You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted. Psalm 40:5, NRSV
Dear ELM Community,
As I move toward my last days on staff at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, I want to share a few reflections and numerous thanksgivings – more than can be counted.
I first got connected to ELM in 2004. I was a seminary student wondering if I was wasting my time as an LGBTQ person in the Lutheran Church when I was introduced to an Extraordinary community. I met living witnesses of possibility, faithfulness, courage and hope. This seed of a connection led me to ELM gatherings with LGBTQ pastors and seminarians, receiving the Joel R. Workin Scholarship, being extraordinarily ordained, serving on the ELM board, and in 2013 joining the staff team as program director.
Serving as program director with ELM has been a great ministry. It has stretched me, inspired me and grown my faith. I love the way our work together lives in the queer spaces of tension: challenging and joyful, thoughtful and creative, focused and flexible, prophetic and pastoral, critiquing and imagining, and most of all Spirit-filled.
I feel honored to have worked with so many incredible people (like you!). You, dear friends of ELM, are church to me. You live out the best of who and what God calls us to be with faithfulness, boldness, hard work and joy. I have learned so much from you. I cannot imagine doing this work with a more faithful and fabulous group of people.
More than a decade after I first “met” ELM, I am even more passionate about our work and filled with joyful gratitude as I think about you, the community of people doing this work. Our work is still important. Critical. Life-saving. Challenging. Holy.
As I move toward my new call as University Pastor at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA, I look forward to my continuing relationship with ELM as an enthusiastic supporter and member of the Proclaim community.
With a little sadness, much gratitude, and all love,
During these heavy and difficult days, we look to one another for understanding, comfort and direction. We wish to share with you these words from Proclaim member and ELCA pastor, Padre Ángel Marerro. This post was published first on the Huffington Post blog on June 13, 2016. Shared with permission of the author.
Orlando: A Pastoral Response from a Gay Latino Priest
by Ángel D. Marerro
“A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” – Jeremiah 31:15 (RSV)
On Sunday, we woke up to the unspeakable horror of the most devastating mass shooting in the history of our country. For the past day, I have sat silently with my husband at home, crying in the face of the impotence of a world that, despite our social progress, still hates us.
In the midst of all this, I believe that Christian clergy in particular need to face an important reality: the church has blood on its hands. From our pulpits, and in our traditions, we have been complicit in fostering the sins of misogyny, sexism, racism, and homophobia. We are responsible for tolerating in our midst a poor, ignorant and murderous scriptural interpretation that leads to death and untold suffering. As a religious leader in the Boston-Metro Latino community, I cannot remain silent about this.
The words my husband Zach spoke to me have also been heavy on my heart all night. As a thoughtful interfaith leader that works primarily with Jews, Christians and Muslims, he eloquently reflected that “this isn’t simply ‘extremist Islam’, as some would like to paint it. This comes out of centuries of many religious traditions systematically demonizing and dehumanizing LGBTQ individuals. This hatred isn’t out of nowhere. It is in parts of Islam, yes, but it is within parts of Christianity and Judaism, as well.”
Facing such a reality, I feel I must apologize for the complicity and silence of the Church. I am sorry for the pain our sinful indifference and self-righteousness has caused, and continues to cause, throughout the world.
And in the midst of all this senseless suffering, I dare to do the only thing that comforts me in times like these. Here is my prayer for our communities today:
I dream of a day when being different is a reason to celebrate and not to fear.
I hope for a day when all God’s children can come together without condemnation.
I pray for a season where justice is not a matter of politics but of humanity.
I believe, like the modern psalmist proclaimed:
We Shall Overcome, We Shall Overcome, We Shall Overcome Someday
Deep In My Heart, I Do Believe, We Shall Overcome Someday
Padre Ángel D. Marerro is pastor of Santuario Luterano in Waltham, MA. Originally posted in the Huffington Post. Orlando: A Pastoral Response from a Gay Latino Priest
What does the annual Proclaim Gathering mean to LGBTQ leaders?
To find a community of other LGBTQ leaders in which I was welcomed and celebrated was so life affirming. I return to my normal routine with a renewed energy and excitement about ministry. – Rev. Marvin Havard
There are places and times in my life when I am attacked for who I am. The powerful and positive affirmation at the retreat is life-giving. – Nancy Wichmann
For the first time I was in a space with faith folks that I didn’t need to hide or protect my identity. It was inspiring and helpful to hear that my story and all other LGBTQ+ stories are sacred and have a place in the church. I will now honor my story more often rather than trying to hide my story. -Laura Ferree
I think this retreat helped me to solidify my calling, challenged me to consider a new way of talking about ministry and provided me with confidence in who God has made me to be. – David De Block
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is delighted to announce that Christephor Gilbert has been named the 2016 Joel Raydon Workin Scholar. The selection committee was thrilled by the number of excellent applications and is thankful to all who applied.
Christephor (he/him/his) is a member of Proclaim, a student in the Master of Divinity program at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and is in Candidacy with the ELCA toward Word and Sacrament ministry. Prior to seminary, Christephor worked as the Program Manager for the Kentucky Center Governor’s School for the Arts in Louisville, KY, following his first career as a dancer, dance educator, and choreographer (MFA Dance, University of Hawaii, 1993). Christephor lives in Hyde Park with his partner Donald and their three cats. Christephor currently works one day a week as operations coordinator for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Christephor’s home congregation is Third Lutheran Church in Louisville, KY (where fellow Proclaim member, Rev. Steven Renner, is pastor).
Each year ELM names a Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholar to honor the life and ministry of Joel Workin. Joel was one of the three gay seminarians who were refused ordination in 1989 after “coming out” to their candidacy committees. Upon his death, Joel’s parents, Ray and Betty, and other family and friends created the scholarship fund in his name to keep his prophetic voice part of the movement.
You can read more of Joel’s writing in the collection, “Dear God, I am gay – thank you!” The announcement is made in connection with Joel Workin’s birthday, which was May 29.
Workin Selection Committee Chair Michael Nelson wrote to Christephor,
“Your comparison of the grace of a dancer to God’s grace was captivating from the very first paragraph… I think what most moved us as a committee was your expansive language in describing God’s grace: that like the dancer, God’s grace is there for us when “gravity gets the best of you … a potential that was hovering just under the surface … And in the dark falling, in the everlasting emptiness, the grace is there.” …As Lutherans who recognize grace as key component of our theology, you opened our eyes to seeing grace in an entirely different light.”
Upon learning that he had been selected, Christephor replied,
“The passion, pain, hope, anger, and joy that Joel put to words in his work gives voice to a truth that is already writ large and deep on my spiritual center, a truth that ripples out beyond his experience and mine. Each moment in the life of a queer Christian is set, remembered, and re-lived with each passing generation. Change happens, sometimes at light-speed and sometimes so slowly you can barely tell that anything is different. But then God’s grace is always breaking through. And sometimes that grace shows us where more change must take place.
But we are in this together, a community of souls and a cloud of witnesses. As Joel says, our greatest grace is to be ourselves—and to live without reservation into our place in the church. Mary Oliver speaks to this community in her poem “Wild Geese.” The final haunting lines remind me that the stories of others who have gone before, people like Joel Workin, tell me I belong—and encourage me to continue telling the stories: ‘Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your place in the family of things.’
I like to think that when we each feel as though we are the only one, all it takes is the honk of another to remind us that the flock is just overhead.
It is an honor and a delight to be the 2016 Joel Raydon Workin Scholar, and I am deeply thankful to the selection committee, the staff and board of ELM, and Joel’s parents who carry on his legacy.”
The award comes with a $2,500 scholarship for academic or spiritual study and is available for members of Proclaim who are studying to be rostered leaders in the Lutheran church.
The Workin Selection Committee includes three personal friends of Joel’s – Michael Price Nelson; the Rev. Jeff R. Johnson; Greg A. Egertson; and former Workin Scholar, the Rev. Rebecca Seely. ELM Executive Director Amalia Vagts did not serve on the committee this year as one of the applicants was an ELM staff member.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is seeking a full-time program manager. Interested candidates should email their cover letter and resume to Amalia Vagts, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, with PROGRAM MANAGER in the subject heading. Initial deadline for applications is June 21, position open until filled.
About the position:
Grounded in the belief that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identifying (LGBTQ+) people have extraordinary gifts for ministry, the program manager builds and supports community through the Proclaim program; walks with and equips leaders through the Accompaniment program; and connects with and uplifts congregations through the Ministry Engagement program. The program manager equips and labors alongside volunteer program conveners and works in partnership with the executive director and operations coordinator on strategic work and communications for these programs. Location flexible/telecommuter position.
Full job description and guiding qualifications: Program Manager Job Description
One thing we commonly hear about LGBTQ pastors is that congregations just “aren’t ready.” As you know, we like to say – “Let us help you get ready!”
Thanks to this fabulous new short video, call committees and congregations now have a 6-minute conversation starter about “getting ready” to welcome LGBTQ people into the call process.
This video follows the story of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Conshohocken, PA and their process to call a gay man as their pastor (Proclaim member Rev. Bryan Penman!). It addresses questions including:
What do we do if we’re not sure we’re ready for an LGBTQ pastor?
How can we start this conversation in our congregation?
Why do we need to talk about it?
What are some special gifts of LGBTQ leaders?
Watch the full 6 minute video:
And we need your help! After you watch, please tell your friends about it. We’ve made this sweet 30 second trailer to make it easy for your to share on social media. Help us get the word out!
Thank you to the Philip N. Knutson Endowment in Campus Ministry and the St. Francis Lutheran Church Endowment for providing funds for this project.
+ And, exciting news! We just received word that ELM has received an additional grant from the Philip N. Knutson Endowment to help distribute Enrich & Transform resources!
Rev. Jen Rude, who has served as ELM’s program director since 2013, has received and accepted a new call.
As announced today by Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, Jen will begin serving as University Pastor in early August. Jen’s last day as program director at ELM will be June 30th.
We celebrate with Jen, who has been a significant part of this movement for the last decade. Jen was an extraordinary candidate, ordinand and pastor; the first Joel R. Workin Scholar; a key member of the Extraordinary Roster and Proclaim community, an ELM Board Member – who helped create, launch – and name – Proclaim; a volunteer Proclaim Convener, and has served as Program Director since the fall of 2013. She will continue her involvement as a member of the Proclaim Community and as a supporter of ELM.
We give abundant thanks for the work Jen has done with ELM, especially as our first program director. Jen has worked in creative and deeply thoughtful ways to expand ELM’s three programs into thriving and growing work. These programs have experienced tremendous growth under Jen’s leadership. She has been a passionate and faithful leader, and a pastoral presence for the Proclaim community, staff and ELM board. She has been an exceptional colleague who has led with purpose and unparalleled integrity. She will be deeply missed by all of us who worked with her, and a tremendous gift to her new community at Pacific Lutheran University.
In Jen’s own words:
“ELM has played a critical role in my growth and formation as a pastor and as a person. It has been an honor, a gift, and a JOY to be in partnership with you and this community. I have loved my work at ELM with the board, program teams, the Proclaim community, and with all our communities and supporters. I am also incredibly grateful to Amalia, an extraordinary supervisor, mentor, and colleague. Her grace-filled, visionary, and faithful leadership is infused into the fabric of ELM.
I was not looking for a new call, but when this opportunity came up the Spirit kept stirring in me and I felt like I needed to at least explore it. This new call is a great fit for me and my gifts, and it comes with the great sadness of leaving my position with ELM. I will continue in my role as a Proclaim member, ELM supporter, and cheerleader for the awesome work of this organization and movement. I take this next step with a heart full of gratitude, confident that ELM will move into this next phase of its work as it has always done – with boldness, grace, humor, passion, faithfulness, and an overflowing cup of fabulousness.”
We’re thankful for a healthy organization with wonderful and passionate supporters, and a strong and committed board who will help guide the organization as we move into the new possibilities that will emerge from this unexpected change.We are putting together the next steps in our plan; beginning with reviewing the position and working on both short-term staffing and long-term hiring plans. We will keep our community informed as we move forward.
Confident in the Spirit who has led us through many changes, we will faithfully and joyfully move forward together in a way that strengthens our vision and mission.
We are thankful for the Chicago Metro Synod who affirmed Jen’s specialized call to ministry with ELM and we join the community of Pacific Lutheran University in celebrating this most fabulous new call for Jen!
(Editor’s note – many in the LGBTQ+ faith movement are starting to collect and document stories. As I shared in an earlier post – there is no “ELM Story,” rather there are many – and the stories are not just those of ELM or our predecessor organizations, Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project. Our stories are linked to those of denomination partners like ReconcilingWorks (formerly Lutherans Concerned/North America) and others – even to stories being shared today by friends in the United Methodist Church. Enjoy reading Mari’s story! – Amalia)
by Mari Griffiths Irvin
As I write this, it’s been a month since I was with the Proclaim community in San Juan Bautista, California. I was one of the seven people invited by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) to participate in what was dubbed an “Instigators Gathering.” We were among those whose work led to the forming of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (LLGM) and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP) – both predecessors of ELM. Our time together, among the instigators and later with the entire Proclaim community was an experience that remains with me each day.
The weekend was a mix of old and new. In the early days of the movement toward full inclusion of LGBTQ people into the ministry of the ELCA, we were regularly meeting in one another’s living rooms. We arrived the day before the Proclaim Gathering to review some of the early organizational documents, newsletters, and records. What a reminder of those early debates and grand visions! The materials will be archived at the Center for Gay & Lesbian Studies in Religion (located at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA). We loved reading those letters aloud, sparking many stories from that time.
We also needed to prepare for the large-group plenary at the Proclaim gathering. Not an easy task as each of us could have talked for hours about the significance of this mission and its effect in our lives! Proclaim members had submitted questions like “What were the gifts and burdens of helping birth this movement?” and “What are you ‘known’ for and what would you like to be known for?” Our responses were videotaped and will be archived for future generations to learn about the beginnings of our movement.
Following our comments, each of the Proclaim members responded with one or two words about their experience of hearing from the instigators. In those moments, I saw in the Proclaim community the collective embodiment of the vision that guided our work for so many years.
With great passion – and in the abstract – we had created a way to ministry for those whose calls were being ignored, refused, or discarded by the ELCA because they were LGBT persons who wanted the option to have a partner and family. At that time, the ELCA required LGBT clergy to be celibate. We stood witness to the testimony shown in each life of each candidate for extraordinary ordination and call to active ministry.
As I listened and looked into the eyes of each Proclaim speaker, our long held vision came into sharp focus, embodied in each person. In those moments I more fully felt the Power of God, shown in the future ministries of these dedicated followers of Jesus. What is now will be continued. Their ministries and that of those who join them will truly proclaim the Gospel in ways we cannot yet imagine.
The vision that had guided me and many others for so long was now gloriously visible in the flesh before us. I see and celebrate that picture in my mind’s eye each day.
Thanks be to God!
Mari Griffiths Irvin’s long-dormant faith was rekindled by the extraordinary ordinations of Jeff, Phyllis, and Ruth in 1990 and her subsequent membership at St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Her retirement in 2000 as professor emerita from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA allowed her more time to work passionately as a Lutheran LGBTQ activist. More recently, Mari reinvented herself as a bookstore owner in Yachats, Oregon where she, her spouse (Jeannine Janson), and her sister (Mary Wiltse) work as partners in selling “previously enjoyed and gently used books.”
Guest blog by Proclaim member Ross Murray, diaconal minister
Calling is a funny thing. It’s almost never a direct path. We can plan, but God will intervene with what God’s going to do.
For the last five years, I’ve been working at GLAAD, the world’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy organization. Throughout my time at GLAAD, I’ve been the lead on religious work. Even though my exact title has shifted over the years, I’ve been blessed to preach, organize pro-LGBT faith voices to rally for LGBT equality, and support LGBT people and communities of faith. I’ve worked hard to dispel the myth that LGBTQ people and religion are opposed to one another, or “God vs. gay,” as we are so often told.
Perhaps the most Lutheran, and even protestant, thing I’ve done was developed and executed a campaign around Pope Francis’ visit to the US that highlighted the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and LGBTQ people. Instead of a church door, I was connecting media with LGBT Catholics who could talk about how they continue to keep their faith, despite alienation and sometimes outright persecution from the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
But until this point, I have been doing this work as an educated, hard-working Lutheran lay person. After April 30, I am now doing my LGBTQ advocacy work at GLAAD as a called and consecrated diaconal minister in the ELCA. Diaconal ministers go through theological education, candidacy, and a call process, just like clergy. However, the role of the diaconal minister is distinct.
While clergy are ordained into “Word and sacrament” ministry, diaconal ministers are consecrated into a ministry of “Word and service.” A diaconal minister is someone whose ministry is at the border of the church and the world. Historically, diaconal ministers have assisted in worship, run the administration of the church, directed aid for those in need. Diaconal callings usually involve a focus area: chaplaincy, administration, social service, prison ministry, etc. My particular calling will be to advocate for equality and acceptance for LGBTQ people, both in the church and the world, through my job at GLAAD.
While being called and consecrated is new for me, the fundamentals of my day-to-day job are unlikely to change. However, what will change is that mutual accountability that I have with the ELCA. My job is now my calling, which means I’m representing the larger church through my actions. It also means that I can continue to help the ELCA find ways in which to use its platform and voice to continue to call for the care and protection for LGBTQ people in society.
We are at a time when faith voices are critical to the LGBQ movement. That “God vs. gay” myth persists. Statewide “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRAs) attempt to reinforce it. Anti-LGBTQ advocates and public examples like Kim Davis want that myth to stay in place in order to protect their position in the world. My calling is about making sure that there continues to be a public witness that can use sound theology and a firm belief in the power of grace to spread the message that God has created us, knows us, and loves us, just as we are.
Ross Murray and Abby Ferjak were consecrated as ELCA diaconal ministers in a service on Saturday, April 30, 2016 at Advent Lutheran Church on Broadway in Manhattan, NY. Abby will continue her work as a hospital chaplain at Valley Health System in Ridgewood, NJ. Both Ross and Abby are members of Proclaim, a community of 220+ LGBTQ rostered leaders, seminarians, and candidates for ministry. Proclaim is a program of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
by Ross Murray. Ross is a Lutheran Diaconal Minister and member of Proclaim. He is GLAAD’s Director of Programs, focusing on global and the US South. He has written and appeared on numerous media outlets, including CNN, Al Jazeera, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Religion News Service. Ross is also a founder and director of The Naming Project, a faith-based camp for LGBT youth and their allies. If you’ve been thinking of jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, but don’t know where to start – check Ross out: @inlayterms – in 2014, he was named one of Mashable’s “10 LGBT-Rights Activists to Follow on Twitter.”
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).