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.