Results of the Special Congregational Meeting of January 22, 2023

At a Special Congregational Meeting called at the petition of 94 voting members to the Church (Congregation) Council, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Wilmington NC voted by 98% to terminate its relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). According to the model constitution of the ELCA, to terminate its relationship with the ELCA, a congregation must vote by 2/3 of voting members present to terminate the relationship. At the same meeting, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Wilmington NC voted by 97% to join the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC) if released by the Synod Council of the North Carolina Synod of the ELCA. Former congregations of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) must receive release by the Synod Council, which has released more than two dozen former LCA congregations in the past. Despite having been invited, no representatives of the North Carolina Synod leadership attended the meeting although properly notified according to the constitution. A registered parliamentarian was present and affirmed that the meeting was conducted according to Robert’s Rules of Order and in compliance with the model constitution of the ELCA.

This was the second time St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Wilmington NC has successfully voted to terminate its relationship with the ELCA and voted to join another Lutheran denomination. On September 26, 2021, St. Matthew’s voted by 92% to terminate its relationship with the ELCA and by 52% to join the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. At the same meeting, 47% voted to join the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). A simple majority was all that was required to join successfully another Lutheran denomination; however, at a special meeting of the North Carolina Synod Council of the ELCA in April 2022, they refused to release St. Matthew’s, a former congregation of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA).

After the Church (Congregation) Council requested a visit by Bishop Timothy Smith, the Bishop, Synod Vice President Diana Haywood, another synod staff person, and two members of the Synod Council’s specially created Disaffiliation Committee met with the council in June 2022 at which 50 voting members attended and asked questions about the disaffiliation process. In the wake of that deeply dissatisfying visit by synod representatives, 94 voting members of St. Matthew’s petitioned the Council at its July 2022 meeting to begin the disaffiliation process again. On August 22, 2022 at a Special Congregational Meeting, the congregation voted by 96% to express its intent to terminate its relationship with the ELCA. After significant conversation with the congregation and a visit by The Rev’d. Dr. Cary Larson, Presiding Pastor of the AALC, the Church (Congregation) Council recommended the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC) as a compromise Lutheran denomination with which to affiliate if the congregation voted again to disaffiliate from the ELCA. A survey of voting members in December 2022 indicated that more than 90% would favor the AALC as a future denominational affiliation upon release by the North Carolina Synod of the ELCA. Then, the St. Matthew’s Council called the required second Special Congregational Meeting for January 22, 2023.

For the second time unambiguously having expressed its will to terminate the relationship with the ELCA, this time, by 98% and to join the AALC by 97%, St. Matthew’s awaits the decision of the North Carolina Synod Council. It is our prayer that the ELCA’s North Carolina Synod Bishop, the other Synod Officers, and Synod Council will grant a gracious separation to St. Matthew’s. Historically, this will not be the first former LCA congregation to receive release by the North Carolina Synod Council of the ELCA. Founded in 1892, St. Matthew’s is a traditional Lutheran congregation, which continues to uphold the Confession of Faith of the ELCA, and has paid for and owns outright its property and facilities. At present, St. Matthew’s is one of five ELCA congregations in New Hanover County. The closest congregation of the American Association of Lutheran Churches is in Fayetteville NC.

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

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The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 46 years and in May 2022 celebrated the 41st anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity (www.societyholytrinity.org). In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.