Others feel betrayed by their church

Karen Holmberg-Smith feels betrayed by her church. "I feel like my church is leaving me," said Holmberg-Smith, who has been a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since its 1988 inception and currently serves congregations in Ross...

Mike and Carol Winick
Mike and Carol Winick are members of an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation. But Mike, a seminary student, plans to seek pastoral credentials with a different denomination. Special to The Forum

Karen Holmberg-Smith feels betrayed by her church.

"I feel like my church is leaving me," said Holmberg-Smith, who has been a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since its 1988 inception and currently serves congregations in Ross and Pinecreek, Minn.

Like many others, she's uncertain about her place in the ELCA.

Holmberg-Smith has been troubled by numerous actions over the years, including decisions made at the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly in August when the assembly voted to allow non-celibate homosexuals in committed relationships to serve in the clergy. The church also approved a controversial social statement on human sexuality.

After the assembly, "I just told my congregation we needed to look at some options" outside the ELCA, Holmberg-Smith said.


She was in Fargo last week for the annual gathering of Lutheran Congregations for Mission in Christ. LCMC sees itself as a centrist church coalition with a high regard for Scripture.

Holmberg-Smith was there on a "fact-finding mission," though she stressed that her churches haven't made the decision to leave the ELCA.

Along with the recent decisions on sexuality, Holmberg-Smith has also been troubled by some of the ecumenical agreements with other denominations and what she feels is a disproportionate amount of money spent on administration as opposed to ministry and mission.

"The ELCA is more concerned with society's trends than the Bible," said the 49-year-old Holmberg-Smith. And she said she's been "grieving" over what's going on in her church.

Members of the ELCA have been wrestling with how the church should relate to the homosexual community since it began two decades ago.

Jamestown Pastor Harlan Kaden has served in the ELCA that entire time. And the pain and struggle comes through his voice as he chooses his words carefully and thoughtfully while talking about issues related to gays and the church.

"In some ways I'm grateful to the ELCA for forcing me to consider this issue for so long a time," said Kaden, who serves at St. John's Lutheran Church in Jamestown.

While one of his friends lay dying from injuries suffered in an automobile accident and he was in the critical care unit with this friend's family, Kaden said the ELCA helped him be able to "put an arm around" his friend's son and that son's gay partner and "pray with them, too."


Kaden said he doesn't feel the need to judge those who, through the use of the gift of the Holy Spirit and study of Scripture, feel it best for them to be in a committed, same-gender relationship.

"They are accountable to God, not to me," he said. "When I read and study the Scriptures, I still have questions about whether that might be best for them."

And he struggles with the question of whether he should confront them about that issue.

Even so, Kaden said there are "certain behaviors - not just homosexual intimacy - but there are other human behaviors which invalidate us for leadership as a pastor in a church."

"I haven't found yet in Scripture the place where I can say it's OK to have homosexual behavior and still be a pastor in a church," he said.

But Kaden said he is committed to continuing to pastor his congregation, regardless of what decision it makes regarding its affiliation.

"What I've told them in our most recent newsletter is, all three pastors (at the church) are committed to the ministry of St. John's," Kaden said.

The note from the pastors in the church newsletter said, "Any actions and decisions the congregation makes will not prevent us from giving our best to fulfill the calling of our Lord Jesus Christ to serve all God's children of every age at St. John's Lutheran Church, the students of Jamestown College, and the community of Jamestown."


Kaden said his church has had no meetings or official discussions regarding leaving the ELCA, though many of the congregants at the 2,200-member church are troubled by the decision on gays in the clergy.

But there are ELCA members who have already made the decision to exit, feeling that their church has left them.

"It's like they divorced us," said Carol Winick, who was attending the LCMC convention last week with her husband, Mike. The Winicks attend an ELCA congregation in Hoffman, Minn., and Mike is in seminary, studying to be a pastor. But he plans to seek ordination outside the ELCA.

He said the ELCA basically left him and shifted "way off to the left." For him, the Churchwide Assembly's decisions on sexuality were "the straw that broke the camel's back."

It's getting easier for him to leave the church he's been in since its beginning because Winick said he's "been disappointed so many times by the ELCA, by what they believe."

His wife, Carol, said, "I think we're looking forward to a new beginning."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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