In a unanimous vote early this year, members of the congregation in Everett's South Forest Park neighborhood decided Zion Lutheran should become a Reconciling in Christ church.
What that means is explained in a statement on the church website. It begins with a Bible verse, Romans 15:7, "Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."
The statement continues:
"We're unanimously committed to embrace people of all backgrounds ... you, from of any ethnicity; skeptical or assured; rich or poor; liberal or conservative; you, from all gender identities or sexual orientations … you, made in God's image are loved and celebrated for who you are."
"It's a reaching out with the Gospel for everyone equally," said the Rev. Jeannine Daggett, pastor of Zion Lutheran. "It works for the inclusion of people of all sexualities and gender identities, providing a safe place. Sanctuary means safe place."
A program of Lutherans Concerned North America, Reconciling in Christ recognizes Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregations that welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. More than 400 Lutheran churches, synods, colleges and other organizations around the country are now Reconciling in Christ communities.
In 2009, Daggett said, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America decided to allow ordination of ministers who are in same-gender long-term relationships. In January, Bishop Chris Boerger of the ELCA Northwest Washington Synod spoke at a state Senate hearing in support of the law allowing same-sex couples to marry.
The vote to become a Reconciling in Christ congregation came at Zion's annual meeting in January, Daggett said. It followed a half-dozen meetings, starting last fall, at which the change was explained and discussed.
Chaplain Rick Pribbernow is director of Open Door Ministries, part of the Northwest Washington Synod of the ELCA. Open Door Ministries performs gay marriages, helps people who have AIDS or HIV, and provides counseling and other service.
Pribbernow, who is gay, came to Everett to talk at Zion Lutheran as members were considering the Reconciling in Christ decision.
"We met with both the church council and with the members in a number of workshops, and helped them examine the question of whether or not to be more inclusive," Pribbernow said.
Daggett said he helped with discussion of Scripture. "One thing that's important is taking a look at the context of the situation at the time, and the culture. That's very important," she said.
To interpret the whole Bible literally, Pribbernow said, would mean a ban on eating lobster or not wearing a garment made of two kinds of fabric. "And you can give up football -- you can't touch the skin of a pig," he said.
Daggett heard some negative comments early in the process, but when the time came to vote all those who attended the meeting favored the change. It's a small congregation, with fewer than 30 people attending weekly services. Daggett hopes those numbers will grow.
Zion Lutheran Church reaches out to the community in many ways. This spring and summer, the church is in a partnership with Everett's South Forest Park Neighborhood Association running a community garden program. The church hosts free weekly dinners at 6 p.m. Wednesdays, and runs a small food bank for people who attend. Zion Lutheran also hosts the 449 Club's alcohol-free dances on Saturday nights.
John Mickelson, a worship assistant at the church, has been a member for 14 years. He calls the Reconciling in Christ designation "a welcome change."
"The church council took it to the congregation. We were thinking we might be pushing the congregation, and we didn't want to do that. But we sat down at dinner together, and then unanimously adopted it," he said.
"For me it was wonderful," said Mickelson, adding that he has a family member who is gay. "It means my family can worship together."
"It really is a justice issue," Daggett said. "God is a welcoming God."
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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