Three West Coast seminarians who have publicly acknowledged their homosexuality have been certified for ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The three students at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif., were approved by their respective churches -- the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church -- before the two groups formally united to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church the first of this year.

All three acknowledged that they were "openly gay" when presenting themselves for certification, the first step toward ordination in the Lutheran Church.

"All three are highly gifted," said the Rev. Michael Cooper-White, an assistant to Bishop Lyle Miller of the Northern California-Northern Nevada Synod. "We expect to give them the same kind of support {in finding a ministerial position} as other" graduating seminarians.

In the Lutheran Church, seminary graduates are not ordained until they are called -- offered a position -- by a local church.

The action comes as other mainline Protestant denominations, notably United Methodists and Episcopalians, are debating whether homosexuality is a bar to ordination. The new Lutheran Church has not taken a formal stand on the matter.

But both constituent bodies of the new church have held that although homosexual orientation is not a barrier to the church's ministry, ordination should not be available to practicing homosexuals.

Cooper-White said the bishop of the region met with the faculty of the Berkeley seminary after the certification process and "in the bishop's judgment, the seminary faculty acted consistently with the church's statement in that the students were informed that being a practicing homsexual would bar them from ordination."