandria and neighboring churches who met before the end of September. They decided to move ahead with starting a new congregation outside the ELCA.

From their organizational meetings came Living Word, which meets for Sunday morning worship in a rented former Dutch Reformed church in Alexandria—a city of about 15,000 people. They officially chartered the church and joined LCMC after the first of the year in 2010.

Living Word members wrote their own constitution from several models they had, including an ELCA version, he said. Beem, a former bishop, called it a very good constitution.

He said the church will soon have a web site. They already have a “pretty good sized” welcome packet that will go online. It includes a couple of brochures borrowed from other LCMC congregations as well as a brochure and other documents they have written.

“We have new people coming every Sunday,” he said. “We have members from neighboring areas and in those areas; efforts are being made to start a mission church like we did.”

He acknowledged they have had a hard time getting families with young children but added they have a “modest” confirmation class. Beem said he suspects some families have stayed in congregations where their youngsters started Sunday school last fall.

Living Word plans to start a Sunday school in the coming fall. He said Living Word has a good choir and all the church members are faithful.

Beem said, “If they are in town or not sick, they will be in church on Sunday. We are well on our way. A nice thing about it is that we’re one mind with each other, focused on the Scriptures.”

New people join Living Word, he said, because the church is LCMC, not ELCA.

“We are known as a congregation that is going to be a traditional, orthodox Lutheran Church,” he said.

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fridley, Minn.

graphic of glowing white cross ascending into heavens


Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fridley, Minn., is a 2,100-member congregation in a northern suburb of Minneapolis with a focus on outreach. “Changing denominational affiliation won’t change that concentration on reaching out,” says their pastor.

As a matter of fact, the two votes they took in the past few months to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have taken a back seat to the excitement and work for their newest project—launching a second campus for their congregation June 5, 2010, Pastor David Glesne said.

Not that the results of congregational votes to leave were not significant. Both votes were more than 95 percent for changing denominations. The second vote was stronger than the first at 285 to 7 for a 97 percent approval rate, he said.

The ELCA constitution requires congregations wishing to leave the denomination for another Lutheran one to hold two votes on leaving, at least 90 days apart. The congregation must approve changing affiliation by at least a two-thirds majority.

In the case of congregations that were in the Lutheran Church in America before the ELCA was formed, their plan to leave the ELCA has to be approved by their synod council. When Glesne was interviewed by phone late in May, Redeemer Lutheran, formerly LCA, was waiting to hear if the Minneapolis Area Synod’s council had okayed their departure.

Glesne said he expected the synod council would have approved it at their mid-May meeting. After the congregation’s votes, two synod staff members met with Glesne. It was short and very cordial, he said.

The synod representatives said they hadn’t come to confront anyone but to bless the church on its way and to pray for the church, according to Glesne.

“They said they were ‘sorry we’re losing a good pastor and congregation that worked well with the synod,’” Glesne said.

Redeemer will affiliate with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, he said.

The people of Redeemer didn’t need to be educated about the issues that precipitated the decision to leave the denomination and to join another, Glesne said. As other congregations that have left the ELCA, Redeemer was reacting to decisions at the ELCA’S 2009 Churchwide Assembly to accept same-sex relationships and to allow gays and lesbians in same-sex relationships to serve as ordained and professional lay ministers.

He had written “Understanding Homosexuality: Perspective for the Living Church,” a book published in 2005, and read by congregation members.

“The people knew where I stood,” Glesne said. “I’ve been here for 15 years and preached a (sermon) series on social issues in 2004, abortion, homosexuality, pornography. I did not bash the ELCA from the pulpit, but I have been one who preached what Scripture says about the social issues.”

After the assembly in August 2009, Redeemer held two all-congregational meetings to communicate to the members a “road map of what the pastoral staff was doing,” he said. They discussed options and talked about the Lutheran CORE meeting scheduled last September in Fisher, Ind.

The pastoral staff and Redeemer’s congregational board were in step with each other throughout, according to Glesne.

Glesne also preached two sermons, the first on loving our neighbors as ourselves and the second one on living by God’s authority and the erosion of Scripture’s authority. Each Tuesday following the sermons, he had question and answer sessions to discuss, share perspectives and talk about anything related to the topic, he said.

As Glesne looked to the future, he said he wanted to keep the congregation focused on outreach as a multi-site church. The kick-off for its second campus was scheduled with an outdoor, summer worship service at 5:05 p.m., June 5, in Coon Rapids, another northern suburb of Minneapolis.

He had advice for other pastors, “Take a stand. Pastors are to lead their flocks”

“They don’t want to take a stand. They need to educate their congregations, allow there to be time for discussion. They need to open the Scriptures. It’s such a big issue in the church, culture and society.”