Saturday, August 7, 2010

Letter of Resignation

I submitted the following letter of resignation to our church council president this morning.  The church council worked very hard, with the help of a neighboring pastor, to put together a transitional support agreement that will, among other things, allow us to stay in the church's house ("parsonage") for up to six months so I can seek a new pastoral call or other employment.  I deeply appreciate the work of the church council in coming to this agreement.

This is an extremely sad time for me, for my family, and for the church as a whole.  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.

Many members of our church are feeling deep distress that does not seem to be getting better.  During the past few weeks we've received several resignations.  Some members have resigned from the congregation or from committees and other volunteer positions.  At the regular July council meeting we had two resignations--our Faith Family ministry leader, who serves as Sunday school superintendent, and one council member.  Since that time another council member has resigned.

These are very hard times.  It seems as though it's time for me to step aside and allow each person to choose what their future course will be.

We don't know what is next for us.  Please keep us in your prayers and please don't be strangers.  Give us a call or stop by for a visit.  In addition to the sadness, this is be a very lonely time.  Sometimes people avoid one another during hard times because emotions are hard to handle, but it's harder to be alone.

Here's my letter.

Dear Friends:

30 years ago I heard God's call to ministry in the American Lutheran Church. After several years of preparation I received a call to serve in the ministry of the ALC. I then publically and officially accepted the Bible as the Word of God and agreed that I would adhere to the Confessions of the Lutheran Church. On that basis I was ordained on June 22, 1986.

In 1988 the ALC merged into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA's confession of faith speaks of the Bible as the "inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life" and accepts the Lutheran Confessions. It is the agreement between my ordination promises and the official statement of faith of the ELCA that has allowed me to serve as an ELCA pastor for the last 22 years.

For many years, however, I, with many in the ELCA, have been concerned that our denomination has been departing from its confession of faith. During the past 10 years or so, I've been able to continue to serve as an ELCA pastor only because of the support of the many friends and colleagues who remain committed to that confession within the ELCA. The WordAlone organization has been central to that support. I made that clear when I considered and then accepted my call to serve as pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato.

Unfortunately that support network of friends and colleagues within the ELCA is weakening both nationally and locally. Many are leaving the ELCA. Locally, some members of our church have not been attending because they can no longer support a congregation that allies itself with this denomination. 

After much time spent in prayer, I have come to that same decision. Because my call as pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato requires me to continue to serve a denomination that I can no longer support, I must resign my call to Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato. My resignation will be effective August 22, 2010.

I resign with much grief. I do not want to leave. The Holy Spirit has been moving among us. Lives have been changed. Prayer and spiritual life has been deepened. People have come to know the Lord Jesus. I am surrounded by a wonderful staff and excellent spiritual leadership from our lay people. We've been "church" together in fresh ways. For all of that, I am grateful. It's sad that is coming to an end.

In the days, weeks and months ahead, our Lord will challenge us to be generous of heart. Jesus calls us to forgive those who have hurt us and ask forgiveness of those we have hurt with our words and actions. What seems impossible to you and I is possible with God. Healing and new life can begin.

I am, above all, confident that, as it states above the entrance doors to our church, that God's Word will, indeed, endure forever.


  1. Pastor Steve,

    I don't know you, but your words touched me. I am also sorry the ELCA has veered off on a tangent that has hurt so many.

    I am eagerly looking forward to the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal (LC) convocation later this month in Ohio and the stand up of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).

    I left my ELCA church several months back. I believe the convocation will enable us sheep to connect with one another, eventually form churches and call pastors--if that's God's will for us.

    LC is preparing for the convocation and NALC with 40 days of prayer. The prayers have helped me a lot and I hope they also help you. They've helped me see that the factions we see today are needed--part of a necessary process.



    Kim Smith

  2. What Kim said. Like him (her?), we left our ELCA congregation several months ago. It was a terribly wrenching decision, as we have been attending there since just a few weeks after our weeking; our children had been baptized there; and our oldest was on the cusp of confirmation in that congregation. We left behind many friends, and took with us many memories.

    However, unlike Kim, we have found a new church home with a LCMC congregation. We have been warmly welcomed there, where they continue to take the Bible seriously.

    I wish you the best.

  3. What you have done requires so much strength of character and will to know that God's will shall truly be done.

    My wife and I have been without a church family for 6 months since we left our congregation of 18 years. We continue to pray that those of conviction will be bold and strong as you have been. God Bless you and your family.

    Bob Gee
    Lakewood, Washington

  4. Dear Brother (and family) in Christ,

    In this very difficult time, I commend you and your faithful stand on the pure Word of Christ--the only saving message we have to offer to a sin-filled world.

    Please know that your brothers and sisters in the LCMS are praying for you and all the Church on earth.

    In Him,

    -Rev. Sean Esterline

  5. I share your pain. I left the church I grew up in (46 years) because it left me. When people ask why, I respond "I have a low tolerance for apostasy".

  6. Pastor Steve:
    A parable for you.
    Here in Canada, on the farm, the shepherd sees that his flock is in a paddock where the grass has withered and died. The water source is drying up.
    The shepherd opens a large gate leading to greener pastures and then he calls his sheep. The sheep will follow his call. There may be some bleeting and baaing but the evidence of life supporting food and water will win them over. Those who do not respond to the good shepherd will wander aimlessly until they fall victim to the wolves.
    Have faith, look for the gate. Call your sheep.
    Pax vos biscum,
    A Canadian in the ELCIC and hand on the gate until next summers' convention.

  7. I have emailed this to Pastor Thorson directly
    Pastor Thorson,

    My name is Joel Dahl and was a lifelong member of Christ Lutheran Church in Cottonwood. I was serving as Church Council President and have since resigned due to the similar statements you have made. First let me say may Gods peace and love enfold you and your family. I think we are feeling the same pain that we as Christians have been told we would have to endure. I don’t know if “thank you” is the right term to use, but your choice of choosing Gods word over human desires is much appreciated. I truly feel that you and Pastors in similar situations are receiving the Prayers of the faithful people of God. In closing I share with you Proverbs Chap.3 V-6 In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.

    Peace & Joy

    Joel Dahl

  8. I also commend you for what you did. I too left our church as did several other congregation members. After we lost the 2nd vote 8 out 11 counsel members left along with the SS Superintendent, and youth group we formed our own church and are LCMC affiliated we now after 3 months have over 189 members we don't have a building but all of us have never been happier and share together a true bible based faith. God bless you and keep the faith god will take care of you

  9. Anonymous 4:16 PM and 6:27 PM - could you please identify yourselves with at least a first name or pseudonymn so if I or others respond we can address one another by name? Thanks.

  10. Bkitzman - As for me and the LCMS... The LCMS doesn't allow women's ordination and, in some cases has "close" or "closed" communion, and,I think they're not friendly to those who are somewhat charismatic like I am. There are a variety of ways that the LCMS and I would probably get along though. For more on women in the church see It's possible to be quite conservative biblically and still be in favor of gender equality, which the LCMS is not.

  11. Steve,

    You will be in our prayers. I resigned from the ELCA congregation (First Lutheran in Harvey, ND)I was serving on April 28, 2010.
    Steve, keep praying for God's leading and for clarity of ministry. Our Lord will not disappoint you! The days ahead will be VERY challenging--Satan does not take vacations nor does he quit his vexing harassment through events, broadsides and, yes, people.
    I praise and thank God that you have kept the faith and are standing on the Living Word of God. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free!
    I am thankfully and happily a rostered pastor with LCMC and serving an awesome mission congregation right here in beautiful Harvey, ND.
    God bless you!
    Fred E. Westerhold, pastor
    Faith Lutheran (Mission) LCMC

  12. Pastor Steve
    Thank you for having the courage and conviction to stand for Christ despite the temporal cost that may exist. My wife and I are struggling right now with our decision to either try and stay and be the light and salt of truth or to move on to a congregation where scripture is still the source and norm for faith. I will be praying for you. Isaiah 40:31.

  13. My name is Gene and I am a "recovering Catholic" who has left behind the closed nature of Roman Catholicism, at first in favor of no denominational affiliation. For me, for a time, organized religion was at best of dubious substance, at worst snake-oil containers with fraudulent labels. Owing to the insistance of my wife, a life-long Methodist, something profound happened to me at the end of a Sunday service that has resulted in a connection to the Spirit and a new understanding of my relationship with God.

    You, and only you, can come to an understanding of your relationship with God. Painful as your experience might be at this time, if your conscience is telling you what you needed, and what you need, to do, then you are wise to listen to that counsel. Growth is not easy, in life or in relationship to God. Most of the time it is painful, sometimes almost unbearably so, because we end up feeling alone and isolated. You are not alone. You are not isolated. You have listened to your heart. Now, let your heart listen to that tiny voice of God that is trying to get your attention.

    As a life-long cradle-Catholic, if you had told me 10 years ago I would be in seminary seeking ordination in a mainline Protestant denomination, I would have passed out on the floor laughing. I'm not laughing now. If I may, please be at peace with yourself and your decision. When it comes to your appearance before God, your acocunting will be asked for in one word, and one word only: Why? At that point, in my case, to say "The Pope said so" is not going to fly. My life, my soul, my response to God is my responsibility. I won't be able to point fingers and say "the devil made me do it" or the Curia demanded that I believe thus-and-so.

    Agsin, be at peace with yourself. It took me 54 years to become ready to hear what God had to say. God was always ready. I wasn't.

    Respectfully and humbly,


  14. Dear HSIGene - Interesting comment. I would enjoy a personal conversation with you! Feel free to email me or call 763-291-3499.

    Dear HSI Gene and all who may have read Gene's comment above, I think I could write a book in response! Wow. Briefly, if my personal "conscience" and my sense of personal peace are what drove my resignation, then I have abdicated my responsibility as a servant of God and a minister of God's Word. Elsewhere in this blog I have discussed the issue of "conscience." Conscience is devious. Conscience is emotion. Conscience may be right and it may be wrong. If I live my life in search of personal peace I will avoid every storm and run from every difficult confrontation. If that's all that is behind my resignation then my resignation is treason.

    You are right, Gene, that, as Martin Luther said at his 1521 trial, popes and human assemblies err. Conscience, however, is also extremely unstable and untrustworthy. Luther's appeal was not to conscience but, instead to conscience BOUND TO THE WORD OF GOD. The convictions that led me, after many years of struggle, to resign from the ELCA are NOT an issue of conscience. Instead, they are issues bound to the revealed Truth of God that we find articulated in the scriptures and, I would argue, in the very fabric of creation itself. Though I am no Martin Luther, I agree with him that plain reason and scriptural interpretation must rule, not naked conscience alone.

  15. An interesting point of view, but one that I think we must agree to disagree about. I am new to the Protestant point of view about a lot of things, but one of the most compelling paradigms for me was something that has been named the "Wesley Quadrilateral" which puts issues within the cross-hairs of Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. It does not mention conscience, either, but I would argue that conscience, as I understand it, is not self-serving, but tends to hold our actions up to the light of Truth. "Good conscience" presupposes a value system that can be used as a yardstick by which to measure action and reaction.

    I was not trying to suggest that you yielded to the whims of conscience as you seem to understand it. What I was trying to convey was that you obviously have weighed your observations of changes in your denomination against your theological understanding, and found your denomination wanting. You have opted to defend your faith and the faith you understood your church to stand for earlier in your career based upon what you believe in and about Christianity. In that regard, you are listening to some intrinsic counsel, whether it is called "conscience" or something else. This disparity between what you believe and preach and what you have observed in your denomination's altered professions has led you to make a life-changing decision. It appears to me that the decision you made was grounded in your beliefs. That is why I wished you to be at peace with yourself. I do not see you "running away" or being self-serving. As I recall, when Jesus sent his disciples out to surrounding towns and villages, he told them that wherever they were not welcomed, politely profess the Gospel, turn around and leave, shaking the dust of the town's streets from their feet. Nowhere did Jesus, or anyone else brand such actions as self-serving. They were charged with being faithful the the Gospel message and told how to react when the message was rejected. Where is what you have chosen to do any different?

    And I am not discounting your twenty-plus years of faithful adherence to the Gospel, either. That in and of itself might influence some pastors to hold their noses and continue. In any event, I was not attempting to in any way discount what you have gone through. If anything, I can and do empathize with you, although our paths have been very different. You certainly don't need my validation, but please accept my support for whatever that may be worth.

    Again with respect,


  16. Hi Gene again. I don't have time at the moment to respond adequately but I want to get something up here now that I finally got around to publishing your comment of two weeks ago. Just want to say that, yes, I am aware of the "Wesley Quadrilateral." I'm sure it's useful for a variety of things, but not, in the Lutheran tradition as the "authoritative source and norm" of our "proclamation, faith and life."

  17. The report supposing upon your blog about writing a formal letter was really useful.It is regularly great to know which their have been blogs so dedicated to on condition which report which is severely endangered with a reader’s needs.Thanks for pity your insights with us by your blog.
    Resignation Letter