St. Francis Lutheran Church was one of the founding congregations of the movement that led to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. In the midst of the AIDS crisis, St. Francis was led by now retired ELCA pastor Rev. Jim DeLange, who was a pioneer in the movement to ordain publicly-identified lesbian and gay pastors. In 1990, a lesbian couple, Rev. Ruth Frost and Rev. Phyllis Zillhart were extraordinarily ordained (along with Rev. Jeff Johnson), and served as pastors in St. Francis, providing a visible witness of St. Francis Lutheran’s commitment to the LGBT community. Frost, Zillhart and Johnson, now pastors on the ELCA clergy roster, were members of the historic ELM roster and are part of the new LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders community, Proclaim.
In a recent Bay Area Reporter article, writer Matthew Bajko tells the story of Rev. DeLange’s and St. Francis’ early involvement in ministry to people affected by HIV and AIDS. Read the full article here.
In the following excerpt from that article, we hear the story of Grant Burger, a long-term member of St. Francis and supporter of ELM. Bajko writes:
“Even as St. Francis fought to change the national Lutheran Church’s policies, it continued to care for those living with HIV. Grant Burger found himself walking through its doors in September 1993 two years after learning he was positive.
“I was born and raised Lutheran. My relationship with God is very important to me independent of what the church told you,” said Burger, who had been referred to the church by the Lutheran Gay and Lesbian Ministry. “They recommended I come to St. Francis and check it out, so I did and never left.”
What he found, Burger said, was a support network that helped him through his darkest moments, especially prior to the introduction of protease inhibitors in 1996 when he was close to dying.
“I found a family, not just people sitting in some pew,” he said. “It was just huge to know St. Francis welcomed me unconditionally and loved me with no shame at all. It speaks to just what love is all about.”