Bishops in the nation's largest Lutheran denomination have approved preliminary steps to welcome a group of openly gay and lesbian ministers as official clergy with new liturgical rites.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Conference of Bishops approved a draft proposal on Monday (March 8) for the new rites, which include prayers and the laying on of hands by the local bishop, according to the denomination's news service.
The proposal only applies to 17 pastors who had followed normal ELCA procedures for education and ordination, but remained barred from the denomination's official clergy roster because of their sexuality. The clergy are all members of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a group devoted to gay rights in the ELCA.
Last summer, the ELCA, which has about 4.6 million members, voted to change its longtime policy barring noncelibate gays and lesbians from the pulpit. The church's executive council is expected to vote on the proposed rites at its meeting in Chicago next month, when it is also expected to draw up new rules for other gay and lesbian clergy candidates.
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Since the ELCA's decision to allow noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy, 62 congregations have taken the two necessary votes to leave the denomination. An additional 197 have passed one of the votes, according to the ELCA, which has 10,230 congregations in all.
In addition, financial support for the denomination hit an all-time low of about $60 million in 2009, the church announced. ELCA Treasurer Christina Jackson-Skelton said the economic recession and “disagreements within congregations” about the decision on gay clergy had contributed to the decline.