Church votes to sanction same-sex marriages
By Anna Erickson
Calvary Lutheran Church in Park Rapids now welcomes same-gender marriages and rites of blessing of civil same-gender ceremonies on or off its premises.
That decision was made in early June after a congregational vote. The expanded marriage practice passed with 141 votes while 115 people voted to keep the current marriage practice, which called for pastors refer requests for same-gender marriages or rites of blessing of a civil ceremony to pastors who are able to officiate at such services other than the premises of Calvary Lutheran.
Conversations about addressing Calvary’s marriage policy began after Gov. Mark Dayton signed the same-sex marriage bill May 14, 2013, legalizing same sex marriage in Minnesota.
Calvary belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which leaves each individual church in charge of its own marriage policy.
Calvary’s Senior Pastor, Steve Norby, asked for some direction from the church council and that’s when conversations began. A survey was given out to the congregation that asked about views on same-gender marriage as well as same-gender families.
“The data we received showed we were conflicted but we had a consensus that we would treat all families the same,” Norby said.
Survey data was shared with the congregation in December and then the topic was dormant for a few months, he said, although the congregation had a decision to make.
A decision to expand the marriage practice was not prompted by a current couple asking to be married.
Rather, Norby said, the congregation wanted to be prepared and have an answer before a same sex couple asked to be married.
The church council decided it would be better to have a written policy than no policy and moved to have a congregational vote. The council came up with three options for the congregation to vote on.
The first was the current practice, which called for pastors to refer requests for same-gender marriage.
The second option expanded the marriage practice by pastors, asking them to follow their bound consciences to officiate or not to officiate at same-gender marriages at sites other than Calvary Lutheran Church.
The third option, which was eventually chosen, expanded the marriage practice further, stating “Calvary Lutheran Church welcomes same-gender marriages and rites of blessing of civil same-gender ceremonies, on or off its premises. Pastors, called or interim, shall follow their bound consciences to officiate, or not to officiate, at same-gender marriages. If our pastors are unable to honor requests for same-gender marriages and rites of blessing of a civil ceremony, referrals will be made to pastors who are able to officiate at such services.”
The second option was eliminated after a first round of voting, followed by a second round of voting between the first and third options.
The congregation was divided on the issue and some people have left the church since the policy change, Norby said.
“We wish them all the best as they find a new church family,” he said.
Others are still considering the change and haven’t made a decision about whether to leave the church or not.
Despite the split, Norby said he was very proud of the congregation.
“Everyone was very respectful,” he said. “After the vote, people were quiet and there was mutual respect.”
Calvary’s decision to expand the marriage practice is one of the ELCA’s first in northern Minnesota. He is aware of some ELCA churches in the Twin Cities that have pastors who are performing same-gender marriages but it isn’t widespread in rural areas.
Since the vote in June, Calvary will continue its ministry in several areas.
“We’re at a cross roads of grace and service and what defines us is Christ,” Norby said. “We want to continue to be a hub of help.”
The church is looking at a building project in the near future. An architect has been hired to work on a study to determine options for possible new construction.