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RGOD2: Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson to speak in San Diego this weekend | VIDEO

This year marks the 125th anniversary of one of the most historic Lutheran congregations in Southern California, First Lutheran Church on the corner of Third and Ash Street in downtown San Diego. Although this congregation has changed over the years, the central message of welcome to all remains a constant theme over 125 years of service.

The Rev. Wilk Miller, the congregation’s pastor, marched on the streets of San Diego for marriage equality and regularly volunteered to phone other California voters and convince them marriage equality was a really good thing for all. His congregation serves many different marginalized communities including San Diego’s homeless and hungry populations. These ministries are all integral parts of the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s in America’s (ELCA) mission and outreach of its 4 million members.

This weekend, First Lutheran Church San Diego will welcome Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson to speak at both services (9 and 11.30 am). There will be a celebration brunch to mark this historic occasion between the services. Everyone is invited to attend.

First impressions

I met Bishop Hanson this summer for the first time at the annual meeting of ReconcilingWorks, (the LGBT advocacy movement within the Lutheran church) in Washington, D.C.

Bishop Hanson had been invited many times to address this ministry of LGBT and straight allies within the denomination, but homosexuality was a divisive and contentious issue for all Christian churches over the past 40 years and the bishop was careful not to alienate members of his church who were still in discernment about what came to be known as “Policy Change.” Policy Change was basically about removing all obstacles for LGBT people to fully participate in all the ministries of the church – including ordination.

Even though these issues took four decades to be fully addressed, it was not until 2001 that the Lutheran church began to engage the issues more strategically with the help of “Lutherans Concerned,” its advocacy organization. As a result of these policy changes, (the organization now has a budget of $650,000, 8 full time staff) decided to change its name to “ReconcilingWorks” last summer, with Bishop Hanson present for the first time at this historic annual meeting.

I was excited to hear the Presiding Bishop speak. I had great reports on the bishop’s extraordinary communication skills and his sermon that day was engaging, masterful and hopeful particularly to LGBT church-damaged people. The ELCA as a denomination clearly makes room for places of welcome, where RIC (Reconciling in Christ) congregations have demonstrated a willingness to open their hearts and lives to LGBT people in their local contexts. Bishop Hanson, for example personally reached out to LGBT youth in a video made in 2010 as part of “It Gets Better” campaign. It is worth watching.

“You are a beloved child of God,” he tells us. “Nothing can separate us from God’s love.” I recently learned that a friend of mine who is transgender, Mary Ann Horton, is the board chair for First Lutheran in San Diego – what a witness for full inclusion!

Garrison Keillor?

When I hear Bishop Hanson speak this summer in Washington, he reminded me of Garrison Keillor (who is also in San Diego this week) with his wonderful mastery of language, humor and storytelling. As a regular public speaker myself, it is always good to listen to someone who clearly is masterful in this important art.

His own journey to inclusion was shaped by his family values and growing up in the turbulent years of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. He ministered in Chicago and Minnesota before being elected to the highest office in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 2001.

His personal story is very interesting in that he represents a large chunk of American Protestant males who have really come to a deep understanding of what equality means in American today. There he has reached out in partnership with many different marginalized communities including LGBT over the years and he believes this has enriched his own humanity and ministry as well as the global mission of the church.

International roles

From 2003 until 2010, Bishop Hanson was president of The Lutheran World Federation – the international network of reformed churches who claim their roots in the reformation movement of Dr. Martin Luther in the 16th century.

He has traveled widely throughout the world, sharing a confident hope in God's promises and a vision of the joyful freedom in Christian community and mission. This has not been an easy task in places like Africa where the Lutheran church is active and respected in Ethiopia, Namibia and Tanzania. Congregations and Synods (like Dioceses) are mandated to have international connections with each other, so the flow of information and resources is part of this international movement.

The ECLA has been one of the most supportive denominations in the work of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Dr. Philip Moeller serves on our board as well as being the International Chair for ReconcilingWorks. His congregation in Washington, D.C. provided hospitality for 26 individuals who attended the International AIDS conference last July. They are also proving emergency housing for a recent victim of anti-gay persecution from Ethiopia. So ties are strong and commitments to practical social ministry are high priorities. Lutherans “walk the talk.”

The recent defeat of a proposed constitutional ban on same gender marriage in Minnesota was in part due to convincing local Lutherans to vote against it. Emily Eastwood is a Lutheran lay leader who worked very hard on this close campaign.

Emily is executive director of ReconcilingWorks (formerly Lutheran’s Concerned) and she shared her own insights into the important role Bishop Hanson has played in making the church more open to LGBT people and others.

“Under the leadership of Bishop Mark Hanson, during his second term of office, the ELCA completed its study of human sexuality and adopted a social statement and ministry policies inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity thereby ending the ban on partnered gay and lesbian clergy. Since that time Bishop Hanson has spoken out against bullying in his “It Gets Better” video as well as numerous speeches. He penned letters to Secretary of State Clinton and the leadership of the Ugandan parliament calling for an end to violence and discrimination against LGBT people in that country. During his tenure, the ELCA also supported the federal Hate Crimes Bill and the transgender inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Bishop Hanson was president of the Lutheran World Federation in 2009 when policy change and a social statement went into effect. His walk with some of our global partners particularly regarding marriage for same-gender couples and acceptance of partnered gay and lesbian clergy cannot have been easy. We will likely never know the personal price he has paid while serving our church in this critical time. We thank him for his leadership, for his witness for full inclusion within the denomination, our country and to our ecumenical and global partners. We pray for him, our synodical bishops, and church wide leadership that our church may give prophetic witness to the Biblical mandate to do justice unbound by fear, freed in Christ to proclaim the Good News and to serve the neighbor.”

Welcome to San Diego!

It is a privilege, on behalf of our inclusive faith community to welcome Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson to our city this weekend. For more information on the services and celebrations on Sunday, Feb. 17, please check their website HERE. More information on ReconcilingWorks and finding an RIC congregation near you, visit HERE.

RGOD2, written by the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, looks at faith and religion from an LGBT point of view. Ogle is known around the world for his work in support of LGBT rights and HIV-prevention efforts. He is president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Donations to the foundation can be made by clicking HERE.