For 36 years, Iowa pastor continued to advocate that all be welcomed
by Sarah Werner for Central District Conference, originally published by Anabaptist World
Central District Conference of Mennonite Church USA has reinstated the ministerial credential of Keith Schrag [Goshen College ’60] 36 years after he relinquished it in 1987 during a ministerial meeting in which he was questioned for being a gay man.
Central District restored Schrag’s credentials June 23 at the conference’s annual meeting, hosted at College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind.
Schrag was ordained in 1971 in Wichita, Kan., and served as pastor of Ames Mennonite Church in Iowa from 1977 to 1987 and continued to pastor the congregation as a lay leader until his retirement earlier this year.
The relinquishment followed Schrag’s public acknowledgment of his sexual orientation as a gay man and his advocacy for the welcome of all into the church regardless of sexual orientation. He was also asked to step down from the Peace, Service and Justice Committee.
The emotional and redemptive power of reconciliation played out in the life and ministry of Schrag, who continued his advocacy for LGBTQ people.
Members of Central District visited Ames Mennonite Church in July 2022 as part of a conference-wide Sacred Listening Process. Participants shared about the difficulties of being a welcoming congregation and how meaningful it was to receive an apology in 2015 on behalf of the conference’s ministerial committee. This enabled Schrag and the congregation to strengthen ties with the conference.
Conference minister Doug Luginbill received three separate inquiries after the visit asking if Schrag’s ordination credential could be reinstated, given the changed climate around LGBTQ inclusion and MC USA’s 2022 “Repentance and Transformation” resolution that affirmed full participation of LGBTQ people.
In April, the ministerial committee met with Schrag and decided to reinstate his credential, a first step in repenting for and repairing harm to Schrag and others.
The ministerial committee decided to honor Schrag at the conference’s meeting in June, and Schrag invited his family to be present.
The ministerial committee used a litany of lament, available at Central District’s website, during the delegate session. Shrouded and empty chairs were scattered throughout the room to symbolize those who had been forced to leave the church and those who had to hide their deepest selves to remain part of their communities.
Luginbill offered a tearful apology on behalf of the conference and gave Schrag a certificate of ordination.
“On behalf of the Central District Conference, I apologize for the pain, marginalization and separation that you experienced from the conference,” he said. “We recognize your prophetic and pastoral gifts, walking with and ministering to many who were marginalized. You were a pastor to many throughout your nearly 60 years of ministry in Kansas, Iowa and other communities. Today we recognize you as a credentialed leader in Central District Conference and Mennonite Church USA. Keith, continue to preach the word, share your gifts and bear witness in word and deed to the gospel.”
Schrag said: “Many people — family, queer friends and allies, advocates within the church and departed loved ones — have longed to see this event, and many more, happen within the church. I lament the loss of lives and gifts that have taken place in the interim, including the thousands who have decided they needed to separate themselves from us, thus further dividing our church.
“At the same time, I pledge to work together in the future to bring into reality the vision of healing and hope that results when we join Jesus in his prayer in John 17, that we all may be one, just as Jesus and God are. May our witness to the world result in the claim, ‘See how they love each other!’ ”