Once Banished From Preaching, New Pastor Takes Over St. Paul Congregation
A minister who was once banished from the Evangelical Lutheran Church for being in a gay relationship is making a remarkable comeback. His fight to return to the pulpit led to major changes in the church nationwide. And now, he's taking over as senior pastor of St. Paul's largest Lutheran congregation.
Pastor Bradley Schmeling sat down to talk exclusively with 5 EYEWITNESS News during his first week on the job at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church on South Snelling Avenue.
"For the first time in my career, sexual orientation was not an issue whatsoever during the interview process," he said. "It wasn't an issue to solve or a barrier to get past. This is a traditional place but it also has a big heart. It's been a delight to feel so right at home right away here."
Thanks to the arrival of Schmeling, Glora Dei now becomes the largest Lutheran church in the nation with a pastor who is openly gay.
"I think the only way we will move forward is if we love one another," he said. "And that really means loving everyone--even those who are in profound disagreement with us."
Gloria Dei's congregation of 2,300 spent a year and half searching for its new leader.
According to Associate Pastor Lois Pallmeyer, "The vote was over 90 percent in favor -- so that's been the majority of conversations I've had. But yes, there have been a few who have had their concerns and are waiting to see how this will unfold."
"I don't think anyone will actually leave the church," Schmeling said. "But they might disagree."
Claire Hoyum, Gloria Dei's congregation council president, said, "Some of the things that are divisive in our society do not need to divide us, one from another, within these walls."
In 2006, Pastor Schmeling made international headlines when he announced to his congregation in Atlanta that he'd fallen in love and was in a committed relationship with his partner. That was against the rules, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church removed him from his pastoral duties.
But his congregation stood by him, and as a result, Pastor Schmeling become a catalyst for the church to re-examine and ultimately change its policies.
In 2009, the church's national assembly approved a resolution to allow gays and lesbians in monogamous same-sex relationships to serve as official ministers. Pastor Schmeling was re-instated.
"I think what my experience has done is given me a sense of what it's like to be pressed to the edges," Schemling said. "To be told that you're not accepted, that your life, as is, isn't as valuable as someone else's. I think that inspires my preaching."
This spring the St. Paul-area Evangelical Lutheran synod voted to oppose the proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. Pastor Schmeling hopes his presence in the pulpit will help others become more tolerant, and accepting.
"When we see the faithfulness and the love and commitment in gay and lesbian relationships, I think that opens doors to understanding that reshapes the church, but also makes society a better place to be as well."
To see extended video clips of 5 EYEWITNESS News' interview with Pastor Schmeling, click here.
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org