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This June, for the first time in history, the Evangelic Covenant Church has voted to remove a congregation from its roster, a congregation which decided to treat LGBTQ members as equals, allow married gay clergy and host same-sex marriages in future. The First Covenant Church is a prominent and historic Minneapolis congregation and it has never before performed a gay marriage, though a lesbian couple had an off-site wedding performed by its music director in 2014. This action produced a series of conversations about its future over the past few years and now the church has been expelled together with the Rev. Den Collison, the church's pastor.
The Evangelic Covenant Church said in a statement that the First Covenant Church was found to be "out of harmony" with its policies due to their stance on human sexuality. "I grieve the loss of First Covenant Church of Minneapolis from the roster of Covenant churches," said John Wenrich, the president of the Evangelic Covenant Church, as CNN reports. "At the same time, I respect the discernment of the Annual Meeting. I hope this historic church someday changes its mind and then returns to our family. The Annual Meeting gathers more than 1,000 delegates and three-quarters of them voted to remove The First Covenant Church from the denomination that includes 875 U.S. churches with about 300,000 members.
The First Covenant Church in Minneapolis is known for its outreach to the community during its long history. The church is now building a $42 million affordable housing project while at the moment it includes a shelter for homeless people and a childcare center. Most of the church's members might be considered LGBTQ allies. “I’m deeply saddened this ecclesial body doesn’t make room for openly LGBT individuals, other than to say you’re welcome but we won’t treat you equally,” said Collison, as The Religion News Service reports. “Ultimately, it becomes a question of what is love about and what is inclusion about. It breaks my heart.” Collison, who has been pastor for 10 years, said the church has six to eight members who identify as LGBTQ and another dozen who attend but haven’t formally joined.
The congregation is expected to remain in their historic Minneapolis downtown building, which occupies nearly an entire city block, and will operate under the same name. Rev. Collins will continue to serve as lead pastor. As an answer to being expelled, the church has begun a new association, the Covenant Collective, to support churches experiencing denominational hostility and assist them in becoming more inclusive.