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:
- Judge GaleWyrick has ruled that the Synod Council's decision rendered on January 16, 2012, is final.
- The judge can make the four directives of that decision the Order of the Court and enforce them.
- Grace Lutheran Church has been referred to the Synod Council for guidance in the implementation of those directives.
Those directives briefly are:
- That Grace terminate affiliations with LCMC or any church other than the ELCA.
- That Grace 's sole affiliation is with the ELCA. Affiliation with the ELCA may be terminated only as permitted in the governing documents of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
- That Grace restore to full voting membership all those voting members moved to associate member status.
- That Grace follow the criteria found in our constitution section *C8.02(c) to determine voting eligibility except that those who wish to remain affiliated with LCMC are associate members.
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