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Mpls. congregation may be expelled from denomination over LGBT stance

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Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan.
A rainbow flag flies along with the U.S. flag in front of Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., on Friday, April 19, 2019.
Charlie Riedel | AP

A Minneapolis pastor will likely be defrocked and his congregation expelled from the Evangelical Covenant Church this week. The issue: same-sex relationships. 

The First Covenant Church Minneapolis is one of the oldest of the roughly 1,000 Covenant congregations across the world, but leaders of the ECC say they are "out of harmony" with the rest of the denomination. If church leaders decide to involuntarily remove the FCCM from its roster, it would a first in the church's 130-year history. 

The conflict began five years ago when fifth-generation FCCM member Lisa Albinson married her wife Heather Albinson, now an elected leader of the congregation. Lisa Albinson says at that time they wanted to be respectful of the church's rules, so they didn't ask the lead pastor to officiate their wedding and didn't hold the ceremony in the church. Instead, they had church's music director marry them, who wasn't ordained by the ECC. 

Still, that was enough to draw the ire of church leaders in Chicago. 

"Much to our surprise," Lisa Albinson said, who added that their congregation in Minneapolis has mostly been supportive of their union. "Today in our congregation there might not be people who feel the same about our marriage, and that's okay. I think we've found a space where we can still co-exist despite those [different] personal beliefs."        She thinks the larger denomination should be able to do the same and accept different viewpoints on same-sex relationships. 

But leaders of the ECC says it's a existential issue for the denomination, citing an earlier decision by the denomination that states: "heterosexual marriage, faithfulness within marriage, abstinence outside of marriage — these constitute the Christian standard."   

In an FAQ posted on the church's website, leaders explain, "If a church is consciously able to adopt and practice the opposite of Annual Meeting decisions without accountability, while claiming to do ministry under the auspices of the ECC, the ECC loses its ability to govern and define itself." 

ECC leaders say they gave FCCM the option to leave the church voluntarily. They would still own their building and be able to control their assets, a freedom not all congregations have.  

But Lisa Albinson says they don't want to leave the denomination. Her great-great grandparents helped found one of the first congregation in 1874, and she says there are members in other congregations who share her beliefs supporting same-sex marriage. 

"We've figured out how to handle the attacks from the greater denomination, and we're poised and ready to be in this position," Lisa Albinson said. "And for us to just say 'see ya later,' at this moment would feel disingenuous." 

Leaders of the ECC will vote on whether to expel the Minneapolis congregation on Friday at their annual meeting in Omaha. Lisa Albinson plans to be there with her family. 

Click audio player to hear Lisa Albinson's conversation with MPR's Cathy Wurzer.