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Expanding the Table: Being Welcomed and Welcoming Others

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Guest blog by Proclaim member Rachel Anderson.  Rachel is a student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Philadelphia, finishing her internship year at Lord of Mercy Lutheran Church in Sparks, Nevada.

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Rachel and Carrie at their wedding

On June 29, 2013 my wife, Carrie, and I committed our lives to each other in the presence of God, our families, and our friends. It was almost a year earlier, and with much trepidation, that I came out to my wonderful candidacy liaison. We were on a weekend long retreat on the Connecticut shoreline and I was about to return to Philadelphia for my second year of seminary in just a few days. I had not kept my sexuality a secret from my candidacy committee, or the seminary, or anyone really. But I knew I had to share this part of my life with these people, out of a responsibility to Carrie, my church, and the many people who still struggle to find acceptance among God’s people. I kind of laugh when I think about the conversation we had. “I’m getting married,” I said, very matter-of-factly. “That’s great!” He said. “But I’m getting married to a woman,” and I was sure his smile was about to fade. “Even better!” he said, and gave me a great big hug.

Experiences like that confirm for me, over and over again, that the church is moving forward. They are also confirmation that ministries like Proclaim and ELM continue to be vitally important for the body of Christ. No one should have to doubt their place at the table. No one should ever be afraid that their gifts for leadership are not welcome in the church for something as inconsequential as how they were born or whom they were born to love.

But in the year 2014, for many, many… many people and organizations, one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not inconsequential. Coming from a loving and accepting family that never batted an eye when I came out, dealing with the slow-moving church has been heart wrenching at times. During my junior year of seminary I was turned down by three potential internship sites because I am openly gay, and Carrie and I took this rejection pretty hard. Maybe I would never go on internship; maybe I would never get a chance to be a leader within the church. Maybe we were racking up all this debt just to find out that the church would never have a place for us at the table (or in the pulpit). The feeling is akin to, I’m guessing, being the last puppy in the litter to get adopted. I watched all of my seminary friends accept internships at various churches while I waited, and waited.

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At the table (Rachel at the far right)

Looking back on that time, I am so glad for those experiences. Just over a month after we were married, Carrie and I left our friends and family in the northeast and drove across the country to Sparks, Nevada for my internship at Lord of Mercy Lutheran Church. I never could have predicted moving to the west coast for anything, much less internship. We have quickly fallen in love with northern Nevada, but mostly we have fallen in love with this absolutely fantastic congregation. These are people who have taken their calling to be the body of Christ seriously. They love to serve their neighbor, they have a deep faith, and they take their commitment to raise up new leaders in the church very seriously. If only every church were like Lord of Mercy, only so happy to not only accept, but to welcome an LGBTQ leader!

My time at Lord of Mercy will always be one of the most profound blessings in my life, and it would not be possible without the generous assistance of ELM. Were it not for ELM, Carrie and I would likely still be wondering if there is a place for us in the church. Were it not for ELM, I wouldn’t be able to preach the Good News to people who not only love to hear it, but need to hear it, especially from a person who knows just how good the news really is. In many ways serving Lord of Mercy has been a spiritual resurrection for me, and it has certainly resurrected my faith in the progress the ELCA is making to be sure that all people can claim their place at the table without fear. All leaders can preach the Good News and know it is for them too, and they are in a place of safety and love.

If it were not for ELM, I never would have met a sixteen year old girl in Reno, Nevada a few months back. We got connected one way or another through the church, though she had never been to Lord of Mercy. In our first conversation she was convinced that being gay was the ultimate sin, and that God could not possibly love her the way she is. If not for ELM, and my internship in Sparks, she might still be convinced that there is something wrong with her. But because she came to a church leader who has been where she was, and who could show her a God and a community that accepts her unconditionally, she can smile again, and she can be herself, proudly. ELM and Proclaim touch more lives than probably any of us are aware. I thank God for this truly extraordinary ministry, and live in hope that the day is soon coming when no person will live in fear and all will truly be welcome in this place.

 You support leaders like Rachel with your gift to ELM. Rachel and other seminarians receive pastoral care and support through Proclaim and Accompaniment. Lord of Mercy Lutheran Church received a small grant from ELM to support Rachel’s internship. Learn more or give to support leaders like Rachel at www.elm.org.

One Response to “Expanding the Table: Being Welcomed and Welcoming Others”

  1. Tina Pierce says:

    I feel blessed and proud to be a member of Lord of Mercy Lutheran Church. Rachel has been a wonderful intern, and she and her wife, Carrie, are amazing women. I’m so happy to have them here.