5 Years of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

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Watercolor sketch of ELM-Proclaim banner by Kristen Gilje.

 ” I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.   – Isaiah 43:19

It was on Reformation Day just five years ago that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries came into being, the result of a merger between Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (read more about the history here).

2007 was a very uncertain time in the Lutheran church for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people called to ministry. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s policy at that time demanded a life of celibacy for LGBTQ people called to rostered leadership in the church.  Many LGBTQ rostered leaders had left or been forced to leave, and many future leaders were abandoning or delaying plans to begin seminary.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries was making a new way in the wilderness and new rivers in the desert for those supporting the ministry of LGBTQ people.   Our work continued the reforming tradition that began with the prophetic acts of extraordinary ordination on January 22, 1990.  Over the years, a total of 18 people were extraordinarily ordained, dozens remained in rostered ministry, and countless people stayed connected to the Lutheran church because of this ministry.

Since the ELCA changed their ministry policies in 2009, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has focused its energy on being a resource for LGBTQ rostered leaders and seminarians, ministry sites, and church institutions as we all live into this changing church.

The work of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is as relevant and vital as ever. The increased numbers of LGBTQ people who began seminary after 2009 are moving into the stages of internship, assignment, and call. Seasoned LGBTQ rostered leaders who once imagined they would only find one or possibly two calls in their lifetime, now can imagine following their call to ministry in a variety of settings throughout the church. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is poised as a resource not only for these leaders, but for the ministry sites calling them and the church institutions–candidacy committees, call committees, synodical offices and Churchwide leaders that engage and interact with them.

Since 2009, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has launched Proclaim, a professional community of Lutheran rostered leaders and seminarians who publicly identify as LGBTQ. This group has grown to 116 strong in just over a year.  We have also launched a Candidacy Accompaniment program, which has connections with all ELCA seminarians and a growing number of partner theological and divinity schools, and is working with nearly 40 future leaders in the Lutheran church.  We have continued and redesigned our Ministry Grants program to ensure we are putting our treasure where our heart is by directly funding ministries and congregations led by LGBTQ rostered leaders.

Your financial support is greatly needed. Our work has more than doubled since 2009 and this ministry is funded almost entirely by individuals and congregations.  You can make your Reformation Day gift here right now, by following this link to donate.

God continues to call this ministry to do new things and we are responding to the needs of the church.  And it’s a joyful and marvelous experience!

“For we do not Proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…”  2 Corinthians 4:5


Herconference:Faith & Feminism, Womanist and Mujerista Conference

Robyn Hartwig 2012

The 6th annual Herconference is a gathering for spiritual seekers, faith and community leaders, artists, dancers, poets, Interfaith leaders, scholars, musicians, men and women, — to experience and discuss the urgent implications of God/dess imagery and gender issues which transform the church, the world, and our daily lives so that together we seek and speak justice.

The conference takes place November 2-4, 2012 at Herchurch, 678 Portola Dr. in  San Francisco. 

The 2012 theme is  Earth herbody –spirituality, politics and praxis for a sustainable world. Rev. Robyn Hartwig, director and founder of EcoFaith Recovery is a keynote speaker. Robyn is a member of Proclaim and a 2012 ELM Ministry Grant recipient. EcoFaith Recovery develops and supports spiritual recovery from the addictive patterns of human life that contribute to the climate crisis, heighten social injustice, deprive people of spiritual meaning, and threaten life on earth.

Registration is $195  which includes keynote presentations, two workshops, musical, two lunches, two breakfasts, Saturday dinner, coffee hours and receptions, materials and conference activities.

For more information go to: http://herconferencesf.org/


Spirit Day 2012 & guest blogger Cindy Crane on bullying

Spirit Day is today. Go Purple!

Millions of Americans wear purple on Spirit Day as a sign of support for LGBTQ youth and to speak out against bullying. Spirit Day was started in 2010 by teenager Brittany McMillan as a response to the young people who had taken their own lives. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is joining in this Spirit Day and encourages all of our supporters to wear purple, to Change your Facebook photo purple and speak out against bullying. 

Rev. Cindy Crane, Proclaim member & 2012 Ministry Grant recipient writes about her anti-bulling work in a special guest blog.

Very recently the ELCA Conference of Bishops voted me back on to the clergy roster after being officially off of the roster for 12 years and on a leave of absence for two years preceding the time I left.  Back when I began wandering without a sense of place outside the land of ordained ministry, I never imagined I would return to the roster with a part-time call to do anti-bullying work from a faith perspective.  And yet this feels right in many ways.  I’m bringing together years of work in a secular organization that dealt with LGBT issues in schools and bullying for any reason with my experience in the church.  Thanks to the grant from ELM and its wise requirement that the concept grant I received last year be given to rostered individuals working with a team, I got to create a meaningful ministry with my ordination finally recognized again.

The team I work with includes Travis Currier, Miriam Mueller-Owens, Sierra Mueller-Owens, and Rev. Matthew Kruse.  The new middle schooler in our group came up with the name, Lutherans Against Bullying (LAB) for us after the adults anguished for months over a name that would fit us just right theologically.  I like the acronym, LAB, because we are a kind of laboratory in the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin.

Targets of bullying can experience their way of seeing life altered.  Marueen Duffy and Len Sperry talk about this in their book, Mobbing.  Mobbing is bullying by more than one person and involves institutional buy-in.  Duffy and Sperry mention that someone mobbed can experience their entire world view change.  Targets of mobbing begin to see the people around them through the lens of their mobbing experience.  The trauma they had at school, work, church, a condo association, or other place in their community becomes the long-term filter through which they see life.  Ruth and Gary Namie at the Workplace Bullying Institute say it’s the long-term effect of trauma that causes counselors to name it as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that if you have PTSD from being bullied that would make your workplace, school, etc. a war zone.  Duffy and Sperry cite cases of suicide resulting from mobbing; they even call mobbing a contemporary legal means of murder.The whole issue of bullying engages me personally because of the statistics I’ve seen manifested in the faces of young people and individuals of all ages.  How we respond to the temptation to abuse power, how we find inner strength when feeling washed over by a bullying situation, and how we choose to respond as witnesses to the bullying of others strike at my faith.  And I think of faith as not only being about belief, but also how we see or how we are graced to perceive our relationship with God and our neighbors.

When talking to an adult group recently about bullying I pointed to Marcus Borg’s book, The Heart of Christianity, in which he has a section on faith as seeing.  For an exercise I asked people to reflect on challenging experiences they had that brought them closer to God.  Then I asked people to think of experiences they thought moved them away from their faith or tempted them to cynicism.  What pushed them away?  What brought them back?  I shared an experience of my own in which I was starting to feel cynicism was defining how I looked at life.  It was like grace to recognize that I was seeing people unrelated to a trauma that colored my vision.  My eyes opened suddenly and unexpectedly.

Barbara Coloroso in her book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, spends time discussing how bullies can influence others to change the way the way they view someone the bully has decided to target.  The target gets labeled as someone you can view with contempt and that becomes the standard for how that student is viewed.  She cites examples of students switching schools and having totally new experiences in how they are perceived.  She also has some great advice for how parents can determine if one of their children is being bullying or is acting as a bully and how to engage with them.

LAB explores reasons for bullying.  We spend some time looking at the bully, the target, and how families can get involved.  However, we focus mainly on the witnesses of bullying.  In many cases we believe it is the culture of a community that makes it possible for bullying to thrive.  In a student panel on bullying, led by one of our LAB team members, the youth panelists came up with ways you can be an ally to someone being bullied.  It might involve doing something bold within the bullying group or reporting incidents to an adult, or just going up to the person bullied afterwards and letting them know you didn’t like that they were treated poorly.  Is the latter too simple?  In an atmosphere in which a youth is experiencing contempt or as Rabbi Michael Lerner calls bullying, an act of desanctification, can one person doing something small make a difference.  We believe that even a simple gesture that gives the message, I don’t see you in that way, can be powerful.

For an exercise, ask a group of a time that one person made a difference to them.

Bullying is abuse.  It can change the way we see ourselves, another person, even life.  Actively not joining in campaigns of descanctifying of our neighbor matters to the way we live, to our faith and to others around us.  And actively giving the message, I don’t see you that way, to someone bullied makes a difference; by grace it even gives us an opportunity to share our lens of faith and hope.

Cindy Crane was one of the founding volunteers of Extraordinary Candidacy in the Midwest. She lives in the Madison, WI area.

Guest blogger: Rebecca Seely

Today we hear from guest blogger Rebecca Seely, 2012 Workin Scholarship recipient and Proclaim member. Other seminaries have created or are in the process of  starting similar LGBTQ student alliance groups. ELM will feature guest blogs from them in the future.

Greetings from the delightfully foggy campus of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. The fall semester has gotten off to a great start. Study, worship and fellowship are all in full swing. The big news from September is that an official LGBT/Queer Student Alliance has been founded at PLTS. While there have been groups of LGBTQ students meeting for years at PLTS, this is the first time that the group will be officially recognized as part of the PLTS Student Association. This recognition is exciting because it will hopefully help to facilitate more support (and even funding??) for the group from the institution. Sean Raghailligh and I have agreed to take the lead as alliance coordinators.

While we have not yet planned any official events, a highlight of the semester was a dinner party thrown by Pastor Jeff Johnson for Lutheran LGBTQ seminarians, clergy and friends in the Bay Area. The dinner was an awesome opportunity to connect with old friends and meet new people. As a seminarian, it was particularly meaningful to have the chance to be around so many amazing LBGTQ church leaders in one place and to be welcomed into that community. It was like a mini Proclaim retreat!

We will be meeting soon as a group to discuss our priorities and plans for the months to come. We look forward to keeping the Proclaim community up to date on the happenings here at PLTS!

Rebecca Seely graduated in 2012 from Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. She is fulfilling her Lutheran Year at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary this year.


First United’s Service of Healing and Reconciliation

FULC serviceOn Sunday, October 14 First United Lutheran Church of San Francisco hosted a Service of Healing & Reconciliation to mark their return to the ELCA. 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.

During the service this weekend Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod, the Rev. Mark S. Holmerud, preached and the Reverend Jeff Johnson presided. Rev. Susan Strouse, pastor at First United, blogged about the service and process leading up to reconciliation:

Tomorrow, the congregation I serve will rejoin the denomination which expelled it years ago. To say that the wounds of that expulsion have disappeared or no longer have some spots that are still sore would be wrong. Wounds must be acknowledged and treated with tenderness. But we must also acknowledge and be open to the healing work that is happening within us.

Read Susan’s full blog post here. Susan was on the ELM Roster for a period of time when her call was in jeopardy because she was serving First United. 


Thank you, Lura!

Rev. Lura GroenExtraordinary Lutheran Ministries is incredibly grateful and fortunate for the contributions of out-going board member Rev. Lura Groen.  Lura was one of the founding members of ELM’s leadership team. She has been a consistent voice for greater diversity, especially in the areas of racial and gender diversity.

“Lura’s insight and leadership will have a lasting impact on our work long after her time on the Board.  I love and appreciate how she thinks about and approaches ministry. Grace Lutheran is a special place and I’m excited to see what is coming next for the congregation,” said executive director Amalia Vagts.

Lura is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Houston, TX.  Grace Lutheran is a small urban congregation discerning ways to embrace their communities, and to become more economically sustainable. Lura and her congregation are doing all kinds of amazing ministry, including recently launching Grace Place, a drop-in center for homeless LGBTQ youth.  

Grace Lutheran Church has been an ELM Ministry Grant recipient for three years.  Thank you, Lura, for your leadership and visionary work with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and for your ministry at Grace Lutheran!

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has a team that is always seeking diverse and innovative leaders committed to the vision and future of ELM. If you are interested in learning more about serving on the ELM Board of Directors, please contact Amalia Vagts at director@elm.org.

A conversation about ELM and Proclaim

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Executive Director Amalia Vagts converses with a supporter about the history of ELM and how Proclaim became a program of ELM.

Q:  First off, congratulations on reaching over 100 Proclaim members!

Vagts: Thanks! We actually have 112 members as of October. It’s really amazing when you realize Proclaim didn’t even come into existence until April of 2011.

Q. Is Proclaim a new name for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries?

Vagts:  I’ve been getting that one a lot lately! Proclaim is a program of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, just like Candidacy Accompaniment and Ministry Grants are programs. Proclaim just has a snappy name and logo. We used to build community for LGBTQ leaders through the ELM Roster. Following the ELCA policy changes, we wanted to open that up. We launched Proclaim in April of 2011 as a community for Lutheran rostered leaders and seminarians who publicly identify as LGBTQ.

Q:  Can you walk me through some of the history of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries?

Vagts:  Yes, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries formed in 2007, as the result of a merger between Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project.  We’ve actually been working with LGBTQ people called to Lutheran ministry for almost twenty years.

Q: Tell us about it.

Vagts: We started as Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries in 1990.  Originally the focus was supporting the ministry of openly gay and lesbian pastors in the San Francisco area. The early efforts came from both the pastors themselves and also allied pastors and lay leaders who knew the church needed visible gay and lesbian pastors and felt it was an injustice that the ELCA required celibacy for gay and lesbian people.  It was a frustrating and disheartening time for so many people who felt called by God, but knew there would not be a place for them to serve in the ELCA.  This movement was a positive and hopeful response.

Q: Where does the phrase “extraordinary ordination” come from?

Vagts: Right–everyone wants to know if it means we think we are totally fabulous!  But it was Krister Stendahl, a bishop, theologian and professor of Lutheran history who helped coin the phrase “extraordinary ordination” based on Martin Luther’s own instructions for ordaining pastors outside the “ordinary” system.  In his day, Luther encountered bishops he felt were working “contrary to the gospel.”  When those bishops would not ordain candidates congregations wanted to lift up, Luther taught the congregations could ordain those pastors.  Bp. Stendahl used the phrase “extra ordinem” to describe the first ordinations of openly gay and lesbian people.  We think “extraordinary” is a much better word than “irregular” or “unauthorized!”  In 1990 St. Francis Lutheran in San Francisco called Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, a lesbian couple, to be their pastors and First United Lutheran of San Francisco called Jeff Johnson, a gay man.  About 1,000 people gathered together on January 22, 1990 at St. Paulus Lutheran Church to participate in the joint ordination of these three. All three had met every other qualification of ELCA ordination, except for their refusal to live as celibate gay or lesbian candidates.

Q: What a courageous act!

Vagts: I live in amazement and some envy of those who were involved at that time.  It was a remarkable witness to the church and to LGBTQ people and allies everywhere. Both churches were suspended and eventually expelled from the ELCA for their actions.  And this prophetic act became a movement. Between 1990 and 2009 eighteen people were ordained extraordinarily—including one person in Canada.  The congregations and ministries that called these leaders recognized the gifts of the candidates and knew they were the right fit for their congregations.  Over the years Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries raised over $750,000 to support the congregations and ministries calling these pastors.

Q: How does the Extraordinary Candidacy Project fit in?

Vagts: While at first the movement was working with people who had been approved for ordination, it was soon clear that gay and lesbian people were being removed during the candidacy process too. Following the 1990 extraordinary ordinations, a student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary named Bill Kunisch preached a sermon in his home congregation. He spoke in support of St. Francis and First United and this started raising a bunch of problems for him. The president of his home congregations challenged him, and when he got back to seminary, he was called in for a meeting with his candidacy committee. They asked him if he was gay. When he refused to answer their question because he thought it was uncalled for, his home congregation removed their sponsorship of him and he was eventually removed from the ELCA candidacy process. A group of people jumped in to respond and created the Extraordinary Candidacy Project, which became a pathway to candidacy for LGBTQ people who were otherwise fully qualified for ministry in the ELCA. This candidacy process was a pathway both for those who were or hoped to be extraordinarily ordained and people who had been removed from the ELCA roster, but wanted to continue or return to ministry in the Lutheran church. Eventually, the group also formed its own clergy roster, known as the ECP Roster.

Q: And then these two groups merged in 2007? Why? 

Vagts: We merged the efforts of these two organizations into Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries in order to best support these candidates and the churches who called them.  We were trying to reform the ELCA, but we were also experiencing a real movement of a growing number of congregations willing to challenge church policy in order to call LGBTQ rostered leaders.  We had begun to believe this was going to be a very long-term movement, rather than a temporary one. With limited resources, we decided it was more important to focus on finding calls for LGBTQ people and making ministry happen, rather than on changing the policies of the ELCA.

Q: Then 2009 Churchwide Assembly happened and suddenly the ELCA as a national denomination is agreeing to ordain people who are relationships.

Vagts: This was a really significant shift, one we had been working for and one we weren’t convinced would happen. It was a bittersweet time though—many people thought about how many people never lived or stayed in the church long enough to see that change. It was also, as the late Bp. Egertson described it “half a loaf.” The decisions only addressed part of issue and focused primarily on gay and lesbian people. The church was opening the door, but they hadn’t exactly laid out the full welcome mat. And you can imagine, we were a little concerned the decisions wouldn’t hold.  And of course we wondered, would anything really change?

Q:  The ELM roster had been such a place of resistance and “outsider status.” Now you were going to be invited in?

Vagts: We weren’t sure at first what would happen. But we did know that our work would change. At our board meeting that fall, we examined the needs of LGBTQ rostered leaders and those following a call to ministry. We also thought about what ELM had to offer this group. We realized a couple of things: 1) the church had changed; 2) our programs needed to shift; 3) we still had a lot to offer the church.  We knew that our core work to provide community for LGBTQ rostered leaders, support for those in candidacy, and direct financial investment in congregations and ministries calling LGBTQ people was still needed. But for the time being, it was clear that extraordinary candidacy and extraordinary ordinations were not the primary need for this community. And now we were meeting pastors who had remained in the closet after being ordained, pastors who could finally come out. There had been some separation over the years between those who had chosen different routes and we had a dream that we could find a way to bring these leaders together into one community. That vision of a new community for rostered leaders of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities led to the launch of Proclaim.

Q: I would think the majority of ELCA congregants have no idea of this struggle.

Vagts: I’ve really been amazed over the years how few people in the church know the stories of LGBTQ pastors in this church. And even after the 2009 changes, many people thought all the ELM pastors were just automatically added to the ELCA roster. They actually each had to go through an individual candidacy process. I think the ELCA worked to make it a welcoming process, but for many people it still took a lot of personal strength to go through that. But we had to recognize that the church was changing.  I remember so clearly when we were discussing what would become of ELM and the Rev. Jeff Johnson said, “It’s a new day.”  I’m constantly inspired when I think about Jeff—someone who was told “NO” by the church for so many years, but who kept saying “YES” to Jesus. So to have him jump into the changes and embrace the journey meant a great deal.  It really was a new day for us and for this denomination.

Q: A denomination who is still settling down after this landmark decision. Congregations split up over this decision. And congregations can still refuse pastors just for being gay or lesbian.

Vagts: There is still a lot of work to do. There are still very clear barriers to LGBTQ people seeking to respond to God’s call to ministry. For example, we need more congregations who truly welcome publicly identified LGBTQ ministers.  This is about working for justice and living out the vision of the Kingdom of God.  The people who worked for this reform have a vision of a more inclusive church, of a place where all of God’s people are welcomed and received God’s grace and love.  And the members of Proclaim are in a terrific position to help that happen.  We can model and preach God’s love.  We have a story to tell of how God called each one of us to ministry, and how we have had to come to understand ourselves—to “claim our wholeness” as the St. Francis Eucharist blessing goes.  That journey needs to be shared with the church and really with society too.  For far too long, Christians have been at the front of messages that tell people their sexual orientation or gender identity is wrong or sinful. Now Christians need to be at the front of messages telling God’s truth—all of God’s children are beloved. LGBTQ pastors, AIMS, deacons and deaconesses can inspire the church to be more loving and inclusive because we have experienced grace in deep, surprising, complicated ways.  And LGBTQ ministers are an important witness to others who have also felt at the margins of the church.

Q: Say more about ELM’s relationship with the ELCA? Is there a formal connection?

Vagts: Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries continues to be a reforming movement within the Lutheran church—and not just the ELCA. While it’s certainly a main focus of our work, Proclaim and our other programs are actually open to all Lutheran rosters. We don’t receive funding from the ELCA. However, we are together on this journey, connected by faith. We are working in partnership to help the ELCA continue to become a more fully inclusive place for LGBTQ rostered leaders. The good news is that many Proclaim rostered leaders are busy doing a wide variety of ministry in this church. The real news is also that some in the Proclaim community are really struggling to find calls—and a good portion of the Proclaim community is in seminary with an unknown journey ahead.

Q: So those on the outside are now working to open the church to others and ministering to the very people who wanted to keep them marginalized?

Vagts: That’s the idea. It’s how God has been working since the beginning of time.  When a candidate is ordained, they promise to serve the whole church.  And here we are.

Q:  I can really see that in the name “Proclaim.” 

Vagts:  Yes. It was the Rev. Jen Rude who came up with name Proclaim and we all immediately loved it.  The mission of these leaders and for all of us is not to look inward and focus on ourselves. It is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ… 2 Corinthians 4:5 says, “For we do not proclaim ourselves, we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

Q: It’s an incredible story. Thank you.

Vagts: Glad I could share it. Thanks!

Amalia Vagts began as development director for Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries in 2006 and became executive director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries following the 2007 merger.  She works from her hometown of Decorah, Iowa but can be found travelling the country sharing the work of ELM. Contact her via email director(at)elm.org with questions about ELM or just to say hello.