ELCA NEWS SERVICE
January 8, 2010
ELCA Northeastern Iowa Synod Bishop Questions Congregational Vote
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Steven L. Ullestad, bishop of the Northeastern Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), has declared that a Clear Lake, Iowa, congregation's initial vote to leave the denomination did not achieve the required two-thirds vote, even though congregational leaders believed the widely reported vote was successful.
On Dec. 13, 2009, Zion United Lutheran Church held a specially called meeting of members and took a vote to terminate its relationship with the ELCA. The vote came in response to the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly's action to direct changes in ELCA ministry policy that created the possibility that people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships could serve as ELCA associates in ministry, clergy, deaconesses and diaconal ministers.
The Mason City Globe-Gazette and other news organizations reported that members of Zion voted 238-119 to leave the ELCA -- exactly two-thirds of those whose votes were counted.
But Ullestad disagreed with that conclusion. In a January 6 letter to Carole Roth, Ventura, Iowa, president of Zion, he wrote that there were 366 members registered and in attendance at the meeting. The ELCA Constitution, section 9.62, requires that "a two-thirds majority of voting members present" is needed to adopt a resolution for a congregation to terminate its relationship with the ELCA. With that understanding, Ullestad wrote that 244 votes, not 238 votes, were needed to adopt the resolution.
"The resolution clearly failed," Ullestad wrote in his letter to Roth. "It would be in violation of the constitution for me to begin the synodical consultation process since Zion did not adopt the resolution." Normally, following a valid vote to leave the ELCA, synod bishops begin a 90-day consultation process with the congregation before a second vote is taken.
Ullestad noted in his letter that synod staff communicated previously with Roth and the Rev. Dean C. Hess, senior pastor, prior to the congregation's vote to leave. He wrote that Assistant to the Bishop Linda J. Hudgins sent "the constitutionally required process for this vote."
Following the Dec. 13 congregational meeting Hudgins wrote in a Dec. 18 letter to the congregation council's recording secretary, Beth Ann Schumacher, of a possible problem with the vote. She wrote that based on a conversation with a member of the congregation, it appeared the congregation's vote was one vote short of the required two-thirds.
The synod's correspondence with Zion's leadership is posted on the synod's Web site at http://www.neiasynod.org/synod_news/CongregationalVotes.asp
The ELCA News Service contacted Roth, who said in a phone interview, "We don't see it (the vote) as invalid. From our standpoint, we don't see a conflict."
"We have counted all of the votes, and we have a count of the voting members present: 357 voting members present, with 238 affirmative votes 119 negative," he said.
As for Ullestad's different numbers, Roth said she did not know where he would have gotten the numbers he cited.
Roth said she got Ullestad's letter Jan. 7. She said she expects the congregation's leaders will discuss the bishop's letter next week.
According to official ELCA statistics, Zion Lutheran Church has approximately 1,700 baptized members. Ullestad said the congregation has been historically generous in its mission support.
The ELCA News Service attempted to contact Hess by phone and e-mail numerous times. Calls and messages were not returned.
Through mid-December 2009, the ELCA Office of the Secretary reported that 135 congregations had taken votes to leave the ELCA. Ninety-seven had achieved the required two-thirds vote on their initial votes to terminate the relationship with the church, and 38 had failed.
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