Shortly after arriving at my internship, my grandfather died unexpectedly. In the midst of beginning a new and exciting internship experience, I witnessed the death of such a dear man – someone who had loved and nurtured me my whole life. As he took his final breath, I held his hand, stroked his hair, marked the cross of Christ upon his brow, and spoke his name. Five days later, as we laid him to rest, I had the great honor of preaching at his funeral and co-officiating at his service of burial. It was then, surrounded by my family and friends, that I began to realize the complexity of joy and sorrow inherent to this wondrous call.
For many years, I have prayed for an internship experience where I could bring my whole self to ministry – not just my sexual orientation, but also my love of God and people, my thirst for learning, a zest for life, and playful sense of humor. The beginning of my yearlong internship at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, Minnesota) has been marked by a very warm welcome. Here at Holy Trinity, my identity as a lesbian is an important, yet peripheral, part of my identity as a child of God. That’s not surprising, considering Holy Trinity has been a Reconciling In Christ congregation since 1985. Their support of me, as a future leader in the church, is indeed something I cherish.
Although I am only a month and a half into my internship, I already have gotten my feet wet with preaching, text study, committee meetings, and pastoral care. At this point in the internship, I want the chance to really get to know the members of the congregation and surrounding community. But I know that building those kind of relationships takes time. It already seems to me that this internship year will go very fast. And I plan to enjoy every bit of it. One thing I have become acutely aware of is the need for self-care: sleep, exercise, good nutrition, laughter, and recreation are absolutely necessary if I am to be successful in life, but especially in ministry. This internship year will be a time of integration. I will be integrating my academic studies with practical contextual application, while combining an emerging pastoral identity with an authentic sense of self, and in the process, becoming fully immersed in the life of the congregation. I can think of no better way to spend the next year.
This spring I attended the 2011 Proclaim retreat, where I enjoyed participating in worship and networking with rostered leaders and seminarians who publicly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. It was enriching to be surrounded by queer people who love God and are following their own unique call in the world. Someday I hope that the full inclusion of LGBTQ clergy will be not just another ELCA policy, but a tangible reality. Until that day, I will look to ELM and Proclaim to be a strong advocate for me and my colleagues in ministry.
What can you do as an advocate for LGBTQ pastoral interns? We need more churches that are willing to be an internship site for LGBTQ interns. Having a positive internship experience will be key in developing future leaders. Another way I hope ELM/Proclaim will help is in the assignment process. It is my hope that I will have the opportunity to interview for ministry positions for which I am qualified. If there are congregations that are on the fence concerning calling a LGBTQ pastor I hope that Proclaim will be an advocate for equal opportunity. All I ask is for support in living out this wondrous call to the best of my ability.
Julie Wright is a member of Proclaim and a student at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, Minnesota. She is an endorsed candidate for ordained ministry through the ELCA, St. Paul Area Synod.