10th Largest ELCA Congregation in the U.S. Votes to Leave the Denomination

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Community Church of Joy, Glendale, Ariz., ended its affiliation Sept. 27 with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States.
The congregation was the 10th largest in the ELCA with 6,800 baptized members. According to the 2009 ELCA Yearbook, Community Church of Joy's current operating expenses are more than $2.7 million. It gave more than $207,915 to the ELCA and other organizations in benevolence. By a unanimous vote of 129-0, Community Church of Joy terminated the relationship at a congregational meeting following worship.
"I was praying that (the vote) would be a clear direction from the congregation," said the Rev. Walter P. Kallestad, senior pastor of the congregation. Seeking to be consistent with the congregation's decision, Kallestad announced to the congregation his intention to resign from the ELCA's clergy roster.

Read it all and check out the three documents linked to here also.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesLutheranSexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

Posted September 29, 2009 at 1:27 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. A Senior Priest wrote:

Most excellent. A teaching moment for everyone. Let the floodgates open!

September 29, 1:32 pm | [comment link]
2. LongLeaf wrote:

Not surprising at all.  Walt and I led a joint pilgrimage (St. Andrew’s, Mt. Pleasant and Community of Joy) to the Holy Land a few years ago.  He is a remarkable man and leader.  Prayers ascending for C.O.J.
Steve Wood

September 29, 2:32 pm | [comment link]
3. Conchúr wrote:

Aprés vous, le déluge.

September 29, 2:47 pm | [comment link]
4. Billy wrote:

But voting numbers don’t add up.  129-0 out of 6,800 baptized members?  Representative voting?  Why so few voters?

September 29, 3:04 pm | [comment link]
5. azusa wrote:

#4; What I was thinking…

September 29, 3:12 pm | [comment link]
6. Brian of Maryland wrote:

In mega churches few people show up for meetings, even for a vote like this one.  That’s one of the primary distinctions between a staff led congregation and a volunteer led one.  The membership is there because they trust the staff.  Most of us will never experience it because most of us will never lead a congregation of that size.

I was mentored by Walt and his congregation back in the mid-90’s.  Throughout his career he has given generously of his time and effort to teach fellow Lutherans how to do effective evangelism.  This isn’t just the loss of a congregation.  This is a loss of a major leader and expert in faithful outreach.

September 29, 4:46 pm | [comment link]
7. Randy Muller wrote:

It’s refreshing to see the lack of hostility and vindictiveness on the part of the national denomination.

September 29, 4:50 pm | [comment link]
8. francis wrote:

The largest Lutheran congregation in the ELCA, in Minneapolis, has also left I believe.

September 29, 5:06 pm | [comment link]
9. Intercessor wrote:

I would certainly call this a Kairos moment. 129-0….‘nuf said.

September 29, 5:25 pm | [comment link]
10. Ralph Webb wrote:

To add to Brian of Maryland’s comment (#6), evangelical megachurches within denominations tend to attract evangelicals who have little-to-no knowledge of, or interest in, the denominations themselves. The non-denominational evangelical practice of choosing a church because it’s judged to be a good one or because it ministers to you and your family (as opposed to because it’s either a member congregation of a particular denomination or adheres to a particular theology or spirituality) crosses over to evangelical churches within the mainline as well. In my experience, probably most congregants who fall into this category never develop a desire to go more deeply into the denomination’s beliefs or practices, and so the issue of whether to stay or leave may well never become a great concern to them. (There are, of course, exceptions.)

September 29, 5:34 pm | [comment link]
11. Jon wrote:

#7… I agree Randy.  Very refreshing.

On the other hand, I think it may be the case (others on this thread please correct me) that the ELCA may have always been much clearer that property belongs to parishes.  Thus the gentleness of the ELCA may be the gentleness of a toothless dog—if he had teeth (like a Dennis Canon) he might bite departing paishes too.

Also, apart from that, the ELCA has model that TEC did not—namely TEC herself.  They can see how dreadful TEC’s legal assaults on dissident parishes have been for TEC’s image in both the secular and sacred world.  They have a fresh opportunity to choose a different road—still a heretical one, but not one in which the mistaken doctrine is compounded by other dreadful behavior.

There’s a reappraiser who posts at T19 occasionally and I can’t tell you what an encouraging and loving act it felt like when he reached across the aisle on a T19 thread and utterly rejected the actions of KJS and Beers over the last three years.

September 29, 5:46 pm | [comment link]
12. tjmcmahon wrote:

Perhaps we should make note that this parish is larger than 2 of the dioceses that left TEC. 
It is clear from some of the statements of the ELCA leadership, that they fell into the same logical trap as TEC and ACoC.  That is, the majority in favor of radical revision can do all the studies they want to on whether an issue is a “first order church dividing issue.”  But invariably, they survey the wrong people.  It is the minority who oppose that will determine what is and what is not a first order issue.

September 29, 7:02 pm | [comment link]
13. archangelica wrote:

I think I may be the reappraiser you spoke so kindly of. If so, thank you and bless you.
I have been so distressed over the constant persacution of traditionalist Anglicans and the fierce litigation being used against them. The last straw for me was the St. Ives Fund nonesense.
I am a novice Brother in a Christian Community in TEC. I have felt called to be a Brother since age 16 and am the most conservative member of my community.
Last week I wrote a letter to our Abbess telling her that I could no longer support the suing of fellow Christians and that this, along with several other issues of diminishing orthodoxy, has me considering leaving TEC for the ELCA. The rancor does not exist there against conservatives as it does in TEC and they are still committed to historic Christianity albeit in a more inclusive way which I fully support.
I told her that it is very possible that I may be an ecumenical member of our Community soon. I’m looking at all my options. There was a time when it was possible to be a Liberal Christian in Anglicansim and still be orthodox. Now, this is almost impossible.
I have yet to hear back from her. I bid your prayers.

September 29, 8:53 pm | [comment link]
14. Jon wrote:

#13… much love and heartfelt prayers for you, AA.

September 29, 10:38 pm | [comment link]
15. physician without health wrote:

I am not at all surprised that COJ has made this very appropriate move.  If any of y’all are in the Phoenix area during Advent, you must check out their magnificent display of Christmas lights, and savor the great message that is transmitted over the radio from the church to those passing through.

September 30, 12:32 am | [comment link]
16. francis wrote:

Lutheran property usually depends on the Synod.  Not all property is local, some being held for the Synod (Swedes).  However, it is normally local.

September 30, 6:30 pm | [comment link]
17. Melanchthon wrote:

For congregations that were formerly American Lutheran Church, property remains with the congregation if they leave for another Lutheran body. If the congregation was Lutheran Church in America, the congregation needs approval of the Synod Council. Most synods would not have the financial resources to file a lawsuit against leaving, and I have not heard of a synod council denying the congregation (in the case of former LCA) its property.

In all cases, if a church leaves for a non-Lutheran church body, property remains with those who want to remain Lutheran.

Two votes are needed, 90 days apart, with a 2/3 majority to leave.
Many congregations that may not leave for awhile are redirecting benevolence funds away from the ELCA.

September 30, 11:45 pm | [comment link]
18. Truthbeknown wrote:

The ELCA’s records of 6800 baptised do not reflect accurately CCOJ’s current membership. Dr. Kallestad stated the ELCA still thought of CCOJ as a large church in a board meeting in which the numbers were discussed. The lawyer for CCOJ stated unless CCOJ could substantiate these numbers they should not be used. Unfortunately neither Dr. Kallestad nor other leadership wish to discuss the fact that CCOJ is experiencing the lowest attendance in 20 years and was no longer in the “top 25” of ELCA congregations.
However it is accurate to state that some larger churches do not have a large number of attendees at congregational meetings. CCOJ’s congregational meetings typically draw fewer than 75 people.
I will leave why this is true to your discernment.

October 20, 2:29 pm | [comment link]
19. Truthbeknown wrote:

St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mpls is in the process of leaving but they are anywhere near the largest(anywhere) in Minneapolis. They average about 100 worshippers per Sunday.

October 20, 2:31 pm | [comment link]
20. Truthbeknown wrote:

Being a member of CCOJ I would not define this experience as a “KAIROS”. By the time the 2nd vote was taken those who were opposed (both originally and at the present) were encouraged to leave. The statement concerning a “professional staff run” organization does explain some of the lack of involvement, but it does not imply trust, if implies the lack of having “a say” in a process. Many long time members simply felt it was a “done deal” and what they said or voted was of no importance.

October 20, 2:37 pm | [comment link]
21. Truthbeknown wrote:

Unfortunately CCOJ no longer is sponsering th event you are discribing, “the Celebration of Lights”. It was a tremendous outreach to the community. It provided the largest single donation to WESTSIDE Food Bank in Phoenix and was the source of the largest donations received by the Salvation Army in the Phoenix area. Due to the many distractions at CCOJ in 2008-2009 there has been little actual evangelism and ministry performed. The entire pastoral staff except for Dr Kallestad left, one of whom had been at CCOJ for 25 years. CCOJ has recently “hired” (not called) two new pastors.

October 20, 2:49 pm | [comment link]
22. Truthbeknown wrote:

Concerning the statement ” this parish is larger than 2 of the dioceses that left TEC”: As I have already stated the numbers do not truely reflect CCOJ’s current size. That said however, there was a time when CCOJ’s size, and thus the number of voting delegates at the local and national synodical conventions could have been influential. Unfortunately it was not until 2008 that CCOJ decided to become involved in the “political” process by being active at synod conventions. Even then CCOJ was entitled to approximately 5 times the number of delegates that were actually sent. 30 years of missed opportunites should hopefully serve as an example for other churches to sieze the opportunies given them.

October 20, 3:01 pm | [comment link]
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