Lutheran Denomination Receives Three Celebrated Pastors Who Are Lesbians in Lifelong Relationships
Today, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) received onto the clergy roster three pastors in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area who are lesbians in committed, lifelong relationships. Pastors Anita C. Hill, Ruth Frost, and Phyllis Zillhart were received as clergy during a Service of Reception presided over by Bishop Peter Rogness, Saint Paul Area Synod of the ELCA, held at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
The three pastors had all been ordained "extraordinarily" years prior, Pastor Hill in 2001 and Pastors Frost and Zillhart in 1990. "Extraordinary" means the ordinations were outside of the usual practices of the ELCA. The ELCA did not recognize these ordinations at the time they occurred. At this Service of Reception, the ELCA recognizes the ordinations and ministries done over time by these pastors.
Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart, and Jeff Johnson, lesbian and gay candidates were denied ordination by the ELCA in 1989. In 1990, they were ordained "extraordinarily" by two congregations in San Francisco, Saint Francis Lutheran and First United Lutheran. Both congregations were expelled from the ELCA for this act of ecclesial disobedience. The three went on to co-found Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries, a predecessor to the current Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM). The story of these ordinations and subsequent trial was told in a documentary video, "Call To Witness," debuted on PBS.
Anita Hill was ordained "extraordinarily" by Saint Paul-Reformation Lutheran in 2001. The congregation was censured and sanctioned by the ELCA for this act of ecclesial disobedience. The story of this ordination and Anita Hill has been told in a documentary video, "This Obedience." All three of the pastors have been on the roster of ELM from their ordinations till today.
Today, they are received onto the roster of clergy because of the decisions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly that voted to eliminate the policy that had since 1989 precluded service as ministers by those in a lifelong, committed same-gender relationship. Pastors Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart have been partners since 1984, and Pastor Anita C. Hill and Janelle Bussert since 1993.
Pastor Hill serves as co-pastor of Saint Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in Saint Paul. Pastor Ruth Frost works at the Hospice of the Twin Cities and Pastor Phyllis Zillhart at the Fairview Home Care and Hospice, both in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Bishop Peter Rogness said, "I often remind people that as difficult as these decisions have been in some quarters, in other quarters they represent a fresh breeze and open door, a recognition of the gifts of persons dedicated to the ministry of this church and the entire body of Christ. Today we receive three of these people who combined have given six decades of ministry to this church. Few who have personal knowledge of them as persons or of the ministries they've done would question that the love of the God we meet in Jesus Christ has been proclaimed and lived through them. The celebration of this service and this day is testimony to the joy felt widely in this church that doors have been opened and gifts for ministry are now being affirmed."
Pastor Anita Hill said, "Today's reception to the ELCA roster is a major event in the life of Saint Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, a congregation that put its life in the ELCA on the line in order to accomplish what they feel the gospel compels -- joyful welcome of all people into the life and ministry in the name of Christ. Functionally, I've served as a pastor of the ELCA my whole career in ministry. Today that reality has been fully recognized and accepted. I look forward to continuing to serve with greater access to the resources afforded members of the ELCA clergy roster."
Pastor Ruth Frost said, "This service signifies a joyful new beginning in the relations between the ELCA and GLBT people. Discrimination wounds both parties-- those being discriminated against and those charged with enforcing discrimination. Together, we have been freed to meet one another again in the wide embrace of God's welcome. Today we stood face to face regarding one another with new eyes and new hearts. Tomorrow, we shall stand shoulder to shoulder, regarding the world's needs rather than our own divisions."
Pastor Phyllis Zillhart said, "This joyous day manifests the incarnation of God's justice-love for all people. Hopeful hands, extended in blessing during the ordinations twenty years ago in San Francisco and ten years later here in Saint Paul, are joined today in prayers of welcome and celebration. May the ELCA embody Christ's radical love for all GLBT people, for young people searching for authenticity in action, for immigrants seeking welcome, for the poor needing food and shelter, and for the dying and their families yearning for the presence of grace and dignity."