Guy Erwin, Partnered Teaching Theologian, Ordained at California Lutheran University

Press Release

April 11, 2011        FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Guy Erwin, Partnered Teaching Theologian, Ordained at California Lutheran University

guyerwinheadshotR. Guy Erwin, a teaching theologian at California Lutheran University (CLU), was ordained in the Samuelson Chapel of that institution at 10:00 a.m. on May 11, 2011.  He is both gay and in a committed same-gender relationship.  His ordination, the fulfillment of a lifetime desire, is made possible by the change in policy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that followed the decision of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to allow ministers in committed, same-gender relationships to serve in the church. 

Guy Erwin said, “This is a day of great joy for me – a day that has been 25 years in the making.  My path to ordination was laid down by the heroes of the struggle for full inclusion, whose call to ordained ministry was so strong and clear that it pulled them into extraordinary action.  I rejoice to be able now to join them, and to link together my vocation as a teaching theologian with the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA.  I hope to find new ways to serve the church I love.”

Guy Erwin’s journey to ordination has been a long one: influenced by the study of Luther and the Reformation while in college, guided by his college chaplain and his New Testament professor, Guy soon found his way to Harvard’s Lutheran campus ministry and there formed a lifelong attachment to the Lutheran church. During graduate study in Reformation history at Yale, he explored a call to ordained ministry in the Lutheran Church in America, but interrupted that process to spend some years in study and research at the universities of Tübingen and Leipzig in Germany.   Returning to America, he found his church in the process of merger into today’s ELCA; that completed, his re-entry into the candidacy process was postponed yet again, as the ELCA soon afterwards enacted a barrier to the ordination of noncelibate gay and lesbian candidates. Guy was unwilling to enter a process he would be unable to complete in honesty and faithfulness both to his church and the realities of his life. Then at Yale in 1994 he met Rob Flynn, who became his life partner; that seemed to him to close the issue.

Guy Erwin is a Professor of Religion and History, holder of the Gerhard & Olga J. Belgum Chair in Lutheran Confessional Theology at CLU, which includes promoting the connection between the University and the Church.  He is the Director of the Segerhammar Center for Faith and Culture, exploring the contours of belief and vocation across ecumenical and interfaith lines.  He is the ELCA’s sole representative to the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, working internationally and ecumenically, and has given long service to the church on boards and panels.  He is ordained directly to a specialized ministry as a teaching theologian.  Such direct ordination to calls for teaching requires an exemption from the rule requiring three-year’s experience in parish ministry, an exemption granted unanimously in his case by the Conference of Bishops of the ELCA.

The Rev. Dean W. Nelson, Bishop of Southwest California Synod, presided and ordained Guy Erwin.  Preaching at Guy Erwin’s ordination on May 11th was the Rev. Murray Finck, Bishop of the Pacifica Synod of the ELCA.

Bishop Nelson said, “We are humbled and thankful to God for the privilege of receiving Dr. R. Guy Erwin onto the roster of ordained pastors of the Southwest California Synod.  We have been blessed by Guy’s ministry for over a decade, for in addition to teaching at California Lutheran University, Guy has been the Bible study leader and/or presenter at our Bishop’s Colloquy for rostered leaders, at our Synod Assembly, and at our Synod’s Equipping Leaders for Mission School.  During that same period, he has also been a preacher and teacher at several of our Synod’s congregations.

“I am thankful for the 2009 Churchwide Assembly and all those who helped this church make the decisions that allow us to come to this day with confidence and joy.  I am also grateful to the Conference of Bishops for allowing our Synod Council to call Guy not only to the teaching position he has occupied at CLU, but also to the Synod as Supply Pastor so that the congregations of our Synod can be blessed by his ministry of Word and Sacrament.  But I am especially thankful for Guy’s continuing patience and commitment to the Lord of this church without which this day simply would not have happened.  This is truly a day of celebration and thanksgiving, not only for our Synod, but for the whole Church.”

Bishop Finck said, “Along with the whole church, the people of the Pacifica Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) celebrate with Dr. R. Guy Erwin at the time of his ordination into the Holy Ministry of Word and Sacrament. Dr. Erwin has come to the Pacifica Synod on occasion as a theologian and teacher. He has always been a blessing for those who sat at his feet to be in conversation, to learn, to enter into theological dialogue and deliberation. He is an amazing gift to the whole church, and especially to the ELCA, to California Lutheran University, and to the congregations, leaders, and synods of the West. We give thanks that the church of which we are part has made it possible for Dr. Erwin now to be ordained. We appreciate his faithful vocational calling to serve the church as a teacher and preacher, and now as a pastor and minister of the Gospel of Christ Jesus. His wisdom and courage, guided by a deep faith in Christ, is a needed witness to us all as the church continues to be reshaped by the boundless grace, compassionate love, and the missional call of God.”

Lutherans Concerned/North America (LC/NA) is pleased and uplifted by this further example of the ELCA living out its history-making decision to take a significant step towards full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church.

Emily Eastwood, LC/NA Executive Director, said, “It is highly unusual for the Conference of Bishops to grant an exemption to the requirement of ordination to parish ministry.  Only a short time ago it would have been astounding for such a waiver to be granted to a partnered, out and serving gay person, no matter, how distinguished.  Guy’s ordination is long overdue.  His ordination to specialized ministry without further requirement rights a 25-year wrong for the sake of the Gospel.  Guy’s service to the church has been exemplary.  His ordination is a witness to the church’s growing acceptance beyond the bounds of its own traditions. As with the extraordinary ordinations of years past, when the hands of bishops and clergy were laid upon Guy and the congregation assembled greets this new pastor of the church with hearty applause and likely more than a few tears of joy, our dream of a church where all may serve as guest and host at God’s table of blessing and power, will come one step closer to reality.   Thanks be to God who will, no doubt, be smiling along with us.”

For the twenty years prior to the 2009 decision, the ELCA required celibacy as a condition of ministerial service by LGBT people.  That prohibition against ministers living in committed, same-gender, lifelong relationships was removed by the 2009 decision.


Further Information
Phil Soucy
Communications Director
Lutherans Concerned/North America
703 980-2038

About Lutherans Concerned
Working at the intersection of oppressions, Lutherans Concerned/North America (LC/NA) embodies, inspires, advocates and organizes for the acceptance and full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities within the Lutheran communion and its ecumenical and global partners. LC/NA is based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Phil Soucy
Director Communications LC/NA