A Minneapolis denomination has evicted a church and defrocked its pastor over longstanding differences on same-sex marriage. The Evangelical Covenant Church voted to remove First Covenant Church and the Rev. Dan Collison, the Star Tribune reports. It's the first time that a pastor and church have been kicked out in the denomination's 134-year history. "I'm saddened," Collison said. "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." He said the denomination's vote "cements its position" on LGBT issues. The Evangelical Covenant Church also removed a retired minister from Michigan who was charged with breaking the church's ban on same-sex marriage when he officiated at his son's wedding in Minneapolis.
"I hope this historic church someday changes its mind and then returns to our family," said John Wenrich, the denomination's president, per CNN. The downtown church was an original member of Evangelical Covenant Church, which calls itself "evangelical, but not exclusive; biblical, but not doctrinaire; traditional, but not rigid, and congregational, but not independent." The five-year clash began when a First Covenant staff member officiated at a wedding of two women; the denomination's policy is "celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage." It intensified after a sermon opposing the LGBT restrictions and after First Covenant adopted the slogan: "Love All." The church plans to stay in operation, keeping its name, building and pastor. The church will be fine, Collison told the Star Tribune, "but the denomination will never remain the same." (Under pressure, a school has dismissed a teacher in a same-sex marriage.)