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Fargo's Hope Lutheran allocates funds to ELCA

FARGO -- Months after it suspended funding to the national offices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Fargo's Hope Lutheran Church approved a $10,000 fund for the national organization.

The $10,000 designated for the national office was not in the original budget presented to the congregation at its annual meeting Thursday. But an amendment from the floor for those funds passed 40-37, according to members who attended the meeting.

George Koeck, a Hope Lutheran member, said he proposed the amendment Thursday because he believes "that the fundamental mission of Hope, to encourage all people to know the love of Christ, is far more important than differences of belief we may have on human sexuality."

In October, Hope Senior Pastor Chuck Olmstead wrote on the Hope Web site that the congregation's "leadership has suspended all financial support to the ELCA."

That move came on the heels of the ELCA's decision at a churchwide gathering in August in which it voted to find ways for congregations to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable" committed gay relationships and to allow individuals in such relationships to serve in rostered ministry.

With more than 10,000 baptized members, Hope Lutheran is the largest ELCA congregation in Fargo. The funding in the amendment puts the church's giving to the national office at the same level as budgeted for 2009, said Brian Hayer, a Hope Lutheran congregant who seconded the proposed amendment.

While the church suspended funding to the national office in October, Koeck said the congregation gave to "ELCA Mission Partners/Lutheran World Relief and ELCA Mission Partners/World Hunger/Disaster Response in an amount consistent with the original commitment to the National Synod."

In a prepared statement, Olmstead said Friday, "On the salient issue of theological practice, as we have stated before, Hope will retain its existing practices. Preaching and teaching at Hope have always been from the orthodox, Biblical perspective of reserving the blessing of God for one man and one woman in a committed life-long relationship. Hope is also an ELCA congregation, and enough members voting on the budget at the annual meeting felt that institutional loyalty."

Discussion of the amendment was "exceedingly respectful," Koeck said in an e-mail interview, adding, "We share a common love of Christ."

Eastern North Dakota Bishop Bill Rindy said he was "really glad" about the church's decision on funding the national offices.

"Some really good ministries will be funded because of that," he said.

As to whether this is a sign that backlash against decisions at the Churchwide Assembly are dying down, Rindy said, "I don't know if it's dying down as much as it is that most congregations are realizing that they have members all along the spectrum on this particular topic."

Rindy said that Hope gave "a very generous mission" gift to the Eastern North Dakota synod in January.