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Minneapolis pastor defrocked and his church expelled for permitting gay marriage

In this Friday, June 21, 2019 photo, Rev. Dan Collison poses for a photo inside First Covenant Churc
The Rev. Dan Collison is lead pastor at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis. Leaders of the Evangelical Covenant Church voted to defrock him for permitting a staff member to officiate at a wedding of two women from the congregation.
(David Joles / Associated Press)

Leaders of the Evangelical Covenant Church have voted to defrock a Minneapolis pastor and expel his church for permitting same-sex marriage.

The Rev. Dan Collison had his credentials removed by a 77% vote at the Evangelical Covenant Church’s annual meeting in Omaha on Friday night.

Leaders also voted to expel Collison’s First Covenant Church, a founding member of the 134-year-old denomination.

Collison, who became a pastor at First Covenant in Minneapolis in 2009, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune he was “not surprised” but “saddened” after he was voted out. “I feel grounded in the path we have chosen. I feel grateful for the pastors and churches who stood up for us. I feel compassion to those caught in the middle.”

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The Evangelical Covenant Church says First Covenant is free to keep operating as a church and can keep its church building. First Covenant says Collison will continue as lead pastor.

A First Covenant staff member officiated at an off-site wedding of two women from the church worship band in 2014. The church also released a “love all” statement that said it welcomes members of the LGBTQ community to participate in church activities, including serving in leadership roles. It also says it offers pastoral care, including weddings, “to all in our congregation without regard for ability, race, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Evangelical Covenant Church leaders also voted Friday night to remove another pastor, Rev. Steve Armfield, a retired Michigan minister who officiated at his son’s wedding to another man in Minneapolis. Armfield also was accused of violating the denomination’s same-sex marriage ban.

Leaders had recommended that Collison, Armfield and First Covenant be forced out because they violated Evangelical Covenant policies on human sexuality, specifically “celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage.”

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“The ECC is mindful of the complexity, the sensitivity and the pain that matters of human sexuality can bring,” said Michelle Sanchez, an Evangelical Covenant Church executive minister. “We talk about the desire for both freedom and responsibility as a denomination. Those two things were coming into tension in this case.”

First Covenant Church was founded by Swedish immigrants in 1874. For decades it was one of Evangelical Covenant’s largest churches nationally. Its membership has declined since the 1970s, and today it has about 875 churches with 280,000 members.

“I hope this historic church someday changes its mind and then returns to our family,” Evangelical Covenant Church President John Wenrich said in a statement.

Armfield, an Evangelical Covenant pastor for 47 years, also was suspended in 2017. He served an Evangelical Covenant church in Red Wing, Minn., in the 1970s before moving to Michigan. He officiated at his son Matthew’s wedding in 2017.

“It is so unbelievably upsetting to see my father, Dan, and my fellow members of First Covenant experience the hate, deceit and actions that go against the teachings of love and inclusion that Jesus Christ preached,” said Matthew Armfield, who attends First Covenant.


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