Today we hear from guest blogger Rev. Jenny Mason. Jenny is a Proclaim member and is serving in a call from the Minneapolis Synod for specialized ministry. Jenny served as a missionary in Chile for 10 years. She currently lives in St. Paul with her partner Rev. Jodi Barry.
“Open to everyone that has a heart open enough to serve.”
This is the way that my dear friend Karen Anderson talked about the change in the ELCA policy in 2009 as she explained it to parishioners in Chile when I recently returned there for a visit with my partner Jodi. As many of you might know, I served as a missionary in Chile through the Division for Global Mission from 1991-2001, when I was unexpectedly removed from the roster by my bishop in the ELCA. That action really didn’t make any sense to my parishioners in Chile, nor to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile which I served. In Chile we didn’t talk about my sexual orientation, but it wasn’t a real shock to anyone when it was revealed in this way either. I served happily and faithfully for ten years, and these sorts of policies are the kinds of things that the global church, at least the Latin American church, has little interest in.
When I was removed, one colleague said, “I didn’t know the ELCA was that backward.” But that was then, and this is now. In 2011 I was reinstated to the roster through a call from the Minneapolis Synod to specialized ministry, and in this way, when I returned to Chile, I was once again, an ordained pastor on the active roster of the ELCA.
Jodi (on the left) and I traveled to Chile to celebrate the 30th anniversary of an amazing health education organization in Chile called EPES (Educacion Popular en Salud, or Popular Education in Health). This organization, started under the auspices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile by my Global Mission colleague Karen Anderson, is committed to the promotion of the right to health and life with dignity. Life with dignity includes honesty and transparency, and for that reason, when I returned to Chile and was invited to preside at the church’s celebration of the EPES’ anniversary, Karen wanted to be explicit about what it meant to have me there in that role. I’ll include a few words from her introduction below:
“There are many reasons to celebrate today, but there is one reason which perhaps not all people know, and we want to be very explicit about this: Ten years ago when we celebrated the 20th anniversary of EPES (Educación Popular en Salud—Popular Education in Health), we were also very affected by an extremely painful situation. One of our pastors who had accompanied our staff and health groups and was really loved by our community, who had accompanied us both in difficult times and joyful ones for more than 10 years, was violently and suddenly removed from her ministry in Chile because of her sexual orientation. She was a missionary of the ELCA. We were all very touched by this because EPES, the health groups and the IELCH (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana en Chile—Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile) had worked for many years for inclusion and just communities where no one was marginalized and where the gifts and treasures of all God’s creation could be celebrated. So now 10 years later we are celebrating, we feel very proud and happy because in 2009 the same church in the US, the ELCA, voted to change this policy and open the pastors’ positions to all who have a heart open to serve!”
That was a great gift to me, and really, to all those in attendance. When we can live openly and honestly about who we are, speak to our pain, and recognize that change is possible, hope grows within us and within our communities. This is what keeps us working for change. Throughout the service, many tears were shed, as former parishioners of mine came forward to receive the communion from their once-again pastor. And for some, this was the first time they had worshiped and received communion since I was removed as their pastor in 2001.
Later in the service, we experienced another unexpected moment of grace, when the Pastor President of the church, similar to our title of bishop, Luis Rodriguez spoke: “Friends, my first contact with EPES took place while I was still living in exile in Argentina….Upon returning to Chile, returning from exile, I was impacted by the work of EPES and worked with them. And today as president of the Lutheran church, and representative of it, it is true what our colleague Lisandro (preacher for this worship service) said, that EPES is the lens through which we read the teachings of the church. The IELCH (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana en Chile—Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile) presents itself as a very open church, but it is not always like that. We are in a process. In this process there are debts and pains. Our own pains and the pains of others. EPES is our diaconal arm. It is that for others too. Happily, EPES doesn’t have to put on the Lutheran flag, but the human flag of dignity and value of every person for all persons and humbly we want to support all that work.
Also as pastor president of the church, I take on the silences of the church in the past. (At this point, he called me forward and lifted my arm.) We hope that all this pain gives fruit to more inclusion, and the expulsion of all hate and intolerance and arrogance that we can also as a church be welcoming of everyone with wide arms. It is a challenge for all churches. For all this, we ask for forgiveness to all who have been caused pain, when our rhetoric, our discourse is more open than our practice.”
Wow. I wasn’t expecting that one. The church actually apologizing to me? It was powerful. I was removed from the roster by a long-distance phone call, followed by a letter. I was reinstated to the roster by another letter after the filling out of many papers, and a conversation with the bishop. But, here, in a humble church service in Chile, a pastor who didn’t even live in Chile at the time I was removed, spoke in an official capacity as President of the church, and asked for forgiveness of all who had been caused pain when the church’s walk did not reflect its talk. What a lesson.
Next month, at the RIC service in my home congregation, Grace University Lutheran, Minneapolis, I have been invited to preach. And at that time, my pastors have asked to have a formal public rite to celebrate my reinstatement to the roster of ordained pastors. I’m so pleased to say yes to this, because I hadn’t realized how necessary it was for me, and for the people of God.
Learn more about Proclaim by visiting www.elm.org/proclaim.