By Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director
As you read in last week’s blog past, our recent Proclaim Gathering for LGBTQ leaders focused on stories. The theme was “Queer stories/Sacred Witness.” One of the “a-ha” moments for me is that there is no “story” of this movement. No story is alike, no two people have had the same journey. There are countless individual stories – told together, these stories create a tapestry of a movement and an organization.
At the end of our time together, we spent some time in group conversation and reflection. We hung three sheets of paper on the walls, asking individuals to share their responses to the following prompts; “The queer stories/sacred witness of ELM was/is/will be…”
Words and phrases leap off these three pages – “holy & prophetic,” “life-saving,” “truth-telling,” and “expansive.”
One person wrote this on the “Will Be…” sheet:
“Something we don’t have words for yet.”
As we move deeper into the process of identifying the next strategic steps for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and the Proclaim Community, our individual stories must be realized, shared, and heard.
As one person wrote, we are called to “remember the past, live in the present, and proclaim the future.”
Amalia Vagts has served with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries since 2006. Part of her story includes meeting John Brett at a Reconciling in Christ training in Portland, OR in 2005, and having her life changed as he shared some of his own story. Pictured together at the recent Proclaim Gathering (John Brett, part of the Proclaim Community and a seminarian who serves with the San Francisco Night Ministry is currently on street retreat with the Faithful Fools in San Francisco).
Rev. Jen Rude, ELM program director
Something powerful happened last week at the Proclaim Gathering.
Proclaim member John Brett shared these words, “Never underestimate the power of a Proclaim Gathering worship to transform our perspective on the possible, our liberation, to kindle joy & deep gladness.”
Others shared these words and phrases:
Deepened connections and support
Engaging storytelling and story listening
Hilarity and laughter
Connecting with our roots
We gathered under the theme of Queer Stories/Sacred Witness. We began the gathering hearing from Instigators – people who were part of the catalyst for this movement for LGBTQ leaders in the Lutheran church (more on that in another blog soon!). In the evening ELM board member and Instigator Margaret Moreland led the board game “Beat the Eschaton – Full Inclusion Version” – a game designed by ELM supporter Bennett Falk to tell the history of our movement.
We spent time tracing our history with red yarn linking us together as part of worship. We were drawn in by the stories of our speaker Frank Rogers and then invited to draw on the stories within ourselves and to share those with each other. We took hikes in the beautiful hills of the St Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista, CA.
We participated in creative workshops led by members of our Proclaim community. We stayed up late jamming with tubas, guitars, hand bells, and our voices. We had quiet conversations over a cup of coffee on the patio. We prayed while walking by the lake.
Many were inspired to go out and share more of their story. Several Proclaim members shared that in the Sunday following the gathering, they felt more compelled to witness about being an LGBTQ person in ministry. Others had open conversation with airplane seatmates and family members. In short – they were proclaiming.
We hope these words and these pictures by our fantastic photographer Emily Ann Garcia give you a few glimpses into what we experienced.
Your support to ELM helps make renewing and sustaining gatherings like this possible for LGBTQ leaders in our church. You help make queer stories and sacred witness possible every day. Thank you!
By Jen Rude. The Proclaim Gathering is one of the highlights of Jen’s year. She especially enjoys real life connections with people she’s had email relationships with, lingering over meals and great conversation, a ridiculous amount of laughing, being moved to tears by people’s stories, feeling the Spirit’s presence, and being renewed and energized for this work to which we are called.
Guest blog by Margaret Moreland, ELM board member and Ministry Engagement program convener
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has a new way for congregations to come out about their support of LGBTQ people in ministry. This vibrant new poster will be available for all congregations whose pastors or other rostered leaders are members of Proclaim or who support the mission of ELM in other ways. It was given out at the Proclaim Gathering this week and will be available at ELM display tables at seven synod assemblies this spring (see below for how you can get one, too!).
Seeing the poster at a church will encourage members of congregations that have Proclaim leaders to remember their connection to ELM and learn more about our ministry. It can also be an evangelical witness to visitors who will see the values important to the church they visit. It might inspire an LGBTQ person to consider ministry and find the support to follow that calling. And we hope it may also get congregations thinking about calling an LGBTQ pastor in their next call process.
If your congregation wants to come out in support of LGBTQ leaders and the ministry of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries by hanging this new poster, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request a poster be mailed to you.
Thank you to University Lutheran Chapel Endowment Fund for a grant to print and distribute these posters along with other materials at Synod Assemblies.
By Margaret Moreland. Margaret’s bio this week is brought to you by her spouse Bennett Falk: Margaret Moreland has practiced Tai Chi for more than twenty years, and she has worked for full inclusion of LBGTQ clergy for even longer than that. She is extraordinary every day. We agree, Bennett!
By Andrew Steele
I hung out in a lot of church basements. I found interesting ways to play hide and seek in big church buildings. And when there was a portable communion kit in the backseat of the mini-van and I was hungry, communion wafers did the trick. (I know, this is sacrilegious but I was a young kid who had a craving for some tasteless snacks!)
Needless to say, I kind of went through the motions of being a rambunctious, trouble-making pastor’s kid. Church was part of weekly and daily life, and the people in our church community were as well. That’s what I knew and that’s how it was for most of my childhood and young adulthood.
But over the years, I have grown in ways that I never quite anticipated.
After college, I served as an ELCA Young Adult in Global Mission volunteer in South Africa where I was challenged in many ways. I was challenged by the cultural differences. I was challenged by my own privilege. And I was challenged by the radical hospitality bestowed upon me by my host community. I began living into what it means to be community, and I quickly adopted the South African way of life known as Ubuntu, or ‘I am because we are.’ This continued as I moved to Chicago after my time in South Africa to start working for United Way. I began attending St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Logan Square, where Pastor Erik Christensen serves as pastor. I quickly learned about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and Erik’s incredible journey to where is called today. Knowing what Erik’s leadership has meant not just to the Logan Square community but also to me has cemented my passion and belief in ELM’s mission.
So today I attempt to continue living out Ubuntu in a variety of ways. One of those ways is being an ally and advocate for LGBTQ folks in church and society. However, I really don’t see the term ‘ally’ being one that best describes how I wish to live this out. My hosts in South Africa taught me a lot about family. They taught me that being a child of God is all that matters, no matter the color of your skin, language you speak, etc. And so I will continue being the brother in Christ that I already am with my LGBTQ family members, more than an ally.
The body of Christ is all of us. We are all one body. And some of the body has cancer. Some of the body is HIV positive. Some of the body is LGBTQ. The body of Christ cannot be full while some are missing.
As the struggle continues for equality and recognition in the church for our LGBTQ family, (and increasingly in society,) it’s important to remember that South African word, Ubuntu, that we are only who we are because of the people in our lives. That we are all children of a loving God whose love for us is unconditional, and that each member of this family belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:1-8.)
Andrew Steele, Director of Global Church Sponsorship for the ELCA, writes most of his reflections on one of his devices while awaiting a flight. He has become quite the expert in airport codes and expedited security lines.
Joyous Easter to you!
I’m so thankful for the signs of Easter I see every day in the ministry leaders you support through your giving to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
This year, the Proclaim Gathering falls in the season of Easter – and for many it is truly a new morning where they can step out from the time of Lent and into the transforming light of the risen Christ.
They experience the joy of hearing the word “gay” alongside words like “fabulous, beloved, joyous, and called.”
Right now, we’re raising funds to support our upcoming Proclaim Gathering – especially to provide scholarships to those who need them.
The critical need for these scholarships became very clear when I was reading a note from one scholarship applicant.
I stopped short at this sentence: “I grew up in a church where the word gay was not used.”
That comment caught my eye because for so long, many LGBT Christians experienced hurt because of the way gay and lesbian people were spoken about in church.
Now there is a new pain caused by silence. Many in the ELCA want to move quickly from a past of exclusion. Yet a growing number of people continue to experience the pain caused when the church doesn’t mention our identities or our families.
ELM is working to change that. You can join us. You can remind this future pastor that the darkness of silence during Lent leads to the bursting joyfulness of Easter. You can remind them they do not walk alone.
I invite you to make a special gift in support of this Gathering – I’d love to add your name to the list of those who will receive thank you notes from the ministry leaders at the Proclaim Gathering this year.
And I invite you this Easter Season to come out about your support for LGBTQ ministry leaders. Tell your own story of transformation and resurrection.
Thank you for all you do for LGBTQ ministry leaders.
Amalia Vagts is thankful for the gift of being part of the National Proclaim Gathering to hear the stories of LGBTQ people called to rostered ministry so she can share them with all of you.
Guest blog by Rev. Marvin Havard, Proclaim member
“Why? Because I’m gay?”
I heard myself say those words to a friend in a conversation in January of 2014 and couldn’t believe I was saying it out loud. All the shame, guilt, and repression from my childhood in a fundamentalist Baptist church and school came roaring up from the depths of my psyche and I collapsed into a weeping mess for the next few hours. My friend was amazing and simply held me and let me cry it out. When I got through the initial emotional meltdown, I knew I needed some help for the next part of the journey.
After finding the website for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) and an agonizing three hours of writing, deleting, and rewriting, I finally sent an email. The response was amazingly quick with a wonderful offer to talk on the phone.
I called and in our conversation ELM program director Jen Rude explained to me that ELM had recently started a project of offering conversation partners for rostered leaders and seminarians in the coming out process. She shared that Proclaim is made up of people who have had a variety of coming out experiences and that it can often help to talk with someone who has been there. (Here’s some more information about pastors and seminarians getting support while coming out). Jen offered to connect me to Donn Rosenauer, a retired Lutheran pastor and Proclaim member, who happened to live in the Dallas metro area where I live.
From our first meeting, Donn’s words of affirmation have continued to uphold me during this process: reminding me that I am a Child of God, created in God’s image, as I was intended to be from the very beginning; encouraging me to write about my experience and to spend time reviewing the journey to this point; but most importantly, helping me to see where God is at work in my life and in the life of the people around me.
Donn Rosenauer says this about ELM’s project to support those coming out: “The ministry in which I am engaged is a needed resource for many on this journey. I have accompanied several pastors coming out. I’ve been doing this ministry as a volunteer with ELM for a little more than two years. I have grown in this service to others and hope this ministry can be an ongoing gift to those we serve.”
Then began the process of coming out – to my wife of 28 years, my family, my friends, and my congregation. As each of these events occurred, Donn encouraged me to not give into my fear but to allow for the work of the Holy Spirit in the response of each person and group. My wife and I are determined to remain friends even as we proceed with a divorce. My family, though struggling deeply to accept the truth, has continued to remain connected and to profess their love for me. The congregation I was serving, though fairly conservative, was much more accepting than I could ever have imagined. I still felt the need to leave and find another call where I can better live into this part of my identity. I am currently serving as an interim pastor while looking for a new call.
In December I officially became a member of the Proclaim community and am looking forward to attending the Proclaim Gathering in April. Through it all, Donn has continued to point me back to God’s work within me and within this process. He has been an incredibly supportive mentor, spiritual director, and friend who understands, who encourages, and who even provides the needed joy and laughter when I get too anxious and self-absorbed.
I say “Thank You!” to Donn, to ELM, to Proclaim and to all who have helped to provide this support and encouragement. I can’t imagine going through this without such amazing people. God is definitely at work within this community and its amazing members!
by Marvin Havard. Marvin (he/him/his) is serving as interim pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Carrollton, TX. After 15 years working as a church musician, he defected to the other side of the bench and was ordained in 2009 as a graduate of Wartburg Theological Seminary. Marvin is an avid reader and has been known to quote Tolkien, Asimov, and other sci-fi/fantasy writers in sermons.
Guest blog by Justin Ferko, Proclaim member, member of the ELM Seminarian Outreach Team, and the 2015 Joel R. Workin Scholar
In this photo you see the lovely members of the Trinity Lutheran Seminary Community listening to our very own Rev. Jen Rude present on the history, mission and vision of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Proclaim Members David Young, Brian Whitton, Laura Ferree, and I were pleased to host Jen’s visit from February 15 – 18, 2016.
What you don’t see or feel is the vibrant energy in that room. Over twenty-six people including faculty, staff and students came to hear the sacred history from the first extraordinary ordinations in San Francisco to the way the Spirit continues to raise up LGBTQ leaders in the church. Many students had never heard the story of grace in struggle until that brown bag lunch.
Seth Bridger, Director of Recruiting and Admissions, exuberantly shared how as an ally he had answered the call for all leaders to prepare congregations for diverse pastoral candidates. Before leaving his most recent call at Gloria Dei in Cincinatti, OH, he had prepared his congregation to welcome future LGBTQ pastoral leaders. Currently, Proclaim Member Rob Bork serves as the pastor of Gloria Dei in Cincinnati!
Commenting on Jen’s visit, Denise Sager, Vice President for Leadership Formation said this was a “high five the Holy Spirit” moment as Jen accompanied the students and ELM Seminary Advocate Dr. Cheryl Peterson in a meeting with President Barger on February 18, 2016. This was the culmination of a series of student-led meetings on what the Reconciling in Christ (RIC) mission means for Trinity, what accountability for RIC looks like in this community, and trainings from Equality Ohio on what it means to be an ally to the LGBTQ community and use of language including pronouns.
In addition to speaking on campus and meeting with Trinity faculty and staff, Jen visited with Pastor Jim Wilson of Lord of Life in Columbus. This congregation has raised up and supported eight persons for seminary, including Proclaim Members Alex Raabe, Brian Whitton, and myself.
Jen’s visit to the Trinity Lutheran Seminary Community left us reverberating with the prophetic call to:
+ Be co-conspirators and allies with LGBTQ lay and rostered leaders to set the stage for the person who is called to this role after you.
+ Reframe the leadership selection process by asking bishops, synod staff and seminary staff to accept all qualified trained leaders and seminarian candidates with the request for congregations to “opt-out” instead of a default “no” to LGBTQ candidates.
+ Demystify the mysteries of candidacy by making the ELM publication The Mysteries of the Ages: A handy guide for LGBTQ people exploring or preparing for rostered ministry in the ELCA available to all people in candidacy.
Thank you Jen and ELM for your presence on campus! You are always welcome here. We’ll keep you posted on the voting process for TLS to become a Reconciling in Christ seminary which will conclude with our May 2016 Board meeting.
Justin Ferko is a second year M.Div. diaconal ministry candidate and ELM Seminarian Outreach team representative. He is moved by the passion of the Trinity Lutheran Seminary Proclaimers and allies to support LGBTQ leadership and welcome because “all means all.” Justin is the 2015 Joel R. Workin Scholar.
by Rev. Emily E. Ewing, ELM board member and convener of the Proclaim program
One of the reasons I love being a part of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) is that we as an organization believe that difference makes a difference. Because of this belief 6 years ago ELM formally committed to ongoing anti-oppression work. We dedicate 4-8 hours to training and/or education at one of our two in-person board meetings each year. We focus on a variety of areas of anti-oppression work.
This year the Rev. Gordon Straw, one of our ELM Board members and a member of the Brothertown Indian Nation, led our time together. Gordon provided information, led an experiential exercise, and guided conversation about American Indians and Alaska Natives both in the ELCA and the larger historical context of the land we now occupy.
As a church and theology nerd, I really appreciate how Gordon framed theology from both a modern Western Christian perspective and from a Native perspective. Modern Western Christian theology typically understands humanity’s relationship with God and creation as hierarchical in which God is at the top of the hierarchy, humans are just below, and living and then non-living beings below that.
From a Native perspective, the worldview is more circular as we are all related to each other, from humans and animals to plants, rocks, wind, and the four directions. Within Lakota tradition this is expressed in the term “Mitakuye O’yasin,” which translates as “all my relations.” Our existence as humans is not a separate thing from the existence of all of God’s creation; instead, we are interconnected.
As board member Margaret Moreland pointed out, “We all are living on land that was home to indigenous people before Europeans came here. Gordon brought to life the consequences of the European take-over for Indians in the past and right now.” The land we are on is sacred land because it is part of God’s good creation. It is also sacred land because it gives life and nourishment to us. It is sacred, importantly, because people have lived on it in harmony with creation and in conflict with creation and each other not only since white people arrived, but since long before then as well.
Even those of us who knew some of the history of native peoples learned a lot. One of the things that I learned is that individuals will have an opportunity this year in the ELCA at our synod assemblies and hopefully at our Churchwide Assembly as well, to support Bp. R. Guy Erwin, the Southwest California Synod, and the American Indian/Alaska Native Lutheran Association in passing a resolution repudiating the doctrine of discovery.
The church has been complicit in much of the harm done to native peoples as white settlers moved across this land. One step that we can take as people working to be allies with Native communities is not only to learn our collective and their particular histories anew, but also to renounce the doctrine of discovery, which declared that European discoverers were Christian and “civilized” and the Native people were not, and therefore any lands discovered by Europeans were owned by Europeans. Native peoples were merely inhabitants on the land.
Gordon also shared with us two important news sources that I am looking forward to exploring in more depth: the National Congress of American Indians (ncai.org) and indianz.com. I was also encouraged to hear about the ELCA Native American Ministries Endowment Fund, to support the important ministry done by and in native communities throughout the ELCA. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries made a gift to this fund in honor of Gordon’s ministry and in thanks for the work he did with us at our meeting.
Rev. Emily E. Ewing serves as pastor of Trinity Fellowship (ELCA) and First Presbyterian Church in Rushford, Minnesota. Emily comes from land originally inhabited by the Ute and the mountains they knew as the Shining Mountains.
by Amalia Vagts, ELM executive director
We began our meeting with a conversation led by Marvin Ellison about the current landscape regarding LGBTQ people and faith movements. Marvin currently is the Director of Alumni Relations at Union Seminary – he is also an ordained Presbyterian minister and taught at Bangor Theological Seminary (U.C.C.) for thirty years. We wanted to hear the perspective of someone working outside the Lutheran church to help us gain broader perspective. Marvin laid some groundwork about the current state of LGBTQ people of faith from several perspectives (PC-USA, UCC, Catholic, Episcopalian, Jewish…). Marvin framed these conversation with the following questions: use one word to describe the current state of LGBTQ people and the church; what is the next work for LGBTQ people of faith and our allies and partners in ministry; and why stay in the struggle. This conversation helped frame our whole weekend together.
Every year, the board does 4-8 hours of anti-oppression board learning together. This year, ELM Board Member Gordon Straw offered to lead asession about American Indian/Native Alaskan Lutheran ministries and broader legal/societal conversation about American Indians. This was a moving and informative conversation and brought up some possible connections/collaborations.
We gave thanks for leaders! We celebrated and gave thanks for the wonderful leadership of Michael Wilker, who was ending three years as co-chair. Mike has been a faithful and deeply committed leader and we are incredibly thankful for him. We gave thanks for several other board members and leaders who had finished their terms in the fall of 2015 – Jim Kowalski (who had served as co-chair), Jeremy Posadas (who served as Secretary for the last three years), and Angel Marrero-Roe. We had a service of thanks and Godspeed for Randy Nelson, who has finished serving for 5 years in the role of Accompaniment Convener.Randy has worked with program director Jen Rude and key volunteers to create and implement this important work.
We elected new board members and new leaders! We are thrilled to welcome the following new leaders – Nicole Johnson (Minneapolis, MN); Rev. Barbara Lundblad (Minneapolis, MN), Rev. Brad Froslee (Minneapolis, MN); and Rev. Jeff Johnson (Berkeley, CA). We’re excited! The Board chose new coordinating officers – Rev. Elise Brown and Rev. Brad Froslee as co-chairs and Mike Wilker as secretary. Charlie Horn continues as treasurer.
We had a good conversation about work ELM has been doing to value, invite, and sustain racial diversity on the board and our struggles with achieving the diversity we seek.Three years ago, 5 of 12 board members were people of color. One year ago, 3 of 12 were. Currently, 1 of 12 are people of color. After good conversation, and by consensus, we passed a statement affirming our belief that difference makes a difference and our recognition that our current board is mostly white. We committed to making several changes, including agreeing that the next two leaders we seek will be people with skills and passion for leadership with ELM and who are people of color.
Throughout the weekend, we had rich, generative conversation about where we have been, where we are, and where we intend to go in the coming year and beyond in our work to live out our belief that LGBTQ people have extraordinary gifts for ministry. These conversations will turn to plans in the coming months.
I’ll end by sharing how we began our meeting – by reading the names of the Proclaim community and their ministry sites aloud, while singing the Iona chant “Kindle a flame.” This was a powerful experience – and the notion of kindling the flame was a touch point throughout our meeting.
Always, in our work in these meetings, we are thankful for all those who know about, care about, and support the work of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
by Amalia Vagts
I’ve had some wonderful new opportunities recently to share the stories of LGBTQ people in ministry.
A number of faith leaders have been in Chicago this week for ALDE Ignite. ALDE is the Association of Lutheran Development Executives. Ignite is the annual conference. Over the course of the conference, I’ve had a number of very meaningful conversations that have left me deeply encouraged about those working to gather resources in support of significant work to make the world a better place.
The week began with the great news that Clyde Andrew Walter had been named ALDE Chapter Leader of the Year. Clyde is the development committee convener for ELM. Yay, Clyde!
Also this week, Aubrey Thonvold (of ReconcilingWorks) and I met with Rev. Stephen Bouman, Executive Director of the Congregational and Synodical Mission Unit of the ELCA. We met with Pastor Bouman to update him on the present work of our ministries and to talk about ways we can deepen conversations about LGBTQ people in the church.
Last night, I had a conversation with someone who wants to engage more deeply with the work of ELM. His passion was evident, but I wanted to hear his story. I asked him why he cared about this work.
He told me about dear friends of his, a lesbian couple, and how important they are to him.
“I just think it’s so unfair what they’ve had to go through,” he said. “And it’s completely wrong that our church is doing this and I want to be part of making it change.”
As we share these stories with each other, we become part of creating a new one.