Earlier this month, ELM Program Director Jen Rude and I attended “Until All Are Free,” held by our movement partners, ReconcilingWorks. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries was very happy to sponsor and participate in this great event. One attendee, Tim Mumm, who came to our pre-event about making an intentional plan to call an LGBTQ pastor, wrote a Facebook post during the Assembly about the importance of community. I invited him to share his post via the ELM blog as a way of highlighting the important work of ReconcilingWorks, and of the importance of bringing our full LGBTQ identity to worship and congregational life. – Amalia
Faith & Community
by Tim Mumm, ELM Guest Blogger
Author’s Note: This was written and shared on Facebook in the early hours of August 1st, 2015 during the “Until All Are Free” assembly.
At the ReconcilingWorks Assembly in Minnesota. It is so good for me to be here. These assemblies are often emotional for me, and I’ve choked up or been brought to tears several times, both at the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries pre-assembly event, and during the opening day of the assembly. I’ve been openly angry, and sad at times, too.
I’ve known for a long time that in an LGBT environment, and to a lesser degree in an LGBT friendly environment, I can let my hair down and just be myself.
It hit me today that my belief in God is tied to community. When I am here among LGBT Christians, when I know with all my heart that I am in a safe and welcoming environment made up of fellow believers, I am certain that I believe in God. When I have to wonder if those around me are supportive of me, when I’m not sure I’m safe, then I’m not sure I believe in God. And when other Christians give me mixed messages or make it clear that I or those I love are not welcome, my belief crumbles; I don’t even want to believe. In those times of doubt and uncertainty, I don’t force myself to believe: Rather, I trust God to carry me through.
This is why the work of ReconcilingWorks is so important to me. This is why churches that publicly proclaim welcome by becoming Reconciling in Christ are so important to me personally. I need the community of church, and I need to know with my whole heart that I am welcome and safe in that community.
If you are a member of a church that is not a part of the welcoming movement, please consider asking this of your church. Contact ReconcilingWorks for guidance. Too many LGBT people have been terrorized by the church and by sincere Christians. We need communities that are welcoming, that are safe, and that celebrate our lives and our gifts too.
Timothy John Mumm was baptized at 17 days of age by his father, a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, with the words, “Receive the sign of the holy cross, both upon your forehead and upon your breast as a token that thou hast been redeemed by Christ the crucified.” Those signs, and the Holy Spirit remain with Tim, even now. Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in Deaf Education, a master’s degree in counseling, and is a nationally certified sign language interpreter and a qualified mental health interpreter. At 36 years old, Tim came out of the closet as a gay man. Tim feels that his past and ongoing struggle as a man of faith and a gay man has been defining to his life. He carries this heartfelt tension thoughtfully as a child of God, a child of grace.
by Amalia Vagts, Executive Director
Two weeks ago, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries shared two blog posts by Bp. Kevin Kanouse about his coming out story and welcomed him as a new member of Proclaim. (You can read the first one here and the second one here). Bp. Kevin also wrote another personal reflection about his decision for his own blog: “Why Now? Why the Youth Gathering?”. These are good, important essays.
Following the blog posts, we received positive and supportive feedback through comments, Facebook conversation and emails. We also received two emails expressing concern that ELM did not address certain topics, such as Bp. Kevin’s “no” vote in 2009. This was a small number, but I suspect they may reflect a more widely-felt tension that can exist when previously closeted people come out.
I’m glad for an opportunity to continue the conversation by addressing these concerns. While this has been prompted by a specific instance, this is a topic for all LGBTQ people and allies in a church and society that are changing.
As ELM extends a welcome and shows support for those who are coming out, we should talk about the real pain that is experienced and sometimes inflicted while people are closeted. In Bp. Kevin’s case, ELM should have named some unique complexities. Bp. Kevin was in a position of leadership and power over LGBT people who were advocating for themselves and for changes in the church. Some may have felt they did not receive support from Bp. Kevin and we could have named that, and encouraged Bp. Kevin to address it in one of his posts.
Bp. Kevin wanted to share these additional words,
“I am humbled by the response I’ve received from the LGBTQ community since I first came out publicly at the Youth Gathering. While I didn’t so much persecute those in the LGBTQ community, I have since learned that my lack of advocacy at the time of the votes and shortly thereafter has caused harm. I clearly didn’t support you as I should have – in my own denial, I hid- and for that I ask your forgiveness. I thank and give honor to those who have worked so long and hard to ensure LGBTQ rights, a voice, and a welcome place in leadership in the ELCA and I pledge to do everything I can to change the church culture as long as I remain bishop and beyond. Some of us are slow to gain courage. Thank you.”
The communications from ELM regarding Bp. Kevin were made in the same spirit as when others have joined Proclaim – although this time more high-profile given the circumstances of the Bishop’s story. Since 2009, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has intentionally reached out to welcome all LGBTQ rostered leaders, regardless of their journey. Proclaim was created specifically to be a place where all publicly-identified LGBTQ rostered leaders, candidates, and seminarians in the Lutheran church could belong. Prior to 2009, there were some big divisions in the LGBTQ ministry leader community (sometimes assumed, sometimes real) as people made different choices. Some came out and left the church, some came out and sought extraordinary ordination, some stayed in the closet and remained in the pulpit, some were out in “safe” synods and avoided discipline, some could not even imagine a church where they could be out and serve, some followed non-ordained vocations – many choices, many paths. There were risks and costs for all. We have worked hard within Proclaim to create a space of welcome and belonging for everyone when they join without judging the choices each made on the way.
God’s beloved community is real, messy, and takes work. On an individual level, we may find that there is a time and need for confession, for forgiveness, and for reconciliation in Christ – for ourselves and with another. Sometimes this is called for on a organizational level as well. I confess that I should have realized the potential pain caused by ELM’s support of Bp. Kevin, without acknowledging his actions while he was bishop, including his statement and no vote regarding policy change in 2009. Simultaneously, I stand committed to ELM’s value to live as Paul writes in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians – in a new creation where what’s old has passed away, and everything has become new.
Joel Workin, a saint and prophet of our movement, writes about this complexity in his essay, “The Cost.” As Joel writes, “Let no one think the choice is between paying the price or not paying the price.” There are so many costs to the closet – costs of coming out of it and costs of staying in. Either choice may cause pain to ourselves or others. No one is immune – all of us are liberated by God’s truth that we are beloved and that we belong.
Thank you for your continued support of ELM as we welcome changes in our church and community. I am thankful for each member of the Proclaim community – and for all of you who support and care for this ministry. I invite your conversation with each other (here or on Facebook), or with me directly about how ELM and the church can be places of belonging, confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation in Christ for all.
Amalia Vagts is Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
ELM Friend Profile: Julie & Luther Grafe
by Amalia Vagts, Executive Director
Julie and Luther Grafe care about church. They care about their kids and the kind of church they will grow up in. Julie and Luther want their family and other families to know that they are welcome and belong at church.
Their first experience with a publicly-identified LGBTQ minister was when Proclaim member Crystal Solie began as an intern pastor at their congregation, Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit. When I met Julie and Luther, they told me what a difference Crystal had made in the life of the congregation and their family.
That initial experience was amplified when Kyle Severson, another member of Proclaim, began his internship at their congregation. Kyle and his husband, Clyde Walter, connected immediately with the Grafe family.
Julie and Luther experienced the very thing that fuels ELM’s mission – the belief that LGBTQ people have extraordinary gifts for ministry. The Grafe family found their faith and church life deepen because of Kyle’s pastoral leadership and energetic, passionate gifts for ministry.
So Julie and Luther wanted to give back. They recently sent a wonderful gift to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and joined the circle of Extraordinarily Faithful & Fabulous Friends (those giving $1,000 or more a year to ELM).
Julie and Luther wrote this, “Enclosed is a donation to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. We are giving this because we wholeheartedly believe in the mission and actions of ELM. We feel strongly that any organization that can create a loving, supportive community for pastors, seminarians, those awaiting call who have felt called to ministry and wish to proclaim God’s love for all should be supported. We wish to honor a particular Proclaim member, Kyle Severson, upon his upcoming ordination on August 23 2015 with this donation while at the same time uplifting and honoring Crystal, and all LGBTQ seminarians and candidates for ordination.”
We join the Grafe family in celebrating Kyle’s call as pastor of St. Philip Lutheran Church in Glenview, IL! Kyle will be ordained on Sunday, August 23rd at 3pm at First Lutheran Church in Blue Island, IL. We also join the Grafe’s in continued support for Crystal and others who continue to discern and await a call from the church.
ELM is so thankful for all Friends to ELM – the wonderful individuals, families, and congregations that fuel our mission. You can make a secure on-line gift today in support our LGBTQ people in ministry. Consider becoming an Extraordinary Friend through a monthly gift of $10 or more.
Amalia Vagts, ELM Executive Director, loves hearing and sharing stories about ELM Friends – and especially this one about the Grafe family who are doing their part in their corner of the ELCA to make the church a place for all. Oh, and, like the Grafe family, she also loves the Red Putter in Door County, WI.
Note – Today’s post is Part Two of our guest post this week from Bp. Kevin Kanouse. To read Part One, please click here.
Bishop Kevin Kanouse, head of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (Synod) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recently came out as a gay man during an unscripted sermon delivered to 400 people during the ELCA Youth Gathering. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is thankful for Bp. Kevin’s bold public witness and invited him to share more about his story with our supporters. We welcome Bp. Kevin as the newest member of Proclaim, a community of nearly 200 Lutheran rostered leaders, candidates, and seminarians who publicly identify as LGBTQ. Proclaim is a program of ELM.
by Bp. Kevin Kanouse
Bishop of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (Synod) of the ELCA
Among the first comments I heard when I sat down after delivering my sermon at the Youth Gathering where I came out was: “You saved some lives today.” That brought tears. I had not thought about it that way. I had hoped to give some grace, some space, some healing to those who heard, but I had not thought about saving lives.
Soon another pastor said: “One of my girls came up to me and asked if I would mind if she talked to our youth group tonight about her own sexuality. She has never told anyone that she is a lesbian.” Yet another pastor shared that during their evening “Final Fifteen” debriefing of the activities of the day, one of the boys said: “I am not gay, but I need to tell you that I don’t feel accepted by the rest of you in this group. I feel like an outsider,” to which the group responded with support, care, and continuing conversation on how important it is to be open and welcoming to everyone in their youth group and beyond. They learned to be more sensitive to each other.
Immediately after the Youth Gathering, I wrote a pastoral letter to the rostered leaders, where I detailed what happened during Story Day. Some read it to their congregation the following Sunday morning. Needless to say it raised ire among some of our congregational members. Subsequently, in almost every place where this happened, the pastors convened a conversation in an adult forum to discuss feelings about their bishop who has come out as gay. Said one pastor: “It was my bible study group, made up of mostly Council members, most of whom are retired and over 70 years old that met to discuss this. We spent the entire hour telling stories of people we knew or to whom we were related who were gay or lesbian. We talked about how times have changed. We laughed together and we cried together and in the end they wanted me to tell you that you are always welcome to come to our church and we look forward to seeing you this fall when you are scheduled to come.” That kind of heartening response has been repeated over and over again.
A mother and father pulled me aside before the beginning of a meeting and the mother, with tears in her eyes told me of her daughter, now in law school, who had come out to her as a lesbian some months previously. She said: “I have prayed every night: ‘God change her. God change her.’ Then I read your letter and subsequent story about your experience and I picked up the phone and called her right away. I apologized to her and reassured her that I love her.” Their daughter had pretty much dropped out of church some years before, perhaps because of this reality in her life, but the following Sunday they were in church, all three of them, as family.
The support, encouragement, acceptance, and love I have received since telling my story have been amazing. Perhaps 98% of emails, letters, texts, notes, phone calls, and conversations have been positive. Some have told how their mind has changed as a result of my courage in coming out, some are still thinking and praying about what this might mean for their relationship with others and their attitude toward gay and lesbian friends and relatives. This kind of response shows how far we have come as a church in welcoming GLBT persons. Indeed, if God can and does love us as we have been created, with all our uniqueness and individuality, how can we as a church reject anyone? Indeed, how can we continue to live with self-hatred, doubt, and rejection? Since God loves us as we are, created in God’s own image, we indeed are freed in Christ to love ourselves unconditionally. That is a new acceptance of grace for me and from me toward others who are LBGT.
Bp. Kanouse is serving his third term as Bishop of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (Synod) of the ELCA and has been in office since 2000. Previously he was pastor at Advent Lutheran Church in Arlington, TX. He was born in Pennsylvania, attended Susquehanna University, Gettysburg Seminary and received his D. Min. from Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth. He has been married to Billye Jean for 40 years and they have two married sons and one grandson. Bp. Kanouse is a member of Proclaim, a community of nearly 200 LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders, candidates, and seminarians. Proclaim is a program of ELM.
Bishop Kevin Kanouse, head of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (Synod) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recently came out as a gay man during an unscripted sermon delivered to 400 people during the ELCA Youth Gathering. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is thankful for Bp. Kevin’s bold public witness and invited him to share more about his story with our supporters. This is Part One of a 2-part series.
by Bp. Kevin Kanouse
Bishop of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (Synod) of the ELCA
While my decision to come out at the National Youth Gathering was a spontaneous one, prompted by the kairos moment of our Synod’s Story Day, the thought that someday I would share my story publicly was with me every day. “Why bother?” was the question of my mentor, a gay attorney, who meets with me every couple months to offer support, encouragement, and accountability. His very first question to me when I finally spoke the words: “I am a gay man,” is the question that has haunted me ever since: “Why bother?”
Indeed, why bother to admit this to myself? Why bother to tell my wife? Why bother to tell the Church? As a pastor and bishop in the Church, I am called to proclaim God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Yet, perhaps the most intimate thoughts of my identity, were (as I was taught as a child) sinful, dirty, and a cause for rejection by God and the world. I knew grace, I proclaim law and gospel, yet I could only apply judgement upon myself.
Walking with the ELCA through the eight years of study in preparation for the Social Statement on Human Sexuality, followed by the vote allowing congregations to call pastors who are in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships and to bless such partnerships helped me to grow in acceptance of others; what about myself?
After the Churchwide vote, it was my responsibility to visit congregations wanting to take a vote to leave the ELCA. It was while standing in front of congregation after congregation where there were crowds of Christians telling of their “love” for gay and lesbian persons, but at the same time speaking words of rejection, exclusion, and hate that I realized they were talking about me and I could no longer accept their judgement nor my own self-judgement. I bothered coming out because God’s love for me was finally real. The judgements of others no longer carried weight for me.
In time I felt the need to share my journey from hate to acceptance with others so that they would not have to suffer the same kind of inner rejection I lived with for 50 years of my life. But where? And when? The truth is that no one needs to know about my sexual identity except my wife and me; but many who experience my journey or who know others on the same kind of journey might benefit from hearing. The 400 + teenagers attending our Synod Story Day had spent two hours hearing other teens tell their stories, including struggles in relationships with parents and friends as well as the challenges they were enduring. They spoke of how their faith and their church gave them the strength to deal with life and gave them hope for their future. In the midst of that there was suddenly and surrealistically, a very strong voice inside me that said: “Today you will tell your story.” I fought it: “I have a nice, comfortable message already prepared for my sermon today; there is no way I am going to tell my story.” Yet the voice kept on: “You are going to tell your story today.” And so I did.
The third highest cause of death among teens is suicide and the majority of teen suicides are caused by depression and fear over issues around gender identity and rejection. I bothered to tell my story in order to help teens discover that there is now a place of safety…the church…where they can be real, be themselves, and find acceptance. The response that day was astounding. The love and grace shared among the people in the room was palpable and the ongoing conversation has continued to open doors of grace and love. When we “bother” to speak truth, God’s love abounds.
A second guest post from Bp. Kanouse, “After I Came Out” will be e-mailed and available at www.elm.org on August 13.
Bp. Kanouse is serving his third term as Bishop of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area (Synod) of the ELCA and has been in office since 2000. Previously he was pastor at Advent Lutheran Church in Arlington, TX. He was born in Pennsylvania, attended Susquehanna University, Gettysburg Seminary and received his D. Min. from Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth. He has been married to Billye Jean for 40 years and they have two married sons and one grandson.
by Amalia Vagts, ELM Executive Director
I never get over how incredible it feels to be in the company of other LGBTQ people and allies of faith. It’s a remarkable feeling – as Pastor Erik Christensen says of the Proclaim Gathering – it’s one of those rare times when you don’t have to “explain yourself to anyone.”
So it was with great joy that I joined others this past weekend at the ReconcilingWorks assembly, “Until All Are Free” as LGBTQ people and allies gathered from around the United States and Canada.
Pastor Jen Rude, ELM Program Director, and I led a half-day pre-event called, “Are You My Pastor?” This training was created through a grant we received from the Philip N. Knutson Endowment. We spent time exploring ways and reasons to create an intentional congregational plan to welcome LGBTQ pastors into the call process.
We’ve been seeing since 2009 that while the doors are open to partnered gay and lesbian candidates, many barriers to ministry still exist. One of those barriers is a lack of calls open to LGBTQ candidates. And while many congregations truly want to be welcoming in their call process, we’ve learned that it takes some intentional conversation and planning to have the best results.
Fortunately, we have lots of experience with this! By working with pastors, call committees and synod staff who’ve been through it, we’ve created Enrich & Transform – a guide for call committees wishing to including LGBTQ and other diverse candidates in their call process. If you haven’t seen this resource, please check it out and use it!
Our Ministry Engagement program will be refining this workshop and looking for ways to share this information with others throughout the church.
“Until All Are Free” was a wonderful chance to connect with new and old friends and to learn about the future plans for ReconcilingWorks. We had fun catching up with all the Proclaim members who were there and welcomed our newest member, Pastor Daphne Burt!
The weekend included a festive evening celebrating some true giants in our movement – outgoing ReconcilingWorks Executive Director Emily Eastwood, Pacific Northwest rabble-rousers Karen and Paul Jolly, and our wonderful, visionary and deeply faithful Pastor Anita Hill (member of Proclaim and of the historic Extraordinary Roster).
Thank you to our friends at ReconcilingWorks for a great weekend! Now, on to the important work we all have to do “until all are free.”
Amalia Vagts, Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, is especially thankful today for spaces that welcome flamboyance, loud whoops of joyful exuberance, and stone butch lesbians.
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.