“It was a time that was difficult but also of great blessing,” Schmeling told GA Voice today in an interview at St. John about the time he and Easler were not considered clergy.
“In the end we’re playing an important role in moving the whole Lutheran Church move forward,” he added.
The ELCA Southeastern Synod of Atlanta candidacy committee met April 24-25 and approved Schmeling’s request for reinstatement and this will become effective “once the paperwork has been filed,” Schmeling said in an ELCA press release.
St. John’s Lutheran Church, where Schmeling serves as pastor, was informed of the reinstatement this weekend, the church announced in its own press release. The congregation applauded and gave a standing ovation on Sunday when the news was announced during the service.
“St. John’s chose Pastor Brad from a list of qualified pastoral candidates. We picked Pastor Brad because he is the right match for us, regardless of his orientation,” Congregation President Laura Crawley said. “We are grateful that the ELCA chose to adhere to the Lutheran commitment to being a welcoming and inclusive body to all.”
Easler said the loving support of friends and family sustained him and Schmeling and their personal relationship. But by sharing personal stories like theirs, justice and fairness can be achieved.
“Our faith is the foundation of our relationship,” Easler told GA Voice.
Both men also said they were grateful for the support from the Atlanta lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and will always consider serving as grand marshals of the Atlanta Pride Parade in 2007 as a significant moment in their lives.
Schmeling was removed from the clergy roster in 2007 because he was in a relationship with Easler while serving as pastor at St. John. ELCA policy at the time prohibited gay pastors to be in same-sex relationships.
Although Schmeling was removed from the clergy roster, his congregation asked him to remain as their pastor, supporting his fight to be reinstated.
In 2009, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly called for revisions to allow for gay pastors to be in same-sex, monogamous, lifelong relationships. The revisions were adopted April 10 by the ELCA Church Council.
“For so long people’s dreams about serving the church has led to a dead end,” said Schmeling in the ELCA release. “Now with a change in policy, there are so many that can imagine a future with the church. The Holy Spirit is alive in the church in a profound and new way.”
Added Easler, “I am aware that this moment is about so much more than ourselves, and our own situation with the ELCA, but (it is) a moment for the church to be a beacon of hope and bear witness to the widening embrace of love and welcome to all people in the life and the ministries of the church.”
Easler was pastor at the United Redeemer Lutheran Church in Zumbrota, Minn. He left the parish in 2003 and removed from the clergy roster in 2006. He then transferred to the United Church of Christ and works in hospice care as a bereavement coordinator.
“I feel grateful in coming back home to my faith family, after feeling disconnected for a number of years,” said Easler in the release.
On April 30, the candidacy committee of the ELCA Southeastern Minnesota Synod, Rochester, approved Easler’s request for reinstatement.
Harry Knox, former director of Georgia Equality, now serves as director of the national Human Rights Campaign’s Religion & Faith Program.
“It is an extraordinary story that has come full circle,” Knox said in St. John’s press release. “The congregation remained strong in their prayers for discernment, their faith and their loyalty to their pastor.”
For Schmeling, being reinstated is a fulfillment of his life’s mission.
“From the time I came out in the church in 1992, I never believed that I would retire as pastor in the ELCA. But with the policy change, for the first time ever I can imagine a full career of ministry in the church. That gives me a sense of peace, confidence and stability for my own future as a pastor,” said Schmeling.
On Tuesday, Schmeling’s Facebook page was quickly filling with congratulations.
Photo: Rev. Darin Easler (left) and Rev. Bradley Schmeling photographed today at St. John’s Lutheran Church. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)