From Lancaster Online - Earle Cornelius, Dec. 21, 2019
On Dec. 8, a small country church took a bold step. On that date, St. Paul Lutheran Church in Penryn voted to become the first Reconciling in Christ Lutheran Church in Lancaster County.
The service that day attracted larger-than-normal attendance for a church with 70 to 75 members. When the vote was announced, 92% had voted in favor of becoming an all-inclusive church.
“This is sort of a new birth for the church,” said Vicar Angie Hammer, who has pastored at the church since September 2017 and will graduate from United Lutheran Seminary in 2020. “It’s sort of divine in that during this season of Advent, we’ve come to this point.”
The mission statement accepted that day reads:
“St. Paul Lutheran Church, Penryn, welcomes all God’s people, embracing differences of age, race, ethnicity, physical or mental abilities, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or economic status. We recognize that we are all children of God, whose differences are Reconciled in Christ.”
Although the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is open and affirming, it allows each congregation to make that decision. The denomination has ordained gay and lesbian pastors since 2010 and sanctions same-sex marriages.
St. Paul began the discernment process earlier this year. In May, a church member attended educational sessions sponsored by ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation, based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“For about nine months, we started having conversations about what it would mean to the community, what it would look like if we did make a public affirmation about total inclusiveness,” Hammer said.
Music director J.P. Welliver has been a member of the church for 24 years and music director for the past decade.
A gay man, Welliver described the congregation as “very open and welcoming and accepting.”
That feeling, he said, “I think helped make our decision easier to move forward with a public declaration.”
The church is now awaiting a certificate for the ReconcilingWorks organization. Once that is received, the church will be listed on the national Reconciling in Christ registry for people who desire to attend an open and affirming church.
“We’re hoping that, for the purpose of Christmas Eve, people will know that there’s a welcoming, safe space for people to come worship,” Hammer said.
Hammer said that although other churches are open and affirming, the fact that St. Paul — a small church in a rural setting — was the first Lutheran church in Lancaster County to declare itself a Reconciling in Christ church was a surprise.
“We are now a resource for people who are seeking such a congregation,” she said.
Hammer said while she sensed some trepidation from members of the congregation, she has not heard anything negative about the decision.
Added Welliver, “I think it’s just a matter of trusting our faith through this whole process. It takes courage to take a step like this.
“The whole meaning behind the mission statement that we have accepted and voted to publicly declare ... shows people we are a community that is loving and accepting and that there is no judgment when you come in through the door.”