By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN With great sadness, Pastor Steve Thorson of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato has resigned effective Sunday, Aug. 22.
“As a pastor I have a primary duty to the Truth,” he said, adding he is terribly sad to be leaving the congregation.
Thorson began his service at the church in 2005. He was ordained in the American Lutheran Church in 1986, but the ALC merged with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988, Thorson explained in his letter of resignation.
“For many years, however, I, with many in the ELCA, have been concerned that our denomination has been departing from its confession of faith,” Thorson wrote in his letter.
The highly controversial vote of the ELCA taken last August approving gay clergy created a lot of difficulty on the national level as well as at the local church, according to Thorson, who said some members quit attending gradually.
More were to follow after a vote within the church this past June.
A vote was prompted within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato by members who wanted to remain in the ELCA, according to Thorson.
The vote, which took place June 23, was to determine whether or not the church should stay in the ELCA or choose another denomination.
The vote was a near split with 111 voting to leave the ELCA, and 116 to stay.
Because of this church vote, some members have chosen to leave the congregation, Thorson said, noting this has been painful from a variety of perspectives.
“Locally, some of the members of our church are not attending because they can no longer support a congregation that allies itself with this denomination,” Thorson wrote.
He noted that beginning with the July council meeting, the church lost one staff person and two council members, with more expected to come.
“After much time spent in prayer, I have come to that same decision,” he added.
Thorson is not leaving town anytime soon however. He and his family have up to six months to stay in the church’s parsonage while he seeks a new pastoral call or other employment, he said.
“This is an extremely sad time for me, for my family, and for the church as a whole,” Thorson said.
“But, for the sake of the ongoing mission and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ in our area, it is best at present if I step down and allow the members of our church to decide how they will move ahead, either with this church family or with another,” he wrote.
To follow Pastor Thorson and to read more about his decision, visit his blog at equalsharing.com.
Sunday’s worship service will be at 9 a.m. with a celebration of Thorson’s ministry in the fellowship hall following.
People are encouraged to write a note to Thorson sharing memories or thanking him for his ministry in the church, according to church council president Gary Lankki.
For the first few Sundays following Thorson’s last service, the church has requested pulpit supply from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
In the meantime, the council will interview for an interim pastor until a full-time pastor is called to the church, which could be a minimum of six months up to a year, Lankki said.
Lankki is sad that Thorson felt he had to resign and commends him for the work he has done in the church.
“He has done a lot of good in the church,” Lankki said, noting, for example, the Befrienders church program that Thorson began at ELC. Through Befrienders, church members visit the elderly population who can’t typically be active within the congregation.