2011-01-13 / Faith
Former Lutheran bishop practiced what he preached
T.O. resident who supported gay rights dies at age 75
Bishop emeritus of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Egertson did not let his faith in the church outweigh his personal beliefs.
In 2001, he became the first active bishop in the denomination to participate in the ordination of a noncelibate lesbian minister.
The move prompted him to resign from his post a month before his six-year term as bishop was to expire.
Egertson knew he’d broken an agreement with the ELCA. But his belief that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, are welcome in God’s family was just as important as his commitment to the church.
“It was a step of conviction on his part,” said the Rev. Howard Wennes, Egertson’s first cousin and former ELCA bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod. “He did that rather carefully and thoughtfully. He honored both of his commitments by doing it that way.”
After 21 years of service as a Lutheran pastor, Egertson, 75, died on Jan. 5 in Thousand Oaks from a massive heart attack. He leaves behind a legacy of faith, wisdom and equality.
According to Wennes, Egertson continued to advocate for full inclusion of homosexuals in the Lutheran church, even after resigning as bishop.
The issue was personal to Egertson because his son Greg, the eldest of six boys, is gay and could not be ordained after graduating from a seminary.
“That was an area in which he helped provide leadership,” Wennes said. “Our church, like many other churches, have wrestled with the question of how do we practice what we preach.
“We believe that one’s faith in Christ makes us right in God’s eyes. And when it came to that principal, Paul said that it should apply to everybody.”
Due largely to Egertson’s efforts, the ELCA made a decision during the 2009 Churchwide Assembly to lift a ban against homosexuals, allowing noncelibate gay and lesbian candidates to become ordained for ministry.
“Paul, along with his wife and family, worked with the church for many years to help teach why that would be an appropriate thing to do,” Wennes said.
Pastor and professor
Besides being a renowned minister of the ELCA, Egertson was most recently a senior lecturer in the religion department of California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
Wennes, a former interim president of CLU, said that Egertson “fell in love” with the school and he lived to inspire faith in other people.
“He loved teaching there, and he was dedicated to the adult evening program for returning students who have families and are working full-time,” Wennes said. “He was highly appreciated as a professor.”
Laurie Egertson, Paul Egertson’s daughter-in-law, said she’s received many calls from former students saying he was the best professor they ever had.
“He was an amazing preacher and teacher,” she said. “If anybody called him at any time, he was available. He would drop anything and would gladly spend hours listening to them for whatever issue— school, church, anything. He was just always there.”
Egertson used to take his work to a Carl’s Jr. near the CLU campus to make himself available to students, his daughter-in-law said.
“He was just a great man,” she said. “I don’t know how else to say it.”
Wennes said his cousin was a “down-to-earth guy” with a good sense of humor and quick wit.
Named after Paul from the Bible, Egertson didn’t act “overly reverent,” Wennes said.
“He was very determined, and very understanding and accepting of people with different convictions,” he said. “We treasure his memory, and we are really shocked and saddened by his sudden death. But we will celebrate his life and faith and family and his ministries because they touched so many.”
Paul Egertson is survived by his wife, Shirley; his son Greg of San Francisco; sons Scot, Steven and Jordan of Thousand Oaks; son Glen of Frasier Park; son Jon of Newport Beach; 12 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A memorial service for Paul Egertson will take place at CLU’s Samuelson Chapel at 1 p.m. Sat., Jan. 15.