Church changes affiliation

Gilroy’s Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, a member of the Lutheran

Martin Luther is one of the towering figures in Christian
history. A Roman Catholic monk, priest and theology professor, he
became disillusioned with many of the beliefs and practices of his
church. In 1517 Luther nailed to the door of the church in
Wittenburg, Germany, his famous “95 Theses,” a criticism of the
religion being practiced around him.
Martin Luther is one of the towering figures in Christian history. A Roman Catholic monk, priest and theology professor, he became disillusioned with many of the beliefs and practices of his church. In 1517 Luther nailed to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany, his famous “95 Theses,” a criticism of the religion being practiced around him.
This event set off a period of religious ferment and civil war. Before long, thousands of former Catholics pledged allegiance to new doctrines and became known as “Protestants.”
Religion would never be the same.
Today there are some 70 million Lutherans across the world, including perhaps eight million in the United States. Historically, as they migrated to this country they tended to congregate in certain areas and form parishes based on language and ethnicity.
Gilroy’s Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd was founded 60 years ago as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Migrants from Saxony (a kingdom now part of Germany) had established this denomination in the 1840s when they fled to the United States to practice their faith free from government control.
Missouri Synod Lutherans have gained a reputation for being very conservative, marked by their refusal to ordain women to the ministry and professing a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible. The LCMS District (region), which includes Gilroy, has about 180 congregations with about 33,500 members.
Pastor Ron Koch and the members of Good Shepherd felt they needed to make a change.
“For many years our congregation has been operating, in theology and practice, in a much more open and inclusive manner than allowed by the Missouri Synod,” he said. “Holy Communion open to all, ecumenical cooperation and worship, greater inclusion of women and non-discrimination toward gay and lesbian Christians are some of the practical ways this has become manifest.”
Another Lutheran body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is known for its more progressive stance toward these issues, and the leadership at Good Shepherd began studying the practicality of affiliating with the local Synod (region) of the ELCA, which includes Gilroy and contains 200 congregations with about 56,900 members.
About a year ago they began to take a “serious look” at affiliating with this larger organization by:
– Inviting a pastor to preach whose congregation had already made this switch and discussing the results with him
– Inviting the president of their LCMS District to preach and discuss his views
– Inviting the bishop of the ELCA Synod covering this region to preach and confer with them.
In May, the congregation held an advisory vote on changing affiliation, which passed. In October they held a final vote, which passed unanimously. Their separation from the LCMS is amicable, and since the congregation holds title to its property, no rancorous lawsuits will result.
Only some procedural steps remain to be taken:
– Good Shepherd must rewrite some of its policies to meet ELCA requirements.
– Pastor Koch must complete some technicalities to be listed on the ELCA roster of clergy; all of this should be accomplished early in 2012.
The Rev. Anita Warner, pastor of Advent Lutheran Church in Morgan Hill, welcomes this news.
“Good Shepherd Lutheran in Gilroy voting to become a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is welcome news to me,” she said. “Pastor Koch is a dear colleague in ministry, and I know that he and the congregation have prayed much and shared much conversation with one another while making this discernment. Our congregation also prayed for Good Shepherd in this decision-making process, and we offer a hearty welcome to the ELCA to Good Shepherd, which is now the ELCA congregation closest to Advent. We look forward to a continuing fellowship in the Gospel of Christ Jesus as we reach out in his name to the people of South County.”

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