Local Lutheran churches leave synod

"We called for an ethical and moral renewal," said Pastor Frezil Westerlund, the pastor of four local Lutheran churches.

Congregations of First Lutheran Church in Philip, Trinity Lutheran Church in Midland, Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Long Valley, and Deep Creek Lutheran Church of Midland/Hayes have voted to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

"When the ELCA bishop visited us before our final vote, I think that he was a bit surprised to find out we didn't want to talk about homosexuals," said Westerlund. In 2009 the ELCA accepted homosexual clergy. "Celibate is celibate," said Westerlund, "But, what we found is that the ELCA is an organization that calls more for political action, which we believe belongs more with other organizations. Basically, the ELCA got swallowed up by liberal protestantism. Our local congregations follow an orthodox form of Christianity."

The four congregations have joined the newly created North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The First Lutheran congregation also is a member of the 10-year-old, 600-church Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). As long as the churches voting to leave the ELCA are transferring to another Lutheran entity, they retain ownership of their property and take it with them.

"We are not trying to be competitive. Our goal is to help people," said Westerlund. "Both the NALC and the LCMC church denominations put power in the hands of the people in the pews. That's the whole point, that's what the fight is over. The people of this church should run this church. The ELCA wanted us to send all our benevolence to it so they could send it where ever. Now we have chosen to send our benevolence to one North American partner and to one world partner."

Westerlund lamented that Augustana College, a ELCA organization, shows a bigger roster of Muslim studies on its website than Christian studies. She said that Augustana's last commencement exercise included parts of the Muslim Koran. The ELCA believes in universal salvation, while her four Christian churches believe that salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone.

"Our four churches have about 400 members, and we are experiencing growth. We've seen many more baptisms. The First Lutheran Church expected about 30 children for its annual Summer Bible Camp, but we had 45. We are very excited, happy and positive," said Westerlund.

Other Lutheran churches in South Dakota have, or are discussing, leaving the ELCA. Westerlund has been asked to speak at three other Lutheran churches about this issue. "Mostly, members of a congregation that have voted and have not left the ELCA do not stay with that church. They go other where or split to create a new church. But, I don't have to think about the ELCA anymore; that's their church and their problem," said Westerlund.