Church defying leaders: Rite set for female pastor

SAN BERNARDINO – As a young girl, Jennifer Mason felt a calling to the ministry. As a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and as a lesbian she knew it would be denied.

So Mason followed her heart.

She hid the truth about her sexual orientation and was placed on the official clergy roster for the church. She worked with the church in Chile, then resigned 10 years later when church leaders learned about her homosexuality.

Now, Mason is the associate pastor of Central City Lutheran Mission in San Bernardino.

Her appointment and the installation of gay ministers at Lutheran churches in Hollywood and Minneapolis defies the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s rule against active homosexuals in the ordained ministry.

The nation’s fifth-largest Protestant denomination, with 10,700 churches and 5 million members, ordains gays but requires them to be celibate.

“It has more to do with my qualifications, rather than my sexual orientation,’ said Mason, 41, who is liaison for the mission’s Kinship Family Center in San Bernardino and has led its Spanish Mass.

“This is an especially creative moment in our society and the church,’ said the Rev. David Kalke, pastor and executive director of the inner-city mission. “It’s a moment of inclusion for people of all backgrounds and persuasions.’

Mason, who was removed from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America clergy roster in 2001, will be installed Sunday. The service, to be conducted in English and Spanish, will be at 2 p.m. at the Central City Lutheran Mission, 1354 N. G St..

The consequences, if any, are uncertain, although the Central City Lutheran Mission could lose about $21,000 a year in national and regional church funding.

Bishop Murray D. Finck of the Lutheran Church’s Pacifica Synod, which includes San Bernardino, urged the local church to reconsider its plan to call Mason.

In a written statement, he said the mission “made a decision that is inconsistent with constitutional provisions of our church body. These documents both govern us and help us live together in unity as a church.

“Included in our commitments to be faithful church leaders, all pastors promise to uphold the constitutions of the church. We repeat those vows each time we are installed into a particular ministry.’

Mason was an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America pastor from 1991 to 2001. When it became known that she was living in a relationship with another woman, she resigned from her call and from the clergy roster. The denomination expects all pastors to refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage.

Celibacy is not a personal option or a fair choice for anyone, said Mason, who belongs to a fringe group of 33 ministers removed from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America roster.

They meet all the requirements of the church except in their refusal to accept the celibacy rule.

“The difference is that on this roster we say we will not be in obedience to the current policy that we have to remain celibate,’ Mason said.

“We feel if we are in a committed monogamous relationship with another person, even the same gender, that we are in compliance with the gospel, if not the current church doctrine, which we believe will change.’

The Rev. Elwood “Woody’ Hall, pastor of Lutheran Church of Our Savior in San Bernardino, which supports the Central City Lutheran Mission financially, said the decision rests with the mission’s leadership.

“It’s really something they have to make choices about,’ he said.

Mason’s installation will be followed on May 2 by Hollywood Lutheran Church’s installation of the Rev. Daniel M. Hooper, 56, and ceremonies July 25 for the Rev. Jay Wiesner, 30, at Bethany Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

A lifetime Lutheran, Mason said she had to make difficult choices.

“When I was in my final interview (for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America ministry), I had to make a decision,’ she said.

“I felt my calling was to the ministry and felt that calling very strongly to God, and I wasn’t truthful with the interviewers. I made a choice not to be honest with them, or I would not be approved for ordination.’

Mason said she is “not happy with my lack of disclosure at that point’ but felt it was the only way she could fulfill her dream to preach.

Central City Lutheran Mission officials knew of her homosexuality when she was hired, Mason said.

Kalke, who heads the mission, said Mason has “developed solid credibility’ in the community.

“The fact that she’s a lesbian hasn’t affected any of those relationships,’ he said. “She’s a top-notch human being who works extremely well with people.’

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Source

(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
San Bernardino Sun, USA
Apr. 15, 2004
Priscilla Nordyke Roden, Staff Writer
www.sbsun.com

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday April 16, 2004.
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