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Lesbian pastor's celebration ends with possible hate crime

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- It was a meant to be a day of celebration.

An openly gay, Evangelical Lutheran pastor from St. Paul has been appointed to a prominent leadership role -- to fight discrimination.

But the ceremony on Saturday ended with police investigating a possible hate crime in the parking lot outside the church where it was held.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) called the naming of Pastor Anita C. Hill (as a regional director with a group called ReconcilingWorks) "historic." About a hundred people gathered to mark the occasion Sunday at Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church in St. Paul. According to Hill, her new role will be "to help congregations be fully welcoming in the pulpit and the pew" -- to all people, no matter their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Hill has been out of the closet since 1974. Still, her St. Paul congregation (St. Paul Reformation Lutheran Church) was sanctioned by the ELCA in 2001 when it broke church rules and formally ordained her as their minister. Although the rules were changed by the ELCA in 2009, Hill remains a trail-blazing minority among gay clergy.

According to Emily Eastwood, ReconcilingWorks' executive director, "Not all of them are able to open about who they are."

The Sunday celebration ended on a potentially sour note when, as those in attendance headed to their cars to go home, one attendee noticed his car had been damaged. A back window was smashed, apparently by a golf ball that lay in the back seat.

On it, scrawled in red letters: a gay slur.

Bob Paddock, the owner of the car, said, "There seems to be an awful lot of folks out there who just don't want to accept anything that they're not comfortable with. so lashing out seems to be one way of doing it."

Paddock called police and a St. Paul officer filed a criminal damage to property report. He said investigators will determine if it's a hate crime.

"I think we have some work to do," said Hill, "to get to know one another fully. And that will break down the barriers between us. and that's what ReconcilingWorks is all about."

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