|Pastor Bradley Schmeling on faith, love and leaving Atlanta|
|Written by Laura Douglas-Brown|
|Thursday, 05 April 2012 16:38|
Pastor Bradley Schmeling of Atlanta’s St. John’s Lutheran Church made international headlines when he faced a church trial for violating the denomination’s policy banning LGBT people in relationships from ordained ministry.
The church knew Schmeling was gay when he became pastor in 2000, and embraced his relationship with Rev. Darin Easler. The congregation stood by Schmeling and Easler through a journey that began with formal charges filed in 2006, and continued through 2009, when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to allow clergy in committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.
Easler and Schmeling, who had remained at the helm of St. John’s throughout the struggle, were officially restored to the ELCA clergy roster in 2010. On March 24, Schmeling announced he is leaving St. John’s to become senior pastor of the 2,300-member Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn. He will preach his last sermon at St. John’s on Sunday, May 6.
Schmeling talked with GA Voice about his past, his future and the journey to LGBT equality in the church.
How long have you lived in Atlanta, and what made you decide to move to the city?
I moved here to do doctoral work in theology at Emory University. I never imagined that I would live here for 17 years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life.
Other gay pastors have chosen to keep their relationships secret. What made you decide to be open with your congregation, and then with Lutheran church leadership?
I was single when I came to St. John’s, but I promised the bishop that if I ever entered a relationship I would tell him. I kept that promise. When Darin and I became partners, I was eager to tell everyone about our relationship. I never wanted to hide it. I wanted to celebrate it, and I wanted the church to join in our celebration. St. John’s threw a party for us as soon as they heard the news. I had no idea how powerful and life-changing the journey would be for me and for the church.
Your battle helped ELCA change its rules for gay clergy. At the time that the fight started, did you think it would be won? Do you have any regrets from this period?
Many strong leaders helped to shape the direction of the ELCA. I felt privileged to have played a part in moving the church to welcome everyone into leadership. For me, it was never about winning or losing, but about being faithful to the good news that God loves everyone.
What has inspired you most about the congregation at St. John?
The members of St. John’s are some of the most creative, generous, faithful and courageous people I’ve ever met. It’s been an honor to serve with them in ministry.
What motivates you to move on now?
Gloria Dei is an amazing congregation with a rich tradition, a warm and generous heart, and a love for social justice. It’s the largest Lutheran church in the city of St. Paul, and it offers wonderful opportunities for service and growth for me.
What are you most looking forward to in your new job and new city?
I’m looking forward to meeting new people and helping to shape a wonderful ministry. I’m also looking forward to life in the Twin Cities. Despite the reports about winter, it seems like a great city in which to make a home.
What will you miss most about Atlanta?
Mostly, I’ll miss my friends, many of whom I’ve know for 17 years. I’ll also miss azaleas, dogwoods and walks in Piedmont Park. I’ve even learned to love grits if they have enough cheese in them.
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