Guest blog by Malina Keaton, member of ELM’s Ministry Engagement Team
ELM’s Ministry Engagement program connects congregations allied with ELM’s mission. Team member Malina Keaton has recently been interviewing some of these congregations to find out what makes them so, well, extraordinary! We hope their stories will inspire you. This week we turn to St Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square in Chicago.
Catherine Swanson was looking for a church home for her wife and children in Chicago, Illinois. After attending numerous services of congregations in the area without luck, they happened upon St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Logan Square and kept coming back. Growing up in a conservative church in Iowa, Catherine searched for local Reconciling in Christ congregations in hopes that she could find a place of welcome for her and her family. “We were entering this space that has been historically unsafe for us in our lives, but every time we entered the doors [at St. Luke’s] we were treated like everyone else. We didn’t feel like we shouldn’t be there.”
Her experience of welcoming has been twofold, an intersection of the intentional work of both a congregation and its pastor, the Rev. Erik Christensen. One way that some RIC congregations have lived out their welcome is by calling an LGBTQ pastor. “We went to several churches that were listed as being open to LGBT people and some of them were just open to it. When you went there, you were obviously the only person that was gay in the whole congregation… If you called a gay pastor, the congregation has already had to come to terms with a gay person to the point where they’re okay with being led by someone who’s gay. It moves it beyond just rhetoric.”
To Catherine, this openness is not limited to sexuality, and reflects a congregation’s willingness to grapple with other difficult faith discussions or topics that are typically pushed aside in other ministries – a message that can prove invaluable to those who have felt marginalized by church communities.
The other experience of welcoming Catherine attributes to the leadership of Pastor Erik Christensen, a man who revitalized the congregation of St. Luke’s and enabled its average weekly attendance to grow from fifteen to sixty in his tenure. While many in his congregation say that he encourages them to work for justice in the world and that he has a global sense of service to others, he has impacted Catherine specifically in a profound way. “He’s given me a new vision of what church can be. I came from such a conservative background that he’s given me a feeling that anybody, any person in the community, is welcome regardless of your past or who you are or who you’ve been. You’re all welcome to be here.”
Pastor Erik’s welcoming nature is especially poignant since he himself faced discrimination at the church door. When Erik completed his Masters of Divinity, the ELCA was not ordaining openly gay candidates. Erik was ordained extraordinarily in 2006 and was only received onto the clergy roster of the ELCA in 2010 after the ELCA began ordaining and receiving LGBTQ clergy.
But as many LGBTQ seminarians and clergy have come to understand, this denominational policy change has not shifted the day-to-day rejection or hostility they face. That is why ELM and congregations like St. Luke’s are invaluable to those receiving messages that they do not belong in church.
When Catherine decided to pursue candidacy, leaders in the church cautioned her, expressing that she may never get a job due to the fact that she was a lesbian woman with an interracial family. It was during this time that Pastor Erik was vital to her perception of the church and her call, “I really felt like the church didn’t want me. Not because of who I am but just because I’m gay. Pastor Erik has just made it obvious that there is a space for me if that’s what I want to do… I can be a part of the church and I can be a leader in the church that lives authentically to who I am and that’s enough, and he’s given that message not just to me but to every person that walks in that door. It’s something I’ve grown so much from and feel like I want to share with other people.”
Congregations connected to ELM and Proclaim clergy in turn have a unique opportunity to not only uplift seminarians throughout the call process, but to inspire them to action in the church and surrounding communities by offering voices of welcome and acceptance – voices that continue to be needed in the church today.
To find out more about how your congregation can be more extraordinary(!), see our resource for congregations and call committees – Enrich & Transform: Welcoming LGBTQ Candidates into the Call Process.
Guest Blog by Justin Ferko, 2015 Joel R. Workin Scholar
I would like to share with you two experiences of God where flowing life and the miracle of God’s grace in Christian community healed my self doubt and embraced me on the camino, the way. I hope these stories will invite you to entrust your experiences of God to others and to listen with an open heart to their stories.
¿Estás casado? Are you married? asked Javier (name changed) two minutes into our conversation in Spanish about our interest in ministry to Latino communities. “No.” I lied. I was afraid that my yes and revelation that I was married to my husband and partner of fifteen years would cut off any further communication based on my own assumptions about Latino culture and tradition. I had already decided that being gay would just not work in this context. I recovered explaining how I actually was married but not in this state because my marriage granted in Maryland was not recognized here. Here is my wounded vulnerable self. “¿Me aceptas? Do you accept me?” I thought looking into Javier’s eyes.
“Es difícil ser gay en la iglesia. It’s difficult to be gay in the church,” I added summarizing the cacophony of real voices I had heard ringing in my ears. They were shouting: “How will you as a gay man minister to 90% of the population who isn’t gay? This congregation does not want any LGBTQ students for contextual education. You will face limitations and long waits for first call. Bound conscience. We don’t need to be Reconciling in Christ, because aren’t we already there?” Javier understood difícil, difficult, in a deep way from his own experience of poverty, immigration, and hard work for the life he and his wife wanted for their family. In the moment, I was blinded to my own white male middle class privilege by self-absorption and lament. Javier responded with compassion. His steady voice broke through the cacophony, “Somos todos hermanos en Cristo. We all brothers and sisters in Christ. ¿No seguimos el mismo camino juntos? Aren’t we all following the same path together?” He smiled.
Our walking together came with the invitation to minister with Javier in giving his sermon at the final worship. Javier invited me to translate his sermon using the birthing imagery from the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3 to explain his understanding of the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as an umbilical cord. This eternal current of life in the Trinity is similar to the blood, oxygen, and nutrients that flow through the umbilical cord that connects developing babies to their mothers and us to God. As we worked together, Javier shared his experience of God that is both his immigration and conversion story. Joined by our baptism into Christ, paragraph by paragraph we preached his sermon to our group in the languages of both of our hearts.
A week later, I began my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Ohio State. I am the only Spanish-speaking chaplain on our team. On my first on call weekend shift, I went to fulfill a patient request for a chaplain. On my way down the hall, I heard the unsure Spanish of a nurse aide speaking to a patient. He was assisting this elderly woman small in stature walk down the hallway with her rolling IV post. She took painful step after step. After my visit, I checked in on her. I washed my hands with the foamy soap at the door, knocked, and entered. She was lying in bed resting after her walk. “Buenos días, Señora Soto (name changed). Good morning, Mrs. Soto. Me llamo Justin. My name is Justin. Soy capellán. I am a chaplain. ¿Cómo se siente hoy? How are you feeling today?”” Her eyes lit up. She looked to the ceiling and said “Ah, Diosito. Gracias. Oh, God. Thank you. Me alegro que me visita, padre. I am happy that you are visiting me, father. He estado aquí por un mes sin la Santa Comunión. I have been here for a month without Holy Communion. Me siento muy sola. I feel very lonely. Mi familia está en Centroamérica. My family is in Central America.” I gently corrected her saying that I am not a Catholic priest but a Lutheran seminarian. She smiled drawing me in to her dancing eyes. “Creo que somos todos hermanos en Cristo. I believe we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Caminamos juntos. We walk together.”
Señora Soto shared her camino, her road, with me that is the story of El Señor de los Milagros, The Lord of Miracles. She told me this story: In 1550, an indigenous woman asked her priest for a crucifix for her home that she could use for her daily devotion. He told her it would cost seven gold coins and would need to be ordered from Spain. The faithful woman worked hard for a long time and saved this small fortune. The day she was going to the priest with the money, her neighbor was thrown in jail because he could not pay his debts which amounted to seven gold coins. The man’s family would starve without the income he earned from his work. The faithful woman responded with compassion to her neighbor’s suffering and gave the creditors the seven gold coins to pay his debt. Time passed and the faithful woman started over saving for her crucifix. She was down washing clothes at the river after a heavy rain had made it swell. To her surprise, the swift current brought a small crucifix downstream to the faithful woman. She brought it home, put it inside a wooden box frame for an altar. That night, she awoke to the creaking and splintering of wood. The crucifix had expanded in size and burst through the frame. Nearly five centuries later, people in Central America and throughout Spanish-speaking countries attribute healing to El Señor de los Milagros. This story is remembered and people testify to the healing in their lives on the fourteenth of every month with a special Mass at the basilica.
At her request, I added her name to the list for Catholic communion. I cried for Mrs. Soto. I mourned her loneliness and isolation because of the language barrier, her illness, and her distance from family. I felt her pain at not being able to receive this physical and spiritual gift of nourishment and connection in the sacrament of communion that means so much to both of us. I prayed for her.
On Monday, we read the words of the Mass that I found posted on the basilica’s website. She confirmed that the Catholic ministers did bring her communion on Sunday. The day I met Señora Soto was the thirteenth. She received communion on the fourteenth of June, the Día de El Señor de los Milagros, Day of the Lord of Miracles. “¿Cree en milagros, Señora Soto? Do you believe in miracles, Mrs. Soto?” “Sí,” she affirmed with a beatific smile. So do I.
What are the cacophony of voices that try to smother your joy and belonging in Christian community? Where is the life giving connection of experience of God’s grace in your life?
“Somos todos hermanos en Cristo. We all brothers and sisters in Christ. ¿No seguimos el mismo camino juntos? Aren’t we all following the same path together?”
Justin Ferko is entering his second year at Trinity Lutheran Seminary where he is part of the development of Trinity’s Spanish for Ministry program and is the 2015-2016 Proclaim representative. Honored to have received the Joel R. Workin Scholarship for 2015, Justin plans to further discern his call to minister with communities whose voices need to be heard, particularly immigrant communities and people experiencing homelessness. Justin plans to attend a January Term course offered by the Seminary of the Southwest to learn about Hispanic culture and models of intercultural ministry that serve and empower immigrant and historic Latino communities along the U.S. – Mexico border.
The following is the press release issued in joyful anticipation of the ordination of Proclaim member and ELM board member, Asher O’Callaghan.
Asher O’Callaghan will be ordained Thursday, July 2, 2015 in Denver, Colorado to serve the Rocky Mountain Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).
O’Callaghan is the first openly transgender person to be ordained through the regular process of the ELCA. Other openly transgender pastors were ordained prior to 2009 and outside the regular process of the ELCA. The ELCA voted in 2009 to ordain partnered gay and lesbian persons opening the door to widen the acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) people in ministry (see http://www.cbsnews.com/news/lutherans-to-allow-gays-in-clergy/). O’Callaghan has been called by Zion Lutheran Church in Idaho Springs, Colorado to serve as their pastor.
O’Callaghan is a member of Proclaim, an active community of nearly 200 Lutheran pastors, rostered lay leaders and seminarians who publicly identify as LGBTQ. Proclaim is a program of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a social ministry organization that supports publicly-identified LGBTQ pastors, seminarians, and their ministries. O’Callaghan currently serves on the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Board of Directors.
From Amalia Vagts, executive director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries: “What a joyful day for Zion Lutheran, for the Rocky Mountain Synod, and for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America! Asher is exactly the kind of person that our church needs. His gifts for ministry and his witness as a transgender person continue to proclaim a message that God welcomes, loves, and calls all people.” Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is a social ministry advocating for LGBTQ pastors and their congregations.
From Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastor of House for All Sinners & Saints: “Asher O’Callaghan has a fierce and practiced belief in grace. He is an amazing theologian, an empathic caregiver and a true believer in the Gospel. For these reasons and many others, I celebrate his ordination with great joy. The Lutheran Church is about to receive a gifted, passionate pastor.”
From Asher O’Callaghan: “I’m thrilled to be getting ordained to be a pastor and leader within the church I love. The ELCA, Zion Lutheran, and House For All Sinners and Saints have helped to show me that we truly are living in a new day. The Church is changing: There’s no need to choose between living life as your fullest self and belonging to a community of faith. For transgender people, this means that there are congregations who will affirm, respect, and celebrate our faith and our gender identities.”
Zion Lutheran Church in Idaho Springs, Colorado is a small but mighty congregation with a strong sense of community. They’re going through a period of revitalization and have a good mix of ages, single people, and families. Zion Lutheran has been a Reconciling in Christ congregation for several years, which means they intentionally welcome LGBTQ people. Idaho Springs is a small, mountain town located about one hour from Denver.
The ordination service is scheduled for 7pm on Thursday July 2nd at House For All Sinners and Saints (which worships at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, located at 2201 Dexter Street, Denver, CO, 80207). Bishop Jim Gonia of the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA will preside and Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber will preach.
Asher uses the pronouns him/he/his.
Guest blog by Malina Keaton, member of ELM’s Ministry Engagement Team
ELM’s Ministry Engagement program connects congregations allied with ELM’s mission. Team member Malina Keaton has recently been interviewing some of these congregations to find out what makes them so, well, extraordinary! We begin, of course, with St. Francis Lutheran.
Nestled in the Castro District of San Francisco California, St. Francis Lutheran Church has long been involved in the gay rights movement with early ministry of the church centering around outreach to congregants and their families during the height of the AIDS crisis. As a significant portion of the community was impacted, the church served as a bridge for Lutheran families grappling with deaths of their brothers, cousins, or friends and looked to St. Francis for support.
At around the same time, the church decided that it was important to have LGBTQ pastors and hired a lesbian couple to minster to the congregation (Revs. Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart). Due to the ELCA’s previous policy of mandated celibacy for openly gay pastors the church was removed from the roster of congregations for twenty years, but St. Francis was determined to stay active as an independent Lutheran church- a successful ministry that can be contributed to strong lay leadership throughout its tenure. After this period, the church was invited back to the ELCA, and its outreach has continued to grow and evolve partially due to the fact that St. Francis has continued to support LGBTQ leadership.
Elaine Whitney, a longtime member of the church, considers having an LGBTQ minister important because of the different perspective they can bring, “I’m African-American, and so I have experiences in the world that give me a different perspective just because the way people treat me gives me a different side. It’s a similar kind of thing with rostered LGBTQ pastors, that you know they’re going to have different issues because life has given them, in our society at least, a different set of experiences.” It is this intentional uplifting of diversity in the body that has allowed the ministry of St. Francis to grow into various forms of outreach to the LGBTQ community.
Many of the pastors that have served the church have been on the front lines advocating for marriage equality. The church has a homeless/ marginally housed ministry, due to the fact that San Francisco has a large amount of young people who have been rejected from their homes due to their sexuality. Many partnered seniors have found that entering assisted living means they must essentially go back in the closet, and the church has become a place for individuals to be welcomed and come as they are. It has inspired a reexamination of liturgy and intentional conversation about whether God needs to always be referred to as male, or if the institution of marriage is only for straight couples.
But mainly Elaine sees the benefits of an LGBTQ pastor in the message the church can send to its congregants, “Bringing in an LGBTQ leader does a few things. One, it says visibly that a congregation is casting a wider net. That you don’t have to be a straight couple, don’t have to be a certain age, but you can be different and be Lutheran… I think it gives an opportunity to people maybe questioning or wondering- now that I know who I am, now what? It gives them someone who’s a role model of what it means to be Christ-centered in a way that makes it less frightening for those people coming out to their families. You don’t have to be afraid that you’re going to get rejected, or talk to someone who just doesn’t have a clue.”
To find out more about how your congregation can be more extraordinary(!), see our resource for congregations and call committees – Enrich & Transform: Welcoming LGBTQ Candidates into the Call Process.
Guest blog by Proclaim member Rev. Nate Gruel
I am comfortable assuming that I am in tune with many other people when it comes to waiting. I hate waiting. I hate waiting rooms. They are places of frustration and aggravation.
I relate well to the pessimism of Samuel Beckett. In his tragicomedy Waiting for Godot, the characters Vladimir and Estragon are a couple of fellas I would be comfortable spending time with.
Some offer different perspectives. William Faulkner once wrote, “And sure enough even waiting will end…if you can just wait long enough.” On a less speculative note, someone once said, “The worst part of life is waiting. The best part of life is having something worth waiting for.”
On a decidedly positive note, someone has added, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain!”
Many in the former Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP, a predecessor of ELM) community and in the current Proclaim community have learned and/or are still learning to dance in the rain.
I was ordained on June 18, 1972, and I left (read “was removed from”) the public ministry when I exited from my private closet in 1979. That was 36 years ago, and since then I never stopped believing that God had called me into the public ministry of Word and Sacrament. For much of that time, life did seem to be all about learning to dance in the rain. That’s a lot of water – not the good, life-giving, life-affirming kind, but the overwhelming, drowning kind.
In the midst of the deluge, however, there have been times for coming up for breath, times for real, joyful, fun-filled rain dancing. In the mid-1980’s there was a period of a year, give or take, when a small community of God’s people in Muncie, Indiana, invited me to pastor them during a vacancy.
The end of that time was stormy, forcing me into some deep, deep waters, but the preceding time of rain dancing had been worth every soggy moment of what followed.
Some years later someone told me about a community of other “rain dancers” called the Extraordinary Candidacy Project. I became a legitimate part of that community in November, 2002, via acceptance to the ECP roster. That community taught me that GOD ALSO WAITS! It became obvious I wasn’t waiting alone, and as many of us waited through stormy times when our ministries were rejected, God was waiting with us; waiting for the storms to pass, waiting for the flood gates of renewal and newness to be flung wide open, waiting for something new.
And wonder of wonders, Faulkner was right. Waiting does come to an end. God must have been tired of waiting, and God knows, so was I. On April 30th of this year I attended a church council meeting of folks at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Ocala, Florida, who were told that the Florida-Bahamas Synod Bishop wanted to appoint me as their interim pastor.
I boldly announced to them the reality of my same-sex relationship, fully expecting that news would bring a swift and negative end to our conversation. (Lots of waiting often results in pessimism.) But they voted unanimously to approve the bishop’s recommendation, and as I write this blog, I am sitting in the office of the pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Ocala, having just written the first sermon I will deliver to this people of God.
I look back now with enormous amounts of gratitude for the many people, known and unknown, who provided varieties of support during my waiting, especially those who participated in and supported the ECP community. It is now so much more than just a cliché to affirm that “good things come to those who wait.” That is my hope-filled message to my brothers and sisters in Proclaim whose wait continues, along with a reminder that God really does wait with you.
by Rev. Nate Gruel. Trained at Concordia Theological Seminary (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod), Nate was ordained to ministry of Word and Sacrament in June 1972. He served two parishes in Indiana until 1979 and was subsequently removed from the LC-MS clergy roster. For the next 32 years he worked in the newspaper industry as a graphic artist and editor. He was approved to the ECP roster in November 2002. He moved from Muncie, Indiana, to Florida in 2003. He served without a call as Assistant to the Pastor at University Lutheran Church and Campus Ministry in Gainesville, Fla., from 2010 to 2015. In March 2011 he was approved as a candidate for the ELCA roster in the Florida-Bahamas Synod. He was called to be the interim pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Ocala, Fla., on June 1, 2015. Nate and his life partner, Paul Monaghan, will celebrate the 25th anniversary of their committed relationship in February, 2016.
by Amalia Vagts, Executive Director
About two years ago, I met Pastor John Kidd at a meeting of Metro D.C. Synod pastors. We visited about his congregation, Augustana Lutheran Church, and about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
“You should come visit sometime and be our guest preacher,” he said.
This past weekend, that casual comment became reality when Augustana hosted me to help them kick off D.C.Pride (which began this past Monday).
When I arrived, I was immediately greeted warmly by Fred and Doug, who have been members of the congregation for nearly twenty-five years and had arranged for me to stay in their building just near the church. The following day, Pastor John and his partner, Kate, hosted a gathering for members of Augustana who wanted to learn more about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. It was a bustling house full of people who clearly loved being around each other – and who still went out of their way to get to know me and learn more about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Augustana has created a strong culture of welcome and lives out their intention to be a diverse community.
The congregation has recently formed a call committee, as Pastor John is retiring at the end of the year. I had the chance to talk with a few committee members about Enrich & Transform (our guide for call committees), and share our best practice of starting conversations early about creating a call process that includes candidates who are LGBTQ.
With nearly 25 LGBTQ candidates (who are faithful, fabulous, and supremely qualified to do great ministry) awaiting first call, we need more congregations like Augustana who are taking these kinds of early steps to start the conversation.
Augustana Lutheran Church and Comunidad de Santa Maria are located in a somewhat tucked away corner between the busy neighborhoods of Adams Morgan and U Street. In addition to the wonderful events they hosted over the weekend (including a scrumptious dinner), the congregation covered my housing and flight and made a contribution to ELM to support our ministry.
Augustana has a solid online presence to bring their worship experience to those who can’t attend the service on Sunday. You can watch a video of my sermon here. Yes, I did say that Jesus was flaunting his beliefs. And, yes, those ARE Luther College graduates singing those beautiful solos!
Amalia Vagts, Executive Director, enjoyed her entire weekend in Washington D.C., but especially loved two moments: seeing a few former Planned Parenthood colleagues (and their kids!) out in the pew when she preached and observing Ruth (a 90 year-old-member of the congregation) recruiting Ben (who was baptized this past year as an adult) for a church project during coffee hour. Oh, and just being in D.C. There’s that too.
…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23a
By ELM Program Director, Rev. Jen Rude
ELM is Fruitful and Multiplying (read ELM’s executive director Amalia Vagts’ blog about it HERE). It is true that we are seeing lots of fruitfulness and multiplying of LGBTQ rostered leaders and seminarians. Proclaim (the community for LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders and those pursing rostered ministry) has quadrupled since 2009, actually moving from 193 to 194 members while I was writing this first paragraph – welcoming newest Proclaim member Rev. Jennifer Marlor from North Vancouver, British Columbia!
While we praise God for this thriving community, we continue to watch too many of these gifted leaders wait for a congregation to call them. Too many congregations have not had an intentional conversation within their community about being open to the diverse leaders that God has called to serve our church, including LGBTQ leaders.
We need to multiply congregations and ministries that are excited about partnering with an LGBTQ rostered leader. We don’t want the church to miss out on these fruitful gifts!
This is why ELM’s Ministry Engagement Program hosted display tables at 4 Synod Assemblies this spring. We’ve been present in Rocky Mountain Synod, Sierra Pacific Synod, Minneapolis Area Synod, and Metro Chicago Synod. We’ve been working to connect with lay people in congregations, sharing our resources (including Enrich & Transform for Call Committees and Treasure in Clay Jars – stories of LGBTQ leaders in the Lutheran Church), hearing about their ministries, and multiplying connections.
It was wonderful to connect with so many people, to share the stories of ELM, and to plant seeds that are beginning to bear fruit. The work we are doing is not just for those currently ready to serve or already connected with ELM. It’s also for those like the young person who came to our table and whispered, “I’m bisexual.” When I asked, “Are you thinking about pursuing ministry?” their eyes lit up and they said “Yes!” and signed up for our mailing list. I told them a little bit about ELM and Proclaim. And I love knowing that as they and others continue discerning, they already know about a group of LGBTQ leaders, a community of faithful congregations and ministries, and a network of people like you.
Help us nurture these wonderful leaders and multiply congregations and ministries that are ready to partner with LGBTQ leaders – share one of our resources with someone today!
By Jen Rude, ELM Program Director. Jen gives a big shout out to Margaret Moreland (ELM board member and Ministry Engagement Convener), Jerry Vagts, and Kyle Severson, all of whom spent time with ELM display tables at synod assemblies. Your work and witness is a gift that bears much fruit!
Friday, May 29, 2015
Today marks the anniversary of Joel R. Workin’s birth. In memory of Joel and the way in which his prophetic voice is alive today in the mission of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, we use this anniversary each year to name the annual Joel R. Workin Scholar. The 2015 Joel R. Workin Scholar is Justin Ferko, a student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio.
As we honor Justin and remember Joel today, we look to these words from Joel’s Personal Reflective Essay. A note of history – Joel Workin was certified for ministry by the American Lutheran Church. He was later “de-certified” by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America after he came out as a gay man. This essay was cited in the reasons for his de-certification. Joel writes,
Like all years, we received many excellent applications. Applicants submitted a short essay in response to Joel’s writing and a short answer to the question: “What is the prophetic word that LGBTQ people can bring to the church today?” They also submitted a resume, transcript, and letter of recommendation.
The Workin Committee is delighted with this year’s selection. Justin is a distinguished student and visible leader for LGBTQ people on campus and in the community.
The committee wrote this to Justin:
“We found your essay thoughtful and expansive. You began with images of drowning and baptism and then eloquently expressed your own triumph over depression and despair with the words “Coming out was full immersion.” From that point onward, you not only showed yourself to be an exceptional writer, but those of us who knew Joel had the sense we were “hearing” a voice like his, a voice unhesitant to speak Good News to a marginalized LGBTQ community and to boldly call the world and the Church into account on their behalf. Your final paragraph speaks of “spreading the radical message of God’s abundant extravagant grace for all” and finally calls on God to “breathe Holy Spirit into the strange wildness of life.” That final petition is as moving as it is masterful. We are most eager to see where God’s “strange wildness” leads you in ministry.”
In a letter of recommendation, one of Justin’s professors wrote:
“Justin’s spiritual journey has included a great deal of theological reading and thinking, as well as confident advocacy for himself and other GLBQT students and initiatives…. his breadth of insight and analysis are consistently leavened by what sets him apart from even other strong students, namely the poetic sensibility, deep human sensitivity, and capacity for original liturgical/spiritual connection he brings to everything he does. “
Former Joel R. Workin Scholars include: Rev. Jen Rude (2006), Rev. Matthew James (2007), Rev. Julie Boleyn (2009), Rev. Laura Kuntz (2011), Rev. Emily Ewing (2011), Asher O’Callaghan (2012), Rebecca Seely (2012), Gretchen Colby Rode (2013), and Amy Christine Hanson (2014).
Congratulations to Justin and thank you to all the wonderful Proclaim seminarians who applied for this honor.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries will lead a pre-event and two workshops during the Assembly.
On Thursday, July 30, we will host a pre-event afternoon session for those wishing to learn more about making a plan to be open to calling LGBTQ pastors. We are able to offer this session at no cost, thanks to a grant from the Philip N. Knutson Endowment at St. Olaf College.
During the Assembly, we will offer two workshops. One will cover the history of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and what we’re doing now. The other will be a panel of LGBTQ rostered leaders and members of their congregations talking about the call process, the early days, and sustaining leaders who are LGBTQ.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is excited to support the work of our partner in ministry, ReconcilingWorks. Rev. Jen Rude, ELM Program Director and Amalia Vagts, Executive Director will lead the ELM events and attend the Assembly. We hope to see you there!
by Rev. Lura Groen, guest blogger
with thanks to many, especially Louis Mitchell, for feedback and edits
Making me Queer has been the Spirit’s way of breaking through to me, of teaching me, of giving me a burning in my bones about issues of oppression and enabled me to notice and care about racial oppression, police brutality, and the subtle white supremacy of our churches.
Depending on the person, how close I am to them, finding out that someone thinks “homosexuality is a sin” or “doesn’t believe in gay preachers” might hurt. If they’re family, if they’re church family, the hurt may be very deep. If I don’t know them at all, it just might not hurt at all.
But there’s a difference between a bishop denying my call because of my sexual orientation, and a member in the church I serve questioning it. And that difference is power, and structure. I know that if I worship in a denomination that affirms my call to ministry, one person’s personal prejudice won’t destroy me. And that if my call is denied, the Spirit screams within me in a way that all the sympathetic friends and family can’t silence. So when I hear that racism is more than personal prejudice, but systemic oppression, the Spirit has taught me, through my Queerness, to listen.
Because I’m Queer, I’ve learned to value disobedience in the face of injustice.
I value the ability to feel, absorb and care deeply about oppression beyond my own, to recognize that there are those who will follow and that knowledge calls for action now! I’ve felt the burning unrest of not being able to live the way one is created to live. I’ve learned how the deadening of systemic oppression can be survived with righteous anger. I’ve heard them say to me “follow our rules, and you won’t get hurt” and I know how deep a lie it is. I got to experience standing with one’s community in intentional disobedience (in our movement, the Extraordinary Candidacy Project) and how it can change the rules that are killing us. Through my Queerness, the Spirit taught me to love the Jesus that rioted in the temple, and riots now in the streets of Baltimore and other places where racial injustice demands it.
Being Queer has taught me that how we talk about people in church matters. When people describe God’s holy people and use words that don’t mean me, examples that don’t include my life, and issues that are never mine, I know that the sacred dignity of my life is not being affirmed, and worse, that the lives of other people are lifted up as somehow more godly than mine. So when I hear white churches refuse to name police brutality, act as though Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Yvette Smith, Pearlie Smith and Tyisha Miller never died or were somehow not respectable enough to merit safety and trial – churches that worship for weeks without even naming Ferguson or Baltimore, I hear them subtly reinforcing white supremacy, teaching without words the heresy that white lives matter more to God.
Being Queer has taught me that God speaks in voices other than mine, that I need to shut up and hear, and eat, the words of the prophets. Change couldn’t have happened in the Lutheran Church without straight pastors preaching about the created goodness of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. But oh boy, sometimes they’re awkward and say it differently than I might! And when a straight pastor tries to tell me about my experience as a Queer person in the church, their loving blunders can cause me pain. Their experience isn’t mine, and I do not truly know the experience of being afraid that a police officer’s judgment about the color of my skin will endanger my life. I’m sure that my speaking of racial injustice is likewise a little awkward, a little wrong. What I know I’ve learned from people of color, who had the grace, the gift, to instruct and correct me. The Spirit is teaching me that allies need to speak to those who haven’t yet heard, but will hear the Spirit’s voice when we sit down to hear the voices of Black people in the streets, and in our churches. And the truth is, every piece of this essay that I say the Spirit taught me, She taught me in the voice of Black colleagues and friends.
Because God created me Queer, I can’t stop hearing the voice of God in the protests, the rebellions, the sermons, the songs, and the curses of Black people around me. And because I’m a pastor, I will burn in my bones until I repeat the words of God to those who haven’t yet heard.
Pastor Lura Groen served Grace Lutheran Church in Houston, TX for more than six years. With the congregation, she founded Montrose Grace Place, a safe, welcoming environment for vulnerable, homeless youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities, which provides nourishment, healthy relationships, and hope for the future. She continues her ministry on social media and in the Montrose community, while trying her hand at blogging, and experimenting with new forms of spiritual community. Pastor Lura is a member of Proclaim. You can find her at luragroen.blogspot.com.