By Starrla Cray
WATERTOWN, MN It’s not always easy to leave a church, but many former members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Watertown have felt the need to break away and start fresh.
The new church is called Peace Lutheran of Watertown, and the congregation is planning to have its first service Sunday, Aug. 1 at the Watertown Community Center.
“We feel so bad about leaving our home church, Trinity, but we can’t accept some of the things the synod has passed,” said Mary Ann Hoese of Mayer.
Last summer, when the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) voted to allow openly gay clergy, members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Watertown were divided on the issue.
The majority of voters, 132, wanted to leave the ELCA synod, but 124 voted to stay.
“Those of us who wanted to leave did get the majority vote, but we didn’t get the required two-thirds,” Hoese said.
As a result, Trinity remains part of the ELCA synod, which has 4.8 million members nationwide and 830,000 in Minnesota. The ELCA is the largest denomination in the US to allow practicing homosexuals to serve as clergy, deaconesses, and diaconal ministers.
“I was part of a group that decided early on that if we didn’t leave the ELCA, we needed to find another option and that option became Peace Lutheran of Watertown rather quickly,” said Marty Malmin of Watertown.
Malmin is part of a steering committee of nine people who meet Monday evenings at 6:30 p.m. next to Snap Fitness on the north side of Watertown. The other committee members include Kris Mittelstaedt, Kathy Maas, Barb Schansberg, Kim Lokken, Edie Hanson, Jim Lindgren, Butch Effig, and Sherry Essig.
“We’ve got a very committed group of people,” Malmin said.
The group, as well as about 40 former Trinity Lutheran Church members, has been working out the details of the new church for the past few months.
“Visitors are welcome to sit in on any of the meetings,” Hoese said.
There are seven candidates picked out for a part-time pastoral position, and they hope to make a final selection by Saturday, July 10.
Music, Sunday school, and other staff will be filled by volunteers from within the congregation, and worship services will be at the Watertown Community Center until a permanent building is obtained.
“Funds are at a premium right now,” Malmin said. “We have to use them wisely.”
Since Peace Lutheran has decided not to be part of the ELCA, the church is also looking into which synod it would like to join.
“Right now, we are independent,” Malmin said. “We need to do a little more research.”
Hoese said that many of the people who are leaving Trinity Lutheran Church have “mixed emotions.”
“Some of them were baptized, confirmed, and married there,” she said.
However, Hoese said she is excited about what Peace Lutheran of Watertown will have to offer.
As the church gets started, Hoese is confident that many more Trinity members will join Peace Lutheran.
“We have people of all ages who are interested,” she said. “We’re very excited.”
To learn more about Peace Lutheran of Watertown, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to PO Box 817, Watertown, MN 55388.
“We want to get the word out,” Hoese said. “If anybody wants to come, we welcome them open-heartedly.”