Lutheran bishop censures area churches

Reverend Frezil Westerlund, Philip, and the four congregations she serves have been censured by the Reverend David Zellmer, bishop of the South Dakota Synod.

Their offense is believing that practicing homosexuals should not be allowed to fill the pulpit. The congregations have expressed their belief that changes in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's teaching and policy on homosexual behavior violate the teaching of the Bible. They have joined the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), an association of traditional Lutheran congregations. They have also withheld giving to the synod, and instead are directly supporting statewide Lutheran ministries.

The four congregations are the First Lutheran Church, Philip, Our Savior's Lutheran Church, Long Valley, Trinity Lutheran Church, Midland, and Deep Creek Lutheran Church, rural Midland. During congregational meetings last October, each voted to join LCMC and to redirect their mission giving. Westerlund has not joined LCMC.

Unlike most of the nearly 200 congregations, 11 in South Dakota, that have joined the LCMC, these four have not voted to leave the synod. "We did not withdraw from the ELCA, because we believed that the course of the church could still be righted. Now, who knows what will happen," said Westerlund.

Westerlund, 63, recently returned from the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., where she underwent surgery for colon cancer. "It was quite a surprise to come back from Mayo to find out that I am an outlaw," she said.

Reverend David Baer, a minister in Whitewood and an editor for a monthly Lutheran newsletter, was disappointed that, though the four congregations voted last October, the censure did not come until Westerlund was on medical leave. And, then it was communicated by an assistant, while Zellmer was touring Africa. "I think Bishop Zellmer is one of the first ELCA bishops, if not the first, to take any action against a congregation or pastor regarding affiliating with LCMC," said Baer.

"The people of Western New Hope Lutheran Parish (the four congregations) are people of faith and kindness," said Westerlund. "When someone is hungry, we feed them."

John Kangas, a member of First Lutheran, Philip, said, "Instead of sending our funds to the synod for them to distribute to our various church agencies, we send directly to these agencies. With benevolence money sent to the South Dakota Synod main office, 43 percent is sent to the national ELCA. Our local congregation not only gives support to our Lutheran statewide mission groups, we also started funding local food banks and help for people's prescription drugs."

Shirley Kangas said that this designated giving is resulting in more funds for actual ministry, rather than for staff salaries at church headquarters. Both the national ELCA and the South Dakota Synod are short in their budgets. "The monies going directly from the congregations to the mission projects have increased more than the projects would have received from the synod," said S. Kangas.