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even if we have different opinions on some things.”

In some ways, Crist said, the losses were “analogous to cleaning the rolls” of a congregation. “We do not have the anger and hostil- ity at synod assemblies that we had before,” she added.

Chilstrom said some bishops are now saying “it’s a new day, with a more positive, upbeat spirit” as the dissent over the 2009 deci- sion waned with the departure of the congregations opposing the decision.

Jane Margaret Bengtson, a fourth-generation pastor, was among the early crop of 1988 ordinations. Her father Luther Bengtson (left) and grandfather Carol A. Bengtson participated in the ordination presided over by Reuben Swanson (right), acting bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod.

implementing of that social state- ment meant that gays and lesbians who were in a recognized, lifelong partnered relationships could be ordained and that ELCA pastors could officiate at same-sex union ceremonies, although they weren’t required to do so.

“I knew we could not run away from that issue,” Chilstrom said, “and I thought we did as good a job as we could in getting the church ready.”

Although Chilstrom said he

believed the 2009 decision was “the right thing to do,” he knew it would be costly.

And it was. About 700 congrega- tions left the ELCA, sometimes after

Fact check 1988


Number of clergy women

1,071 3,859 24 The Lutheran •

Fact check 1988


Number of clergy of color

266 658

bitter fights to win the two-thirds con- gregational vote needed to withdraw. Bishop Jessica Crist, current head of the Conference of Bishops, lost 20 of the 145 congregations in the Mon- tana Synod. Losses in some Midwest- ern synods sometimes took dozens of churches out of the ELCA. Some that didn’t leave withheld mission support to the synod, directing congregational giving to other causes. “With the crash of the economy, this was a double whammy,” said Crist in an interview. Like other bishops, Crist said the controversy took time and money. But despite the losses, the Montana bishop remains positive. “Some con- gregations had been angry for years; and some were still angry about merg- ers prior to 1988,” she said. “We are healthier and happy now. We are of one mind that we will be together in the mis- sion of the church,

Most of the congregations leav- ing the ELCA joined two church bodies—Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ and the North American Lutheran Church.

Continuing to plant … “Planting” new churches has been a theme in American Lutheranism since Henry Melchior Muhlenberg chose ecclesia plantanda, meaning the church must be planted in a new setting (the American continent) as his motto when he began establish- ing Lutheran churches here in 1742. Nearly 500 congregations have been started since 1988, 45 of them in 2012 and 55 in 2011. Actually, more than 500 “mission starts” were approved, said Mary Frances, ELCA assistant director for development of new congregations, but not all succeed.

Many pastors and people in these missions, as well as established con- gregations, have little or no experi- ence with or nostalgia for the previ- ous church bodies. The ELCA has ordained about 7,500 pastors since 1988, almost half of the active pas- tors now on the clergy roster. “When the ELCA was formed, I was 8 years old,” said Cheryl Walenta-Gorvie, pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Dallas. “I’m generations removed from those


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