Local Lutheran church changes affiliation

  • Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Staff Photo by Scott Rodgers Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, on Carolina Avenue, changed its denominational affiliation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the North American Lutheran Church.

There have been a lot of changes happening at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, located on Carolina Avenue, over the past year – and some of those changes have threatened to tear the church apart.

According to Tommy Padgett, the congregation’s president, the church recently finished up the process of changing its denominational affiliation.

Previously, it was a part of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, also known as the ELCA, and it shifted to the North American Lutheran Church, or NALC.

“First, our pastor left for retirement,” Padgett said. “We started looking for a new pastor. When we did, we had to go through the ELCA to help find the pastor. That brought to light some problems we found with the ELCA with their social issues and doctrine within the church itself.”

One of those problems comes from what is referred to as the “2009 Accord.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America condones gay marriage, and also accepts gay ministers.

Last year, the ELCA elected The Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin as Bishop of the Southwest California Synod.

The North American Lutheran Church broke away from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2009, forming in 2010, and has been growing.

According to Padgett, at one time the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had more than 6 million members – now it is down to 4 million.

The North American Lutheran Church has grown from its original 17 members to 370 in 2013.

Padgett was quick to note that recognizing gay marriage was not the only factor.

Specifically, he said, he personally has gay family members and close friends. He said he feels that “God loves everybody,” and that everyone should embrace that.

What he feels was wrong, though, is that it leads to a potential scenario where a minister “can get behind a pulpit and put out their doctrine over the Bible.”

He also said that marriage is between a man and a woman.

“There’s a lot more to it than the gay issue,” Padgett said. “The ELCA supports cutting off aid to Israel, helping Palestinians and a lot of the hymns were taken out that had anything to do with the military. Words were also changed in the hymns themselves. Some of the words in the Bible were changed; previously, they said ‘marriage between a man and a woman.’ Now, they say it is ‘between you and your spouse.’”

With the church also seeking a new pastor, there also were restrictions that Padgett said they faced under the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The ELCA provides a list of candidates, and they are the ones who can be taken under consideration, Padgett said.

Under the North American Lutheran Church, recommendations are given – but the difference is that the church can freely interview other candidates.

Padgett said this gives the church much greater flexibility to control its own destiny.

The process to get to this point has created a lot of tension, he said. Padgett said there were a number of votes where the church had to get a two-thirds majority.

Along the way, the Bishop of the ELCA also visited the church to try and convince them to stay.

Eventually, a petition had to be filed to the South Carolina Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Senate to ask for Holy Trinity Lutheran’s release.

Padgett said the church lost five members, but gained a few and also had some inactive members return.

“What it did do, instead of tearing the church apart, is it relaxed a bit,” he said. “This has been going on for a year and a half. There were and still are some hard feelings; some things were said, and some people got their feelings hurt.

“Now, I think, we’re a closer-knit church. I think it brought some people together who really needed it. We are actively seeking a pastor, and they’re interviewing people right now. We have some good prospects, and we won’t be able to move forward as we want to until we get the new pastor.”

Scott Rodgers is the news editor at The North Augusta Star and has been with the paper since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheScottRodgers.

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