A new wave of gay seminarians prepares to take the pulpit

The Lutheran church struggles with its policy on homosexuality and the meaning of "all God's children"

Then she stops.

Pastor Mark Warpmaeker steps in, takes hold of the baby, and dips its head in holy water.

"I'm right there through the whole process," Froisland says. "Yet the policy says that the person I fell in love with prevents me from doing the actual baptism."

Lauren Wendt asked her pastor if she should still go to seminary. He told her, "Of course!"
Nick Vlcek
Lauren Wendt asked her pastor if she should still go to seminary. He told her, "Of course!"
Dustin Nelson came out as a result of seminary. "It was very freeing," he says.
Nick Vlcek
Dustin Nelson came out as a result of seminary. "It was very freeing," he says.

Froisland had been single for six years, and worked as a residential life director at several state colleges, including Mankato, before deciding to attend Luther Seminary. She was also a closeted lesbian.

She knew the policies of the church, but didn't expect to fall in love her first year. Mary, a friend she knew from graduate school in the '80s, had flown into town. She was moving to Minneapolis to study library science at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul. After meeting with her to watch a volleyball game at the University of Minnesota, Froisland began to get nervous. She felt herself drawn to the woman. Eventually, she started to create space.

"We'd purposely not see each other," she says. "But I continued to fall for her. And as I started to get closer with her, I flat-out told her why I couldn't have this relationship, saying how it could ruin my call to ministry. But nothing worked. In the end, love was stronger than walls."

Froisland kept the relationship with Mary a secret to her synod. She passed through the first two candidacy meetings. Then one day during her third year, she got an email from Anita Hill, a lesbian and pastor at St. Paul Reformation Church. Hill was encouraging others to write letters to a church-wide task force that was coming up with a social statement on human sexuality.

"The task force was only getting letters against gay and lesbian ordination," Froisland recalls. "And so I took up Anita's message and wrote a personal letter of my own."

She composed an email that she planned to send out to her friends. It included a disclaimer that read, "But whatever you do, don't mention my name. I am not out."

When Froisland went to her address book and started adding in names, it finally dawned on her the amount of support that was in her and Mary's corner. "I thought about it and realized there was nothing to be scared about," she says. She immediately went back to the message and took out the disclaimer. With that one action, she says, she reclaimed her integrity. Now she just had to explain it to her synod.

During the final approval stage of her candidacy, her synod required her to answer eight questions. She added a three-page addendum in which she wrote about her life with Mary.

The same day she sent off the essays to the synod, she received good news: Bethel had decided to offer her the position of youth and family minister.

A few weeks later, she went before the committee. In an interview that lasted an hour and 15 minutes, the committee decided to uphold the policy against ordaining practicing lesbians. They couldn't bring themselves to deny her candidacy, so it was postponed indefinitely.

"All were personally supportive," she says, and then looks out the window of the Firefly coffee bistro in Minneapolis at cars passing by on Cedar Avenue. "But all feel caught by the system."

Froisland attended the church-wide assembly in Chicago and participated in the failed vote to overturn the rules barring gays and lesbians in relationships from serving. While she doesn't believe anything will change when the church meets next year in Minneapolis, she says that a small part of her remains hopeful.

"I think that whether we are willing to admit it or not, the church as a whole better understands the grace of God," she says. "Gays and lesbians in committed relationships who are called to ministry are everywhere."

She takes a sip of her coffee, and adds that even her 76-year-old mother, who came from a conservative Lutheran congregation, is able to accept her.

"We've won the struggle," she says. "The holy spirit is working. Now it's just time for the church to catch up with God."

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