A pastor in downtown Minneapolis, Minn., has been defrocked and his church expelled from an evangelical denomination due to their support for LGBTQ people.
Evangelical Covenant Church leaders voted last week to defrock Rev. Dan Collison, lead pastor at First Covenant Church, and expel the church from the denomination.
It marks the first time in the 134-year-old denomination’s history that a minister — not to mention an entire church — has been expelled.
“I’m not surprised. I’m saddened,” Collison told the Star Tribune following the vote. “I feel grounded in the path we have chosen. I feel grateful for the pastors and churches who stood up for us. I feel compassion to those caught in the middle.”
In a statement on social media, First Covenant Church said it was “deeply grieved as we find ourselves cast out by a denomination that has historically been able to hold differences and find a middle way.”
“We will continue to serve and fully embrace anyone who walks through our doors,” the church continued. “The community of First Covenant Church Minneapolis owns the name and building, and our journey continues in love.”
The expulsion came after Collison, who became pastor in 2009, set about transforming First Covenant into a church that accepts all, reports the Star Tribune.
According to the church’s website, it “[welcomes] all persons and families, including LGBTQ+, to participate at all levels of community: serving in ministry, joining as members, holding staff and leadership roles.”
The church also offers “full pastoral care to all in our congregation without regard for ability, race, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.”
In addition to a growing LGBTQ presence in the congregation, a church staff member officiated the marriage of a same-sex couple who attend the church — though in a separate downtown location.
That move led to the ECC banning any staff members from being involved in same-sex weddings, and in turn created ongoing tension between the ECC and Collison/First Covenant.
In its decision, the ECC said that First Covenant was “out of harmony” with the wider denomination, and that the church had contravened the ECC’s “standard of marriage by eliminating its heterosexual nature.”
The ECC added that the church had violated: a prohibition on clergy officiating and participating in same-sex weddings; a requirement that clergy adhere to “a personal behavioral standard of celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage”; and guidelines on congregations refraining from “hosting same-sex weddings and related events.”
The ECC, which claims more than 875 congregations across the country, said that they had met with Collison “more than twenty times to seek common ground and harmonization.”
“Further, it can be noted that over the course of 6 years, FCCM moved from a position of almost complete alignment with the ECC to one of almost complete opposition relative to human sexuality,” it said.
Michelle Sanchez, an ECC minister, told the Star Tribune that the denomination was “mindful of the complexity, the sensitivity and the pain that matters of human sexuality can bring.”
“We talk about the desire for both freedom and responsibility as a denomination,” she said. “Those two things were coming into tension in this case.”
In addition to Collison, retired Michigan minister Rev. Steve Armfield was also defrocked after he officiated his son Matthew’s same-sex wedding in Minneapolis.
Armfield was suspended in 2017 after officiating the wedding, but the ECC voted on Friday to defrock him alongside Collison.
“It is so unbelievably upsetting to see my father, Dan, and my fellow members of First Covenant experience the hate, deceit and actions that go against the teachings of love and inclusion that Jesus Christ preached,” Matthew Armfield, a First Covenant congregant, said. “My father, Dan and [First Covenant] are some of the most loving and caring people that I have ever met.”
First Covenant will be allowed to continue operating as a church, with Collison as lead pastor, and will be able to retain its building on 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis.
Collison said that the ECC’s decision “cements [First Covenant’s] position” on LGBTQ inclusion, and that the defrocking and expulsion represented a “turning point.”
“We don’t consider the ECC the enemy,” he said. “Like families that break up, you are always connected. But now we are no longer in conflict.”