Author Topic: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation  (Read 101364 times)

Evangel

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #45 on: December 26, 2011, 07:23:09 PM »
An irony I see in the congregational council believes dual membership for the congregation is OK -- they can be ELCA and LCMC; but they will not accept dual membership for people -- unilaterally (as I read the reports) removed the folks attending the mission congregation from active/voting membership to associate/non-voting membership status.

The same irony holds for the synod ... which insists on no dual rostering of congregations yet asks that LCMC supporters be moved to associate status ???
Mark Schimmel, Pastor
Zion Lutheran Church, LCMC
Priddy, TX
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ACXXIII, "Your majesty will graciously take into account the fact that, in these last times of which the Scriptures prophesy, the world is growing worse and men are becoming weaker and more infirm."

George Erdner

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #46 on: December 26, 2011, 07:28:14 PM »
Is anyone but me puzzled that some ELCA lawyers who post in here can find and copy the exact pieces of wording in the ELCA Constitution and ByLaws that support their contentions, but no one can show a clear and unambiguous statement in those same documents that forbids dual rostering? So far, all I've seen that forbids dual rostering of congregations is Swartling's "interpretation". Where is the statement in the Constitution and ByLaws that Swartling is basing his interpretation on?

James_Gale

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #47 on: December 26, 2011, 08:10:40 PM »
Is anyone but me puzzled that some ELCA lawyers who post in here can find and copy the exact pieces of wording in the ELCA Constitution and ByLaws that support their contentions, but no one can show a clear and unambiguous statement in those same documents that forbids dual rostering? So far, all I've seen that forbids dual rostering of congregations is Swartling's "interpretation". Where is the statement in the Constitution and ByLaws that Swartling is basing his interpretation on?

Are there ELCA lawyers who post here?  Or lawyers who argue here that the ELCA governing documents prohibit the dual rostering of congregations?  Maybe. But I am not aware of any.

Evangel

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #48 on: December 26, 2011, 08:21:45 PM »
Is anyone but me puzzled that some ELCA lawyers who post in here can find and copy the exact pieces of wording in the ELCA Constitution and ByLaws that support their contentions, but no one can show a clear and unambiguous statement in those same documents that forbids dual rostering? So far, all I've seen that forbids dual rostering of congregations is Swartling's "interpretation". Where is the statement in the Constitution and ByLaws that Swartling is basing his interpretation on?

Sec. Swartling's memo prohibiting dual rostering is posted here.  I don't think it's too difficult to see how he comes to his opinion ... however it's also quite easy to see how his opinion is rather weak.  Which one is right is probably going to need to be decided in court some day.
Mark Schimmel, Pastor
Zion Lutheran Church, LCMC
Priddy, TX
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ACXXIII, "Your majesty will graciously take into account the fact that, in these last times of which the Scriptures prophesy, the world is growing worse and men are becoming weaker and more infirm."

Charles_Austin

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #49 on: December 26, 2011, 11:22:42 PM »
Ye gods and little fishes!
Being a "journalism major" doesn't make one a journalist. Working for newspapers, magazines and news services for 30+ years does.
But this is not the place for a seminar on the profession I have served (alongside my call to the profession of clergy) for those decades.
Mr. Erdner's comments about the profession, Hearst, Pulitzer and related matters are even further away from reality than are his views about the ELCA.
 
As for Secretary Swartling's memo on dual rostering: You may call it "interpretation," you may call it "weak," but it is the interpretation that counts, for the ELCA Secretary - as has been explained here many times before - is the person whose job it is to interpret the ELCA constitution.
« Last Edit: December 26, 2011, 11:26:54 PM by Charles_Austin »

Erma S. Wolf

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #50 on: December 26, 2011, 11:54:41 PM »
I find this paragraph from the article to be incomplete in the information conveyed and confusing:

"Bishop Pederson, who wrote documents included in the suit, worked with 70 members to leave Grace Lutheran and start their own Church.  Ironically, these members began meeting at First Lutheran Church, incorporated as an LLC and called themselves “Amazing Grace Lutheran Church.”  Realizing that the members had left and started their own Church, with no intention of returning, Grace Lutheran re-adjusted the status of those who left to “associate members,” a new designation created by the Bishops of the ELCA.  As associate members, Grace Lutheran hoped to recognize that those who left were always welcomed back, but as members of another congregation they could not vote at congregational meetings or serve on congregational boards."

What is an "LLC" and would attending or helping to start one of these be equivalent to formally joining a congregation?  Would the leadership at Grace Lutheran be constitutionally justified in viewing those 70 persons as having left one congregation to join another? 

Also, what constitutional provision allowed the leadership of Grace Lutheran to "re-adjust the status of those who left to 'associate members'"?  (And, btw, the provision for "associate members" was not "created by the Bishops of the ELCA.")  I have always thought that if one learns (reliably) that a member of the congregation has joined another congregation, that the council could remove that person from the list of church members.  Or can one have dual membership in more than one congregation of the ELCA at one time?  And how was it determined that the 70 who left Grace Lutheran had "no intention of returning"?  Was anyone told this explicitly, or was this yet another (of many, it seems) assumption?

And when the leadership of Grace Lutheran determined to have the congregation join LCMC, how was this matter decided?  Council meeting?  Congregational meeting?  A vote, and if so by what margin?  These are the kind of facts that should be discoverable, and tell much about the intent of the actions of the leadership of the congregation. And without more information it is difficult if not impossible to determine who has acted well, and who has not.  Because of the way the article is written, it is decidedly unhelpful in learning what happened.

 

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #51 on: December 27, 2011, 12:02:37 AM »
Is anyone but me puzzled that some ELCA lawyers who post in here can find and copy the exact pieces of wording in the ELCA Constitution and ByLaws that support their contentions, but no one can show a clear and unambiguous statement in those same documents that forbids dual rostering? So far, all I've seen that forbids dual rostering of congregations is Swartling's "interpretation". Where is the statement in the Constitution and ByLaws that Swartling is basing his interpretation on?

Sec. Swartling's memo prohibiting dual rostering is posted here.  I don't think it's too difficult to see how he comes to his opinion ... however it's also quite easy to see how his opinion is rather weak.  Which one is right is probably going to need to be decided in court some day.


He is right that the older constitution, bylaws, and continuing resolutions had no provisions for creating a dual rostered congregation. However, neither did those documents prohibit a dual rostered congregation. (They'd have to figure out how to do it on their own.)
"The church ... had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

James_Gale

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #52 on: December 27, 2011, 12:04:24 AM »
I find this paragraph from the article to be incomplete in the information conveyed and confusing:

"Bishop Pederson, who wrote documents included in the suit, worked with 70 members to leave Grace Lutheran and start their own Church.  Ironically, these members began meeting at First Lutheran Church, incorporated as an LLC and called themselves “Amazing Grace Lutheran Church.”  Realizing that the members had left and started their own Church, with no intention of returning, Grace Lutheran re-adjusted the status of those who left to “associate members,” a new designation created by the Bishops of the ELCA.  As associate members, Grace Lutheran hoped to recognize that those who left were always welcomed back, but as members of another congregation they could not vote at congregational meetings or serve on congregational boards."

What is an "LLC" and would attending or helping to start one of these be equivalent to formally joining a congregation?  Would the leadership at Grace Lutheran be constitutionally justified in viewing those 70 persons as having left one congregation to join another? 

Also, what constitutional provision allowed the leadership of Grace Lutheran to "re-adjust the status of those who left to 'associate members'"?  (And, btw, the provision for "associate members" was not "created by the Bishops of the ELCA.")  I have always thought that if one learns (reliably) that a member of the congregation has joined another congregation, that the council could remove that person from the list of church members.  Or can one have dual membership in more than one congregation of the ELCA at one time?  And how was it determined that the 70 who left Grace Lutheran had "no intention of returning"?  Was anyone told this explicitly, or was this yet another (of many, it seems) assumption?

And when the leadership of Grace Lutheran determined to have the congregation join LCMC, how was this matter decided?  Council meeting?  Congregational meeting?  A vote, and if so by what margin?  These are the kind of facts that should be discoverable, and tell much about the intent of the actions of the leadership of the congregation. And without more information it is difficult if not impossible to determine who has acted well, and who has not.  Because of the way the article is written, it is decidedly unhelpful in learning what happened.

 

You're absolutely right. There are a number of important facts that I don't know and that aren't in that article.

George Erdner

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #53 on: December 27, 2011, 12:26:14 AM »
Is anyone but me puzzled that some ELCA lawyers who post in here can find and copy the exact pieces of wording in the ELCA Constitution and ByLaws that support their contentions, but no one can show a clear and unambiguous statement in those same documents that forbids dual rostering? So far, all I've seen that forbids dual rostering of congregations is Swartling's "interpretation". Where is the statement in the Constitution and ByLaws that Swartling is basing his interpretation on?

Are there ELCA lawyers who post here?  Or lawyers who argue here that the ELCA governing documents prohibit the dual rostering of congregations?  Maybe. But I am not aware of any.

It was a metaphor. There are some who'll quote chapter and verse of the ELCA Constitution and ByLaws so often one might mistake them for ecclesial lawyers.

David Garner

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #54 on: December 27, 2011, 01:18:49 AM »
I find this paragraph from the article to be incomplete in the information conveyed and confusing:

"Bishop Pederson, who wrote documents included in the suit, worked with 70 members to leave Grace Lutheran and start their own Church.  Ironically, these members began meeting at First Lutheran Church, incorporated as an LLC and called themselves “Amazing Grace Lutheran Church.”  Realizing that the members had left and started their own Church, with no intention of returning, Grace Lutheran re-adjusted the status of those who left to “associate members,” a new designation created by the Bishops of the ELCA.  As associate members, Grace Lutheran hoped to recognize that those who left were always welcomed back, but as members of another congregation they could not vote at congregational meetings or serve on congregational boards."

What is an "LLC" and would attending or helping to start one of these be equivalent to formally joining a congregation?  Would the leadership at Grace Lutheran be constitutionally justified in viewing those 70 persons as having left one congregation to join another? 

I can't be much help in any other area in this thread, but I can answer the first question you ask.  An "LLC" is a "Limited Liability Company."  Basically a flow-through tax entity similar to an S Corporation but a bit easier to form and administer.  It gives you the flow through taxation of an S Corp. without the double taxation of a C Corp. and without the administrative hassles of either.  It works in practice more like a partnership than a corporation, but it gives the limited liability protection of a corporation.

My opinion -- and it is only an opinion since I have not researched the matter and don't know the law on it, particularly in the jurisdiction at issue -- is that forming an LLC and operating as a separate Church parish would give reasonable cause to make those who remain think the members acting in such fashion had left the parish at issue.
Orthodox Reader and former Lutheran (LCMS and WELS).

Evangel

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #55 on: December 27, 2011, 04:57:20 AM »
I was involved in the founding of an LCMC congregation (physically filing the papers with the state to form a new religious corporation) while the ELCA congregation I was president of was in the process of disbanding (we had already announced the date of the final service).  I was informed by an attorney representing the synod that my participation in both congregations (the first service of the new congregation was scheduled for the week to follow the final service of the ELCA congregation) was an unacceptable conflict of interest even though I was careful not to be one of the signatories on the papers filed with the state.  On the next Sunday (the week prior to the final service of that ELCA congregation that I was a charter member of) I announced my resignation as president effective immediately and my resignation from the congregation effective at the end of worship.

Was that lawyer right?  I have no idea, but I acted with integrity based on the opinion I had been given.  I don't see the actions of the Grace council as any different (though perhaps more gracious as they explained their action of making them associate members rather than simply removing them for a conflict of interest) than the synod lawyer informing me that I needed to make a choice or perhaps face (unknown) consequences.

What was this game of hardball played over?  The lay leadership planned on gifting the new LCMC congregation the hymnals, communion ware, banners that were made by congregation members over the years, and an advent wreath at a brief congregational meeting to follow the final service.
Mark Schimmel, Pastor
Zion Lutheran Church, LCMC
Priddy, TX
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ACXXIII, "Your majesty will graciously take into account the fact that, in these last times of which the Scriptures prophesy, the world is growing worse and men are becoming weaker and more infirm."

Evangel

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #56 on: December 27, 2011, 05:08:54 AM »
...
And when the leadership of Grace Lutheran determined to have the congregation join LCMC, how was this matter decided?  Council meeting?  Congregational meeting?  A vote, and if so by what margin?  These are the kind of facts that should be discoverable, and tell much about the intent of the actions of the leadership of the congregation. And without more information it is difficult if not impossible to determine who has acted well, and who has not.  Because of the way the article is written, it is decidedly unhelpful in learning what happened.

 

LCMC permits congregations to join by whatever mechanism they chose.  In this case I believe (though I'm not completely sure off the top of my head ... and I'm up early with rotator cuff pain) I've read they they voted to affiliate with LCMC by congregation council vote - though it may have been in their resolution to leave the ELCA and affiliate with LCMC ... as they did achieve greater than 50% on the question.  All they would need to do is fill out the paperwork declaring agreement with the LCMC statement of faith and that they have voted to join LCMC by a majority vote of the council or congregation and send it in.
Mark Schimmel, Pastor
Zion Lutheran Church, LCMC
Priddy, TX
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ACXXIII, "Your majesty will graciously take into account the fact that, in these last times of which the Scriptures prophesy, the world is growing worse and men are becoming weaker and more infirm."

Coach-Rev

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #57 on: December 27, 2011, 08:07:04 AM »
You are correct - the required percentage to join LCMC was simple majority (as opposed to 2/3), which passed congregational vote.  It was not a unilateral action by the council.

Erma S. Wolf

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #58 on: December 27, 2011, 09:44:29 AM »
...
And when the leadership of Grace Lutheran determined to have the congregation join LCMC, how was this matter decided?  Council meeting?  Congregational meeting?  A vote, and if so by what margin?  These are the kind of facts that should be discoverable, and tell much about the intent of the actions of the leadership of the congregation. And without more information it is difficult if not impossible to determine who has acted well, and who has not.  Because of the way the article is written, it is decidedly unhelpful in learning what happened.

 

LCMC permits congregations to join by whatever mechanism they chose.  In this case I believe (though I'm not completely sure off the top of my head ... and I'm up early with rotator cuff pain) I've read they they voted to affiliate with LCMC by congregation council vote - though it may have been in their resolution to leave the ELCA and affiliate with LCMC ... as they did achieve greater than 50% on the question.  All they would need to do is fill out the paperwork declaring agreement with the LCMC statement of faith and that they have voted to join LCMC by a majority vote of the council or congregation and send it in.

Thank you for this information.  I'm not asking these questions in order to accuse LCMC of impropriety, but because I don't know a lot about this situation.  I did bold that portion of your sentence because I think it points out a genuine problem in this situation (and one that crops up in other congregations in similar situations):  if an ELCA congregation takes a vote to leave which fails to achieve the constitutionally mandated 2/3s majority, and in subsequent actions then takes a vote to affiliate with LCMC, what exactly are they intending to do and what procedural rules apply?  Regardless of whether a congregation may dual affiliate under the ELCA constitutions (and yes I do know how Sec. Swartling has ruled on this matter!), since there is nothing in the model constitution that lays out how this may happen, what could make this vote legitimate from the ELCA side of things?  Just because LCMC requires a majority vote in favor does not mean that the ELCA's requirement of 2/3's majority might not be a requirement for what is still an ELCA congregation.  And if their vote to "dual-affiliate" was in actuality a vote to leave the ELCA and join LCMC, that just complicates the whole thing. 

Some in the ELCA have said that congregations vote to dual affiliate with LCMC only so that they get kicked out of the ELCA because of their insistance on being dually affiliated.  And some have accused LCMC of encouraging this as a tactic to "get around" a failure to get a 2/3 majority to vote to leave the ELCA.  I'm not saying that is true; but actions such as this would muddy the water at best, build distrust and resentment at worst.  I know from having served congregations that underwent a split decades ago what the legacy is of these kind of votes and fights, and it has caused me to rethink this whole matter of congregational voting to leave a church body. 

The physical stuff, no matter how much or how little, is not worth it.  It is dust in the wind, vanity of vanities.  Leave it and start over clean.  Easy for me to say?  Perhaps.  But these battles over names and real estate and bricks and communionware are about legal "rights" and less and less about the truth of the gospel, no matter what initials follow the congregation's name. No one is righteous in these matters; we all behave badly. 

Dan Fienen

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Re: Estranged members sue ELCA-LCMC congregation
« Reply #59 on: December 27, 2011, 09:46:23 AM »
What a mess this whole situation is!  A very few of seem to have first hand information, most of us know only what we have read and what may be surmised from general knowledge of the polity of the ELCA.  It kind of sounds that both sides have at times been less than gracious, and perhaps less than scrupulous in following all the proper proceedures.  Apparently from something that was said early on in the discussion, Grace has large endowments.  When control of money enters the discussion, whether in a family fight or a church fight, things often get ugly fast.

I don't see how we, or at least those of us without first hand information, can at our remove figure out the rights of the situation.  I know that I shouldn't even try, even though I know where my sympathies lie.  It does illustrate what can happen when people feel passionately about an issue, and especially when money and valuable property gets involved.

It seems to me that some humility is in order, especially for us sitting at a remove, for making judgements.  I can certainly agree that cases can be made for everyone involved, including the ELCA for the way they set up proceedures to deal with dissenting congregations and then how they at times deal with them, to argue that they have not always acted properly and graciously.  I don't think that anybody comes off here especially well.  But neither is it for use to judge the case.

Dan
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