LCMS Congregation Becoming an ELCA Congregation

The Rev. Ronald Koch in front of his church sign, which now displays the ELCA banner.

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Gilroy, California, is changing denominational affiliations from the LCMS to the ELCA.

Although Good Shepherd is Missouri Synod, the congregation doesn’t function like one, says Ron.

Callers “need to know that we use the worship book from the ELCA, that we involve women in our worship and that we welcome all the baptized to receive Holy Communion,” says Ron. “I need to say all of these things because Good Shepherd is not where it belongs.”

So after years of feeling misplaced, members of Good Shepherd are finally moving to their rightful home. On March 18, 2012, members voted to adopt the ELCA constitution as their own and, in a somewhat parallel process, Ron is working to becoming a pastor of the ELCA.

Many of the issues driving the decision seem to be what one might expect — open communion, acceptance of homosexual behavior, fellowship with non-Lutheran church bodies, and the role of women in the life of the church.

It’s about time

Good Shepherd was founded in 1951 as a Missouri Synod parish.

But since 1970 “my predecessor, and then myself in 1978, have had a much more open and inclusive ministry in our community” that was unlike the Missouri Synod, says Ron, who summed up some of the ways in which Good Shepherd was unlike its parent denomination in a 2010 congregational newsletter.

He wrote that the ELCA is open to ecumenical relationships with other Christians; the ELCA offers Holy Communion to all the baptized; the ELCA is a member of The Lutheran World Federation; the ELCA has male and female pastors; and the ELCA “would have no problem with Good Shepherd participating in Gilroy’s annual pulpit exchange every January for the ‘Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,’” wrote Ron. He also wrote that the “ELCA is far more open to the gay and lesbian community.”

“We welcome all, and Jesus has shown us what it means to serve all people,” says Ron. “We do not discriminate or restrict the Eucharist — this is not the way Jesus started things off.”

As the congregation took steps to disaffiliate with the Missouri Synod, Ron says that “we have had hardly any resistance or dispute with the change. Only one family has moved on. Our intentional discernment process has taken about a year and a half. I guess that is a testimony to the people ‘getting it’ over the long haul of a consistent pattern of inclusive ministry.”

Obviously there are numerous theological claims made in the article which are unsupportable from Scripture and which have been refuted on this site many times. However, does anyone else find this honesty refreshing? If a congregation believes as the ELCA teaches — and the statement that only one family was lost over the move seems to confirm that — doesn’t it make sense to join them officially? Of course it does raise a question about how such a congregation was permitted to remain in fellowship with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod when the article indicates that they have been wrestling with these issues for more than 30 years and have been practicing contrary to the teaching of the LCMS. Nevertheless, they did eventually realize that their belief and practice stood apart from those of the LCMS and I, for one, appreciate their integrity in leaving.

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