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Long Prairie church nears ELCA exodus

Long Prairie

Congregants at American Lutheran Church in Long Prairie, Minn., have voted in favor of a resolution to leave the nation's largest Lutheran denomination.

The congregation voted 129-11 Sunday to exit the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. A two-thirds majority vote was required. A second two-thirds vote must be taken for the congregation to officially separate from the ELCA.

The decision by members of American Lutheran comes as the 4.6 million-member ELCA deals with the aftermath of its Churchwide Assembly in August when the church moved to allow gays in committed relationships to serve in the clergy. The assembly also passed a controversial sexuality social statement.

Since the assembly, several churches have expressed desire to leave the ELCA.

The Rev. Bill Bakewicz, pastor of the 766-member congregation in Long Prairie, was pleased with the 92 percent vote, taking it to mean that the church's congregation will remain intact.

"It's very gratifying for me to know that we're not going to go through that experience" of a church split, he said.

He said the church may lose a "handful" of people.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we did because you're not going to ever get a hundred percent on something like this. It's not going to happen," he said.

A date for the second vote has not been set. Bakewicz said the church has not decided what denomination it would affiliate with.

In a written news release, ELCA Northwestern Synod Bishop Larry Wohlrabe said he was "saddened" by the vote.

"ALC has been a strong and active congregation in our synod," he said. "I have made some friends in the parish, and I have high regard for their pastor."

Wohlrabe said "members of ALC have been struggling for some time with their affiliation with the ELCA. The congregation has, over the last few years, brought several resolutions to our synod assemblies that have expressed disagreement with or disappointment over certain actions and stances taken by the ELCA."

He concluded his statement by saying, "Whether they stay with us or depart from the ELCA, we will continue to regard them as brothers and sisters in Christ."