CLEAR LAKE — Two pastors of Clear Lake’s largest church have refused to leave their jobs despite an order from their bishop.
Bishop Steven C. Ullestad of the Northeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), said the Rev. Dean Hess and the Rev. Derik C. Yarian were notified of their removal on Oct. 28.
“... You are now to function as a layperson ... your ordained status is in suspension,” said Ullestad in separate letters to the two men.
Both Hess and Church Council President Mark Shepp declined to comment Friday.
Pastors holding dual memberships — in this case, to both the ELCA and Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ — are not allowed by the ELCA.
The Zion church council has set another vote, this one at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 14, to decide whether it should leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America for good.
Ullestad said the vote is void and unconstitutional, since an earlier vote on the same issue fell short.
“The council cannot just keep calling for second votes in the hope of finally getting a resolution passed,” Ullestad said in a letter dated Nov. 5.
Zion’s leadership is unhappy with a 2009 national ELCA Assembly decision to allow gay pastors in committed relationships to serve. Local congregations do not, however, have to accept a gay pastor.
In September, the congregation, in a close vote, failed to pass a measure for disassociation. Then, the church council decided to hold a different vote — this time to associate with the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ. That vote passed.
An accompanying resolution said the church would reject “actions, policies, procedures and teachings of the ELCA.”
Ullestad said the move left Zion with two affiliations, a clear violation of the church constitution.
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Church leaders disagreed.
The blog on the church website said the ELCA had no set policy about multi-affiliated congregations — called “schismatic” congregations — and since that was the case, they as pastors could not be removed if such a policy did not exist.
“All of this is an illustration of the ridiculous machinations that are going on with the ELCA,” the blog said.
Ullestad said since the leadership intentionally violated the church constitution, they also put the church at legal risk.
The violations affect the church’s Articles of Incorporation which, in turn, affects its 501c, or non-profit, tax status.
Ullestad said he has sought another meeting with the Zion leadership, but did not receive a response. He said he will be forced to enter disciplinary proceedings, of which there are three levels. The entire process, he said, “can take years.”
After two steps, a third requires that the congregation be removed from the ELCA, he said.
Ullestad said he hopes there is still time for conversation.
“There are many wondering about this situation ... and I would encourage members to go to the (Nov. 14) meeting and speak what they believe. I would encourage them to take this very seriously,” Ullestad said.
Ullestad compared the situation to a “family in crisis.”
“It’s really about whether or not you leave the family or stay with the family and help it through the crisis,” he said. “I’m one who believes you stay and help the family.”