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Evangelical pastor who was sacked for coming out as gay in 1980s has been reinstated after 35 years

Patrick Kelleher January 22, 2020
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Gay pastor Ralph Carl Wushke

Ralph Carl Wushke (

A pastor who was effectively sacked from his church because he is gay has been reinstated more than 35 years after he left.

Ralph Carl Wushke was first ordained into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) in 1978. In 1984, he left, feeling that he was no longer able to keep his sexuality a secret.

A number of years later, he still felt the calling to serve as a pastor. But when he contacted the church, he was given the cold shoulder.

“One by one, the bishops just said, like, this is not possible really,” Wushke told CBC Radio’s As It Happens.

“I mean, unless you’re going to commit to celibacy, you know, we couldn’t even consider this,” bishops told him.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church banned openly gay men from being ordained in 1988.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church doubled down on its stance in the following years. In 1988, they banned “self-declared and practising homosexuals” from being ordained, and those already ordained were forbidden from leading parishes.

The gay pastor said that time was “quite painful”.

“The Lutheran Church in Canada is quite small, and all of the bishops were also personal friends.”

One by one, the bishops just said, like, this is not possible really.

The archaic policy was finally reversed in 2011, but Wushke had already become a priest with the United Church of Canada. Despite his newfound role, he always wanted to return to the Lutheran church. When he retired in 2018, the doors were finally open for him to be reinstated.

It was made even easier after the Lutheran church last year introduced a new process whereby pastors who had been forced out because of their sexuality could be fast-tracked back in.

Ralph Carl Wushke spent years imagining what it would be like to return to the Lutheran church.

“I imagined it a lot over the years. I never knew if it really would happen,” Wushke said.

“I’ll try to serve faithfully,” he continued.

“Our congregation is in the heart of the city, surrounded by Ryerson University. There are no end of possibilities. There is a safe-injection site around the corner. There’s poverty.

“The general public, I think, mostly associates the church with that kind of church that is rejecting, that is judgmental, that isn’t warm and welcoming.

“So we have a task to say the church is a complex place … and, I mean, just dispelling the perceptions of the church as a very negative, hostile institution is a big job in itself.”


Related topics: pastor

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