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Thursday, September 22, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bishop Knutson Will Step Down As Leader Of Lutheran Synod

Bishop Lowell Knutson, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for northwestern Washington, says he will retire at the end of the year, seven months before his second and final term of office is to expire.

Knutson said he decided to retire early because he turned 65 in April and because he wanted to provide a transition period as local congregations prepare to elect their first new bishop since the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was established in 1988.

The church, formed in a merger, is the largest Lutheran body in the United States. It has 116 congregations and 66,000 members in the Northwest Washington Synod, which Knutson heads.

The Rev. John Engstrom, pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in downtown Seattle, called Knutson "a very down-to-earth, human, affirming, warm kind of person. That is going to be a loss."

Engstrom added, "He's been willing to stick his neck out. . . . I hope we just get somebody as courageous to replace him."

Over the years, Knutson has spoken with a direct but moderating voice.

In 1988, Knutson said he believed homosexuality was an orientation, not a choice. But he acknowledged that ordaining active homosexuals would "blow many congregations apart. You have to find ways to raise the consciousness of people."

The church is currently grappling with the issue of homosexuality in a draft report on human sexuality.

Knutson has lobbied in Olympia for human-services programs and joined other Protestant and Catholic leaders in calling for reform of the state's tax system, including consideration of a state income tax.

He has called upon churches to provide emergency shelter for the homeless. And, as chairman of the Seattle Community Colleges board of trustees, he pushed for more revenue for the community-college system.

In 1991, he joined Evangelical Lutheran bishops in Tacoma and Spokane in opposing euthanasia. The three came out against the "death with dignity" ballot measure, Initiative 119.

A graduate of Queen Anne High School and Pacific Lutheran University, Knutson served Lutheran congregations in Bow, Skagit County, Everett and West Seattle before being elected bishop of the old North Pacific District of the American Lutheran Church in 1987.

He succeeded Bishop Clifford Lunde, who died earlier that year.

Knutson became bishop of the Northwest Washington Synod in 1988 after the Evangelical Lutheran Church was established through the merger of the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. He was elected to a second term in 1991.

A special meeting of the Northwest Washington Synod Council has been called for Oct. 8 to choose an interim bishop. Knutson will step down Dec. 31.

Lay and clergy delegates from all the congregations in the synod will choose a new bishop at the synod's assembly in Bellevue next June.

Nominees must be ordained pastors on the church roster and can come from inside or outside the synod.

The synod roughly covers the area from Kent to the U.S.-Canadian border, west of the Cascade Mountains.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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