A brief history of our Synodical federation, fellowship, and association

Our History began in November of 1991 when a group of 40 ELCA members gathered in the RWaffle King Restaurant meeting room in Altoona, Pennsylvania to organize a new independent Lutheran Free congregation. At this meeting a Constitution and Bylaws were approved, Interim Officers and Board members were elected, proceeding with incorporation was authorized, and a beginning date for the new congregation was set to take effect synonymous with the final date of the pastorate of The Rev. Roy A. Steward at the First Ev. Lutheran Church (ELCA) of Altoona. That date of beginning took place sooner that originally planned on January 5, 1992 when Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church held its first Worship service at the Ramada Hotel of Altoona with members of the congregation affirming an official call extended by the Interim Board to Pastor Steward to be the Pastor of the new congregation. A wider general federation, fellowship, and association came into existence almost one year later on December 24, 1993 when Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, then renting worship space in Altoona, Pennsylvania (now in its own permanent facilities at Duncansville, Pennsylvania) began a mission effort to establish a new congregation in a beautiful one room stone church. This old stone church was the home of an Lutheran Church in America (LCA) congregation that had been closed by the former Lutheran Church in America (LCA).

The old stone church facility was lovingly maintained by an independent association composed of members of the former LCA congregation and of the descendents of the family that had originally provided the property for a church. Following the closing of the congregation regular Sunday worship in the church had ceased. Sunday Worship not taken place for 12 years.

Faith Lutheran had visitors from the area near the location of the old church. These visitors suggested that they could not come to worship at Faith regularly because of the distance from their homes to Faith Lutheran. Pastor Steward decided with the approval of the Board of Elders and Deacons of Faith Lutheran to search for a possible Worship location in the area of those who had visited. After several contacts he was able to meet with the Board of the Association that owned and cared for the old Stone Church. This board accepted the proposal of Faith Lutheran and the Pastor to attempt to start a Mission congregation in the unused stone church. The first Mission effort by Faith Lutheran was consequently successfully planted and Barley Evangelical Lutheran Church was officially opened its charter 1 year and four months later.

The Pastor, Faith Lutheran and its Barley Mission congregation then came to form the Central Pennsylvania Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium and General Parish.

All of these folks coming to compose the two congregations had formerly been LCA/ELCA. The initial core that left the ELCA and joined with the Pastor to form Faith Lutheran did so after intense confrontation with the hierarchical system that had come to assert total control over congregations and pastors in the ELCA. Those confrontations ran the range of Biblical, Confessional, and Constitutional issues.

Barley Evangelical Lutheran Church was successfully established and begun as a Mission and for its first year and four months existed as an extension of Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, Altoona PA. The new mission began its life with an average of 7 persons in attendance at worship for the first 3 months and then subsequently began to grow and build in numbers.

Upon the opening of its charter 1 year and 4 months after the launching of the Mission, the newly chartered Barley Ev. Lutheran congregation entered into a formal agreement with the Faith Ev. Lutheran congregation to form "The Central Pennsylvania Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium and General Parish(CPaELMGP)". This agreement was endorsed by the membership of the two congregations and put into operation on Easter Sunday 1994. The CPaELMGP (The Pastor, Faith and Barley Congregations) understood themselves to be direct descendants of those Lutherans who were formed and shaped in the Eastern Colonial Geographic Cradle of Lutheranism.

The Faith Ev. Lutheran congregation had become Incorporated as an Independent Free Lutheran congregation on December 23, 1991 and the Barley Ev. Lutheran congregation opened its Charter on Easter Sunday 1994 as an Independent Free Lutheran Congregation in Association and Fellowship with Faith Ev. Lutheran . The Barley congregation received its Incorporation in August of 1994.

The Faith Ev. Lutheran congregation held an inaugural worship service on January 5, 1992 four days after the Pastor submitted his resignation from the ELCA and Allegheny Synod clergy rosters and accepted an Official Call to be pastor of Faith Ev. Lutheran.

Faith congregation met in rental facilities until February 1996 (The first 3 1/2 months of worship services were held in the Ramada Hotel, Altoona and in the subsequent years that followed worship was held in the Becky Sheetz Community Center, Altoona)The Faith Ev. Lutheran congregation purchased property in October 1995 and began work to renovate a 3 year old warehouse & Commercial garage facility into a Church. In February of 1996 the congregation moved into it new Church home and held its first Worship services.

While still in rental facilities of the Becky Sheetz Community Center, the Faith Ev. Lutheran congregation launched its first effort to plant a new mission congregation in the old stone church facility located 20 miles distance from Faith Lutherans meeting site. This resulted in the establishment of Barley Ev. Lutheran Church.

During most of their existence up until September 1999 each respective congregation had been an Independent Free Lutheran Congregation. Faith Ev. Lutheran was for a trial period of time a member of the AALC (American Association of Lutheran Churches) but withdrew after finding the then strong Charismatic focus held by the AALC at that time to not to be in harmony with the congregation's desire to be of a Moderate Conservative (Centrist) Lutheran orientation. A secondary issue for the Faith congregations leaving was the Polity of TAALC which seemed to be a replication in practice of a system very similar to that which the congregation sought to leave in the ELCA.

The Barley Congregation never joined the AALC, primarily because of the growing concern by the Pastor and the Faith Ev. Lutheran leadership over the Charismatic/ Church Growth Movement orientations and polity issues revolving around a seeming governance by Oligarchy.

The Pastor, Faith and Barley congregations then became founding congregations for a trial period of time of the newly organizing LMS-USA ( Lutheran Ministerium and Synod - USA (LMS-USA)) The LMS-USA was organized several months following the withdrawal of Faith Ev. Lutheran from the AALC. The Barley congregation joined with the Faith congregation, two other congregations and 3 pastors in forming LMS-USA. Faith and Barley membership composed slightly more than one half of the total LMS-USA beginning membership.

The Pastor and each congregation (Barley and Faith) withdrew from the LMS-USA respectively in August and September of 1997 when it became clear that LMS-USA experiment had not ensured a polity emphasizing consensus agreement in light of Scripture and in light of the Lutheran Confessions. Faith, Barley, and their Pastor viewed LMS-USA as a body which was intent upon ignoring the original organizational principles and agreed upon constitutional understandings.

These included :

    (1) movement in a more ultra conservative direction without first achieving consensus among all the Pastors and congregations, ;

    (2) development of a sense of Clergy dominance in the governance of the body with clear signs of an emerging hierarchical model, and

    (3) A subtle Hierarchicalization within the Clergy which appeared headed toward a replication of the system the congregations and pastor had left in ELCA and in TAALC.

The "Central PA. Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium and General Parish" while serving as a permanent umbrella organization for the Pastor, Faith, and Barley congregations was increasingly viewed at this period as a possible temporary umbrella organization for organizing a wider association or fellowship of churches and pastors that might have need or desire for a safe haven from whence to reflect upon their future directions, fellowship, and association.

The CPaELMGP continued staunchly congregational in its ordering beyond the development of the corpus of doctrinal and confessional statements and positions. Though congregational in Polity the little fellowship also maintained a high view of the Office of Ministry minus the modus operandi of Hierarchy, Clericalism, and Oligarchy. Member congregations and pastors were allowed total freedom in Christ for the ordering of the life and ministry of the congregations. Decisions, other than unanimous consensus on Doctrinal and Confessional positions, beyond the congregations even though also by unanimous consensus were stipulated to be strictly "advisory" to the member congregations and pastors.

The General Parish also continued to be mission minded and gave regular Mission support to help enable the successful establishment of Living Faith Evangelical Congregation ( A Free Lutheran effort) in Littlestown PA. The General Parish organized, launched and financed a successful Mission effort in York, Pennsylvania which came to be named "Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church." That new congregation, however, came to be composed of members holding a very pietistic understanding. They subsequently exercised and put to the test the "freedom in Christ" principle held by the General parish. The Resurrection congregation separated from the General Parish and became as a totally independent congregation. The General Parish also financed exploratory Mission efforts in Hanover, PA. and supported a foreign Mission in the Ukraine by sending support to the Ukrainian Lutheran Church's (ULC) Seminary. Mission support was sent to Word of God Lutheran Church in the Minneapolis/ St. Paul area of Minnesota. And at the time of the organizing of the Evangelical Lutheran Conference & Ministerium (ELCM) plans were underway to begin a Mission effort in the New York City. Though the Central Pa. Ev. Lutheran Ministerium & General Parish was and is a tiny little band compared to other Lutheran groupings there nonetheless has been a very large sense of vision for the Mission of the Church. The Central PA. Ev. Lutheran Ministerium & General parish continues to exist as a General Parish unit within the ELCM and will likely be the core group for organizing an ELCM Central Pennsylvania Synod.

All of the above mentioned Mission effort over an 8 year period of time was strongly supported even as the Faith and Barley congregations were each engaged in purchase of their own property and in the planning for their own church home facilities. Faith Lutheran in 2000 began a facility expansion effort to add Class rooms, Office, fellowship, Library, and storage space. Barley Lutheran likewise began in 2000 the construction of an Educational and Fellowship building on newly purchased property adjacent to the historic stone church building.

One September 7, 1999 the Boards of the General Parish and their Pastor met jointly as the Constituting Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Conference & Ministeriuim of North America. This Constituting Convention was prompted by developments in the late summer of 1999 within the large Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at their Denver, Colorado Church Wide Assembly. The General Parish pastor and Congregational boards decided that a genuinely centrist (Moderate to Middle Conservative) Lutheran church body needed to be organized in order to provide an alternative to both the left wing and right wings of Lutheranism. Thus on September 7, 1999 at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church the Organizational principles, National Constitution, and Bylaws were approved by the Constituting Convention and ELCM was born. Officers of ELCM were elected. The various documents and actions of the Constituting Convention were submitted to the congregations and received unanimous approval. Official Organization was thus affirmed on October 7, 1999. The process for Incorporation as a Non profit Lutheran Church body with its registered office in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was begun. Approval of Incorporation for ELCM was granted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on February 7, 2000.

Though a tiny mustard seed configuration ELCM began to show immediate growth both in its Ministerium roster and in its congregational roster. Exactly 5 months after the Congregational affirmation of the Constituting of ELCM the Clergy roster had grown from 1 pastor to 3 Ordained pastors and one Licensed Lay Catechist/Lay Minister with one Associated pastor. The Congregational roster had grown from 2 congregations plus one associated congregation in one state to 5 congregations in 2 States plus one associated congregation. The numbers of course were tiny but the reality was that the beginning numbers had already been considerably multiplied as February 2000 concluded. Contacts had begun coming in to the ELCM officers from literally around the world.

The ELCM is very mission minded and intends to further establish additional new centrist Lutheran Congregations throughout Pennsylvania, North America and beyond. More Centrist or Moderate Conservative Confessional Lutheran Pastors are needed for this work to proceed but as soon as qualified individuals are identified the mission efforts will proceed. ELCM is already en-heartened at numbers of Youth and adults looking toward studies leading to ordination. ELCM is eager to learn of groups interested in beginning new congregations and will seek to respond with Mission support.

Our initial membership was and continues to be primarily composed of folks coming out of the ELCA, LCA, Augustana, ULCA, General Synod/ General Council, Pennsylvania Ministerium/ New York Ministerium Lutheran strand. But we are now expanding that to include folk coming out of the LC-MS, WELS, and CLC backgrounds. The original two congregations have solid claim to a heritage link to Pastor's H.M. Muhlenberg and W. Berkenmyer. An extensive paper, presented by the Central PA. Ev. Lutheran Ministerium and General Parish President [ now ELCM President], on the topic of the Conservative Biblical and Confessional roots in Eastern Lutheranism is included on our Web site.

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