The question was whether someone in a committed gay relationship should be ordained by the Lutheran church to serve as a pastor. It took the country's largest body of Lutherans 20 years to answer that question, and in August they said 'Yes.'

Then members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America sat back to see what would happen.

At first glance in the Northland, it appears that ELCA Lutherans largely agree with the vote on gay clergy. Pastors and church members on both sides of the issue say there hasn't been a groundswell of opposition as there has been in other parts of the country.

But ripples of discontent are appearing, and now the question for many ELCA Lutherans is: How big will those ripples become?

While members are being respectful, "the August vote has caused some disagreement between people and divisions in the congregations," said Deborah Lunde, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Finland and Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte.

Some people, like 30-year-old Proctor native Eric Wong, have left the church. And Lunde's Tofte church has voted to split away from the ELCA.

Others, like Sue Anderson and her Gloria Dei Lutheran Church congregation in Duluth, have rejoiced. Gloria Dei has long had a formal decree welcoming and accepting gay and lesbian members. When the vote passed, it only affirmed what the church had been living.

"The vote was a very welcome step," said David Carlson, pastor of Gloria Dei, who said social justice is an important part of members' faith. At the national assembly where the vote took place, "there were tears of joy that people expressed, believing that this church they have grown up in fully welcomes them and recognizes their call."

Many pastors have contacted the bishop of the ELCA's Northeastern Minnesota Synod, Thomas Aitken, with a full spectrum of responses: affirming, uncertain and upset, he said.

"Overall, by the measuring rod that only a handful have taken a vote to leave over it ... [for] the vast majority ... it's not a big enough issue to be torn apart by it," Aitken said.

The Northeastern Minnesota Synod, which stretches from Koochiching to Mille Lacs County, encompasses 147 churches with 72,000 members.

Five churches have taken the first of two votes needed to withdraw from the ELCA. In four cases, the move failed; Tofte was the fifth. Another -- French River Lutheran Church -- will take a vote today.

Nationwide, about 80 of 10,300 congregations have taken a first vote. Congregations need a two-thirds vote to pass, and the Tofte church passed with 85 percent in favor. The church now must wait 90 days before the second vote can be taken. The church has become a member of the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.

Arndt Braaten, a member of Zion Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, helped form a Northeastern Minnesota chapter of the national Coalition for Renewal, or CORE, a Lutheran group established in reaction to trends in the ELCA that they consider in opposition to God's law.

"It is the gospel that is at stake," Braaten says.

He acknowledges that many in the Northland agree with the ELCA vote, but that others either aren't informed or don't want to speak up.

"Some people say, 'I am too old for that fight.' Church is the one place in the week where people don't want to fight," he said. "Even if Northeastern Minnesota is quiet, the ELCA has lost about 15 percent of its budget. It does impact the people up here, whether they like it or not."

Wong, 30, started attending an ELCA church regularly in college and quickly grew to love scripture and the writings of Martin Luther. He was in Minneapolis in August when the gay clergy vote was taken. He was one of the few people from the Northeastern Minnesota Synod who didn't cheer for the outcome, he said.

Though no churches in Northeastern Minnesota have voted to withhold mission funding -- what it calls benevolence -- Aitken said he's heard that some congregations are thinking about it.

Benevolence money pays for projects such as the relief effort under way for an earthquake-stricken Haiti.

For church members who want to withhold their contributions to the ELCA, Lunde recommends that they send money directly to ministries they support.

"People have not stopped giving," she said. "They're just choosing whom to give to."

Many of the ELCA's older members are the biggest financial supporters, said Wong, a former member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Proctor.

In many cases, he said "they're probably not too keen on [the gay clergy vote]. They're moving on. Those younger people, are they going to be able to support the church, are they going to be coming to church? Many of those churches up here need money to keep the lights on."

Lunde says the vote is a "watershed moment" for ELCA's future.

"A vote that was intended to bring unity has instead brought fracture," she said, citing Lutheran theologian Robert Benne. "It will have a long-term impact; it's not a benign thing."

But Aitken points to another watershed moment early in the life of the church, "when the early church believers met and voted to do something totally new and scary."

It was the decision to allow male Gentiles, or non-Jews, into the church without circumcision.

"It was a source of great consternation and contention," Aitken said. "But they decided to go against long-standing scriptural precedent."

At Gloria Dei, no members have left since August and the church has taken 12 new members into its 304-member fold, Carlson said.

In the bigger view, some members will leave the ELCA because of the vote, Aitken said, and new members will join.

"The elephant in the room we have not always been able to name has certainly been named," he said. "It's contributed to some divisions, but it's contributed to a newfound zest in going back to who we are as Lutherans."

Jana Hollingsworth is a reporter at the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.