Minneapolis Pastor and Church Expelled from Evangelical Covenant Denomination Over Views on LGBT Rights

The Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) voted Friday to evict a pastor and expel his Minneapolis church from the denomination, ending a five-year conflict over LGBT inclusion, news outlets reported Saturday.

It was the first time a pastor and a church have been involuntarily removed in the denomination's history—because of the ECC's disinclination toward same-sex marriage.

Pastor Dan Collison was one of two pastors to be booted at the annual meeting of the ECC in Omaha. The Star Tribune reported that ECC leaders also voted Friday night to remove retired Reverend Steve Armfield over a disagreement on LGBT rights and values.

First Covenant will apparently continue to operate, "but the denomination will never remain the same," Collison said, according to The Star Tribune.

Covenant Church leaders reportedly recommended that Collison, Armfield and First Covenant be expelled because they violated its policies on "celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage." In other words, they were seen as either supporting or condoning premarital sex and same-sex marriage.

First Covenant's conflicts with the denomination reportedly broke out after a First Covenant staff member officiated a wedding of two women in 2014. The wedding was off site, but the ECC said First Covenant was "out of harmony" with its policies.

After the vote, First Covenant issued multiple statements on Facebook. "We are deeply grieved as we find ourselves cast out by a denomination that has historically been able to hold differences and find a middle way," read one statement. "We will continue to serve and fully embrace anyone who walks through our doors. The community of First Covenant Church Minneapolis owns the name and building, and our journey continues in love."

The church added that Collison will continue to serve as lead pastor at the church, which is reportedly expected to stay in the historic Minneapolis downtown building and operate under the same name.

"We are grateful to have him, and we hold him and his family with love and grace," the church said on Facebook.

The ECC website describes the denomination as "Evangelical, but not exclusive. Biblical, but not doctrinaire. Traditional, but not rigid."

And yet, The Star Tribune reported that Armfield, a retired minister who officiated his son's same-sex wedding in Minneapolis, was expelled based on accusations that he violated the denomination's same-sex marriage ban.

The Star Tribune noted that Armfield officiated his son's wedding in 2017, but it was unclear if this was the particular action that prompted his eviction.

In a statement following the expulsions, ECC President John Wenrich said, "I grieve the loss of First Covenant Church of Minneapolis... I hope this historic church someday changes its mind and then returns to our family."

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Erika Turner (R) and Jennifer Melsop (L) of Centreville, Virginia, becomes the first same sex marriage couple in Arlington County during a ceremony, officiated by the Rev. Linda Olson Peebles (C) of Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlingon, outside the Arlington County Courthouse October 6, 2014 in Arlington, Virginia. Alex Wong/Getty Images