Next week’s ELCA Churchwide Assembly will include a number of Proclaim members performing a variety of roles – from voting members to iPad tech support to the ELCA Worship Team to working with ReconcilingWorks to staffing an Assembly floor mic, these LGBTQ rostered leaders and seminarians have got it covered. Of particular note will be the worship on Friday, August 16, which marks the first time an openly lesbian or gay pastor will preside during an ELCA Churchwide Assembly Worship Service.
by Brenda Bos, Proclaim Communications Team
When Proclaim member Rev. Teresita “Tita” Valeriano presides at communion during the Friday worship of Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh next week, people will see her in a variety of ways. Some will see an ordained minister, some will see a woman, some will see a Filipino immigrant, some will see a Mission Developer. Some will see a partnered gay mother of a newborn. While Valeriano is all those things, she believes “first and foremost I am a child of God.” Humbled to have been asked to preside at this national church event, she considers herself “not put in a position of power, but that of servanthood, of being able to be a part of God’s feast that Christ is hosting.”
Pastor Tita’s History
Pastor Tita gives thanks for the journey. “To have been born in the Philippines, a third generation Lutheran and the youngest in a family of twelve children, to be born with all the gifts and weaknesses that I have, everything of who I am and now serving in this context of North America; those, I believe, are gifts of God to me. Of course I did not choose my gender, or my nationality, or my sexual orientation, but I have been honored to be a participant in this journey God has given me, to live out these gifts.”
This journey has had many twists and turns. Pastor Tita received a degree in accounting and a second degree in church music before coming to the United States in 1994 to pursue her masters of divinity from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. Her first congregational call was in central California, followed by a four-year stint in Geneva, Switzerland, as the Secretary for Youth in Church and Society for the Lutheran World Federation.
Those years in Europe and North America brought hard lessons about race and gender. Pastor Tita notes that until she arrived in the United States, she did not think of herself in racial terms; she had to learn to be a “minority” in the new culture. “No one in the Southern Hemisphere ever asked me how I got my job, as though I didn’t deserve my position. That only happened in North America and Europe,” Pastor Tita explained. She came back to California to serve as the Lutheran campus pastor at USC in 2004, where she met her partner, Jennifer Snow. She then returned to the Lutheran World Federation in 2008 as the Regional Officer, relocating to the churchwide offices in Chicago.
Pastor Tita had applied for her permanent residency (green card) in 2004, leading to an eight year quest for a green card. The couple ran into the injustices so many bi-cultural same-sex couples face;. Until the recent Supreme Court decision, United States citizens could not sponsor their same-sex partners for green cards, and Tita’s original employment-based petition for a green card was denied in 2009. Pastor Tita was in Canada for work when Jennifer received notification of the denial. Jennifer packed their apartment and came to Canada while the two of them tried to figure out what to do next. During this time, the ELCA assisted in Pastor Tita’s legal battles, including the expense of requesting a new visa and she was able to return and receive a green card two and a half years later, just before Christmas 2012. And recently, she and Jennifer welcomed their son Taal Charles into the world, on July 15, 2013. Pastor Tita notes, “I am grateful for the help I received when so many other immigrants continue to struggle for their rights to be a family.” She continues to do extensive work and organizing among the immigrant community in the Bay Area while she completes an assessment of a potential new mission start.
Leading At The Table
Now she will lead the church she loves at the table. “Hopefully this is a sign that we are telling God’s story, no matter what it will cost us. It is important to me that this is really a statement of the gospel, and that we are taking it seriously. This not just a matter of selecting those who are the most oppressed among us on this perfect occasion and then letting ordinary life and ordinary oppression run our lives together when the event is over. We need to hold ourselves accountable as a church to the statement that we are making when someone like me is at the table.”
Pastor Tita’s witness and proclamation to the whole ELCA is part of Proclaim’s mission. Proclaim is a ministry of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, providing affirmation and support to Lutheran rostered leaders and seminarians who publicly identify as LGBTQ. Members of Proclaim serve in a variety of ministry contexts in North America and beyond, spreading the gospel and loving the neighbor. We look forward to celebrating more of our Proclaim members’ stories in future months.
See you at Churchwide!
Brenda Bos conversed on the phone and over email last week with Tita before writing this profile about her. Brenda recently completed her internship at St. Paul Lutheran in Santa Monica, CA and is approved for ordination in the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA. Both Bos and Valeriano are members of Proclaim, the professional community for Lutheran rostered leaders and seminarians who publicly identify as LGBTQ. Proclaim is a ministry of ELM.