The former members of Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, who were removed from membership and the building by actions of the ELCA's Northwest Synod Council and Circuit Judge Molly GaleWyrick, have decided to drop their appeal to the court decision that resulted in their ouster.
The group, which formed a new congregation called Saving Grace Lutheran Church and joined Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) within days of the court decision, has decided that the tens of thousands of dollars required to appeal would be better used to spread God's word and minister to His people. The congregation continues to grow weekly, and has secured a worship space at 2123 Eastridge Center at Hastings Way and Spooner Avenue in Eau Claire. The congregation and its pastors Rolf Nestingen and David Irgens proceed in joy at the fresh new ministries that lie ahead. Check out their new web site at www.saving-gracechurch.org.
The congregation will hold a joint outdoor worship service this Sunday with the other LCMC congregation in Eau Claire, Faith Lutheran Mission Church, at Eau Claire's Phoenix Park on Sunday, July 21 at 10:30 a.m., with a picnic lunch to follow. All are welcome --bring a lawn chair if you come!
An update from Dean Kallenbach:
(This update is from Dean Kallenbach. See here for a review of what has happened to Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, WI)
The email below and the attachments included were sent this week to the entire Northwest Wisconsin Synod directory (Pastors, Youth Leaders, Office Staff) on the eve of the Synod's annual assembly this weekend in Eau Claire by Anne Carter, the former president of Grace Lutheran Church.
To all this concerns:
It is important that every member of the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin of the ELCA understand the recent decisions made by the Synod Council against Grace Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, WI. To that end, attached to this email are three letters.
The first, from Grace Lutheran leadership, outlines compliance with a decision made by the Synod Council in January 2012. (see here) The second, from the Council to Grace, contradicts that compliance and dictates a new set of directives. (See here) The last letter questions those directives and details the consequences of those directives on Grace members and the community of Eau Claire. (See here)
Please read through the letters carefully. They are sent to you so that you will understand that if this happened to Grace Lutheran Church, it will happen to you.
Anne Carter, Former President, Grace Lutheran Church
Local ELCA pastors and churches, one of them reportedly armed with information from the NW Synod of Wisconsin, are going public with their attacks against the Synod-ordered removed members of Grace Lutheran, who are now members of Saving Grace, an LCMC congregation. (see here if you do not know about this situation)
For clarity this congregation will be referred to as “Saving Grace” from now on.
The ELCA affiliated St. John's Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, WI posted a document on their church website about Saving Grace. St. John's Pastors Nate Aaseng and Christine Emerson signed the document which they claim was “based on information from our synod office.”
The St. John's document claims “those from (Saving Grace), etc.” are “attacking the ELCA.” And then refers to concerns Saving Grace has about the ELCA as “conspiracy theories.” (see here)
Then there are two blogs attacking Saving Grace authored by ELCA pastor Michael Rehak, which are posted on his church's website (First Lutheran in Eau Claire, WI). In one of Pastor Rehak's blogs he claims “the constitutions of Grace Lutheran Church, the NW Synod of WI, and the ELCA were deliberately violated and dismissed.” Pastor Rehak then accuses the members of Saving Grace of threatening and abusing ELCA supporters from their former church. He said, “No one dare minimize the depth of the abuse, threats – including personal, physical, and to the building, public humiliation, ridicule, and public demeaning that was directed toward individual members in fellowship, council meetings, in worship – from the pulpit, at funerals of friends, and out in public at stores or on the street. These hostile behaviors not only drove them into exile but have continued.” (read here)
In another blog by Pastor Rehak, called “The Presence of Christ,” he expounds on these accusations, reporting that ELCA supporters said they were “'Called names,' 'screamed at,' 'told to leave,' 'mocked,' 'yelled at,' 'told I wasn’t a member anymore,' 'declared worthless,' 'told I was the problem,' 'spit on,' 'threatened…' With such remarks, others would echo, 'So was I,' or, 'I heard that too…'” (see here)
ELCA Pastor Rehak wrote that these ELCA supporters from Grace Lutheran “were the presence of Christ in our midst,” but he conveniently fails to mention that suing their church and taking them to court is a violation of God's Word (1 Corinthians 6:1-7.)
The ELCA leadership in Wisconsin has shown their true colors with the lawsuit and currently with these attacks on Saving Grace. It shouldn't surprise us though, the ELCA has always been about rewriting God's Truth so it conforms to “their truth.” That is what is most important to them.
But God has been blessing Saving Grace. Here is an update from Dean Kallenbach:
“Just a little update from Saving Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire. Just two weeks after forming (and less than three weeks after being expelled as members of Grace Lutheran Church by the ELCA), Saving Grace Lutheran Church has been forced to add a second Sunday morning service in order to accommodate the sheer numbers of people turning up at the funeral home chapel in which they are meeting Sundays. They also are holding a Saturday afternoon service at Faith Lutheran Mission Church, and are sharing a Wednesday night service with Faith.
“In addition, the TV ministry of the congregation lives on. Though not it the old timeslot of 10:30 Sundays (being used now by the small faction that was placed in power at Grace Lutheran Church by the ELCA), the Saving Grace broadcasts featuring the sermons of Pastor Rolf Nestingen and Pastor David Irgens now airs Sundays at 11:30 a.m. on WQOW-TV, Channel 18.
“I encourage you to check out their Facebook page 'Saving Grace LCMC.'”
Lastly, would you or your church be willing to support Exposing the ELCA in its ministry? It would be greatly appreciated. You can find information on how to do that on the right hand side of this page. Thank you for your prayerful consideration.
Grace Lutheran Church Council President and its Pastors respond regarding the issues surrounding their congregation and the ELCA.
"A message from Anne Carter, Rev. Rolf Nestingan, and Rev. David Irgens."
(New Update: from Dean Kallenbach)
The former members of Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, who have had their voting status removed by action of the Northwest Wisconsin Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) supported by a ruling by Polk County Circuit Court Judge Molly GaleWyrick on Tuesday, gathered for worship this morning in the Stokes and Mundt Funeral Home in Altoona. 386 individuals in attendance at the service. Following the communion services, children went to Sunday School while the adults had coffee before moving to a question-and-answer session and then a business meeting.
In that meeting, the former Grace members in attendance voted unanimously to form a new congregation. Saving Grace Lutheran will be an affiliate of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), a centrist, congregation-based Lutheran church body which recognizes Scripture as the sole source and norm of faith and life.
The church council that had been representing the members at Grace Lutheran Church was appointed as the council of Saving Grace for at least the next year when there will be a new constitution and elections.
A constitution committee was appointed, as ws a relocation/property committee to find a semi-permanent place to worship. According to Saving Grace President Anne Carter, the congregation needs a good space, a good kitchen and plenty of parking.
Pastors Rolf Nestingen and David Irgens were asked if they were willing to serve the congregation. Both pastors agreed, and their response was greeted with a standing ovation.
The business staff -- formerly of Grace Lutheran -- will continue to work with Saving Grace on a part-time basis to start, according to Anne .
According to the Saving Grace LCMC Facebook page, "Saving Grace Lutheran was formed after the ELCA closed the doors of Grace Lutheran Church, removing the congregation and staff until further notice. There is where Saving Grace was born in the heart of Eau Claire. Saving Grace church's mission is to make Jesus Christ known to others and to serve the people; in the heart of Eau Claire with a heart for the world as well as to serve our brothers and sisters in other countries."
The Facebook page lists the address of the new congregation as 800 Wisconsin St, Building D2 420K, Box 65 in Eau Claire (54703). The congregation phone number is listed as 715-797-1020.
I understand a news release regarding the new congregation is being developed, and I'll share that when I see it.
In related news, Grace Lutheran Church has had a long-standing television ministry. In anticipation of the many questions viewers would have based on the court decision this past week, leadership of what was formerly Grace Lutheran Church and is now Saving Grace Lutheran recorded a video that aired this morning on WQOW-TV 18 at 6 a.m.. That video -- nearly one-half hour in length -- is available on You Tube, and may be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJnO9hLZrdE&feature=youtu.be
As I understand it (thought I wasn't in town to see it), the Grace Lutheran broadcast for this Sunday (the normal 10:30 a.m. broadcast) was a recording of a choral presentation from several years ago.
Finally, according to the Grace Lutheran Church website, no Sunday service was held at the church today. According to the web site, "During this time of transition, the Grace Lutheran Church building on 202 West Grand Avenue will be closed. During transition, Grace ELCA will worship at First Lutheran..." No reason was given why the new leadership of Grace Lutheran Church chose to worship in a different building.
Here are two news reports about the situation
- Church members forced to hand over keys to members who left years ago
- Judge rules Eau Claire church congregation to hand over keys, removing membership
The following report is from Dean Kallenbach -
Tonight, I attended a meeting at my congregation, Faith Lutheran Mission Church, called by the now disenfranchised members of Grace Lutheran Church of Eau Claire. The sanctuary normally seats about 100 people comfortably. 230 people jammed the pews and extra chairs set up in the sanctuary and in the fellowship hall (which had a closed circuit TV signal).
The meeting lasted two hours. Pastor David Irgens opened with some words from 2 Corinthians 1, and reminded the congregation that they have done nothing of which to be ashamed -- they have simply proclaimed the power of Jesus Christ's salvation for all who believe.
After singing "Crown Him with Many Crowns," Anne Carter, who has served as Grace's president, shared details with those assembled about the judge's decision on Tuesday which I have detailed in previous emails. Essentially, the judge decided that the 67 current and former members who left Grace to form a new congregation called Amazing Grace are now the only legitimate members of Grace Lutheran Church, relegating the 767 active members who did NOT abandon the church to "associate" status, meaning they have no voting rights, cannot serve on the council nor hold any elected position.
After considering civil disobedience after being ordered to turn the keys of the building over to a representative of Amazing Grace, Anne and custodian Cindy Meyer -- at the advice of their attorney and under the threat of a contempt of court citation -- surrendered the keys this morning.
An attorney with the ELCA Synod Office then instructed staff to take their personal belongings and leave the building (though they were not told what their employment status is). Some volunteers cleaned out the office Pastor Rolf Nestingen, who is visiting family in Arizona. Pastor David Irgens, whose office had a large collection of books and other materials, got some help -- but the Amazing Grace contingent sent a police officer in to monitor the activity and try to hurry them up. The Amazing Grace people eventually came into the building in the afternoon, and restricted access to the building. Anne said that an attorney for the Northwest Wisconsin Synod of the ELCA was in the church directing the evacuation of the staff.
Many immediate questions remain, including what happens to organizations like the Boys Scouts, Ham Radio Club, Alcoholics Anonymous, and the Grace Food Pantry?
As pointed out in an earlier note, the emergency stay filed yesterday in an effort to keep possession of the assets and management of staff with the original Grace Lutheran group was denied in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. However, attorney Jay Heit did file a stay with the appelate court today in an effort to return building management to the duly elected council and regular members. A decision on whether that stay is granted will come in two-to-three weeks.
The group plans to appeal the overall ruling on the grounds that the judge made several legal errors. Anne said that if the congregation doesn't not proceed with an appeal, non-profits and churches throughout the country will fall victim to courts that will turns the assets of one corporation over to another corporation.
There was discussion about starting a new church in the meantime to continue to worship together. Much discussion was held on how that might come about. While no final decision was made on the form and possible affiliation of the new church, it was decided that the congregation would meet for worship Sunday morning at the chapel of the Stokes-Mundt Funeral Home in neighboring Altoona. The choir will meet for rehearsal before the 9 a.m. service, with Sunday School planned at 10. Afterward, the group will meet again to discuss further the formation of a new church organization.
The now-ousted Grace church council plans to meet next week Tuesday at Faith Lutheran Mission Church to begin to execute whatever plans are developed from the meeting on Sunday. Meanwhile, congregation leaders are looking into possibilities for office space.
Marian Spoolhoff, President of the Grace Lutheran Foundation, was told by Deb Sands, who claims to be the new council president of Grace Lutheran Church, that the meeting of the board today was being postponed until tomorrow, and that the annual meeting of the foundation was being called off. The Grace Lutheran Foundation has holdings of $26 million in real estate, and $3 million in bonds. The foundation employs 600 people, and provides Christian-based adult day services, elderly-care facilities, skilled nursing care, assisted living programs, retirement housing and daycare throughout the Chippewa Valley.
Several members of the congregation were concerned that the new leadership of Grace -- the Amazing Grace council -- will have access to their personal giving records. Another mentioned that her son planned to be married in the church in August -- what happens now?
While no formal action was taken to form a new congregation, there was general agreement that if and when that happens, the council that led the now disenfranchised members at Grace should be the council for the new church. Two nominations for a new name were made -- "Grace Lutheran Church in Absentia" and "People of Grace."
After more than two hours of conversation and information, the meeting closed with the Lord's Prayer, and a time of food and fellowship hosted by the Faith Lutheran Mission Church congregation.
Keys to Grace Lutheran Church Given to 67 Disgruntled Members Per Judge's Order; Voting Rights of 1700 Grace Members Also Taken Away
(From Dean Kallenbach)
This morning, on advice of their attorneys, the leadership of Grace Lutheran Church followed yesterday's order by Circuit Court Judge Molly GaleWyrick and turned over the keys of the congregation to a representative of the attorney of the break-away group Amazing Grace at 11:27 this morning.
The congregation was originally planning to withhold the keys, even at the risk of jail, but their attorney Jay Heit advised that it would risk multiple contempt charges, and only delayed the inevitable. By turning over the keys, the duly-elected Grace leadership no longer faces risk of jail.
A group of two dozen people or so worked this morning to assemble a newsletter -- Pastor Irgens finished writing his comments at 4 a.m. today. I'll share those comments later in a separate email when time permits.
Members of the news media interviewed Pastor Irgens and Jay Heit, the attorney representing Grace (as opposed to the breakaway group). Some things overheard from those interviews:
Attorney Heit said "As of right now, we're out, they're in, with "they" referring to the 67 people represented by Amazing Grace. "We gave those keys away, and someday, we hope to get them back."
Both Heit and Pastor Irgens said Grace plans to file an appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
Pastor Irgens said "The (ELCA Northwest) Synod Council has no right to determine who is a member of Grace Lutheran Church. Membership can only be decided by the Grace Lutheran Church constitution." All of the members who did not join the breakaway group Amazing Grace are now considered to be associate members. Pastor Irgens estimated that number to be 1,700 people.
Pastor Irgens called the judge's decision "an affront to the judicial system."
Pastor Irgens pointed out that, despite the two-year court fight, Grace Lutheran has continued to grow in serving its mission and is financially sound. He said Grace's position has been one of standing by the Gospel.
"Do we believe Jesus Christ is just a symbol as the social statements (of the ELCA) say, or do we believe that he is the person and son of God? Times are changing. If the ELCA can seize property and give it to a schismatic group, they can do anything."
The individuals who have now been displaced as members of Grace Lutheran Church by the judge's ruling plan a meeting tonight at Faith Lutheran Mission Church in Eau Claire to decide next steps.
(From Dean Kallenbach)
Earlier today I reported on the final decision by Polk County Circuit Judge Molly GaleWyrick that went against Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire related to the months-long lawsuit it has been fighting against a faction of the congregation that broke away after Grace elected to join Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) while still affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I have talked to several people today, and offer this as a fleshing out of the story. Anyone with better information -- please share it and I will append and correct as need be.
As background, the judge in March ruled that the ELCA Synod Council's decision regarding Grace should stand in place . That decision would return the break-away members to full standing (something the congregation had already done), force the congregation to drop its affiliation with LCMC, and declare any members who insisted on remaining with LCMC to be declared associate (non-voting) members.
However, after that decision, the outgoing bishop of the Northwest Wisconsin Synod of the ELCA, Duane Pederson, removed Grace's two pastors -- Rolf Nestingen and David Irgens -- from the ELCA roster of pastors. A week later, the Synod Council "clarified" its earlier stance by essentially declaring that anyone who remained a member of Grace Lutheran Church while it was dual rostered should be considered in favor of the dual rostering, and thus lose their own voting rights, and that the duly elected church council must step down. Grace took the position that these new provisions overstepped the bounds of the judge's March ruling.
Today was the final hearing in the case, and the judge essentiallty ruled that the Synod Council may make any decision it desires in the case of Grace. She ruled that the leaderhip of Grace Lutheran Church must turn over the church's assets and governance to the breakaway group, and that the keys must be turned over by 5 p.m. today.
Grace's attorney requested a stay of the decision while the congregation appealed the case to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, but the judge could not allow it. She told the courtroom that she could see no irreversable harm in turning the congregation over to the breakaway group. She also said that Grace leadership had been disingenuous and disrespectful of the Synod Council through the proceedings.
The attorneys for Grace filed a motion for an emergency stay with the Court of Appeals, but that was rejected as well. That doesn't prevent the congregation from appealing the case, but it means that the circuit judge's order will be fulfilled until such an appeal is decided.
Late this afternoon, a large group of Grace members and supporters from other congregations gathered in the church parlors. They have decided against turning the keys over to the breakaway group, despite the judge's ruling. Cindy Meyer, the church custodian who possesses the keys, is staying in the church building claiming sanctuary, and is prepared to go to jail if the sherrif is sent to retrieve the keys. They prayed and sang and made protest signs and ordered in pizza.
Several members of the media were on hand to interview the Grace leaders and wait for the arrest. As of a few minutes ago, that arrest had not happened. One prominent sign outside the church reads "Our Janitor will Go to Jail for Jesus."
As more details come available, and media reports begin to surface, I will share more.
(From Dean Kallenbach)
This afternoon in Polk County Circuit Court in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin, Judge Molly GaleWyrick ruled that the Synod Council's recent ruling that the duly elected council of Grace Lutheran Church must turn over leadership of the church to the group that left the congregation to form the Amazing Grace congregation. The judge ordered them to turn the keys over by 5 p.m. this afternoon.
I will share further details and comments from the elected Grace leadership when it becomes available.
ELCA Synod Council Attempts to Remove Church's Council and Majority of Congregation as Voting Members
If you are unaware of what has been happening with Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, WI read this article for some background information. This article also reports on a new development. The article is titled "Synod Council: Grace leaders no longer eligible to serve."
(The following report came from Dean Kallenbach but I am not sure who wrote the first paragraph.)
Here is the response by the President of Grace Lutheran Church -- Anne Carter -- to the Synod Council's interpretation that the Council of the congregation needs to be removed. While this is addressed to her congregation, I am sharing it with her permission and awareness to keep you all in the loop, and to keep prayers coming on this matter.
Here is another statement by Grace Lutheran's council president from Sunday.
(From Dean Kallenbach)
Below is the address Grace-Eau Claire president Anne Carter delivered to the congregation Sunday morning.
Friday afternoon both Pastor Nestingen and Pastor Irgens were informed by letter that Bishop Duane Pederson has removed them from the ELCA roster of clergy. Their removal is effective March 22, 2013. He reasons that both pastors have engaged in schismatic activity by allowing Grace Lutheran Church to dually affiliate with the LCMC. He also claims that they have defied the Synod Council's decision and the civil courts. He does not claim that our pastors have preached falsely or told untruths. I will not take the time here and now to dignify those letters with much more of response. Pastor Irgens will follow my comments with some of his own. I encourage anyone to ask questions of the pastors or Council especially at our Tuesday night meeting.
(Pastor Irgens spoke of his responsibility to his call to the congregation of Grace Lutheran Church. Article 14 of the Augsburg Confession explains how he is bound to this church as we are to him. God placed him among us and until the congregation rescinds his call, he will serve as our pastor. Pastor Nestingen and Pastor Irgens will remain in their positions and the congregation of Grace Lutheran Church will support their ministry among us. Jesus Christ is head of the church. We will honor Him.)
Bishop Duane Pederson removed both pastors stating that he has the authority to do so. I take this opportunity to remind you of some of the other things that Bishop Pederson has said.
In a letter to churches in the NW Synod dated December 1, 2011:
“ELCA bishops have very limited authority; primary authority resides in congregations, especially regarding matters of employment and property. Congregations call pastors; pastors do not work for the bishop. Congregations own church property; the synod does not. This means that Lutheran bishops cannot intervene in the way that bishops from other denominations can, and most disputes in congregations are settled within the local community without the involvement of the bishop or the synod.”
From an article in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram dated March 18, 2013 regarding Grace:
“The synod and denomination will encourage and support efforts of healing and reconciliation.”
His comments raise some questions: What kind of a man says one thing and so obviously does the complete opposite? How does this action support healing and reconciliation? How is this encouragement when it appears to be an attempt to silence ordained ministers of Christ during Holy Week? How can a Christian leader deny the preaching of Christ crucified and Christ risen to a Christian church at Easter?
Now I know that when many of us hear these things we cringe, our hearts clutch and our stomachs churn. We don’t like to be in the middle of controversy. We would like church to be peaceful and calm and quiet. We don’t want conflict. But we have the right to ask questions and expect civil discourse with church leadership. Our inquiries should not be met repeatedly with insult. The church is not a private club where only a few have the rights and privileges of membership. But I must remind you of the words of Paul to the Phillippians: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.”
On that first Palm Sunday people lined the roadway and sang praises to Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. The institutional church of that day told Jesus to instruct the people to be quiet. Jesus told them that if the people were silent the rocks of the ground would break forth in praise. I pray God that the members of Grace will never be silent but will sing the praises of Jesus loudly and boldly. May we, with the saints of old and the saints to come, joyously proclaim:
Hosannah in the highest!
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!!
Don’t be afraid. Don’t lose faith. With God nothing is impossible.
Easter is coming!!!
Anne Carter 3.24.13
After Lawsuit Verdict Forces WI Church to Stay in the ELCA, Bishop Kicks the Church's Pastors Out of the Denomination
(From Dean Kallenbach)
This note was forwarded yesterday to members of her congregation by Grace Lutheran-Eau Claire president Anne Carter. Please continue to keep Grace and its pastors in your prayers....
NEW DEVELOPMENT UPDATE
March 22, 2013
This afternoon both Pastor Nestingen and Pastor Irgens were informed by letter that they have been removed from the ELCA roster of clergy. Their removal is effective March 22, 2013. Bishop Duane Pederson removed both pastors. He reasons that both pastors have engaged in schismatic activity by allowing Grace Lutheran Church to dually affiliate with the LCMC. He also claims that they have defied the Synod Council's decision and the civil courts.
Bishop Pederson's actions do not meet the criteria for removal of pastors as outlined in the constitution of the NW Synod of Wisconsin.
Grace has been dually affiliated for almost two years. Bishop Pederson has been presiding bishop during that time. This fall he announced that he would not seek re-election and instead will be leaving March 31 for a new position.
No response has been determined at this time. 'But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, "In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires." These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
'But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.' Jude 17-21
Thank you for your continued prayers for Grace Lutheran Church.
(This update comes from Dean Kallenbach)
Folks...a couple of days ago I shared the email that Grace Lutheran Church of Eau Claire (Wisconsin) president Anne Carter shared with her congregation breaking the news of the court decision that went against the congregation on Friday after protracted proceedings spanning nearly a year-and-a-half. Following is the address Anne made to the congregation during Sunday services, which fleshes out the ramifications (and the opportunities) the decision brings.
Top o’ the Morning to Ya and a Happy St. Patrick’s Day,Friday afternoon Judge Molly GaleWyrick entered a decision with the court in the lawsuit filed against Grace Lutheran Church. I have met with our attorney and with Pastor Nestingen briefly to discuss the decision. The decision made by Judge GaleWyrick is 4-1/2 pages long. A copy will be available in the church office tomorrow if anyone would care to read it. As with any legal document, there are terms unique to the legal profession and may not be easy to understand.
Before I tell you the specifics of that decision, I want to go over some of the timeline of this suit. In November 2011, Amazing Grace ELCA, Inc. filed suit against Grace claiming that dual affiliation effectively split Grace into two entities – one was ELCA and one was LCMC. The suit claimed that authority in the church resided with Amazing Grace who claimed ELCA loyalty. They asked the court to overturn the current Council and turn over control of the assets of the church to them. We had 30 days to respond, and on January 6, 2012, we filed a motion to dismiss the suit claiming that the courts did not have the right to impose membership or governance on a church body. Once the lawsuit and our motion were filed, we had to follow the schedule of the court and the authority of a judge.
In the meantime, Amazing Grace asked Bishop Duane Pederson to arrange adjudication on their behalf. The bishop arranged for a hearing before the Consultation Committee which resulted in a decision by the Synod Council on January 16, 2012. Grace Lutheran Church was then involved in two separate actions. It wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that Drew Ryberg, attorney for Amazing Grace, brought the two together by including the Synod Council’s decision in the lawsuit and asking the court to impose that decision on this church by removing our Council, turning over assets, evicting us from this building, etc.
So, to simplify and to paraphrase the decision:
Those directives briefly are:
The judge has ordered that Drew Ryberg draft an order in conformity with the decision and submit it to our attorney for approval. That is the court’s way of saying that the attorneys agree with each other about what the judge has ordered and write it up for her approval. After an order has been mutually agreed upon, the judge will sign it. That order is to be submitted by April 8, 2013. So, what does all this mean? I know that there are many questions. The court can only declare the directives to be final so we have to refer to the directives themselves to understand the practical implications of this decision.
Will our Council be replaced? NO. The present Council was duly elected by Grace Lutheran members and will continue as our leadership. I have been recognized by the NW Synod as the president of Grace and will remain in that position. The Synod Council’s decision does not address our leadership.
Do we lose control of our assets? NO. Our bank accounts still belong to Grace and will be maintained by present Council. The Synod Council’s decision does not address control of our assets.
Do we have to vacate the building? NO. Despite the interrogatory that demanded to know our computer codes and the location of the keys to our building, we are not going anywhere.
Will the pastors be forced to leave Grace? NO. Pastor Nestingen and Pastor Irgens were called by this congregation to serve God in this place and will remain our pastors for the duration.
Will Amazing Grace members be able to vote on Grace matters? Yes. Those Amazing Grace members who are members of Grace Lutheran Church are currently classified as voting members. Their voting rights were restored last May in accordance with the Synod Council’s decision.
Will Amazing Grace members be coming back to worship at Grace? I can’t answer that question. They have always been welcome here. It has been their choice not to worship here for almost two years. It has always been their right to choose a church that best fits their own personal desires and needs.
Do we have to pay any monies to the ELCA to support their programs and policies? NO. There is no prescribed amount of money that a church must pay to the ELCA. We currently send no money to support the ELCA general budget.
Will we always have to be an ELCA church? NO. The Synod Council decision reiterates our constitutional right to disaffiliate from the ELCA. This congregation has the right to determine its own future affiliation.
If we are forced to be solely affiliated with the ELCA for the time being, does that mean that we owe some oath of fealty or loyalty to the organization? NO. We owe it something much bigger. We owe it the truth, and the truth is that leadership in the ELCA have been found guilty of embezzlement and fraud. The ELCA is involved in several lawsuits appropriating land and assets from congregations across the country. Long-standing ELCA institutions are in danger of collapse due to financial mismanagement. Scriptural divergences that used to be isolated have now become mainstream.
Is this decision a bad thing? NO. We will soon be out of the jurisdication of the court and be able to plan and course the future of this church without interference.
Were the last two years a waste? NO. Over the last two years we have seen that the warnings we made about the ELCA have come true. Over the last two years God has shaped us and molded us into a new church. We have come to a truer understanding of what it means to be in relationship with Him.
And what kind of relationship is that? We are children of God who are members of God’s family here in this place called Grace. In this place we learn and study and grow and sing and give praise. We are disciples of Jesus Christ and with that comes responsibility. We are to be like the Christians in Berea who studied God’s Word to make sure that Paul was preaching the truth. We are to be watchdogs to let other ELCA members know the danger the church is in. We must call leadership to account. We must ask God’s people to repent.
Most importantly, we are to continue to honor Jesus. Jesus is not myth. Jesus is not a metaphor. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises made to us at the beginning. Jesus is not an image of us. He is the face of the Father. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is through Him alone that we come to the Father, and it is through the Father that we receive forgiveness and salvation. We have had quite a journey, and it is not over yet. But hasn’t this been fascinating? We have been given a privilege not many people get: We have been given a front row seat to watch God in action. We are witnesses to His transformative power. He has changed us. He has brought His light into dark places.
Is this over? The lawsuit, maybe. Or maybe this is just the beginning of a glorious and wondrous adventure with a loving Savior who trusts us enough to walk with us and allow us to work at His side.
One thing’s for sure: This is the day that the LORD has made! We will rejoice and be glad in it!!
17 March 2013
(from Dean Kallenbach)
Following and attached is a report made by Grace Lutheran Church-Eau Claire president Anne Carter to the congregation there regarding the latest course happenings in their lawsuit.
This past Wednesday morning a hearing was held at the Polk County Courthouse in Balsam Lake with Judge Molly GaleWyrick. In attendance were Jay Heit, attorney for Grace Lutheran Church; Drew Ryberg, attorney for Amazing Grace; Tom Guelzow, attorney for the NW Synod of Wisconsin, who is also representing Bishop Duane Pederson in his divorce proceedings; Dan Herber of the Twin Cities, attorney for the ELCA. Ryan Steffes, attorney for Grace Lutheran Foundation, also attended. Forty-two members of Grace drove up for the hearing. One member of Amazing Grace was present. The hearing began at 10:00 and ran for about an hour.
The hearing was called to render a decision on a motion filed by Tom Guelzow against Jay Heit. He asked for sanctions against Mr. Heit for what he claimed was a frivolous lawsuit against the NW Synod. Mr. Guelzow spoke of his concern for the ethics and morality of the legal system as the reason for his filing for sanctions. Mr. Heit defended our lawsuit based upon our need to get answers on the procedures that were followed. The motion for sanction was denied.
Judge GaleWyrick took the opportunity to answer other motions that were pending with the court. Both the ELCA and the NW Synod had filed Judgments on the Pleadings. These were motions asking the court to dismiss our countersuit. They claimed ecclesiastical immunity. Their motions were granted. Reading from a prepared statement, Judge GaleWyrick expressed her opinion that our countersuit was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. She was determined that we had no right to involve those other two parties and bring a discussion of theology into the courtroom. She refused to accept the argument that our constitution is intertwined with theology and that procedure and theology cannot be separated. She refused to accept the argument that we are either all in this lawsuit or we are all out.
Even though Amazing Grace has asked the court to impose a decision of the NW Synod onto this church, she has insisted that we do not have the right to examine that decision making process. We had sent an interrogatory to the NW Synod. We wanted to know in particular:
With her decision, Judge GaleWyrick claims that we do not have the right to those answers. She expressed offense that we would have brought the constitutional contract into discussion. In January she told us that the court had jurisdiction because this matter was one of contractual procedure. Our defense was then based upon our constitutional contract. Wednesday she claimed that we had misunderstood her. She will only discuss article 15.11 of our constitution. In an editorial aside, she called upon the name of God and declared that we were, in effect, self-righteous zealots.
In the end, she announced that this was only about who has control of the property and the assets of Grace Lutheran Church. That claim is certainly proven by the nature of this lawsuit and the interrogatory that was sent to us. Amazing Grace wants the building and the trust funds and the security access codes. That’s all it’s about to them. If that is all that is to us, if it’s just about money, then we are just like them- shallow, self-absorbed and simple minded. But I know that it is about much more than that for all of us here. Almost two years ago, nearly 60 percent of Grace members voted to leave the ELCA for bigger, more profound reasons.
We all know that if you toss a frog into a pot of boiling water, he will jump out quickly to save his life. But if you put a frog into a pot of cold water and then turn the burner on to low, the frog will become acclimated to the rising temperature and not be aware of the growing danger. He will be boiled alive. The ELCA has been slowly changing, and it is becoming dangerous.
We have chosen to reject those teachings. We have chosen to keep Jesus at the center of our faith and our worship. I daresay, we have chosen to remain a Christian church. But in making such a choice, the powers of evil have risen against us. They want us to doubt and despair and forget where true power lies.
This lawsuit is outrageous. But we are not the only ones experiencing a lawsuit. There are currently 5 legal battles across the country where the ELCA is trying to take church property. We know that the Lord works in mysterious ways and He has chosen us to accomplish His will. I believe He wants us to raise the alarm that the water is getting hot! He did not choose us because we are better than anybody else or have more integrity or honor. The Lord knows that we are a sinful people. The difference is that we also know that we are sinners, that we are in need of forgiveness and that we have found it in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We don’t want to refresh God’s Word; we want God’s Word to refresh us!
On this celebration of Christ the King Sunday, we boldly and joyfully proclaim that Jesus is our King. He is our Lord. He is our Savior. He is our Hope. And He will not fail us.
To Him alone be all glory.
25 November 2012
From Dean Kallenbach -
Folks -- below is an update sent by Anne Carter, the president of Grace Lutheran Church of Eau Claire, regarding the lawsuit filed against the congregation by an ELCA-supported faction of former members and associate members to force the congregation to drop its affiliation to Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). The group also successfully sought an injunction preventing the congregation from passing a budget for 2012, and has frozen access to other assets until such time the suit is decided.
Greetings, While I have not sent out many updates lately, I take this opportunity to let you all know a few things.
Over the past few months, there have been several motions filed with the court. These motions, filed by Amazing Grace, NW Synod and ELCA, have all been in response to Grace's countersuit filed in June. Amazing Grace has filed a motion to dismiss our countersuit. NW Synod and ELCA have filed Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings. In very simple terms, argument has been made that the NW Synod and ELCA should not be enjoined because they claim "ecclesiastical immunity". We have submitted briefs opposing that view.
Judge GaleWyrick will render a decision on these motions some time this fall.
Along with those motions, Tom Guelzow, attorney for NW Synod, has filed sanctions against Grace's attorney, Jay Heit. He claims that Mr. Heit has filed a frivolous lawsuit against NW Synod. A hearing is scheduled for November 21 at 10:00 a.m. in Polk County when Judge GaleWyrick will rule whether sanctions should be imposed.
At the request of Council, Mr. Heit has prepared a motion to the court asking for lifting of the temporary injunction against Grace so that, if necessary, Grace may use some of the monies in the Mission Endowment Fund to cover any cashflow shortage that may present itself during the remainder of 2012.
There is a possibility that Judge GaleWyrick will take the opportunity to render a decision on all these motions at the November 21 hearing. This could be a very important hearing as the direction of the lawsuit could be decided that morning.
Wednesday, November 21, is the day before Thanksgiving. I know that it will be difficult for some to attend the hearing, but I hope that there are many who will be able to make the trip and support our attorney and our cause.
Polk County Courthouse
November 21, 2012
Thanks very much for your continued support.
In His Service,
I received this update from a friend.
Much is happening with the confessional Lutheran movement in Wisconsin. Here are some highlights - please pray God's guidance and glory be demonstrated in each of these circumstances:
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Former ELCA seminary student and former ELCA member who is fed up with the ELCA's consistent mockery of God's Word.
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