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Members of Bethany Lutheran Church in Nevis are divided over whether the ELCA is too liberal for the congregation. A schism has developed. Some parishoners have advocated leaving to start a new church. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

Nevis church members mull split with ELCA

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After "prayerful consideration," a group of Lutherans in Nevis has begun working on a proposal for a new Lutheran congregation.

The decision follows a recent vote at Bethany Lutheran Church that failed to attain a two-thirds majority to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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An earlier vote found 69 percent of the congregation in favor of terminating ELCA affiliation. A subsequent bishop consultation on the matter pared the percentage to 62 in favor of ending ties with ELCA.

'"The vote is behind us, it's time to move on,' is the feeling for the 62 percent who voted to depart," a news release on the "new Lutheran congregation" states.

"Moving forward in faith with a sense of freedom, they are joining hands to start a new congregation," the release states, "people who take God's word as the final authority and not trying to change it."

The first worship service for the new congregation will be at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, July 17 in the Nevis School.

"For the next few weeks, volunteers are working in administration, stewardship and worship areas of church life."

A church name and choice of alignment with a synod will be made in the months ahead.

There are a number of issues, spokesperson Russ Price said of the decision to leave the ELCA and Bethany Lutheran. "Each person's is slightly different."

"I'm a traditionalist," he said, "which is the most conservative." But he does not object to women behind the pulpit or open communion.

Price agrees with four renowned ELCA theologians who see the church moving toward a liberal position.

"My belief as a traditionalist is that it's time to go," he said, citing conciliatory agreements with Catholic and Episcopal denominations that conflict with basic doctrine.

"There are a number of views," he said, with many believing "the ELCA is moving away from the word of God."

He acknowledged the ECLA's viewpoint on homosexuality - and gay pastors - has alienated some, "but it's not an issue for me."

Currently, the decision has the affirmation of 50 former Bethany Lutheran members, Price said. But he expects 80 to 100 at the first service Sunday.

Plans call for both traditional and contemporary worship services.

"For many, this is a big relief," he said of the departure.

"ELCA is a strong, God-based church but it's moving in a different direction."

The new congregation is extending an invitation to others in the surrounding area "looking for a new church family to come and see what God has in store."

Inquiries may be directed to newlutheranchurch @gmail.com or 218-371-0061.

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