Gay pastor forced out of Lutheran Church in the 1980s becomes first to be reinstated

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Becoming the new pastor at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Toronto was like coming home by Ralph Carl Wushke.

The 66-year-old pastor was first ordained at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCIC) in 1978, but was forced to leave in the 1980s after becoming gay.

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But on Saturday, in front of a crowded crowd of support congregations, he was officially reinstated.

"It was really the culmination of a lifelong dream," said Wushke. As it happens host Carol Off. "I was welcomed back with great joy."

Wushke is the first pastor to be welcomed back into the church since he changed his rules to allow LGBTQ clergy in 2011, says the ELCIC.

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"I see this as an important step in our commitment to the full inclusion of the LGBTQ2SIA + community in our church and for equal rights and justice across society," said Rev. Susan C. Johnson, national bishop of ELCIC, in a email. declaration.

& # 39; That was something I had to do & # 39;

Wushke says he's known since he was a child that he wanted to be a Lutheran pastor.

"I think I always knew," he said. "As my mother told you, when I was six years old, I lined up my two younger brothers on the steps of our house and started preaching to them and insisting that they say 'Amen' at the end of my prayers."

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But as he went through his studies at the seminar, he says he became increasingly aware of his sexual orientation and worried about how it would affect his career.

"In fact, the night of my ordination was one of the biggest windstorms we have ever had," he said. "I thought, 'Oh, that's just an omen for the storms to come'."

Wushke, in the center, was reinstated to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada on Saturday. Toronto Central Dean, Christian Ceconi, right, and national bishop Susan Johnson were part of the ceremony. (André Lavergne / First Evangelical Lutheran Church)

In 1984, Wushke decided that he could no longer hide who he was.

"This was something I had to do, not just for the sake of theological integrity, but also because of my own mental, emotional and spiritual health," he said.

"What is the cost of discipleship? What is the cross that I must carry? Is it to stay in the closet or go out and pay the price of being sincere, honest and authentic? I chose the second, and I never regretted it."

Church approves anti-LGBTQ policy

Wushke left his parish in Wapella, Sask., Without giving a reason, he said, hoping to save the small prairie community from scandal.

He moved to Ottawa and followed other careers. But he says he still felt the connection.

A few years later, he went to ELCIC to ask if he could be placed in a new parish – one that recognized him and accepted him as gay.

"One by one, the bishops just said, like, that's really not possible. I mean, unless you commit to celibacy, you know, we couldn't even consider it."

The church then supported its decision in writing. In 1988, the bishops issued a declaration that "self-declared and practicing homosexuals" could not be ordained as pastors, and those who have already been ordained would not be allowed to head a parish.

This statement was ratified the following year as an official church policy at the national level.

"It was quite painful," said Wushke. "The Lutheran Church in Canada is quite small, and all the bishops were also personal friends."

Coming back again

That policy remained in effect until 2011. Until then, Wushke moved on, becoming a priest at the United Church of Canada, including LGBTQ. He retired in 2018.

But a part of him always wanted to return to the Lutheran Church, he said.

"I have imagined this a lot over the years," he said. "I never knew if this would really happen."

Just dispelling the church's perceptions as a hostile and very negative institution is a big job in itself.– Pastor Ralph Carl Wushke

Last year, the Lutheran Church created a process designed specifically to accelerate the restoration of the LGBTQ clergy who were forced to leave.

The timing was perfect for Wushke. He had just recovered from heart surgery and was feeling like he had a new life contract. Then, when the opportunity arose to join the First Evangelical Lutheran, he took advantage.

"I feel young again and I had all that energy for the ministry," he said.

The return process was emotional, he said, and an excellent first step. But he says there is more work to be done – and he is looking forward to doing it.

"I will try to serve faithfully. Our congregation is in the heart of the city, surrounded by Ryerson University. There are no possibilities. There is a safe injection site around the corner. There is poverty," he said.

"The general public, I think, mainly associates the church with this type of church that rejects, that judges, that is not warm and welcoming. Therefore, we have the task of saying that the church is a complex place … and I want to say, just dispelling the church's perceptions as a hostile and very negative institution is a big job in itself ".


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.

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