The last thing Heather and Lisa Albinson wanted to do was make trouble for their church. They’d met and fallen in love at First Covenant in downtown Minneapolis. Both were members of the church band, and they wanted the band leader—a dear friend of theirs—to officiate their wedding. This place was part of their love story. But when they got married in 2014, they decided to do it offsite, just in case.
First Covenant still got in trouble, and so did its pastor, Dan Collison. Though the women hadn’t married at the church, Collison had allowed a staff member to perform the ceremony. Furthermore, he had a policy of offering sacraments like baptism to everyone—regardless of race, gender, or sexuality.
That’s how Collison has done things for 10 years. His church contains a homeless shelter and a nonreligious arts collective, plus a plan to build affordable housing in the parking lot. Inclusivity and openness are part of his mission. And that’s what put him “out of harmony” with the rest of the Evangelical Covenant Church.
Five years after the Albinsons’ marriage, they traveled to Omaha with Collison to plead their case before denominational leaders. In the end, 75 percent of the assembled leaders voted to kick Collison and his entire church out of the faith. It’s the first time in its 130-year history that a minister or a church has been evicted.
Collison was “deeply saddened” by what happened. But it wasn’t the end. The downtown church had no debts. It owned its building and its name. The denomination couldn’t take those away. So the three of them returned to Minneapolis in order to move forward together as a congregation.
He says even with the “pain” of rejection, their first Sunday back from Omaha felt like “an Easter.” There was weeping, joy, clarity—a hard reset. It was time to pick up the pieces and build a church in their own image. A church where everyone would be welcome.
It’s been six months since the Omaha decision. About 100 new people have been exploring the congregation—many of them queer. The next year will be about holding meetings, getting to know the new folks, and deciding who they want to be as a church.
“I have done a lot of soul-searching about the failure of the Christian religion to prepare me and others for this moment,” he says—a moment when his church and the surrounding community have loved and “held” one another unconditionally, while the larger structure around them “wasn’t prepared for the task.”
But for now, he says, they will “breathe,” “sit still,” and get an unobstructed look at the future.
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