Handful of Illinois churches leave Chicago-based ELCA

November 12, 2010

By Lynette Kalsnes

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Three more central Illinois churches have split from the Chicago-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

So far, six congregations in the Springfield area have left the ELCA. About a half dozen others are voting whether to stay or go.

An ELCA spokesman says they're among 291 churches nationally who've left the denomination over a decision to allow gay clergy. That's out of more than 10,000 congregations.

Bishop Warren Freiheit, who oversees the ELCA's churches in the region, says the adjustment period is painful.

"There's an emotional impact in that relationships will be severed, friendships will be severed. In some instances, communities where there are relatives in one community related to those who have left, there is even some family discord," Freiheit said.

Freiheit says he'll miss the pastors who have left, and he hopes it's possible someday to keep doing mission work with them, even though many have joined some break-away denominations.

Financially, his synod's already felt the impact. It's too soon too say how big the financial blow will be. But the bishop says many of these churches stopped passing along contributions after the clergy vote last year, so the synod's been making adjustments all along.

It's not all losses -- Freiheit says 130 congregations are staying, and the vote to leave failed at seven other churches. He adds that some people who felt the denomination made the right decision are joining the church.

The bishop says now, he hopes they can concentrate on the church's mission to serve and do outreach work rather than on discord. He says the number of congregations may be smaller, but expects they'll be even more dedicated to the mission.

Until the vote in August 2009, the ELCA required gay clergy to be celibate. Under the new policy, clergy and leaders in committed same-sex relationships can serve. The vote leaves it up to each church to decide if it wants a gay pastor or not.