Guest blogger: Cary Bass

Today we hear from guest blogger, Cary Bass a member of the Proclaim community currently living in the Bay Area. Cary is a 2012 Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries seminarian internship grant recipient. 

A reflection on my wedding and marriage equality

Michael and I began dating in 2006, and we moved to San Francisco to follow my career less than two years later. In March of that year, he proposed marriage to me, and I accepted. This was not yet an easy proposition. At that time, Massachusetts was the only state in the United States permitting same-sex unions. Canada was also a possibility for us, especially given that Michael was born a Canadian. As what happens with many couples, we did not quickly decide on a date; preferring to wait until we had more time to prepare for the blessed event.

Photo: Larry Rosa

Two months later, the California Supreme Court overturned the state’s ban on same-sex unions, opening the door for the possibility of getting married right where we lived. As we know from history, this window was only open for just over four months, after which time, the state constitutional amendment known as Proposition 8 passed by minimal margins of 52.47% to 47.53%, ending the hope for legally recognized marriage between Michael and I. 

Why did we wait? There are several reasons, not the least of which was that I refused to contemplate that Proposition 8 would actually pass. Additionally, we consider marriage to be a sacred rite, more than just a legally binding document between two people. For myself to enter into this sacred bond with another person meant to make it publicly affirming, thereby allowing the opportunity for our friends and family to be a part of it. As both of our families live in the eastern part of the United States, this meant announcing the event long before it was to take place; and there was just not enough time before election day.

Furthermore, to us marriage involves a sacred and holy ceremony, involving God. For us that means a member of clergy perform it and it take place in a church. 

Photo: Larry Rosa

On June 9, 2012, Michael and I entered the bond of holy union. The ceremony was presided by Sarah Birdsall Isakson at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. Many of our family and friends were in attendance.

While the same-sex marriage debate rolls on around us, Michael and I now consider ourselves joined in holy matrimony. I find it ironic given the nature of complaints that my marriage is recognized by the churches we attend and my seminary. Our family recognizes it. Our friends. The only thing missing is that of our state government. It saddens me that there are members of our own faith who sincerely believe that the recognition by the government of same-sex unions impinges on their religious freedoms, while it is evident to me that its non-recognition is a violation of my religious freedom and the millions of others who believe that marriage applies to us as well.

Cary Bass is a 45 year old Candidate for Ministry with the Sierra Pacific synod.  Prior to his clergy life, he worked as the volunteer coordinator for the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization behind Wikipedia, and as a writer, having published two short stories.  He lives full time with his spouse, Michael in their home in North Oakland, and Banjo, a 10-year old Staffordshire Terrier/Boxer mix. 

Rev. Bradley Schmeling interviewed on his new call at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church

Pastor Bradley Schmeling: photo from Gloria Dei websiteLast week Rev. Bradley Schmeling began his new call at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul, MN. Gloria Dei now becomes the largest Lutheran church in the nation with a pastor who is openly gay. 

Bradley made national headlines for being put on trial by the Lutheran Church for being in a relationship with his partner Darin Easler, also a Lutheran minister. Bradley and Darin are both members of Proclaim, the professional community for publicly-identified LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders and seminarians, a program of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Read more about Bradley’s call here. 

Bradley gave a video interview with  5 EYEWITNESS News, watch the full video here.


Guest blogger: Brenda Bos reflections from LA Pride Parade

Today we hear from guest blogger, Brenda Bos a member of the Proclaim community currently living in southwest California. 

Los Angeles Pride Parade & Festival

Breanda Bos & Rev. James Boline

Reconciling in Christ Lutherans marched in the Christopher Street West Los Angeles Pride parade June 10, 2012.  This was my third parade as a member of RIC, my first wearing a clerical collar.  For many people, Pride is a place to come out as an LGBT person.  For me, I was coming out as a pastor.

My internship supervisor and fellow Proclaim member Pr. James Boline and I marveled at how fortunate we are to be serving in the Southwest California Synod.  We humbly acknowledge we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before.  In fact, this year’s Street Eucharist, held before the Parade, honored The Berkeley Four (Joel Workin, Greg Egertson, Pr. Jeff Johnson and Jim Lancaster) who were the first “out” seminarians at PLTS in the 80’s as well as our current bishop, The Very Rev. Dean Nelson and former bishop The Very Rev. Paul Egertson and his wife Shirley, all of whom have been advocates and pastors to us all.  Because of these brave people, we can be out and proud today.

There are three major points of ministry at the L.A. Pride parade and festival, and I wanted to celebrate them all with you.

Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin and Bishop Nelson

First: our bishop and other Lutherans march in the parade.  We hand out club cards with a list of welcoming churches in the area.  Bishop Nelson blesses the crowd, smiles, shouts “Happy Pride!” and “God bless you!”.  You can imagine people are both amazed and touched.  A few years ago we overheard one woman ask another in the crowd, “What’s he wearing around his neck, a chalice?” and the other said, “I don’t know I’m an atheist,” and then started applauding and called out, “Thank you, Bishop, thank you for being here.”  You never know who will be touched by our presence.

Southwest Cal Bishop Dean Nelson presides at street Eucharist


Second:  the Street Eucharist.  We share this service with local Episcopalians.  One of their bishops also attends.  It’s incredible to see bishops in full vestments, on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, preaching and presiding, usually right next to a float of dancers who are preparing to hit the route.  Talk about Proclaiming!  Every year people stop and listen, needing a few minutes to take in the sacred space at Pride.  Then they look around and see the rainbow boas, the drag queens, the LGBT couples holding hands while they pray…their minds are officially blown.

LC booth at L.A. Pride 2012


Third is our booth at the festival.  We apply over 2500 RIC heart temporary tattoos to anyone and everyone every year for three years.  You have to experience it to understand the power of those thirty seconds spent with a stranger as the tattoo is applied.  Sometimes there is only silliness, when a group rushes the booth and says, “We want that great tattoo!”  Sometimes it is a chance for a young gay person to whisper, “Really?  Your church is OK with me?”  Nothing compares to that moment when you can look a person in the eye and say “Yes.  God loves you.”

This year I started to understand how members of Proclaim are role-models to LGBT Lutherans.  A lesbian couple from my home congregation kept introducing me to people they met at Pride.  “She’s doing it!” they would say.  “She’s going to be a pastor and she has a partner!”  We offer a powerful message of hope about the future of our church and the work of Jesus Christ in the world.

You may not have a Pride festival or parade in your area.  If you do, wear a collar.  Open a booth with a rainbow flag and offer free blessings and tattoos.  If you don’t, consider a street Eucharist at a public event.  Start wearing a RIC temporary tattoo and share with friends.  Or just try to find a way to tell someone, “It’s true, God loves you!”  Happy Pride, Proclaim!

Brenda Bos is a member of the Proclaim Communications Duo and a 2012 Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries seminarian internship grant recipient. She lives in Pasadena, California with her partner Janis Reid.  She will serve as Vicar of St. Paul Santa Monica beginning August 1, 2012.

Guest blogger: Rev. Susan M. Strouse of First United Lutheran Church

Susan StrouseToday we hear from guest blogger, the Rev. Susan M. Strouse, pastor of First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco, CA. After calling openly gay pastor Jeff Johnson, First United was suspended in 1990, then expelled in 1995. Their actions, along with those of St. Francis Lutheran Church began the movement that became Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries, then the Extraordinary Candidacy Project and eventually to the formation of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. First United has remained an active independent Lutheran congregation. On July 15, they will vote on whether or not to become a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American. In this guest blog (reposted with permission from PS – Pastor Susan’s Blog), Pastor Susan shares part of that journey. You can follow the rest of this story on Pastor Susan’s blog by clicking here. 

Circling Back towards the ELCA

When I moved to Berkeley in 2002, my bishop back in the Upstate New York synod cleaned out my file and sent me a few documents she thought I’d like to have. One of them was a copy of the letter I had written in 1995 to the synod council of the ELCA, begging them not to expel the two churches in San Francisco for calling openly gay pastors. I love it that a copy of that letter made it back into my file.

Little did I know then that nine years later I myself would be called to one of those congregations, First United. It was and is a great fit, and I feel privileged to be part of this amazing group of people. Now, the wheel of history has turned once again, and First United is poised for a historic vote next month to decide whether or not to return to the ELCA.

The road to July 15 has not been without its bumps – even when they called an openly straight pastor! Before the ELCA changed its ordination policy, there was little discussion about returning. The only reason then would have been to insure that I would not be dropped from the clergy roster, having been placed ‘on leave from call’ when I went to First United. I didn’t want that to be the reason, and I’m grateful to Bishop Mark Holmerud for finally making that a non-issue.

And then the policy changed. Everyone immediately wanted to know if we’d be coming back. St. Francis began their process towards reinstatement. Opinion in the community was divided. Some asked, “Well, why wouldn’t you?”  Others, “Why would you?” Within the congregation there didn’t seem to be much incentive to make a change. 

But with the reception of the ELM 7 – 

and then St. Francis’ beautiful ‘Festival of Reconciliation and Restoration’ – ( Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx?a=4719)
the spotlight was on us. We entered into a time of discernment, including a congregational forum facilitated by the Rev. Dr. Rachel Rivers, a Swedenborgian minister and licensed counselor and spiritual director. We made  a list on three separate sheets of newsprint: ‘What Would We Gain By Rejoining the ELCA,’ ‘What Would We Lose . . .’ and ‘What Do We Have to Offer the ELCA?’

The discussion revealed some fear: of loss of identity, of uniqueness, of forgetting our history. It also revealed awareness: of the need to forgive, of the danger of moral superiority, of the courage of the ELCA to change the policy. And possibilities: of what gifts we could bring to the denomination, of being part of working for change from within the system, of being part of something bigger than ourselves. It was a fabulous forum, and we appeared to be well on our way to a decision.

Then we ran up against the constitution.  The next step of the process was to get our constitution in alignment with the ELCA model.  Sounds simple, right?  Not for First United!  With a strong commitment to inclusive language, insistence on an article about the right to marry, and a penchant for getting bogged down in wordsmithing everything anyway – the constitution became a stumbling block.  It took us a year to work through feelings of attachment to the constitution that had been written after the expulsion and anger at once again having to submit to an institution’s authority.  We finally worked through it all and sent it off to the synod, an it was approved last month. And now we get to vote.

Last week at our annual meeting, the proposed constitution was introduced with a tongue-in-cheek “In 1996, when the ELCA left us . . .”), followed by Q&A time.  It was an honest – at times emotional – productive discussion. And now we are ready.  On July 15, we’ll vote
1) to rescind our current constitution;
2) to accept the proposed new constitution;
3) to rejoin the ELCA

As we circle back, we do so knowing that we have all been changed by the past 20+ years: Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, the pastors called to First United and St. Francis, the two congregations, the ELCA, countless people interested in and affected by the story. My story is a small part of it, but I feel incredibly privileged to be part of it at all. My circle – from pastor of North Park Lutheran Church in Buffalo in 1995 to pastor of First United in 2012 – is part of the bigger circle, which is part of a bigger circle, which is part of  . . . and so on.

Stay tuned for news on July 15.

Asher O’Callaghan’s Workin essay

Asher O'CallaghanBelow is a reflection written by 2012 Workin Scholar Asher O’Callaghan on the piece “Sermon for the Installation of the Rev. Jeff R. Johnson” by Joel R. Workin:

I was especially struck by Joel R. Workin’s sermon, “The Installation of Pastor Jeff Johnson”. In particular, the sermon helped me to identify two seemingly simple but thoroughly transformative expressions of the Gospel that have changed the course of my life: feet and the ground on which they stand, walk, and dance. Human feet. Like mine. Or yours. Or Christ’s. In my case, they feature frightening hairy toes which look freakishly akin to monkey-fingers. But in all cases they are somewhat embarrassing, often stinky, and are inescapably weird. So in many ways they’re a fitting expression of Church.

Read the full essay here. 

Rebecca Seely’s Workin Essay

We invite you to get to know more about 2012 Workin Scholar Rebecca Seely. Below is a portion of her reflection on the piece “New Beginnings” by Joel R. Workin.

The church needs to be part of this, to embrace new beginnings.  It needs to come to be more itself by changing, to live out Jesus’ love for all people, whoever God made them to be.  This requires institutional change now and a willingness to change in the future.  But the church is more than an institution—it is a living breathing body comprised many living, breathing souls.  My soul and your soul and the souls of our friends and seeming enemies all need new beginnings too.  And we give them to each other and to ourselves not only through fighting the big institutional fights, but also by seeking to rediscover one another in our wholeness.  I feel called to make space for people to be able to tell their stories to one another and hear one another—to rediscover themselves and God in one another and then to welcome one another in our newness.  The congregation I hope to pastor, the LGBTQ youth group I hope to run—these will be just some of the places where I hope people will be able to experience God’s love for them and then go out and share the light with others.  

Read the full essay here.

Vance Blackfox appointed new director of Youth in Mission at LSTC

Vance BlackfoxThe Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) has appointed Vance Blackfox as director of Youth in Mission. Vance serves on the Board of Directors for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and is the diversity chair.

Youth in Mission provides theological programs for high school youth and learning opportunities and resources for seminarians and youth ministry workers. The organizations goal is to provide opportunities for the youth of today to broaden their horizons, deepen their faith, and explore their vocation.

Vance hopes to help youth investigate theology through Youth in Mission by adding new elements to the already successful program and introducing new media to get youth engaged. Read more about Vance and the program here.

Lutherans Concerned/North America becomes ReconcilingWorks


Lutherans Concerned/North America announced today that they have changed their name to ReconcilingWorks.  The organization also unveiled a new logo that includes the phrase:  “Lutherans for Full Participation.”

Their new website address is:

Their press release states the new name better reflects the organization’s “mission, values and goals of our organization, our movement, of Lutheranism, and Christianity”.  An in-depth statement was posted on their new website, giving more detail about the name change:

“The name that served us so well from our founding has become increasingly less descriptive of the ministry we have developed across time from the courageous beginning of the founders in 1974, through the beginnings of the RIC program in 1983, on to the addition of faith-based community organizing and training, leading to policy change and the response to the emerging issues of today.

ReconcilingWorks as a name describes us on several levels. First, reconciling really does work. Secondly, like waterworks or millworks, reconciliation is what we do.

We are reconciling Lutherans, working for full participation of everyone, as the logo connotes reading from top to bottom instead of left to right.”

We wish our long-time movement partner many blessings as they embark on their new journey as ReconcilingWorks.

Charlie Horn: Why I support ELM

Each month we are inviting people who support Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries to share how and why they are involved with our ministry. This month we hear from ELM Board Member and treasurer Charlie Horn about when he first thought our ministry was worth supporting and why he’s continued to invest in our mission. In Charlie’s words: 

C. HornSeveral years ago, my home congregation was in the midst of a search for a new pastor.  A few members were pushing for us to consider candidates from the Extraordinary Candidacy Project and, after lots of discussion, the decision was made to authorize the call committee to do so. I chaired that call committee and I can tell you that “breaking the rules” only made things more difficult (especially for someone like me who isn’t comfortable being a rules-breaker). Considering the results of that call process – we have a great pastor who fits well with our congregation – I’m glad to have been a part of breaking those rules, as uncomfortable as it might have been.

Breaking the rules is what led to the formation of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and its predecessor organizations. When Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries was founded, its purpose was to fund ministries led by LGBTQ folk, usually leaders not recognized by the “official” church bodies of the ELCA, LCMS, ELCIC, and others.  The  Extraordinary Candidacy Project broke the rules in a more direct way – it approved candidates for ordination who otherwise could not be approved because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. As I said, I’m not comfortable with breaking rules, and so it actually took being asked a few times before I finally agreed to be a part of ECP. Once there, though, I realized that what we were doing was the right thing.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries continues to “break the rules”, but in a different way. While the ELCA has changed its policies regarding rostering LGBTQ leaders, that doesn’t mean that the church has fully embraced these leaders. ELM helps to expand the opportunities for ministry for those leaders, providing support to candidates through our Candidacy Accompaniment program and internship grants, facilitating peer support through Proclaim, and assisting rostered leaders in their calls by making grants to some of the ministries they lead. We do this to make sure that great LGBTQ leaders are not lost or left behind because of barriers that may get in the way. I am happy to support these efforts through my financial giving, because the results are so tangible and needed by the church. Just as importantly, these efforts take time and commitment, which I gladly give by serving as Treasurer of ELM – and I’m proud to work with some really great people in doing so. And, as uncomfortable as it may make me, I have come to appreciate being challenged to break the rules – over the years I’ve learned that sometimes that is the approach needed to make things right.

Charlie Horn serves on the Board of Directors for ELM and is also ELM’s treasurer. He  lives in Pitman, New Jersey with his partner.