Nadia Bolz-Weber is a tattooed, foul-mouthed pastor who gained celebrity status uncommon for Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) clergy. A New York Times best-selling author and popular speaker on the Christian conference circuit, Bolz-Weber is trading in her infamous “Pastrix” title for “public theologian.”
Religion News Service (RNS) reported Bolz-Weber stepped down as pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints (HFASS), the ELCA-affiliated church she founded in Denver, to focus her attention on writing, speaking, and “increase her contact with secular audiences.”
“I was aware how dangerous it was for founders to stay too long,” Bolz-Weber told RNS about her decision to step down and elaborated, “the church still loves me, but I don’t think the church still needs me.” The compelling and controversial pastor led HFASS full-time as senior pastor until 2015, when she transitioned into a part-time role.
Bolz-Weber represents a unique variety of progressive Christianity that often leans on traditional doctrinal elements. “I’m actually a very orthodox Lutheran theologian,” Bolz-Weber once told the Religion and Ethics Newsweekly segment for PBS. In her sermons and writings, she regularly acknowledged sin, humanity’s innate brokenness, the need for confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation, and evil spiritual forces at work in this world. However, it is her unorthodox conclusions on sexual sin, hell, and public support for Planned Parenthood that earns the Religious Left’s admiration.
Perhaps it was Bolz-Weber’s traditional elements that helped her grow HFASS from a gathering of eight people in her living room in 2008 to roughly 500 congregants today, as RNS reported. Such growth–however gradual–for an ELCA congregation is impressive. Within the Rocky Mountain Synod, to which HFASS belongs, official ELCA data noted that out of the 167 congregations, 110 were designated “declining” during 2005-2010.
The latest ELCA membership reports are from 2016 and define HFASS as a “small” congregation with between 151-350 congregants. Weekly attendance shows 190 people on average, and the ELCA designated the congregation’s growth status as “stable.”
Whatever good came from Bolz-Weber’s traditional foundations, it will be interesting to see how the congregation fares under new leadership.
UPDATE: Bolz-Weber is succeeded by a gay Episcopalian priest, Rev. Reagan Humber, who is married to a drag queen known as “Fruitbomb.” IRD’s Jeffrey Walton provides more background on Humber here and is skeptical the results will end well.