A Local Witness to the Global Church

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Guest blog by Proclaim member, the Rev. Erik Christensen.

Photo by Emily Ann Garcia
Photo by Emily Ann Garcia

This past weekend was Pride weekend here in Chicago and in many other cities around the country. In recent years I’ve heard, and eagerly jumped into, plenty of conversations questioning the value of these large-scale gatherings filled with giant floats with corporate sponsors conveying scantily clad dancers from a host of bars and other venues. “Is this what we spent the last half century fighting for?” I’d wearily ask.

This year I’m less inclined to diminish or dismiss the gains our movements have made, or the celebrations that mark them. That is due, in no small part, to a recent visit by representatives of South Africa’s Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) to Chicago June 12-16, 2014.

The congregation I serve, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square, has hosted folks from IAM (including Proclaim member Pieter Oberholzer) many times over the last eight years, each visit deepening our commitment to walking together toward liberation for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities around the globe. This year St. Luke’s partnered with a blend of ecumenical and secular communities and organizations to present a weekend of activities for people of faith and activists from across Chicago as an expression of solidarity with LGBTI people across the continent of Africa suffering under increasingly violent conditions (learn more here).

Conscious that these trips create a significant financial burden for IAM, and knowing that they have to work hard every year to raise the necessary funds to carry out their work, I was concerned that their trip might not have been worth the effort on purely economic terms. IAM’s Executive Director, the Rev. Judith Kotzé, allayed my fears as we met the morning of her flight home to evaluate this year’s slate of events.  She said,

You cannot know what it means for me, for us, to be able to worship with you here in Chicago. To see an openly gay pastor and his partner so warmly accepted by their congregation. To see that it is a non-issue, that your leadership is accepted and trusted. To be able to share our story with you, and to receive the gift of your prayers and your songs. To be able to carry that story home with us to share with people and congregations who can barely imagine that such a thing is possible.”

As I listened to Judith, all I could think is how it wasn’t that long ago that we, here in the United States, were saying the same thing. I can remember a time when I could count on one hand the number of publicly identified LGBTQ clergy in the ELCA that I knew, and they were almost all members of what has grown to become the Proclaim community.

Our work, yours and mine, is a witness to people of faith around the world. Each time we simply show up, put on the collar, step into the pulpit, consecrate the elements, pray for the ill and the dying, visit those in prison, we are proclaiming a future for the whole church that has already broken in, but is not yet complete. That is something to be proud of, something to celebrate, loudly and publicly and shamelessly.

To learn more about the work of IAM, and to make a gift to their courageous and life-saving work, visit http://www.iam.org.za