NEW GERMANY, Minn. (KMSP) - An 84-year-old woman from New Germany, Minn. received a letter from her church saying she's no longer welcome, and will no longer be able to be buried next to her husband who passed away last summer. But her church says it's all a misunderstanding.
Darleen Pawelk had been a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in New Germany for more than 50 years, but recently she hasn't seen eye-to-eye with the congregation.
"I just thought it sounded like some kind of scare tactic,” daughter Brenda Mason said.
Over the weekend, Pawelk received a certified letter saying since she hadn't attended four services in the last year, she would no longer be considered a member in good standing.
It read, “In 2014, the voters of St. Mark adopted a self-exclusion policy. In summary, the policy states that members who have not gathered together with us in worship to receive the Lord’s Supper at least four times in one calendar year will have excluded themselves from fellowship with us.”
And as a result, she would not be able to be buried next to her husband in a church cemetery plot she had just paid for outside of town – “As you have self-excluded, you are no longer eligible to be buried at either the St. Mark or St. John’s Crow River Cemeteries,” the letter read.
Pawelk's grandson was so upset that he posted the letter on social media, where some responded with fire and brimstone of their own.
"We've received some pretty hateful responses including one that said they wished our church would go up in flames,” Pastor LeRoy LePlant said.
"I view myself as a Christian and it’s not something I would do,” Joshua said.
Church leaders apologize, say it was a mistake
Church leaders say they were actually trying to send Pawelk a letter telling her she had been peacefully released from the church after she told the pastor she didn't want to be a member anymore; and received the letter about the church's self-exclusion policy by accident.
"It was a mistake and we've been deeply apologetic and reached out to the family and we hope even today they will sit down with us,” Pastor LeRoy LePlant said.
But Pawalk's family wants an apology, and a promise in writing that she can be buried next to her husband.
"It’s their church and there's no verse in the bible that says you must have communion four times a year or you are not going to go to heaven,” Brenda said.
Church leaders now say she can be buried next to her husband. Pawelk's grandson says the family is set to meet with them on Wednesday.