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'The wall is gone' at Prince of Peace

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, located at 21 N. Hill St. in La Crescent, Minn., decided recently to preform same-sex marriages at the church.

LA CRESCENT, Minn. — For members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and their church council, the decision was easy. As debate swirled in the court of public opinion, as elected officials took hard-line stances on either side, and even as other churches stood firmly against, the La Crescent congregation searched its soul, read Scripture and then decided what it needed to do.

It will welcome same-sex couples to wed in its sanctuary.

In October, the church council of Prince of Peace, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in a nearly unanimous vote made the decision that it would perform marriages for all couples seeking to make the commitment in its church. That came on the heels of a yearlong discernment process where the council held meetings, listened to stories, studied relevant Bible passages and considered an element of justice couldn’t help but lead them in that direction.

Erica Storandt, the council’s 24-year-old president, said the council that made the decision is a unique group, and the discussion was enjoyable and easy.

“I honestly didn’t see this being a huge process just because everyone is so understanding and loving of each other,” she said. “I was a little surprised that everyone was on board with it, and that kind of opened our eyes.”

The table was set by the church-wide assembly when, in 2009, it voted to allow its churches discretion to bless same-sex, monogamous relationships because, at that time, same-sex marriage in Minnesota was still illegal. It wasn’t an easy decision to come to.

“The super majority of our church leaders at that assembly voted to say, ‘Our bound conscious is to affirm these relationships, but we realize we are a church divided on this issue,’” said the Rev. Mike Woods, lead pastor at Prince of Peace. “But more of us believe in affirming same-gender relationships.”

Then on Aug. 1, 2013, marriage for everyone became legal in Minnesota, which opened the door to further possibilities.

“That was a major decision and part of the journey for our church,” said the Rev. Kent Johnson, Prince of Peace’s associate pastor.

That landmark ruling set off a series of discussions at Prince of Peace, as it now had the latitude to decide for itself whether it would marry same-sex couples. In doing so, it was the church council — and not the pastors — that ultimately had that choice to make.

At the time of the state ruling, Prince of Peace was going through a call process that brought Johnson aboard, and it was also looking ahead to council elections, knowing there would be turnover. So as a church body, they decided not to rush the marriage decision but take a slow-paced approach through conversation.

“We had these listening sessions and a place to come together and try to hear many of the questions, concerns and perspectives of this congregation,” Johnson said. “We recognize the diversity of this congregation, and there’s a gift in that. How can we listen and learn and better understand before moving forward?”

During those meetings, the church practiced what Woods called “communal discernment,” where members were invited to meet with the council in a respectful, safe environment. In those times, the group prayed and studied the Bible, asking how God was speaking through relevant verses. Then, people told stories about how they came to feel like they do on the issue.

“Everyone listened. It was a very respectful conversation, and we learned much about each other,” Woods said. “This was a biblical way to listen, tell stories and to listen for discernment. Our goal was to bring our church closer together.”

These conversations, the pastors said, were deep and got to the heart of people’s beliefs. Many were forced to consider how they read the Bible and interpret its many parts.

“There are probably seven verses that kind of speak directly to same-gender issues in the Bible,” Woods said. “Then we laid them aside (to focus on) the hundreds of verses that speak about justice and mercy.

“In the Bible, this largely isn’t a real big issue for people, but let’s interpret the ones we have and interpret them correctly,” he continued. “Then come to understand that it’s OK to disagree. We can come to different conclusions.”

And there was some disagreement, but what everyone at the table found common ground in was the justice aspect.

“These same-gendered couples, sometimes in the hospital, their partner can’t come and see them because they’re not, quote, family,” Woods said. “There was a justice issue that no one was opposed to.”

The goal was to hear everyone’s thoughts — those both progressive and conservative. Some, Johnson said, agreed with the justice aspect, but because of their own piety, weren’t comfortable with ceremonies in the church sanctuary.

“Then you had to ask the question, ‘Why should somebody who was baptized, confirmed and raised as a member not have the right to be married in the church of his or her upbringing?’” Johnson said. “That’s a harder question to answer.”

“So many of the Scriptures say, ‘welcome all’ and there’s lot of people looking for a church to extend a welcome to people who’ve been oppressed, who’ve been outsiders or outliers,” Woods added. “It’s a missional thing for us to say, ‘Welcome home.’”

After all the meetings, stories, study and prayer — and after all opinions had been heard — the pastors said the decision was an easy one to make because support was nearly unanimous in council conversations, and the stories were a foundation.

One council member voted against the issue to represent those parishioners who were having a difficult time accepting the change, though none have left in the wake of the decision. The pastors acknowledge that struggle, though, and know there are those outside their church who won’t agree with the decision. Church leaders have provided resources to those who wish to remain faithful members but disagree with the decision.

“We do so much for the community, and this is just one way for us to show how welcoming and loving we are as a congregation,” she said.

Neither pastor has been asked to perform a same-sex wedding yet, but they know eventually it will happen, and they’ll share in that celebration like they would any other.

“Weddings are fun. There’s joy, there’s love, there’s hope,” Johnson said. “There’s hope for a lifetime of love, blessings and growing, and we can have that and offer that to all people through our congregation.”

Woods said the news is good for gay parishioners who’ve received the sacraments, taught Sunday school, led Vacation Bible School and have led worship services. They can now look forward to someday having their wedding there.

“We say we’re a church without walls, and for some of the folks in our congregation who are gay, they said, ‘This is a wall,’” Woods said. “And now, the wall is gone.”

“Everyone listened. It was a very respectful conversation, and we learned much about each other. This was a biblical way to listen, tell stories and to listen for discernment. Our goal was to bring our church closer together.” The Rev. Mike Woods, lead pastor at Prince of Peace

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(17) comments

jrh042

For many of today's churches, it's all about compromise. Don't talk about hell, because we might offend someone, Don't call anyone a sinner, or he might not come back. Don't say there is only one way to heaven (through Jesus Christ), because that's intolerant. Don't disagree with anyone who says that the homosexual lifestyle is OK, because that's homophobic, intolerant, insensitive, and (my personal favorite) it isn't politically correct.

Pretty soon, nobody is going to follow any of the Bible's teachings - they will continue to decide what they believe is right and do what's best for THEM. However, everyone will someday give an account to God for their actions, including the leaders of this church.

Opus

So....what DOES the Bible say about the "homosexual lifestyle?" Let's hear it!

Opus

OR the member of those denominations actually studied scripture and listen to what God is telling them.

Graywolf

Why did God bother to create man AND woman?

LAH2301

Prince of Peace is indeed a mature, respectful, inclusive Christian community, and they are growing in every way. For anyone who has been alienated, I hope you will happen upon this church sometime and enjoy the space you'll have to seek and find God at work in your life and in the world.

Also, Prince of Peace is not the first in the area openly allowing this. Our Savior's Lutheran in La Crosse has been specifically and publicly welcoming the GLBT community for nearly 15 years. And I am proud to say, there are more to come since it is now legal in WI.

USN Veteran

There are mainly to types of Christian Church's today. Those who preach truth, and have very little true love, and those who preach love, and talk very little about truth. I have no problem with a person who lives a life style that is not as God planned, I am one of them. Living life in this world is a daily struggle. Our worldly flesh struggles with our renewed Godly spirit every day. All I know is that one day we will each bend our knee before our Lord and Savior. My Salvation is only through the saving blood of Jesus, but how will he see the life I have lived, did I die to myself daily. What lies in the deep dark pockets of my heart. The Bible says that we live in this world, but are not of this world. I envy the ability Jesus had, he was able to reach all walks of people's sin. He was always able to forgive, but he also said go and sin no more. Are the scriptures being changed by man to satisfy man? There is more I would like to say, but comment's are limited.

Bullflap

Let's see...do they show compassion for others...are they contributing members of their communities...are they able to forgive others...are they trustworthy...do they truly love each other....then I say it's about time this happens. I support them 110%.

LEWRES99

“Then you had to ask the question, ‘Why should somebody who was baptized, confirmed and raised as a member not have the right to be married in the church of his or her upbringing?’” Johnson said. “That’s a harder question to answer.”
No it's not (hard to answer): Marriage was instituted BY GOD to be between man and woman. Homosexuality is admonished in the Bible. Sin has clouded the judgment of humans to the point that there is a PERCEIVED social injustice or unequal rights. So why should somebody who was baptized, confirmed, and raised as a member not have the right to be married in the church of his or her upbringing? Well, I guess I would think the church would have failed in its job to properly explain the sin and to turn a blind eye that it's okay - all in the name of "love". As a parent, we all know about "tough love" - doing what is right for our kids despite how they feel about it because we LOVE them. I can't think of a more "unloving" thing than to give the idea that it's ok.

668 The Neighbor of the Beast

The church council should be ashamed. 2 Timothy 4:3 for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.

1 Timothy 4:1 the Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Rev. Mike Woods and Rev. Kent Johnson are now exposed as teachers of false doctrine, leading their flock astray.

1 Timothy 1:9 Realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers 1 Timothy 1:10 for the sexually immoral, FOR THOSE PRACTICING HOMOSEXUALITY, for slave traders and liars and perjurers--and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.

Revelation 18:4 ...'And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.'

To the righteous people that attend the rebellious Prince of Peace church - COME OUT OF HER!

LEWRES99

Agreed! The ELCA is giving the Lutheran church a bad reputation. They definitely don't subscribe to any of the Bible-based teachings of Martin Luther anymore. The LCMS and WELS have it together, but sadly their numbers are overpowered by the ELCA. I wish the ELCA would stop affiliating themselves as "Lutheran" and become their own independent denomination. Oh, I know plenty of ELCA members who don't stand for this sort of behavior, but I would encourage them to seriously consider leaving their church if they are allowing stuff like this to happen.

Opus

Let's see...what did Martin Luther say about homosexuality.....uh...nothing. Nice try!

Opus

Oh...this is going to be fun....

1 Timothy 4:1 says NOTHING about homosexuality.
1 Timothy 1:9 says NOTHING about homosexuality.
1 Timothy 1:10 uses the terms "fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers". Interesting that you put "those practicing homosexuality" in CAPS and that phrase isn't even in the Bible. So....that would put you on the list as either a "liar" or a "perjurer".
Revelation 18:4 nothing. nada. not a word about homosexuality.

Beast....you can do better.

MGA

I have gone to this church my entire life. Bravo to them is right! This church is full of some of the most loving, caring and understand individuals. The church nor its attendees will be going anywhere because of this decision. Some people need to stop being so closed minded, if its not hurting you then stay out of it.

truth_hurts

I was raised Catholic and abandoned church years ago after seeing for myself how many in the congregation I went to in Holmen were some of the most un-christian and mean spirited people Monday-Saturday but suddenly found religion between the hours of 8am - 10am Sunday mornings. Both parents and their kids.

Though I am sure they will take heat from the community at large for their decision, in my opinion, it is the right decision and I applaud them. In fact, it's actually made me more curious about this church, something I've avoided for years. They have nerve in standing up and being the first in this area and I stand with them in their decision for those in their congregation who identify as GLBT. My impression is they aren't all about "keeping up appearances" like I found in the Catholic church, and actually have a community of people who can think critically, respectful, maturely, and are inclusive and open.

Bravo to them - walking the walk rather than just talking the talk.

Slider

Yes, Bravo to them. As their church population drops to unsustainable levels because of this decision, they can say the church went under for this decision.

truth_hurts

I guess we'll have to wait and see since they will be the first in this area openly allowing it.

As much as it sounds like you want them to fail as a church, you must realize not everyone holds as much malice towards others as you. There are many millennials who simply don't care and are looking for the *real* experience of faith and community in the spirit of being good humans.

Opus

Neither the ELCA or Prince of Peace has had their "population drop to unsustainable levels."
Bring something better to the table than opinion not based in facts.

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