When the hands were counted and the decision made, one third of the hundred fifty or so people in the Nave, stood up and walked out.  Most never came back.  Churches are like families.  The bond is personal.  People’s histories are interwoven with the history of the church during their time there.

The controversy simmered and sometimes boiled at the national level.  Unfortunately, church folks can be at least as nasty as anyone.  Part of the reason is that deep feelings are involved.  What happened at the national level ultimately resulted in what happened at the parish I was serving when that vote was taken.

I graduated from the Seminary in 1969.  The education matched or exceeded the best of any branch of Christianity at that time.  The faculty were people of strong faith who were scholars of note as well.  At that time it was hard to find folks of faith who found good scholarship to enhance rather than challenge faith.

The year I graduated there was a change in leadership at the national level.  The battles began.  After five years of fighting, in 1974, the President of the National church body fired the President of the Seminary.  Forty-five of the fifty faculty and most of the student body marched out in protest and support for the Seminary President.

The Seminary in Exile (Seminex) began.  The issues involved polarized people beyond reason.  The break did not heal.  The congregation I was serving during that time, under the leadership of the Senior Pastor, began to study the issues that seemed to be dividing the church.  There were papers written and studied.  There were speakers reflecting both sides of the issues.  There were small group discussions and large group discussions.

In the end, the leadership of the congregation recommended joining an organization called, Evangelical Lutherans in Mission (ELIM).  It was structured as a fellowship of congregations within the national church body who aligned themselves with the faculty and students who left the Seminary.

The national church body chose to remove those congregations from its roster.  Gratefully, there were level heads that worked out pension issues so that everyone was treated fairly.

During those years, while I was open about my position on the issues, the Senior Pastor got the brunt of the nasty letters and angry words, since he took the leadership in dealing with the issues.  My relationships with those on both sides of the issues seemed to stay in place.

When the vote was taken, the future of the congregation and my future, and, as a result, Mary Ann’s future seemed to be very uncertain.  The congregation could no longer sustain itself as simply the repository for those who happened to carry our national church brand.  The church body that formed was called the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, the AELC.  There were just a tiny number throughout the nation.

Some good came from the trauma.  The congregation became energized.  Creative ministries emerged.  There is a sense in which our little branch of Lutheranism became the mouse that roared.  During that time I was part of a little group who lovingly referred to ourselves as the “Ass Pastors.”  We were four pastors who were ASSistants or ASSociates in our respective parishes.  One of us was on the roster of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), one of us was on the roster of the American Lutheran Church (ALC), one of us was on the roster of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (the one from which we were separated), and I was from the AELC.

During that time I was privileged to serve as Celebrant for a huge ecumenical Lutheran Reformation Service held at the Redemptorist Father’s Roman Catholic Church in Kansas City.  It was a veritable happening as the former Diocesan Bishop and I embraced at the Altar during the Passing of the Peace.

The Metropolitan Inter-church agency for a time pulled together many brands to work to help the most vulnerable populations in the KC area. I was pleased to be a part in that group of servant leaders.   At the same time, since I was not part of one of the larger constituencies, I was able to chair the group that tried to pull together all the various Lutheran Agencies in the area so that we could each use our gifts more effectively.

It was such an odd time since many national organizations needed to have representatives from all four church bodies, the few of us in the AELC were in demand.  One of the perqs of being in that tiny crew was that one of the best Lutheran organists in the nation was a part of it.  Our little congregation did a workshop with Paul Manz as the leader.  The cost to us was minimal due to our common affiliation.

One of the less than pleasant side effects was that some of the pastors in the LCMS were not comfortable with the two of us in this new little group participating in worship with them.  My name had been suggested by some of the students to preach at the baccalaureate of the new Lutheran High, which Daughter Lisa was attending at the time.  The Pastoral Advisor would not allow that to happen.  My name was removed from consideration.

We were invited to participate with the ALC and LCA Youth in a national gathering of some 15,000 Youth and Counselors in Kansas city.  I served as the local arrangements manager.  It was a very demanding role.  At the next gathering, it became a paid position!

Those years were traumatic, exciting, energizing, scary, and most of all a powerful learning experience.  An odd side note is that the congregation that Mary Ann and I grew up in back in Northern Illinois also joined that little crew, the AELC.  Our home life was not impacted dramatically.  There was, however, a resulting time of transition that emerged when finally the AELC came to an end as the much larger church bodies came together into a newly formed group known now as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  Our little church body had become the catalyst for a huge change in the denominational landscape.  It is an alphabet soup of church names we have had in the last few decades.  That transition forced some decisions that effected dramatically my ministry and our future as a family.

…I am still trying to make the new blog name accessible.  I have made some progress, but so far it is still not easy enough to get to for me to begin using it.  In the meantime, this one will continue.  There is lots more to say!

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