New Mexico church calls first openly LGBTQ lead pastor in MC USA

Sep 19, 2017 by and

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Albuquerque (N.M.) Mennonite Church has called an openly LGBTQ person to be their lead pastor, becoming the first congregation to do so in Mennonite Church USA.

Erica Lea

Lea

The church of about 150 attenders announced Sept. 18 that it has called Erica Lea to the role. Albuquerque Mennonite became a “welcoming community” in 2007 but did not join the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests until more recently.

In a news release, the congregation stated it welcomes Lea and her “strong call to connect with and serve people affected by current immigration policies and racial, social and economic discrimination — as well as a call to provide a beacon and safe haven for the LGBTQ community.”

“Our congregation has a majority of attenders who did not grow up Mennonite — who, like Erica, have chosen to join our faith community,” Andrew Clouse, a member of the AMC search committee, said in the release. “We look forward to finding more ways of articulating and sharing an Anabaptist faith that can flourish in locally derived expressions of Jesus’s call to discipleship, peacemaking and justice. We think Erica is well-equipped to help us do this.”

Lea has been a missionary and pastor for more than 10 years, primarily serving Baptist congregations in Wyoming, Texas and North Carolina. Currently serving her third year as pastor in residence at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., Lea had previously served as interim pastor of Houston Mennonite Church while Pastor Marty Troyer was on sabbatical.

“She is passionate about strong Anabaptist ministry and brings a heartfelt theological commitment to her adopted faith family,” Troyer said in the press release from Albuquerque. “While she served at Houston, our congregation experienced the best pastoral ministry has to offer: preaching, caring and management.

“Erica is also passionate about Mennonite emphasis on peace witness and radical hospitality. Her ministry is rooted in the belief that all people are welcome, and that community is the deepest expression of God’s desires.”

A Houston native, Lea is a 2014 graduate of Truett Seminary at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where she was introduced to Mennonites and Anabaptist theology. She was a presenter at MC USA’s Women Doing Theology conferences in 2014 and 2016.

Standing on shoulders

In a telephone interview, Lea said she stands on the shoulders of many other LGBTQ people and allies who came ahead of her.

“There’s a potential historical moment that we want to celebrate, but we also want to encourage other members of the LGBTQ communities that God loves them,” she said. “God loves us and it is quite possible that the spirit might be calling them to these types of roles. That’s what we’re wanting to celebrate.”

Lea and her partner will marry in November. Shortly thereafter they will move to New Mexico, when she will begin serving as Albuquerque Mennonite’s pastor.

With a background in ecofeminist theology, Lea was drawn to the church’s work in environmental justice. She is excited to serve a congregation willing to prioritize loving neighbors through advocacy work while also emphasizing contemplative spirituality.

“I don’t think a lot of congregations have a true balance between social justice and praying with their feet and spiritual formation and quiet prayer time,” she said. “A lot of churches are either really loud or really quiet.”

A younger conference

Ken Gingerich, who attends Albuquerque Mennonite, is moderator of Mountain States Mennonite Conference, which was also the first MC USA conference to license an openly gay pastor. Theda Good was licensed as pastor of nurture and fellowship at First Mennonite Church of Denver in 2014 after joining First Mennonite’s staff in 2012.

At that time, the Mountain States Ministerial Council held four listening meetings across the conference, in addition to consultations within Mountain States and with representatives of other MC USA conferences.
Gingerich said in an interview that Mountain States seeks to honor the integrity of congregations’ discernment processes as much as possible.

“We may be a bit more congregational than some conferences,” he said. “It may also be the context of being in the west and being a younger conference.

“We don’t have the tradition of dealing with a central authority — the community is the authority. . . . But we are also a community of congregations that continues to discern our mission together, and we’ll try to honor the relationships between us. It’s about finding the right balance.”

Lea is part of a wave of six young, millennial lead or co-pastors leading almost a third of Mountain States’ congregations. They didn’t grow up in Mennonite churches, and they attended seminaries like Duke Divinity School and North Park Theological Seminary, yet each deliberately embraced Anabaptism.

Mountain States is providing them with scholarships to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s Church Leadership Center to emphasize Anabaptist formation for pastoral leaders.


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Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.

  • Berry Friesen

    MWR, when you interview individuals involved in important events such as this, do you ask the hard questions your readers want answered? I ask because your report gives no evidence that you ask.

    Will pastor Lea teach the Confession of Faith within her congregation? What will she teach the children and youth of Albuquerque (N.M.) Mennonite Church regarding gender and sexual activity? We know what Mennonite pastors have traditionally taught, and we know what liberal Western culture teaches, but we have no idea what these nontraditional Mennonite pastors will teach. Aren’t these answers at least as important as knowing the sex of the person pastor Lea will marry?

  • Ryan Harker

    “In a news release, the congregation stated it welcomes Lea and her ‘strong call to connect with and serve people affected by current immigration policies and racial, social and economic discrimination — as well as a call to provide a beacon and safe haven for the LGBTQ community.'”

    It is incredibly revealing that this statement says NOTHING about the Triune God, the Gospel, or the church and its proclamation. Why even be a church? Why not just relabel oneself the Albuquerque Group of Radical Progressives or something? This is why I have left MCUSA. A concern for racial, etc reconciliation should grow from an orthodox faith in the God who saves us from our sin. Here and in many other places in MCUSA, the former seems to have displaced the latter. That’s heartbreaking, and it is a disgrace.

    • Matthew Froese

      Is there a full copy of the news release available somewhere? I googled but couldn’t find anything.

    • Evan Knappenberger

      I was with you until you used the words “orthodox” and “disgrace” — surely the former needs qualification and the latter is a little harsh. Your point still stands otherwise.

      Evan Knappenberger

    • Jacob Friesen

      Change ‘orthodox faith’ to ‘Bible based faith’ and the word ‘disgrace’ to ‘anathematizing’, and RyanHarker says it for me.

    • David Regier

      RyanHarker you are so right on!! Amen.

    • Bob Silling

      You are right on target

  • Loren Yoder

    Friends, please see where this is going! Galatians 6:7-8 (NKJV) Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. Turn and live!
    Let us not celebrate sin! Please, Lord Jesus, help us!

    • Bob Silling

      Amen

  • Lynn Miller

    The fruit of years of liberal indoctrination (Mennonite ‘higher’ education) is being displayed loud and proud. Is anyone concerned that innocent children are being exposed to the normalization of homosexuality in MCUSA churches? What is apostasy if it is not ignoring God’s Word and demanding that false doctrine be congratulated. God does not call lesbians to pastor churches because this is in direct conflict to His Word. It’s time to contend for the faith. Feminism has destroyed the MCUSA. People are now calling evil good and good evil. Does anyone want to know what time it is? Just look at the direction of the MCUSA.

    • Bob Silling

      You are so right

  • Conrad Hertzler

    The folks who have expressed their concerns about Lea’s appointment, have articulated well my own concerns and confusion about what MC USA really does believe about God’s Word. But a couple of other things struck me about this article.

    First, I noticed that Lea’s primary pastoral experience has come from serving Baptist congregations. That’s interesting. How did she address some important theological differences such as Calvinism and their stance on government/peace and non-resistance? Or did these topics simply not come up?

    Secondly, I was struck that Mountain States Conference has six young pastors who have come from “outside” the Anabaptist tradition. Does this say something about the quality of training or the lack of training from our own seminaries? I think this is something that MC USA and other Anabaptist groups should be concerned about. Even thought these young pastors say that they have willingly embraced Anabaptism, and the conference is sending them to AMBS for further training, Mountain States is still throwing a lot of their eggs in the basket of schools such as Duke, a college not exactly known for teaching Anabaptist distinctives.

    I am not a part of MC USA but it is my observation that the more its conferences ignore the voices of their center and right, and, most importantly, God’s Word, the more they will get distracted from the commission that Jesus gave His Church to go into all the world and make disciples. And the more distracted they are, the more the churches will be fragmented from within and begin to crumble. This is a warning that we all need to heed. As Paul instructed Timothy, we need guard our life and our doctrine closely in order to save both ourselves and our hearers.

  • Rainer Moeller

    As I have come from a Barthian church via Quakerism to Anabaptism, there’s something else which strikes me. Do 150 attenders really need a “lead pastor” (which, I suppose, is equivalent to “paid fulltime pastor”?
    This would be not be self-evident with Quakers, nor with a lot of other free churches which mostly rely on unpaid work by “Elders”.
    Of course, if Mennonites really need paid pastors, they will have to accept the kind of personality that the average modern college produces. No use to grumble about it.

    • Matthew Froese

      I don’t think this is out of the ordinary. My church is a similar size (or maybe a bit smaller, depending on what level of involvement counts someone as an “attender”) and I think we’ve had a paid full time pastor for 50+ years. The overwhelming majority of the work of the church is completed by volunteers.

      • Rainer Moeller

        Hello Matthew,
        Why exactly do your church members pay a pastor? Is this a tradition from times when only the pastor could read and write? Or is it a matter of reputation – look, we have as good a pastor as the Lutherans beneath us? (Or on a more base level: look, we can afford it?)
        I understand that even Quakers when they arrived at the Western U.S., began to pay pastors, so there’s some regional-cultural impact here, I suppose.

        • Matthew Froese

          I wasn’t around when our pastor was hired, but I think we have a lot of expectations about both the theological training of our pastor and the amount of work they are expected to do above and beyond preaching in worship that would be too much to ask of anyone who also had to work outside the church to support themselves. I’ve never heard anyone in our congregation compare us to other denominations in terms of paid roles, but we do have expectations about the type and quality of our worship services. In our area I think there’s more of a split between churches who pay musicians and churches that don’t, which we don’t. Most churches around here have paid pastors unless they’re quite small.

          I also suspect the root answer to your question would be better answered by someone with more details around church history, because it’s definitely changed over time, but mostly quite a while ago. I grew up attending a larger Mennonite church that had 4 paid pastors as well as paid musical and administrative roles as well, and those all existed decades before I was born. I understand that church started to serve a community of (primarily) young Mennonite women who had moved off the farm to work in domestic roles in homes in the city, and I think even the first pastor there was likely called and paid as there wasn’t anyone local to do the job.

          I don’t think the question is about literacy. I have an ancestor who was involved in a church split over whether or not pastors could write their own sermons or whether they had to keep reading the sermons that had been passed down to them. They were literate then (to do the sermon reading and Bible reading, at least) and definitely weren’t paid at the time, but supported themselves by farming. From what I’ve gathered from my own family history, paying pastors probably started or became much more common sometime after the 1880s or 90s and was common enough that there were Mennonite seminaries organized before 1920. Probably some mix of urbanization and professionalization as contributing factors in there.

  • Richard Enns

    What wonderful news! A giant step forward in human rights. God’s light shines on us equally and this is certainly proof of that. God in Her wisdom must surely be smiling. Hurrah!

    • Conrad Ermle

      Don’t blame “God” for this. He (not “Her”) does not call lesbians to pastor Mennonite churches, or any other Christian churches, for that matter. Are you familiar with the scriptures?

      • Mick Mullet

        CErmle. I’m sure you could scripture me under the table but I’ve got a pretty good eye for hatred and bigotry. This comment thread, while draped in piety, is full of it (in more ways than one). Congrats to Lea and AMC. Mick Mullet

        • John Gingrich

          So we stoop to name calling and reverse bigotry when don’t agree with the argument? Call out the specific phrase or assertion if you want to make the accusation.

        • Conrad Ermle

          You appear to have a problem with Holy Scripture, the Word of God, and God has spoken clearly on this issue. Historic anabaptism stands in that tradition. Repentance, of course, is always available, and deliverance is real.

      • Richard Enns

        God, in this case at least, has certainly called forth a “lesbian” pastor. The wonder of Her infinite wisdom is often beyond our comprehension but, rest assured, She made a good here. We should accept Her decision with love or so the bible tells me so.

        • Conrad Ermle

          God’s “call” for her is to repent and change her whole way of living. Don’t be fooled, my friend, the devil is alive and is working overtime. You have endorsed that which God has not. Jesus weeps. — Conrad Ermle

    • Adrienne Jones

      Richard, thank you for celebrating with us! AMC I’d excited to see where Jesus will lead is next.

  • Conrad Ermle

    This is obviously part of a scheme carefully designed to infiltrate and destroy the Mennonite Church, and some in “high places” are enabling this destruction. Enough said. – Pastor Ermle

  • Bob Silling

    This lesbian doesn’t need to Pastor, she needs to repent and believe on Jesus for her salvation.

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