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The ELCA: a denomination in flux

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's 2009 Churchwide Assembly was a landmark gathering.

After years of debate, voting members at last August's assembly opened the door for non-celibate gays to serve in the clergy. They also approved a much-debated social statement on human sexuality. Those actions were met with jubilation and grief.

A year later, 504 of the ELCA's more than 10,000 congregations have taken at least one of the two votes required to leave the denomination, with most passing, according to Aug. 3 numbers from the ELCA. About 200 churches have passed a second vote, which means they have disaffiliated from the ELCA.

Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, a more traditionalist denomination, has added more than 270 congregations since the assembly vote as some ELCA churches seek like-minded affiliation. And next week, a relatively conservative group of Lutherans is likely to approve the constitution for a new denomination, the North American Lutheran Church.

But for others, it's been a time of joy. In May, the candidacy committee of the ELCA's Sierra Pacific Synod, Oakland, Calif., unanimously approved the reinstatement of two previously dismissed pastors and approved for reception six pastors from a group that credentials ministers from all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Jeff Johnson of University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley was among those pastors.

"Twenty years ago ... we could dimly imagine that Lutherans would one day

fully recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," he said in an ELCA press release. "I'm very thankful ... for our church, which has finally opened up to the new and exciting future God has in store for us."