A fracture of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America became a real possibility Wednesday with the announcement by dissidents they will have a new Lutheran denomination ready for launch by August.
That marks a speed-up in plans by Lutherans who oppose the ELCAâ€™s decision to allow gay clergy to be pastors.
â€œEvery day weâ€™re hearing from people asking us to do something, so we are responding,â€ said the Rev. Paull Spring, chairman of Lutheran CORE.
CORE, an umbrella group of Lutheran organizations, led the fight against the gay-clergy vote at the ELCA convention in August in Minneapolis. The measure, which required a two-thirds majority, passed by one vote after days of contentious debate.
At the time, ELCA officials asked unhappy members to take no quick action in response to the vote, and delegates to the CORE meeting in Indianapolis agreed to wait a year before moving to split from the ELCA.
But last week the second-largest Lutheran congregation in Minnesota, the 4,500-member Hosanna Lutheran, announced it changed its mind about waiting and will take the first of the required two votes to leave the ELCA by mid-December.
CORE organizers said their accelerated exit strategy is not tied to any particular churchâ€™s decision not to wait.
The change in timing is the result of a sense of growing impatience among an increasing number of congregations, said Ryan Schwarz, the chairman of COREâ€™s Vision and Planning Working Group, the committee that will draw up the framework for the new denomination.
â€œWhen we talked about waiting a year, we never intended to sit around for a year and just contemplate,â€ he said. â€œWe expected to do planning. Now weâ€™re also going to be doing the legwork in terms of creating a new church body.â€
The ELCA has 4.6 million members nationwide. It has 10,391 member churches.
Splitting from the parent denomination is not going to be an easy decision for some churches. Of the 87 congregations that have informed the ELCA they are considering leaving, the vote to split has failed in 28 of them.
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