Rev. Craig Minich: Believing It

One year after the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Decisions, we take a look at how the actions affected one ELM pastor…

My reflection on my experiences on the first Sunday after Easter, 2010.

By Rev. Craig Minich

When I was asked to preach at Trinity Lutheran Church in Oakland (one of the churches who are part of the collaborative youth ministry, called the East Bay Lutheran Youth Program), I was unprepared for what was to unfold for me in the life of the church, my ministry, and my faith. I knew that I would be preaching on the first Sunday after Easter (an opportunity, as a youth pastor, I am offered consistently each year) and that the Gospel would undoubtedly be the ‘Doubting Thomas’ text. As an out gay man ordained Extra Ordinem on February 18th, 2001 and rostered by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) I had a pretty good idea what I would be focusing on for my sermon.

The ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August of 2009 had passed a resolution to roster qualified gay and lesbian pastors who are in “publically-accountable, life-long, and monogamous relationships.”  As a pastor who is gay and in a partnered relationship this was welcome news.  As an out gay pastor, who has been doing ministry with the “yes” of ELM for 10 years while still standing in principled non-compliance against the ELCA’s policy of exclusion against GLBT pastors, their “no,” this day seemed like it would never come.  In the midst of that astounding vote in August, even though I wanted to believe it, I found myself saying to myself, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  I know how slow the church can move, I know the institution can take a long time to codify it’s policies, and hence when dealing with the institution, I ‘don’t count my chickens before they hatch.’  I have been disappointed before, and I knew from experience that until the policy is officially changed, I had reason to be careful.  I wanted to celebrate with straight clergy allies who came up to me effusively saying things like, “aren’t you happy!” and “great news, huh?”  In those situations, I found myself only being able to smile tersely, all the while thinking to myself, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

The road to policy change has long indeed.  Shortly after the August Assembly in 2009, we were told that November was the date to look forward to when the Conference of Bishops would next meet.  As November came and went, we were told that it would be March 2010 until a decision would be made at the next Conference of Bishops meeting.  As the winter months passed, more and more colleagues congratulated me and said things like, “we did it! – the day is here.”  Again, I would smile tersely and think to myself, “The day is not here yet… I’ll believe it when I see it.”

As the Bishops deliberated in March 2010 about requiring the ‘re-ordination’ of ELM pastors who had been ordained Extra Ordinem by ELM and their calling congregation(s), my “believe it when I see it” position was in full gear.  “See,” I would say to myself, “see the day is not here.”  And yet, as that meeting continued, word began to spread that transformation was occurring in their ranks and the offensive notion (and the theological contradiction) of re-ordination was off the table!  Surprised and heartened by this unexpected change of course, I knew that this was simply a recommendation from the Conference of Bishops that would still need to be ratified by the ELCA Church Council meeting in April 2010, and I was not confident that that would happen either.  My wounded heart which had been betrayed so many times by the ELCA, still echoed the phrase that Thomas uttered after Christ’s crucifixion in the presence of his Lord, “I’ll believe it when I see it”…

As those weeks spilled into April, still more people were anticipating celebration at the implementation of the change, yet I was still with Thomas “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  So as I prepared my sermon the week after Easter, I knew exactly what I would preach.  I would share with this congregation my experiences with the August resolution, the November postponing of decisions, the March transformation, and the April discussions at the ELCA Church Council.  I would share with this – one of my five – congregations that I longed to celebrate the direction of changes in the ELCA in regard to gay and lesbian clergy who are in relationship, but that I had found myself over the last 8 months instead repeating my frustrated mantra “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  As I finished preparing my sermon on Saturday morning which named that reality which I have just explained, and yet went on to proclaim my assurance of God’s love presence with me in my struggle, and by extension God’s presence with all of us in each of our struggles – God’s grace showered on us all – I read of the results of the ELCA  Church Council.

They had voted to ratify the Conference of Bishops proposal and voted to implement the policy changes necessary to receive gay and lesbian clergy in relationship onto synodical rosters of the ELCA.  I was stunned, I was dumb-struck… and I didn’t know what I was going to preach the following day.

I found myself throughout that day overwhelmed with emotion – this was the day and I indeed now I did believe it.  I also prayed and prayed continually and found myself compelled to sing the song ‘This is the air I breathe” on endless loop in my mind.  Throughout that day, into my dreams that night and into the next morning as I walked to the pulpit to read the Gospel, that is the song that did not cease.  As I walked to the pulpit, I was again overtaken with emotion as I felt the weight of those GLBT pastors and seminarians who had gone before me, many of whom had been driven out of the church, and many others who were living half-lives in the Church’s closet.  I found myself completely overwhelmed and humbled to have been called to serve in my ministry for the last 10 years with this and 5 other congregations who had said “yes,” in the face of the ELCA’s “no.”  I found myself humbled to be called to proclaim the Gospel this day, to be asked to preach this day in the midst of such profoundly Divine irony.

I could not get the first word out, my grief and tears welled up so quickly.  I sobbed my way through the Gospel reading, a reading that seemed to take ages, and I cried as I confessed at it’s conclusion, that “I was OK, no one has died.”  I jettisoned my prepared sermon, and I preached from the depths of my heart, sharing what had happened the previous day (which most people had not heard about yet), sharing my surprise, and sharing that what I had intended to preach, was no longer the case.  A new day had come, one that I had a hard time embracing at first, and yet here we were, we were at this day and their was no denying it.  I could experience the change in the ELCA and feel their welcome in a new way, believing that this day had finally arrived, but more important than that, I shared that all along my journey to get to this day, I had seen the risen Christ like Thomas along the way, and I indeed, like Thomas, believed.

Rev. Craig Minich who serves the East Bay Lutheran Youth Program was received onto the ELCA roster of ordained ministers on Sunday, July 25.

Rev. Jenny Mason Reinstated to ELCA Roster

I am very happy to the share the news that Rev. Jenny Mason (pictured at right) has been reinstated to the ELCA roster of ordained ministers.

Rev. Jenny Mason served as an ELCA missionary in Santiago, Chile before being removed from the ELCA clergy roster in 2001 because she was an openly lesbian woman in relationship. Jenny then served as Associate Pastor at Central City Lutheran Mission (CCLM) in San Bernardino, California, which was disciplined by the Synod for installing Jenny. This resulted in the loss of both funding and official ELCA status as a congregation in development for this unique social ministry and active worship community.

Jenny holds a Master of Divinity degree from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, OH, and a Doctorate of Ministry in Proclamation from the Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago. Jenny moved to the Twin Cities in 2005 to live with her partner, the Rev. Jodi Barry, and now works as a Congregational Partnership Organizer for a faith-based developer of affordable housing.

Rev. Dale Poland Reinstated to ELCA Roster

It is with great joy that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries announces that Rev. Dale Poland (pictured at right) has been reinstated to the ELCA roster of ordained pastors!

Please check our blog later this week for a personal reflection from Pastor Dale about the experience of being reinstated to the ELCA roster.

Rev. Dale Poland was ordained in 1991. He was removed from the ELCA roster in 2003 because he is gay. Rev. Poland has been a member of the ELM roster since then, serving for two years as chaplain to the roster. Rev. Poland serves as a hospice chaplain in the Boulder, CO area and is a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Denver, CO.

Crisis Response

Are you experiencing discrimination from your congregation or synod because of your sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression?

The ELM Crisis Response Team can offer you valuable advice and experience.

What to do:

Email the Crisis Response Team at (suggested subject “Pastor requests response from CRT” or similar). Messages will be returned within 24 hours. If you do not get a response within 24 hours, please call the main ELM number at 312-759-7070 (you do not need to leave details on the message, simply alert us that you have sent an email request and have not heard back). All information is treated as confidential.

Do not agree to any action or settlement. Tell your bishop that you need time to respond.

Contact our team to talk through your situation. We also will seek to connect you with other LGBTQ+ ministers for support.

You should be present at any meeting that the congregation or council conducts. You need to hear what is being said about you. Take a support person with you.

Keep these things in mind if the bishop wants to talk with you because of your sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

Our crisis response team is here for you.

The Rev. Pieter Oberholzer

Rev. Pieter Oberholzer, serves as a Missionary in South Africa, who works with Inclusive and Affirming Ministries with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and is called by St. Francis Lutheran in San Francisco, CA.  In 2011 Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) recieved $8,000 for a mission grant from ELM.

This new grant will fund outreach to churches in southern Africa that are welcoming and affirming, where LGBTQ people can participate fully and be strengthened in their spiritual, psychological and sexual identity as human beings. IAM will host programs that support, empower and stimulate dialogue. Check out their new website (above).


South Africa has one of the most inclusive constitutions in the world. Sexual minority people herald it as a prototype of ‘how things should be.’ With such a progressive governmental leadership, one might assume that South African churches are equally inclusive and progressive. Not so, says Rev. Pieter Oberholzer. In fact, it is just the opposite, gay and lesbian Christians are not recognized or welcome in the mainstream Christian churches. In fact, they are routinely condemned and despised.

Although there are several Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) congregations, there were no organizations such as Lutherans Concerned, Affirmation, or Dignity. A Gay and Lesbian Christian Outreach (GLCO) committee member recently announced the intention to start the very first Integrity chapter in South Africa at the St George’s Cathedral.

This dichotomy between secular and church realities creates an extraordinary need for ministry to both sexual minority people and the churches themselves. The Rev. Pieter Oberholzer began GLCO in 1995 to address this need. Oberholzer was a pastor of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. A South African by birth, during the apartheid era he took refuge in Holland to avoid threats on his life, not because he is black, but because he is gay.

Oberholzer also wanted to enter the ministry and believed the Netherlands was the only place such a possibility existed. When South Africa ended apartheid and Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994, the new government included in the constitution a bill of rights for gay and lesbian people, the first nation in the world to do so. With a small grant from the church in Holland, Pieter returned to South Africa and started an ecumenical ministry to gay and lesbian people in Capetown. This ministry also provides advocacy to the mainline churches in South Africa. His is a courageous, lone voice crying in a wilderness.

Pastor Oberholzer is the only staff person of GLCO. His ministry includes counseling, resource development, public dialogue, and workshops. In 1998 he counseled 175 individuals, seven couples and five parents. In his sermon at St. Francis in January Pastor Oberholzer told of working intensely with one gay who was estranged from his parents. One night pastor Pieter received a call from the man’s partner that he had attempted suicide and was in a coma. When the man’s parents arrived at the hospital, Oberholzer had to tell them that their son was gay. The parents were so repulsed they refused to see their son and when he died, they denied him Christian burial. More personally, Rev. Oberholzer is not recognized as an ordained minister in South Africa.

Because no church will recognize his ordination and he has been absent from the Netherlands for many years he is no longer on the roster of ordained clergy of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. When asked how he is able to continue in the face of such rejection and isolation, Rev. Pieter Oberholzer credits his life partner and his years in the struggle against apartheid. During that time Pastor Oberholzer was imprisoned with Steve de Gruchy among others. de Gruchy is the son of theologian John W. de Gruchy, a name that is familiar to many U.S. Lutherans.

Two years ago, Pieter visited San Francisco and St. Francis Lutheran Church. He came to St. Francis because of a listing identifying the congregation as a supportive advocate for gay and lesbian people. He and Pastor Jim DeLange became acquainted and a correspondence ensued. LLGM decided to support Rev. Oberholzer and GLCO because of the courageous and necessary ministry he provides and because Pastor Oberholzer’s experience parallels those of other LLGM ministry partners. LLGM is deeply blessed by his presence and ministry among us. On January 17, 1999, in a rite of prayer at St. Francis, the congregation and LLGM made a commitment to continue to support and recognize Rev. Pieter Oberholzer as an ordained minister of Christ’s Church.

ELM featured on Minnesota Public Radio

Minnesota Public Radio is featuring stories about the ELCA 2009 vote titled ‘A Church Divided, Together:

“We explore the effect of the August 21st, 2009 vote allowing gay pastors to serve as clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America through the stories of Lutherans in the Public Insight Network.”

ELM co-chair and pastor Jen Nagel is interviewed here about the ELCA one year after the historic vote. ELM’s Executive Director Amalia Vagts is featured in a story here.

This project will have ongoing articles about ELM so expect more updates soon.

The Rev. Donn Rosenauer

The Rev. Donn Rosenauer

As a parish pastor for 25 years, Donn Rosenauer has approached congregational stewardship and fund raising activities as ministries that strengthen mission goals that impact the larger community.

Rosenauer has served Lutheran congregations in Watford City, ND, Rochester, MN; Zumbrota, MN; Lincoln, NE and Seattle, WA. During his seven years at Zumbrota, congregational giving increased 80 percent. In Zumbrota he spearheaded a drive that resulted in building a chapel for the community hospital. In Seattle he chaired a successful fund raising drive for the Northwest Religious Broadcasting Commission. As a Paul Harris fellow, Donn raised significant dollars for the Rotary Foundation.

Donn is a graduate of Texas Lutheran University with a major in communications. He holds a Master of Divinity from Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, IA. Throughout his ministry, he served on numerous church and community boards and committees on local, regional, and national levels.

Donn has served as a Consulting Associate of Kairos for the past twelve years. During this time he has conducted major funding appeals in over one hundred congregations nationwide.

The Rev. Jeff Johnson

The Rev. Jeff Johnson

The Rev. Jeff R. Johnson has been privileged to serve as the pastor at University Lutheran Chapel and the Lutheran Campus pastor at the University of California, Berkeley since is fall in November 1999.

Prior to this call, he served as pastor of First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco’s Richmond District.  He was ordained on January 20, 1990.

Jeff is a 1984 graduate of California Lutheran University with BA degrees in History and German. In 1988, he received a MDiv (Master of Divinity) from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley. Upon graduation, he worked as Director of AIDS Education for Lutheran Social Services of Northern California, where he coordinated thefirst national ELCA Bishops Convocation on HIV and authored a curriculum series used by northern California Lutheran congregations responding to the HIV epidemic.

In 1990 he founded Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministry (now Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries) along with his colleagues, Pastors Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, to provide an outreach to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Pr. Johnson serves on the steering committee of the East Bay Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice and is facilitator of the East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition.  He is on the Board of Directors for the SHARE Foundation for a new El Salvador. He serves on the Sierra Pacific Synod Council.  He is a member of the Sathergate Religious Council and the Spirituality Working Group at the University of California, Berkeley.  He is a supervisor in the teaching parish and internship programs at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary.

Rev. Jeff Johnson with partner J Guadalupe Sanchez Aldaco

Previously, he has served as co-chair with Jeannine Jansson of Goodsoil at the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly in Orlando (2005), served on the Board and as president of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project, worked as an intern/mentor for Pacific School of Religion, was a chair of the Homelessness Task Force for the Telegraph Area

Association, and was on the board for San Francisco’s Religious Witness with Homeless People.  He was elected twice to be Dean of the San Francisco Conference of Lutheran Churches.

He lives in Oakland’s Piedmont District in a 1928 stucco bungalow with his partner J Guadalupe Sanchez Aldaco.  He enjoys a good mystery novel, learning Spanish, gardening in his back yard, fishing, home-repair, relaxing in coffee-shops, salsa dancing, walking by the Bay, and spending time with friends and family.

Rev. Jeff Johnson was received onto the ELCA clergy roster in 2010.