After nearly two decades of separation sparked by its inclusion of a gay pastor, a San Francisco congregation has finally rejoined the Lutheran Church.

On Sunday, First United Lutheran Church voted to rejoin the church nearly three years after receiving an apology and an invitation to reunite, according to the Examiner.

The reunion follows a 17-year split between the congregation and the Lutheran church after the congregation ordained--and refused to abandon--an openly gay pastor. The congregation was suspended in 1990, and formally expelled in 1995. Another San Francisco congregation, St. Francis Lutheran Church, was also cut loose for its protection of two lesbian pastors in the same year.

Finally in 2009, The Lutheran Church voted to admit gay and lesbian pastors into the clergy, issuing an apology and an invitation to reunite to both of the San Francisco congregations.

"There's been an acknowledgment that these two congregations were forward-thinking and committed to their ministry," said Bishop Mark Holmerud to the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. "They took a stand, paid the consequences, and our church has finally seen the wisdom of our opening the rosters to all committed gay and lesbian couples. And we're all the better for it."

St. Francis Lutheran Church accepted the invitation. But members of First United, still wounded from years of exclusion due to discriminatory practices, didn't immediately embrace the invitation.

"Opinion in the community was divided," wrote First United Reverend Susan M. Strouse in a blog post about the congregation's consideration. "Some asked, 'Well, why wouldn't you?' Others, 'Why would you?'"

But on Sunday, First United finally accepted.

"It's like we've been without a part of our body," said Holmerud's assistant Nancy Nelson to the Examiner. "This is a time to celebrate a painful period in our church coming to a close."

In her blog post, Strouse described the process that eventually led to the church's decision:

"The discussion revealed some fear: of loss of identity, of uniqueness, of forgetting our history," she wrote. "It also revealed awareness: of the need to forgive, of the danger of moral superiority, of the courage of the ELCA to change the policy. And possibilities: of what gifts we could bring to the denomination, of being part of working for change from within the system, of being part of something bigger than ourselves."