Ordination Trials in the Presbyterian Church (USA)

Lisa Larges
Lisa Larges: Guest speaker at the Proclaim retreat

Today and this weekend the Presbyterian Church (USA) is hearing two cases on trial regarding ordination of GLBTQ congregations that pre-dated the changes to the church’s constitution. (On May 10th the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted that it will allow ordination partnered lesbian and gay Christians as elders, deacons and ministers in the church communities that wish for these candidates to become ordained. )

The case of Parnell, et al v. Presbytery of San Francisco ” is a case attempting to reverse the approval of the ordination of publicly lesbian Lisa Larges by San Francisco Presbytery.”  The other case is similar. Legal counsel for both presbyteries have filed motions to have these cases declared moot because of the intervening removal of the grounds for these cases. While neither Lisa nor the person involved in the other case is an ‘official’ party in these cases,their ordinations and their futures hang in the balance.

Our prayers are with Lisa Larges and our Presbyterian friends. Lisa was the guest speaker at the ELM/Proclaim retreat and has been awaiting ordination in the Presbyterian Church for 22 years. Lisa works for That All May Freely Serve, here is their blog.

Stay up to date on the trial by checking this website.

Meet up with ELM at ELCA Churchwide

The 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly will take place August 15-19  at the Marriott World Center in Orlando, Florida.ELM’s Executive Director Amalia Vagts will be there along with Proclaim member and co-chair Rev. Erik Christensen. Amalia and Erik would love to meet up with ELM supporters who are attending. If you have questions about ELM or Proclaim, here is a chance to talk in person. Email or call Amalia: Director@elm.org or 563-382-6277 to arrange getting together. Amalia is also hoping to gather supporters together one night, so send her your email or cell number if you want to be invited to meet up as a group.

Lutherans Concerned/North America  is organizing a volunteer presence through the Goodsoil collaboration throughout Churchwide. Be sure to visit Goodsoil.org to sign up as a volunteer for the week’s events and to get details about some great events, like the Goodsoil Worship service!


Emily Ewing and Laura Kuntz Named 2011 Workin Scholars

Joel Workin (left) and Paul Jenkins
Joel Workin (left) and Paul Jenkins

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries joyfully announces the 2011 Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholars, Emily Ewing and Laura Kuntz.  ELM named two scholars this year thanks to a generous gift from Joel’s parents, Ray and Betty Workin, in loving memory of the late Rev. Dr. Paul Egertson.

The Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholarship program was created 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. Joel’s family and friends created the scholarship fund following his death from AIDS in 1995.

This award comes with a scholarship to publicly-identified LGBTQ seminarians who embody Joel’s passion for justice and faith in their lives and ministry. In addition, the scholar represents ELM throughout the year. Co-Chairs of the Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholarship Endowment Committee are Rev. Jeff R. Johnson and Greg A. Egertson, beloved friends and classmates of Joel’s.  The scholars were chosen from a pool of excellent candidates.

The scholarship is funded through the Joel R. Workin Memorial Endowment. Donors may make planned or immediate gifts to the endowment by contacting Amalia Vagts at 563-382-6277.

Jeff Johnson expressed his enthusiasm for both scholars, noting that each captured one of Joel’s key messages.  Jeff writes, “While in seminary, Joel spoke passionately against a ‘church that for the most part ignores, condemns and rejects,’ us while ordaining us into lives of ‘lying and hiding, but not of truth and freedom.’  This was for him the essence of the struggle.  How do we mount and sustain a persuasive critique of this bankrupt system, institution, and ideology, and at the same time urgently foster our own wholeness, and build around us a community of justice, unconditional regard, and blessing.  This is the challenge.”

ELM congratulates and gives thanks for these two scholars who are skillfully facing that challenge.

Emily Ewing

Emily Ewing

Emily Ewing has long been involved in the Lutheran church and working towards social justice issues in the United States, South America and Slovakia. Emily recently finished her first year of seminary at Lutheran School of Theology Chicago. She is currently completing her Clinical Pastoral Education work with the Seafarer’s and International House in New York City. She provides pastoral care to seafarers at Port Newark and Port Elizabeth in New Jersey each week.  In addition, the program provides phones, phone cards, and other basic needs so the seafarers can contact loved ones back home. In the fall Emily will return to Chicago for her second year of seminary.

Prior to starting her seminary studies, she attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa studying Religion, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Spanish. Emily was very active on campus, serving as Vice-President of the Congregation Council and a Worship Volunteer Coordinator. Emily’s Campus Pastor, Amy Zalk Larson shares: “Even when others encouraged her to keep quiet about her sexual identity with her call committee, she was clear that she needed to act with integrity and honesty for her sake and the sake of the church.”

Emily strongly feels that being an out queer person during her candidacy is essential to living a life of integrity: “I made a deal with myself that I would be out from the start of candidacy. My coming out story and my call story are, in fact, so intertwined that I can’t separate them.”

When notified she received the scholarship Emily said: “This scholarship is more meaningful than I can put words to. It is a huge affirmation of my sense of where God is leading me. I could not be any more or less excited about being named a Joel Workin scholar whether it came with a scholarship for one million dollars or one penny. Of all of the scholarships I have been applying for, this one is BY FAR the most exciting and meaningful for me.”

Emily has a wide variety of experience working with all different types of people including youth and non-English speaking immigrants; she embodies Joel Workin’s commitment to the Gospel and his commitment to the LGBTQ community.


Laura KuntzLaura Kuntz

Laura Kuntz is currently studying at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Ohio. Laura has a wide range of leadership skills and academic achievements including working as a chaplain at Ohio State University Medical Center and Staff Assistant at St. John’s U.C.C. Laura has spent much of her summer serving at Holden Village in Chelan, Washington. Laura’s professor Brad Binau shares “That Laura is choosing to invest her summer serving and learning at Holden is testimony to her hunger to make a difference in the church and the world.”

She is about to begin an internship at Lake Park Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her partner Sara will be joining her in Milwaukee and will be the intern at Advent Lutheran in Cedarburg. After the internship she will return to Trinity Lutheran Seminary to finish her degree.

During her first year in seminary Laura struggled with being an out lesbian, living out her truth and living openly. She reflects, “The Gospel calls us to live in this Truth, that we are ALL children of God. Knowing my identity in Christ has been foundational and I feel called to be who I am within the ELCA witnessing to the identity of Christ, crucified and risen.”

Laura said “It is an honor to receive the Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholarship in light of all that Joel has done for the LGBTQ community and the church. Joel was dedicated to the church and committed to working toward its growth. I hope that the church today can continue to be inspired by Joel’s vision.”

Similar to Joel, Laura is engaged in telling the truth to God to her family and those around her. Laura has made a commitment to living as a lesbian Christian.


Story Behind a Kiss

Mark Erson and Scott Jordan
Photo by George Pejoves. Used with permission.

Last week the Huffington Post ran a series of photos from the New York Pride parade. One particular photo, taken by George Pejoves, brought a smile to many faces.   It captured the joy of Rev. Mark Erson and his partner, Scott Jordan, as they shared a kiss while bearing signs that read, “I do!”

On August 1, 2011, St. John’s Lutheran Church on Christopher Street will welcome the Rev. Mark Erson as its new pastor. This congregation has been in the center of the West Village since 1855.  They are housed in one of the Village’s most historic buildings–built for an Episcopalian congregation in 1821.  While Pastor Mark has been on the road to ordained ministry for many years, he was only recently ordained. This will be his second congregation, and his first as a publicly-identified gay man.  Pastor Mark is on the ELCA clergy roster and is a member of Proclaim, the professional community for publicly-identified LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders.

Pastor Mark and his long-term partner Scott Jordan have plans to marry on November 26, 2011. They have intentionally planned the wedding for Thanksgiving weekend so that family may be with them and to give thanks for what has been–35 years of friendship and partnership–and what will be in their new journey together.

Pastor Mark and I first met over breakfast on the Upper West Side earlier this year. I wanted others to learn more about Pastor Mark, his journey to ordained ministry in the Lutheran Church, and his upcoming new call, so we recently caught up over email and phone.

Let’s start with a bit about your journey and call to ministry.
Growing up in the church, I had a strong sense of call to ordained ministry from an early age.  As I grew in self-understanding and came to see myself as a Christian who is gay, I figured the church did not want me.  Thankfully, through the gift of faith, I knew that I had a place in God’s family and so I never strayed from the church (I worked as a lay professional at one point, but otherwise, always as an active member of some congregation.)  Finally, after moving back to New York City in 2000, rejoining Saint Peter’s and with the Holy Spirit and Pastor Amandus Derr not letting up, I realized I could not keep this call at arm’s length any longer.  I was also moving in hopeful anticipation of the ELCA changing it understanding of “people like me.”  I was ordained in 2009.

Tell me more about Pastor Derr’s role. How did he help encourage you?
He takes very seriously, more than any pastor I’ve known, the role of cultivating new leaders for the church. When he sees someone, not just me…when he sees people who show gifts for ministry, he doesn’t let up. He’s vocal about it and gives them opportunities to serve, so they can discern. You can see it. Second career people, young people …he serves as a mentor to interns.   I’ve been inspired to do this myself. There is a role for all of us, especially those who are LGBTQ and have been told you’re not wanted, fully.  ELM was great helping those when the church said no. Now the church says yes. And it’s important for me to be a voice encouraging other LGBTQ leaders.

You have a background in the arts…what impact will this have on your role as a Lutheran pastor?
After 4 years of working as a lay professional in the Philadelphia suburbs, I had the opportunity to move to New York & pursue theater as a career. And that was kind of the alternative of going to seminary.  I chose the theater path. From that point I had the opportunity to work professionally as an actor, director, and playwright. I got my masters in theater. And then I spent a good amount of time as a full-time teacher and a teaching artist.  There was a lot of mixing of theater and education together. I  fully intend to keep my feet in that area. I’m interested in some project bringing scripture from page to stage and seeking new ways to tell some of these wonderful stories. I have done some writing of my own on scripts that deal with theological issues. I also love taking script as is and presenting it on stage.

On August 1, you’ll start at St. John’s Christopher Street. Tell me about this congregation and your plans for ministry there–of course the neighborhood will be familiar to many LGBTQ people!
It is a congregation that has a history of not being connected to the immediate neighborhood.  Some of the programming that has been implemented within the last two years has effectively sought to reach out to the music community/tradition of Greenwich Village (there is now a weekly Jazz Mass on Sunday evenings and a Coffee House on Thursday evenings.)  I look forward to using my background (pre-ordination life) in the arts to connect with what is already happening and to hopefully grow this area of ministry.  But the congregation also wants to more effectively and intentionally reach out to the LGBTQ neighborhood that surrounds the church.  There are also some very rich possibilities for doing some LGBTQ youth/young adult outreach to folks who come down to the village on the weekends to “hang out” in a place where they can find acceptance and freedom.  (There is actually some tension in the neighborhood with this group, so perhaps playing the bridge will be a role that I find myself in.)

There are a number of bars along Christopher Street, so I am planning to employ the model of “bar ministry” that has been used in other settings with other communities.  LGBTQ folks have been told that they are not welcome for so long, and some churches are still sending that message.  We can’t expect folks to come in just because we have opened our doors wider in the last three years.  We definitely have to go outside and proclaim.  I also want to work with the merchants of the village, esp. if there is this tension between the youth and them.  While in seminary I read some of the writings of those who were creating a new urban ministry style back in the 60’s.  (in London and in New York City)  I will definitely be borrowing from them.  And I also want to expand the work with the artists of the village.  Not just musicians, but writers, poets, visual artists and theatre artists.  The church was such a patron of the arts centuries ago.  It is time to reclaim that heritage, especially in light of the decrease of arts support in education and from the government, and in the face of such commercialization that the emerging/unknown artist has nowhere to go.

Tell me how it feels to be doing ministry as publicly-identified gay man. What does this mean for you? What do you feel God is calling you to do through your ministry?
There is a great burden being lifted.  While my time at Redeemer has been great, there was always a piece missing.  I was called to preach truth, and yet I had to hide a part of myself, I also had to hide the fact that I am in a wonderful, loving relationship that not only makes me a better pastor, but it makes me a better person as well.  The fact that this is happening at the same time that New York is joining the states in which we have marriage equality just puts me over the edge.  The Pride march on Sunday was one of the happiest days of my life.  It was great that the march took us right down to St. John’s, what a huge symbol that was, walking, publicly, hand in hand with the man who I have known for 35 years and now have been committed to for five, processing to the place that we will now be working to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to EVERYONE.  Our picture even made it in the Huffington Post. I love the fact that Scott can worship at St. John’s with me, that we can identify ourselves as a family.  At Redeemer I have stuck to the “I” pronoun most of the time.  “I am going on vacation.”  But now, we get to be “We” all the time.  Thanks be to God.

I love the picture that ran in the Huffington Post! Tell me about your Pride experience.
You know during the New York Pride parade, we got a fair amount of attention–because of my pastor’s collar–and lots of people were snapping our photo when we kissed. But as we were coming to the end of the parade, I saw this young man looking at us, and I looked at his face, and he was just weeping. His face was just unbelievable. I think he looked at us and in us saw a profound reality of what this all meant. And that image will stay with me forever. It is important for me to be public for that young man, and for so many others who have been shut out of the church and their families. As Lutherans, we believe that faith is a gift, and my whole life has been about that. There are so many reasons I should have stayed away from the church, and pursued life as an out gay man instead. But I did stay in the church. I see now that God did not let go of me, because I had gifts to bring the church.  And now I am able to able to share this gift with others.