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Founding pastor out at King of Kings Lutheran Church

The founding pastor of King of Kings Lutheran Church, one of the area's largest congregations, is leaving in an agreement that follows a tumultuous several months for the Woodbury church.

The Rev. Ralph Olsen, who was instrumental in building Kings of Kings over 30 years, agreed to a "negotiated transition" approved by church members during a special congregational meeting Sunday.

In an emotional farewell, Olsen asked congregants to ratify the agreement.

"Now is the time for a new beginning," Olsen said, standing before a full sanctuary.

Some church members and officials say the separation was the result of a congregation divided over its response to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's changed stance on non-celibate gay clergy.

At its national assembly last year in Minneapolis, the ELCA voted to allow gays and lesbians who are in monogamous relationships to serve as clergy, if called by a church.

That vote split congregations across the country, and King of Kings and other churches suspended or severed financial support of the ELCA. In an interview last year, Olsen said the issue stirred up emotions like no other controversial issue in his time at King of Kings.

Olsen did not speak out against the ELCA's gay clergy vote.

In explaining the reason for Olsen's departure - to be official May 31, 2011 - church leaders did not discuss the ELCA vote, but cited concerns about Olsen's leadership and a loss of church staff and council members' trust in Olsen.

Church council president Keith Weber called on members to remain unified after the vote for the good of the church. He also asked that they not discuss the issue with the media, suggesting it be considered an internal matter.