After 20 years of being expelled from its national affiliate, The St. Francis Lutheran Church near Duboce Park accepted an invitation back to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) national roster. In the 90’s, St. Francis served as an important community beacon for gay rights during the AIDS crisis and has since bravely stood for sexual minority equality. So what was the church’s original alleged transgression to warrant expulsion?
Lesbian couple Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart served as assistant pastors at the gay-friendly church back in the 90’s and refused to take vows of celibacy. Up until recently, the ELCA mandated that gay women and men were only allowed to become Lutheran pastors if they took “the vow.”
The First United Lutheran (on Franklin Street near Geary Boulevard) joined St Francis in defying this policy by ordaining Reverend Jeff Johnson, a gay man who also refused to take the vows. Both churches were expelled from the denomination, but they have not been alone in their struggle for equality.
In total, seven Bay Area gay and transgender Lutheran pastors were reinstated into the church after being expelled for 20 years. Nicknamed the “Bay Area Seven” – the Revs. Jeff Johnson, Megan Rohrer, Paul Brenner, Craig Minich, Dawn Roginski Sharon Stalkfleet and Ross Merkel – were invited back yesterday after a national assembly of the ELCA voted a year ago to allow gay men, women, and their partners to serve as clergy members.
In a church news release, Congregation President Brandee Marckmann of St. Francis commented, “The process of healing from the pain of being removed from the ELCA will take time. However, we all rejoice that the church is now welcoming sexual minority people, and we embrace our future as a member of the larger church with faith and hope.”