When Bradley Schmeling leaves Atlanta’s St. John’s Lutheran Church for a large Evangelical Lutheran Church of America congregation in Minnesota, he leaves behind a trailblazing legacy for gay Lutherans.

Schmeling is the pastor who was tried, defrocked and ousted from ELCA in 2006 for his long-term committed relationship with another Lutheran pastor Darin Easler. His Atlanta parishioners at St. John’s never wavered in their support, and he continued to preach there even while in exile from the national denomination’s blessing.

It was his national headline-making story that ultimately led ELCA in 2009 to revise their doctrine to include monogamous gay clergy. In 2010, ELCA reinstated Schmeling and Easler to the official roster.

“I am elated that St. John’s prayers for the unity and understanding of the Lutheran Church have been answered,” Schmeling said in a prepared statement at the time.

Schmeling takes the helm as senior pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn. in June after an overwhelming majority vote of its membership. Its flock of more than 2,300 makes it the largest ELCA congregation with an openly gay senior pastor in a committed relationship, according to Lutherans Concerned/North America in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Members of St. John’s and Atlanta friends continue to express bitter-sweet tributes about Schmeling’s departure on his Facebook page.

I’m sorry to see you go, but I wish you all the best as you take the next step of your ministry journey. You will be missed here!

Schmeling echoes the sentiments.

I’m so sad to say goodbye to an amazing church community here in Atlanta, and I’m so excited to start ministry with another amazing church community. My last Sunday will be May 6th, starting at Gloria Dei in mid-June.

While in Atlanta, Schmeling was one of 40 Community Builder Grand Marshals of Atlanta Pride in 2009, participated with his partner in a Georgia Equality video series for marriage (above), joined other gay clergy who turned out to thwart an anti-gay rally, and co-hosted the documentary and panel discussion “Anatomy of Hate: A Dialogue for Hope” on National Coming Out Day, among many other high-visibility appearances.