Schmeling came to St. John’s Lutheran Church in 2000 and met his partner, Darin Easler, also a Lutheran minister, at a church conference in Minnesota in 2004. The two fell in love and in 2005, Easler moved to Atlanta where he was welcomed by St. John’s congregation.
In 2006, Schmeling and Easler told their synod bishops they were in a relationship with each other. This goes against church policy that prohibits gay clergy from being in same-sex relationships. Easler is quietly removed from the clergy roster in Minnesota and in early 2007, Schmeling was put on a church trial and that summer removed from the clergy roster.
The trial made national headlines and was another example of the ongoing debates taking place within numerous churches and denominations about how LGBT people, including pastors, fit into a church’s overall mission.
St. John’s stood by Schmeling, keeping him as pastor. In 2010, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to allow gay clergy members in committed relationships, and Schmeling was returned to the clergy rolls.
“It was a time that was difficult but it was also a time filled with great blessing because there was so much support and affirmation that we received,” Schmeling said in an interview after hea and Easler were reinstated.
“We didn’t know it at that time but in the end we are playing an important role in moving the whole Lutheran Church forward. I think policy change would have come in the ELCA … but I feel like the trial and public witness [St. John’s] congregation gave at that time helped move the church faster and farther along,” Schmeling added.
Top photo: St. John Lutheran Church’s pastor, Bradley Schmeling, (right) and his partner, Darin Easler. (by Dyana Bagby)