From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ELCA Congregation Disciplined for Commissioning Members

From News News <>
Date Thu, 14 Jun 2001 16:53:00 -0500


June 14, 2001


     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, bishop of the Saint
Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA),
placed Hosanna!* Lutheran Church, Lakeville, Minn., under public
censure and admonition for willfully violating the ELCA constitution.
The censure is effective Sept. 1, 2002.
     Hanson admonished Hosanna! for commissioning and licensing
three members of the congregation for full pastoral ministry, he said
in a June 12 written statement.  The three   Kristi Graner, Patricia
Moe and Janine Olson -- are not rostered in the ELCA and will not be
as long as they do not comply with the ELCA's standards for
ordination, Hanson said.
     In his statement, Hanson pointed out that ELCA congregations do
not have authority to ordain pastors or commission lay associates in
ministry.  Quoting the churchwide and synod constitutions, Hanson
said the synod bishop is to preside at ordinations of approved
candidates, and he said the bishop commissions approved candidates
for lay ministry.  Because the congregation did not follow these
constitutional procedures, its action violated synod and churchwide
constitutional provisions, he said.
     Hosanna! identifies Graner as group development pastor, Moe as
prayer and care pastor, and Olson as life ministries pastor.  The
Rev. William H. Bohline, senior pastor at Hosanna!, confirmed that in
his view and the congregation's view, each is fully prepared,
authorized, and called to pastoral ministry that includes baptisms,
weddings, funerals and Holy Communion.
     Though the congregation did not "ordain" the women, there
appears to be no distinction in how the three commissioned women
function in the congregation compared to its two formally ordained
pastors, Bohline and the Rev. David P. Housholder, Hanson said.
     "Congregations setting their own standards for pastoral
ministry and lay presidency is a rejection of the polity of the ELCA
and this church's understanding of ministry, ordination and call,"
Hanson said.  Such actions threaten the unity of the ELCA and synod
and "show a disregard for those congregations who faithfully seek to
abide by our common agreements," he added.
     Hanson stopped short of filing formal charges and will not seek
to remove the congregation from the ELCA roster of congregations, he
said, adding he doesn't believe the congregation's actions should
result in removal.  He acted with the support of the Saint Paul Area
Synod Council, said a synod news release.
     The effective date of the censure was chosen to give the ELCA
an opportunity to respond to the synod's request for a consultation
on issues facing congregations with large memberships, Hanson said.
In November 2000, the ELCA Church Council asked the ELCA presiding
bishop to consider the synod's request for such a consultation and to
report back.
     The censure will remain in effect until Hosanna! conforms to
the constitutional requirements of the ELCA or until the ELCA changes
its requirements regarding call, ordination and congregational
membership in the ELCA, Hanson said.
     During the censure members of the congregation, including
clergy, forfeit the right to serve on the synod council, serve as a
conference officer, or serve on any leadership team, board,
committee, or task force of the Saint Paul Area Synod, Hanson said.
     "This forfeiture does not preclude Hosanna!'s sharing ministry
resources with ELCA congregations or participating in conversations
convened for the purpose of addressing issues facing the ELCA by
virtue of new models for ministry in fast-growing congregations," he
     "Hosanna! is a dynamic, Christ-centered, growing congregation,"
Hanson said. "Lives are being changed as people hear the gospel of
Jesus Christ proclaimed.  The ELCA will be strengthened in its
ministry and mission by Hosanna!'s willingness to challenge the
church to change for the sake of effective witness in a dynamic
     Hosanna! has indicated it wishes to remain in the ELCA, Hanson
said.  "Censure and admonition allow the relationship to continue
without minimizing the seriousness of the congregation's offense," he

     In response to Hanson's action, Bohline said the 4,700-member
congregation was not surprised, but it is "disappointed."
Representatives of the congregation were informed of the synod's
action in a June 12 meeting with representatives of the synod council
and Hanson.
     "It didn't feel good," Bohline said. "It felt like we got
called into the principal's office."  The congregation and Hanson
have been in conversation about the situation for some time, Bohline
     The three women were "commissioned" on Reformation Sunday, Oct.
29, 2000, Bohline explained.  The congregation followed its own
process that led to the commissioning.  Each is called "pastor" by
congregation members, but they are not considered to be ordained, he
     "What we wanted to do is to acknowledge, affirm and bless the
work of these three women," he said.  Each has been part of the
congregation's staff for between five and 10 years, Bohline said.
The congregation does not consider the three to be commissioned for
service in the church at-large, he said.  They were commissioned to
serve only at Hosanna!, Bohline said, and the congregation may
commission others to serve in similar capacities.
     Olson is enrolled in a master of divinity program at Luther
Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., and is expected to complete that program
in one year, he said.  Graner and Moe are well-educated, he said, but
are not enrolled in formal seminary education programs.
     In the past, the congregation has worked through the synod in a
traditional call process for ordained ministers, Bohline said.  But
many candidates were not acceptable to Hosanna! because their skills
did not meet the congregation's needs, he said.  "As this
congregation gets larger, our needs became more specialized," he
     Bohline defended the congregation's commissioning as "well-
supported biblically" but admitted that the congregation is "outside
the lines" of ELCA policy.  The congregation did not commission the
women as an act of rebellion, and it wants to remain in the ELCA, he
     Traditional seminary education must change to meet specialized
congregational needs in the 21st century or such programs will become
obsolete, Bohline said.  He criticized the ELCA as a  "unhealthy
denomination" that is divided on some issues and shrinking in size.
     "It doesn't make sense to me that the church would censure and
admonish one of its fastest-growing congregations," Bohline added.
     The Saint Paul Area Synod is one of 65 synods of the ELCA.  It
includes 120 congregations with some 165,000 baptized members. Its
offices are in St. Paul, Minn.
-- -- --
[*Editors:  The legal name of Hosanna! Lutheran Church includes the
exclamation point.]

[**Elizabeth S. Helgen is communication director for the Saint Paul
Area Synod.]

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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