TORONTO - Despite stern warnings from a leading Canadian bishop, a southern Ontario congregation will test the limits of its parent organization this week when it becomes the first Lutheran church in Canada to ordain a married gay man.

More than 50 clergy colleagues from across the country will celebrate the ordination of Lionel Ketola on Friday at the Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Newmarket, Ont., pastor Dawn Hutchings said Wednesday.

"We're going ahead with this in the hope it will highlight the need for change, and also, that it will provide a ray of hope for those gays and lesbians in our denomination,'' said Hutchings.

The Lutheran church has a discriminatory ordination policy and there's wide denominational support for Ketola's appointment, Hutchings added.

"As far as we know, this is the first time a married gay man will be ordained in the Lutheran tradition,'' she said.

Ketola, who became openly gay while studying for the ministry, said he's been waiting for his ordination for 20 years.

"I feel thrilled and very privileged,'' said Ketola, 45. "I feel excited about the opportunity to offer a public witness that really has the potential to open up safe spaces in the church for queer people.''

However, if Friday's plan goes forward, the congregation could face anything from a verbal warning to expulsion from the national church organization, said Michael Pryse, a bishop from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

While Pryse has worked to establish full church status for homosexuals, he said many Lutheran congregants simply aren't ready for such a sweeping social shift.

"Most members of our church aren't going to be happy about this,'' said Pryse, adding that some social trailblazers within the church may not be in touch with the grassroots.

"I think people have come a whole long way, and I think people who are really out front on it ... sometimes they lose sight of that.''

Pryse recently wrote two stern letters to the Newmarket church, warning them that proceeding would be a "serious breach'' of their constitutional obligation to the national body.

Pryse also warned that going ahead with the ordination could "undermine'' the progress many churches have made in the past few years.

Parent Lutheran bodies in both the U.S. and Canada require that ministers who identify as gay remain celibate, according to the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministry, an American advocacy group who have sponsored Ketola and other gay ministers.

But last summer, an assembly of evangelical Lutherans in the U.S. asked its bishops not to fire gay and lesbian ministers who violate the rule.

Since then, two U.S. congregations have ordained lesbian pastors, according to the ELM.

"It's an injustice to prevent a person like Lionel from becoming a pastor,'' said ELM spokeswoman Lois Voss in a telephone interview from Minnesota.

Ketola was stripped of the ability to become a pastor shortly after graduating from the Lutheran seminary in the 1988.

"It was a pretty painful experience and I left the church for a number of years,'' he said.

Ketola re-engaged with organized religion in the mid 1990s and undertook chaplaincy work before he was given minister credentials by the ELM.

Ketola said ELM has so far ordained 14 gay pastors in the U.S.