In the beginning . . .
“The North Beach Fellowship, a covenant community of the Lutheran Church in America, sponsored and hosted the initial meeting of Lutherans Concerned for Gay People of Northern California (LCGP/NCA) on Sunday 16 November 1975 at 2:30 p.m. at the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Association, 660 Lombard Street, San Francisco, CA 94133.”
These words come from the minutes of that first meeting of what is known today as the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of Lutherans Concerned. This offspring of the national organization, founded just a year before in June, had as its goals educating different segments of the church about gays and lesbians, developing a theology that included people of various “sexual life styles,” and creating spiritual support and affirmation for gays and lesbians.
The time was ripe . . .
The time was ripe for the formation of such an organization in the Lutheran Church. The Gay Rights Movement was in full force following the Stonewall Riots in 1970. San Francisco had had its own “Stonewall” several years earlier when San Francisco police harassed drag queens and gay men at a New Year’s Day Eve party on January 1, 1965. Within the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), rejection by 80% of the faculty and students at St. Louis Seminary of the call by the Synod President for all clergy to accept the Bible as literally true had resulted in the formation of Seminex, Concordia Seminary in Exile. LCMS congregations that didn’t accept Biblical literalism left the Missouri Synod and formed the Evangelical Lutherans in Mission, later to become the AELC. This rebellion prompted many gay people within the Lutheran denominations to examine their Church’s attitude toward gay people.
LCGP/NCA, more commonly referred to as LC/San Francisco, was not the first chapter formed after the creation of Lutherans Concerned for Gay People. However, it was unique in that it was the first to be comprised of both gay and straight people. One of its first efforts at education was the sponsoring of an educational forum on ministering with gay/lesbian people for the ALC South Pacific District’s Commission on Metropolitan and Special Ministries. LC/SF worked with the Los Angeles Chapter and ALC leaders on the two day forum, February 11-12, 1976, and the result was a vote by the commission to urge continued dialog with gay Christians at all levels within the district.
Early educational focus . . .
In April of that year, “Guidelines for Dealing with Problem Situations” for Ministers was adopted by the Council of Synodical Presidents of the LCA. “Acts of Homosexuality” was listed as a problem situation, and LC/SF responded quickly to get pastors throughout the Pacific Southwest Synod to protest these guidelines.
The Rev. William Lesher, president of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) invited members of, LC/SF to serve as consultants and auxiliary instructors in a variety of courses so that gay concerns might be articulated. In November, LC/SF held “A Dialogue on Human Sexuality” at PLTS which discussed both the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of death and resurrection with respect to human sexuality.
1977 started off with the “All-Lutheran Resources Faire,” held at the Urban Life Center in San Francisco. LC/SF had a booth and sponsored two workshops, one of which was a panel of straight and gay people discussing the Church and the Homosexual.
By June, 1977, LC/SF was the second largest chapter of LCGP with 22 members; the largest, LCGP/Los Angeles, had 25. In total, LCGP had 14 chapters across the country with 3 more in the formation stages.
1977 galvanized gay/lesbian movements across the country as Anita Bryant brought her name to the forefront in her effort to defeat a gay rights ordinance in Miami. LC/SF joined the anti-Anita efforts with a five-hour presentation to the LCA Pacific Southwest Synod’s Social Ministry Commission.
The first national assembly . . .
The first LCGP national assembly was held at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee in July of 1978. In his sermon to the members of LCGP gathered from around the country, Pastor Chuck Lewis shared his experience marching in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade with its first (ever) Lutheran contingent just weeks before.
“In each block the applause came until I finally turned to one of the marchers and said, ‘I’ve been here 14 years and never knew there were so many closet Lutherans in San Francisco just waiting to come out.’
“And pictures? Yes, we were photographed too, this time not by the police. In fact one little blond guy jumped out in the middle of the street, snapped his instamatic, and shouted, ‘Wow! Just wait until my mother sees this.'”
Eighteen people marched that day in contingent 59 behind a banner that read, “Love one another as I have loved you. —Jesus,” and posters that declared “The Lutheran Church in America supports Gay civil rights.” This group included three clergy and three seminarians; nine married people and nine single people; eight straight people, nine gay people, and one bisexual person.
Fall 1978 saw LC/SF joining the Episcopal group Integrity in the successful fight against Proposition 6, the Brigg’s Initiative, which would have barred homosexuals from teaching in public schools.
October, 1979, marked the first issue of a newsletter for LC/SF. The LCGP/NCA title had all but disappeared by this time, and Lutherans Concerned San Francisco became the official name of the newsletter. The first President for LC/SF, Steven Krefting, stated in the opening article that the purpose of the newsletter was “to educate, to communicate, and to motivate.”
The second issue, which appeared in December, reported on LC’s participation in the March on Washington on October 14; and the third issue had an article on the smaller March on Sacramento, held on January 13, 1980. LC/SF was there; its five-member delegation joined other gay/lesbian religious groups in the pouring rain to show support for legislation that would protect the jobs of gay and lesbian people.
June 19-22, 1980, marked the second national assembly of LCGP, which was held in San Francisco. LCGP took over St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and the adjacent Urban Life Center. There were 15 workshops on topics ranging from “Strengthening Chapters: How to Do It” to “Liberation Theology and the Gay Movement.” Kathleen Hurty and R. Adam DeBaugh gave the keynote speeches on the convention theme, “Our Time Has Come…The Gay Christian in the 1980s.” Participants received in their registration packets, among other things, a sample of ash from the volcanic eruption of Mt. St. Helens, which had occurred only the month before.
LC/SF continued to be actively engaged in workshops and forums in congregations and groups throughout California. However, the organization did find time for social activities. 1981 there was a Talent Night, a St. Patrick’s Day party, a fundraiser for LC/SF featuring Supervisor Harry Britt, and a play at Theater Rhinoceros.
September 12, 1982, was appointed a Day of Remembrance for “the many gay people who have shaped the life of the Church.” That year marked the first year that the chapter lost members to AIDS. The newsletter adopted the name Adventus. LC/SF had a chapter retreat in October at Mount Cross under the theme, “New Views on Sexual Ethics.” Carl Jech and Loey Powell were the conference facilitators.
The RIC project is launched . . .
In 1983, the Reconciled In Christ project (now knows as Reconciling in Christ) was introduced by Lutherans Concerned/North America (LC/NA), the new name for the national organization. Their Affirmation of Welcome to gays and lesbians was quickly adopted by several Bay Area congregations: St. Francis, First United, St. Mark’s, all of San Francisco; St. Paul, Oakland; and University Lutheran, Palo Alto. AIDS literature was included in issues of the Adventus. LC/SF joined with LC/LA to host the first LC Cocktail Party at the Pacific Southwest Synod Convention in April.
In November, 1984, St. Francis Lutheran was designated the home church of the LC/SF chapter. As a result, most LC/SF activities were held at St. Francis, including an Advent Celebration in December, a Burning of the Greens in January of the following year and a BBQ later in August. Meanwhile, St. Francis formed its own gay support group, Fidelis.
By June of 1985, the RIC program had added St. Paulus and Christ Church, both of San Francisco. The first set of banners was made to represent the seven RIC congregations. The RIC banners were held high by some of the 23 Lutherans Concerned and Lutheran Peace Fellowship members who participated in the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parade.
1986 brought three more RIC congregations and the largest contingent to date for the Freedom Day Parade: 42. Three additional banners were made for the new RIC congregations, Lutheran Peace Fellowship, St. John’s, Sunnyvale, and University Lutheran Chapel, Berkeley, bringing the total to ten. The LCA issued a document entitled “A Study of Issues Concerning Homosexuality,” and LC/SF conducted studies of the document. The merger of the ALC, AELC, and LCA was completed and the ELCA was born. Meanwhile, strong gay support groups at both St. Francis and St. Mark’s were making LC/ SF’s social function increasingly unnecessary.
In 1987, Christ the Good Shepherd, San Jose, and Faith, San Rafael, became the eleventh and twelfth Bay Area RIC congregations. LC/SF had chapter t-shirts made, which were worn at the Freedom Day Parade. The Adventus became the ADVENT.
“Irregular” ordinations . . .
The month of October was a pivotal one for gay and lesbian Lutherans. At the second March on Washington, three gay seminarians from PLTS in Berkeley made the decision to come out at the seminary. The march had charged them, and they were no longer willing to hide behind the false fronts perpetuated by the Lutheran Church.
In 1988, the ELCA responded with a heavy hand to the openness of the three seminarians. A set of guidelines was established for candidates for ordination, and one requirement was that all single—read “gay”—candidates sign promises of lifelong celibacy until marriage. One of the candidates, Jeff Johnson, was the regional LC Director for Region 2 and a member of St. Francis, S.F. All three of the candidates refused to sign, and all three were, therefore, not considered eligible to be ordained. LC/SF gained one new RIC congregation, Shepherd of the Hills, Berkeley.
In 1989, Jeff Johnson, Phyllis Zillhart, and Ruth Frost were called by First United and St. Francis Lutheran Churches in San Francisco to be Assistant Pastors. The trio were also to form what was to be known as Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries ( LLGM). LC/SF helped with the reception following their ordinations in January 1990.
From the end of 1989 and for the next year, LC/SF was eclipsed by the newly formed LLGM. The various aspects of LC/ SF’s remaining functions, educational, and religious, were made redundant by the offerings of LLGM. Although LLGM was considered the beginnings of a national ministry, the fact that its offices were at St. Francis in San Francisco meant that the programs drew people from all over the Bay Area. Now much in the background, LC/SF continued to assist congregations in the process of becoming Reconciling In Christ, marched at the Freedom Day Parade, and played hosts at a cocktail party at the Synod Assembly. Ironically, the Sierra Pacific Synod adopted the Affirmation of Welcome at its assembly, and the cocktail hour was the largest in LC/SF’s history, thanks to concern over the impending trial of the two San Francisco congregations over the “irregular” ordinations. Three more RIC congregations also joined the ranks: Grace, Richmond; Faith, Oakland; and Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Sacramento.
By the end of 1990, membership in LC/SF had dropped to a low of 49. A membership drive, however, brought that number up to 116 by June of 1991. A group of LC/SF members residing in the South Bay began the process of forming a separate chapter, LC/San Jose. LC/SF gained two more RIC congregations, Peace, Danville, and First, Palo Alto, bringing the total to 18. LC/SF brought to the Synod Assembly a resolution to support the ordination of openly gay/lesbian candidates; the resolution passed in a slightly weakened form. LC/SF also successfully lobbied the Synod Council to pass a resolution in favor of the lesbian/gay civil rights bill, AB101, which was before the state legislature.
On June 1, 1992, Krister Stendahl, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Stockholm, Sweden, spoke before a crowd of LC/ SF members and other interested persons at St. Paulus Lutheran Church. LC/SF worked with the Synod’s Committee on Gay and Lesbian Concerns on a one-day workshop entitled, “Moving On: Lesbian and Gay Life in Your Parish.” For the workshop, LC/SF compiled a set of commitment services used by gay and lesbian couples in the Bay Area.
In 1993, LC/San Jose was recognized as its own chapter. In spite of the loss of 14 members, LC/SF maintained a membership of 90. Shepherd of the Hills, Tiburon joined the RIC list. The RIC banners from previous years were lost in someone’s garage, so a new set for all 20 congregations was made at a banner making party. The draft social statement, “The Church and Human Sexuality: A Lutheran Perspective,” was greeted with intense anger and threats by many who disagreed with the gay-positive statements in the document. LC/SF organized three regional workshops to draft a positive response to the draft.
Despite the strong support of his congregation, 1994 saw the expulsion of Pastor Ross Merkel of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Oakland, for revealing that he was in a committed same-sex relationship. LC members were among the 300 people at a service of support for Pastor Merkel in March. LC/SF also worked with members of the Network, a publicly rostered group of church professionals supporting ordination of lesbians and gays whether single or in relationship, and LLGM in lobbying for a new bishop who would have a more positive response to gays and lesbians. LC/SF also had its bid accepted to be hosts of the 1996 LC/NA Assembly.
In 1995, LLGM announced that it was changing its focus from one of programming to one of supporting congregations who were willing to extend a call to openly gay/lesbian clergy. By 1995, both of the gay support groups at St. Francis and St. Mark’s had merged into other areas of congregational life. LC/SF is known as LC/SFBA (Lutherans Concerned/San Francisco Bay Area), to reflect its growth into the communities surrounding San Francisco. It is once again the major organization concentrating on matters of concern to Lutherans and gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders. It is clear that in the many years since its formation LC/SFBA has been the driving force behind positive change for the GLBT community within the Lutheran churches of the Bay Area. With God’s guidance, LC/SFBA will continue faithfully to do the work for which it was created.
Lutherans Concerned changed its name to ReconcilingWorks, reflecting the renewed mission of the organization to bring about reconciliation in a church torn by disagreements. With the growth of Reconciling in Christ congregations throughout the Sierra Pacific Synod, our chapter changed its name to reflect the entire synod geography. Thus, we are now ReconcilingWorks Sierra Pacific.