Wednesday, January 17, 2007

AJC: Lutheran church trial about to start

LUTHERAN CHURCH TRIAL: Converted critic - John Blake in the AJC: "James Mayer is a 70-year-old truck driver from South Carolina who calls himself a 'tough Lutheran.'

But when he talks about what's happened to him during the past six years, his eyes well up. He swallows hard and sighs. Then the tears come.

'Look at me,' he says with a sheepish smile. 'This is who I am. I'm not ashamed of it.'

Six years ago, Mayer was an angry man. St. John's Lutheran Church had elected the Rev. Bradley Schmeling, an openly gay man, as its new pastor. Only six people out of the then 250-member congregation voted against Schmeling. Mayer and his wife were two of them. He vowed not to return.

This is the worst thing that could have happened to the church, Mayer thought. They're probably going to close the doors.

St. John's doors remain open %u2014- but Schmeling's future is now in doubt.

Bishop Ronald B. Warren of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America filed charges in August against Schmeling after the pastor told him that he had entered into a relationship with another man. ELCA policy permits gay clergy —- only if they're celibate. Schmeling's trial starts in Atlanta on Friday. He could be expelled from the ELCA.

The Midtown church has since rallied around Schmeling —- and so has Mayer. He has not only returned to the church but contributed money to Schmeling's legal defense. He tears up at the prospect that "Pastor Brad" may no longer lead his church."


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