Historic Day! First Openly Gay, First Native American Elected Lutheran Bishop

The Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin
The Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin

Just moments ago, the Reverend Dr. R. Guy Erwin was elected bishop of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on the sixth ballot. 

Bishop-elect Erwin is the first publicly-identified gay and first Native American bishop in the history of the twenty-five year old denomination. 

Erwin’s election to bishop comes just two years after his ordination as pastor in the church.  Erwin has served congregations in the ELCA for over twenty years but chose not to be ordained until the ELCA changed its policy regarding gay and lesbian ministers.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted in 2009 to ordain gay and lesbian people in publicly accountable, lifelong committed same-gender relationships. Erwin was one of the first publicly-identified gay pastors in the ELCA to be ordained after the 2009 changes. There were seventeen publicly-identified LGBTQ people who were extraordinarily ordained outside the regular ELCA process prior to the vote, and subsequently received onto the ELCA roster following 2009.

Erwin is a member of Proclaim, a professional association of 130 Lutheran pastors, rostered lay leaders and seminarians who publicly identify as LGBTQ.  Proclaim is a program of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a social ministry organization that supports LGBTQ pastors and their ministries. Bishop-elect Erwin also currently serves on the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Board of Directors.

Amalia Vagts, executive director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, said, “This is a great day for the Southwest California Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin is a gift to the church, a terrific Lutheran theologian, and a pastor who has served his church faithfully for over twenty years.  All kinds of diverse leaders are called to positions in the church – and the Lutheran church is blessed with many committed LGBTQ pastors, whose callings can now be fully recognized in the ELCA. This church has come a long way in four years. More and more people are realizing all the time that LGBTQ people have important ministry gifts, including the gifts to lead the church as a bishop. We are thrilled to see such a wonderful leader from the LGBTQ and Native American communities called to the position of bishop at this time in history.”

Bishop-elect Erwin currently serves Faith Lutheran, Canoga Park as interim pastor and is Professor of Religion and History at California Lutheran University.  Erwin is a native of Oklahoma and an active member of the Osage Tribe of Indians. Erwin and his partner Rob Flynn are members of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, CA, and are very active in Lutheran circles locally, nationally, and internationally. He will be installed as bishop September 21, 2013 and will serve a six year term.

James Boline
Rev. James Boline

Related News: Proclaim member Jim Boline elected Secretary of the SW CA Synod

The Rev. James Boline, has served St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, CA since 2000. Boline was elected SW CA Synod Secretary. Boline is a member of Proclaim. Pastor Boline came out during the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. He is married to Christopher Ma.

We are thrilled for the church and both of these wonderful leaders!

Gretchen Colby

Gretchen Colby named 2013 Joel R. Workin Scholar

Gretchen Colby
Gretchen Colby

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has named Gretchen Colby as the 2013 Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholar.  Read more about Gretchen below.

Today would have been Joel’s 52nd birthday, had he not passed away from AIDS in 1995. We don’t remember Joel just because he was one of the first Lutheran seminarians to come out (though he was). We remember Joel because of his vibrant, prophetic and relevant voice, collected in the book, “Dear God, I Am Gay – thank you!”  Joel understood things years ago that some in our church still can’t see today. In a personal essay that was cited as one of the reasons the church deemed him “unfit” for ministry, Joel wrote,

“My story, others’ stories, the story of the world are all, in the last analysis, in faith’s analysis, stories of grace. These are stories of a relentless, loving God who will not take ‘no’ for an answer, not my ‘no,’ nor your ‘no,’ nor the church’s ‘no,’ nor the world’s ‘no.’ God keeps right on justifying, reconciling, liberating, feeding, ushering in the kingdom, saying ‘yes.’ Even if it kills God (and it did, the cross), even if it kills us (it does, baptism), somehow God is going to get everyone to that big banquet feast (resurrection, the kingdom, new life). I want to continue to be a messenger and means of God’s invitation, to share the good news of God’s ‘yes,’ to live a courageous and comforting life of faith, to incarnate Christ for the kingdom and my neighbor, to die and rise daily. This is my ‘mission.'”

The Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholarship program was created to honor Joel’s life and ministry. Joel’s family and friends created the scholarship fund following his death from AIDS in 1995.  The scholarship is managed by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

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

The Joel R. Workin Scholar is a publicly-identified LGBTQ seminarian who embodies Joel’s passion for justice and faith in their lives and ministry. This award comes with a financial gift to support the Scholar’s study. In addition, the Scholar represents ELM throughout the year.

Gretchen was chosen from a pool of excellent candidates. The Joel R. Workin Scholarship Committee includes three friends of Joel’s: the Rev. Jeff R. Johnson, Greg Egertson, and Michael Nelson; former Scholar the Rev. Jen Rude; and ELM Executive Director Amalia Vagts.

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.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries gives thanks for all LGBTQ seminarians who are bringing their voices to this church. We are especially thankful for those who took time to honor Joel by applying for this scholarship.

About Gretchen Colby

Gretchen has served as intern at Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan, NY since last August. She is studying at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkley, CA and is expected to graduate in May 2014.  Gretchen received her bachelor degree at Vassar with a major in Biology and a minor in Latin American Studies.  In addition to her ministry work, Gretchen has long been involved with teaching in California and abroad in Chile.  In August, Gretchen will marry Jill Rode, an MDiv student at Luther Seminary and fellow member of Proclaim.

In her essay for the Workin Scholar program, Gretchen wrote:

“Allowing myself to be called into a space of vulnerability has let me connect with pastors on my candidacy committee, who share their own stories of love and relationship; it has allowed me to show my internship congregation what a queer intern is like (in fact very much like all interns, but mostly like me); and it has allowed me to discuss the mystery of love and the politics of homosexuality with my family.  Not all conversations have been positive; not all prisons want to be opened.  Yet, these new beginnings for growth and life are continually offered to me and to the people around me by God in grace and love.”

In finding out she was chosen for the scholarship, Gretchen wrote:

“I am very honored to be receiving the Joel R. Working scholarship this year.  As a new member of Proclaim, it is affirming to be chosen in this way as a representative of the group.  Looking towards the challenge of my final year of seminary full of final courses, approval essays and interviews, and the challenge of the first call process, I feel reassured knowing that I will have a whole community behind me to support me in this journey.  I am privileged to be a part of Proclaim.”

Here is what members of the Committee had to say of Gretchen:

“As a committee we found Gretchen’s resume impressive in the way it reflected her focus on service to others through her work with youth,  volunteer work in Chile, and ability to preach in both English and Spanish.  In her essay and resume – but mostly in the essay – we strongly sensed Gretchen’s call to justice through the obstacles she had to overcome not only with her church, but her personal life.”


Proclaim Retreat 2013 Photo Slideshow

2013-04-13 Proclaim 12-08-58

The 2013 Proclaim Retreat took place April 12-15, 2013.  Proclaim  is the professional community for Lutheran pastors, rostered lay leaders and seminarians who publicly identify as LGBTQ. Proclaim currently has 129 members.  For the past three years the Proclaim community has gathered for a time of renewal, community building, and professional development.

We put together a wonderful collection of photos from the retreat that we’d love to share with you.  

View the slideshow here.

The photo slideshow features the song “We Belong” by Namoli Brennet (www.namolibrennet.com).  Photographs were taken by Emily Ann Garcia (www.emilyanngarcia.com), Cary Bass, Caleb Crainer and Megan Rohrer.  All used with permission.  Thanks to Namoli, Emily, Cary, Caleb and Megan for sharing their art with us!

You support this work through your contributions to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Every dollar makes experiences like the Proclaim retreat a reality–and in turn you  are affecting ministry throughout the church.  Thank you to our wonderful supporters for making this happen!

ELM Internship Grants: 2013-2014

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is happy to announce that thanks to your support we are able to help support four Proclaim interns for the 2013-2014 year! There is a growing need for supporting interns & the congregations they serve. We will continue to explore ways to support LGBTQ interns through our new program, Ministry Engagement in the coming years. 

2013-2014 Internship Grants:

Moose F.Moose Flores, House for All Sinners & Saints, Denver, CO:

This grant provides support for Moose Flores internship and housing at House for All Sinners & Saints.  This is the third intern that House for All Sinners & Saints has ever hosted.  Moose  is a student at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and originally from Detroit, MI.  Moose has a background in camp ministry from the Lutheran Outdoor Ministries Center in Oregon, IL. Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber will be the internship supervisor.

Rachel KnokeRachel Knoke, Lutheran Church of Christ the King, Tacoma, WA:

This grant provides support for Rachel’s internship at Lutheran Church of Christ the King.  Rachel is a student at Luther Seminary, because of this grant Rachel will be able to receive a modest stipend during the year. This is a new internship site and Pastor Mohr will be the internship supervisor.

Carolina Glauster, Lutheran Church of the Cross, Victoria, BC, Canada:

Carolina G

This grant provides support for Carolina’s internship at Lutheran Church of the Cross.  Carolina is a student at the University of Chicago Divinity School, an affiliate student at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Carolina also serves as a Communications representative on the Proclaim team.  She and her partner Emily are looking forward to the big move from Chicago back to Carolina’s home country of Canada this summer. This grant supports the additional cost of having an intern from the United States.  Pastor Lyle McKenzie will be the internship supervisor.

Rachel AndersonRachel Anderson, Lord of Mercy Lutheran Church, Sparks, NV:

This grant provides support for Rachel’s internship at Lord of Mercy Lutheran Church.  This is the 2nd Proclaim intern that has served the congregation.  Rachel is a student at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and originally from Newington, Connecticut. The internship supervisor is Pastor Mary Lou Petitjean.

If you’d like to support ELM’s programs like this one, please click here.

Ordination of Matthew James

Matt J ordination cropped
Photo by Michael Stone

Matthew James was ordained on April 26 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA.  Matthew has been called to serve as Associate Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA.

Matthew  is a member of Proclaim, the professional community for publicly-identified LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders and seminarians, a program of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.  

Matthew shares these words about his ordination and first call:

I do not have the words to express how humbled I am following my ordination on April 26th.  I kept saying as things moved along that after waiting for three years, it was amazing how quickly everything happened.  I still have to remind myself that all of this has finally happened!  The Spirit was most certainly moving in the assembly that night through wonderful music led by my spouse, Cantor John Weit, powerful preaching by my internship supervisor, The Rev. Dr. Andrea Walker, leadership by our bishop, The Rev. Dr. James Hazelwood, and my sponsor and mentor, The Rev. Marsh Drege (all pictured below).

Matt J ordination 1
Photo by Michael Stone

I am extremely blessed to have been called by the people of Trinity, a community that I have already grown to know and love.  There are many exciting and hopeful things happening at Trinity and I am grateful to be called to be a part of it all.

The prayers that I know came from all over the country, that surrounded me all throughout the wait for a call and in the midst of the process,  truly helped to carry me through and I give thanks to God for all of you!  

And I cannot help but think of all who made Friday possible through their ceaseless work and witness to God’s far-reaching love throughout the years through Proclaim, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and all the organizations that came before them.  I am just one of a multitude, indeed, the whole Church, who are blessed to have benefited from the dedication of so many.  May the Spirit continue to guide the Church toward greater and greater inclusion until all God’s people are welcomed and celebrated at Christ’s table.

Matthew was approved as a candidate through the Extraordinary Candidacy process prior to the ELCA ministry policy change.  Matthew was selected by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries as a Joel R. Workin Scholar in 2009. Congratulations to Matthew as he continues changing the church through his ministry as a publicly-identified LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leader.

ELM Ministry Grant Update: Open Doors in Sparks, Nevada

Paul Gibson

One of the six ministry grant programs Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is supporting this year is the “Open Doors” ministry at Lord of Mercy Lutheran Church in Sparks, Nevada.

The idea for the ministry was born when two members of the congregation, Sandy Poirier and Sharon Lemons, met with intern pastor and Proclaim member, Paul Gibson (left), to discuss ways of expanding the RIC congregation’s outreach to the LGBTQ community. They recognized the scarcity of community resources in the cities of Reno and Sparks, as well as the need for teenagers and people in their twenties to have “an alternative to the bars.”

Open Doors 01

“Open Doors” is described as a safe gathering-place for LGBTQ young people and their friends. At present, it meets at the church every Friday evening from 7pm to 10pm; the intention is to expand to other days of the week. Each week, anywhere from 12 to 20 young people gather for something like a movie, board games, karaoke, or a spaghetti cook-off, and for lots of conversation and general silliness. The hope as the program grows is to also provide mentoring, tutoring, and opportunities for community service.

The group has been meeting since January and a sense of community and of mutual responsibility is growing. Participants trust one another enough to talk about a problem like cutting or a suicide attempt. Everyone benefits from hearing the advice and life experience of others.

Many people were hesitant to join the group at first; they simply couldn’t believe that a church was offering this service with “no strings attached.” They also suspected that they’d be threatened with hellfire and damnation once they were lured inside the doors. Word of mouth has helped to allay these suspicions and the group has grown steadily over the past few months.

Open Doors 02

“Open Doors” is funded by a ministry grant from ELM. Initial grant monies were used to advertise the group and to purchase food and drink for the Friday gatherings. In the next phase of the group’s development, the plan is to use grant money for the purchase of sports equipment, a sound system, a karaoke machine, and a gaming system: things that will make “Open Doors” an enjoyable place for people to hang out and create community with one another.

For more on ELM’s Ministry Grants program: