Orange County, CA LGBT Voice and first female Lutheran pastor dies at 61

Susan Wolfe-Devol, who made history as the first woman to hold the post of a Lutheran pastor in Orange County, CA who strongly advocated for social justice and inclusion in church and ministry, has passed away. The Orange County pastor was 61 years of age when she died after a short illness. She was known to be among the few who tried to include the LGBT community. Her activities also paved way for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America vote in 2009 which permitted lesbian and gay clergy to marry openly. They were also permitted to serve in the church.

Wolfe-Devol served as pastor at North Hollywood's St. Matthew's Lutheran Church for a period of three years, starting in 2000 and ending in 2003. This makes her the longest serving pastor at St. Matthew’s, but she had already been a pastor for 13 years before that. Under her, the congregation grew an inclusive ministry which robustly promoted church policies which assisted to result in the landmark vote of 2009 when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America permitted lesbian and gay clergy to marry openly and serve in the church.

Prior to her arrival at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church, Wolfe-Devol served in the role of associate pastor at the Santa Ana St. Peter Lutheran Church for a period starting from 1985 and ending at 1990. In the process, she became the maiden female Lutheran minister in Orange County. She later went on to serve as the associate pastor at the Los Angeles Pico-Union District Angelica Lutheran Church.

Preaching and pastoral care were her forte as minister. Her empathetic and direct style and comforted parishioners. Her parishioners varied among the old and the young, and included both healthy people and those who suffered health issues. This was specially underlined during the AIDS epidemic which once ravaged her flock. Wolfe-Devol both uplifted and challenged congregations with scholarly and engaging sermons. Her speeches were peppered with humor. She notably included snippets from her personal life.

Wolfe-Devol literally changed lives. Morgan Rumpf, a president of the congregation at St. Matthews said the church was the “the church of broken toys,” during the early 2000s. Her church welcomed the spiritually broken, the marginalized, the castoffs and the misunderstood. Richard Gasparotti, another congregational president of St. Matthews, echoed Rumpf, “She spoke for those who’d been pushed to the sidelines.”

Resources

Follow the Conversation on Twitter