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Area church breaks from Lutherans' organization

National group voted to permit practicing homosexuals in clergy

By Preston Knight - pknight@nvdaily.com

MT. JACKSON -- Morning Star Lutheran Church voted early last month to break away from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and has received praise and $500 as a result, church officials said.

The church, with fewer than 50 members, became the area's first to vote to leave the ELCA after the organization's church-wide assembly voted in August to allow practicing homosexuals in the clergy. The Rev. Steve Whitten, who is Morning Star's interim pastor, said there has since been a lot of discussion from people in the community wondering if the news of the church's defection was "really true" and, as a token of appreciation, a Rockingham County church even sent a $500 donation.

"Kind of like, 'Good job, guys,'" he said.

The church first voted to leave the ELCA -- needing a two-thirds majority -- in October, and then met with the Virginia Synod's bishop, James Mauney, to discuss what the move would mean, congregation president Susan Greisz said. The second and final vote came Jan. 3.

According to the Rev. Rick Krasneck, who was Morning Star's pastor through January, 26 of the 32 members in attendance to vote Jan. 3 elected to leave the ELCA. He chose to retire at the same time as the vote.

Krasneck, who wished not to disclose which way he voted, said the issue of sexuality in the overall Lutheran church has been talked about for 10 years, and he could see other churches following Morning Star's lead. However, many choose not to discuss the ELCA's decision, he added.

"It's a silent issue for many churches," Krasneck said.

Morning Star is now looking into joining Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ or the Evangelical Lutheran Conference & Ministerium of North America. Greisz said the church would have been better off had it chosen an organization between its two votes, but there are no regrets with where it is now.

"We had our stance for many years, and when [the ELCA's position] became official in August, it was pretty evident what we were going to do," she said. "Not everyone was in agreement, but we had the two-thirds vote.

"It's like what you tell your children, 'If your friend jumped off the barn, would you, too?' Our church can't do as the other churches are doing. We took our stand."

A group of Winchester-area Lutherans are in the process of doing the same thing. A Lutheran CORE meeting to discuss the ELCA's decision was held at Middlewood Fire Hall in November, with about 50 of the 90 attendees local, said Roy Schwarz, who plans to soon leave Grace Lutheran Church. He said he and his wife can no longer be members of a church that is sympathetic toward the ELCA's decision on homosexuality.

CORE, which is a national coalition of pastors and congregations, is looking to help people and churches that are concerned about the ELCA's direction but want to still remain a part of it, Schwarz said. He said there are people who have spent nearly their entire lives at Grace Lutheran now wrestling with what to do.

"Breaking that off is a very difficult thing," said Schwarz, who has belonged to almost 20 churches.

The ELCA's vote was the final straw after years of the national church drifting away from Scripture and fundamental teachings, he said. What Morning Star did will likely be repeated, Schwarz said.

"People and churches come to a decision at different time frames," he said. "There is going to be a transformation over the next five, 10, 15 years. There will be an increasing number of congregations who want to sever ties with the national church."


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