Donna Simon

Guest Post: Rev. Donna Simon – There Are No Sides in Ferguson.

All of us have been affected by the actions in Ferguson, MO these past two and 1/2 weeks. Many of you have posted thoughts on Facebook, tweeted, and have written longer reflections. Last week, Pastor Donna Simon, ELCA pastor and member of Proclaim and Pastor Jennifer Thomas (an ELM Extraordinary Friend!) went to Ferguson as part of a faith-based organizing collaborative called PICO National Network. Donna wrote about her experience on her blog, Peace Pastor, re-posted here with Donna’s permission.

There Are No Sides in Ferguson, by Rev. Donna Simon

Donna Simon
Rev. Donna Simon

(Originally posed on Peace Pastor on 8/21/2014)

August 22, 2014. The situation in Ferguson, Missouri this week is complicated. I read that on Facebook and Twitter and was convinced, though actually going there helped a lot with perspective. There are many competing narratives about Ferguson, and even firsthand accounts vary. Real witness is best done up close, though. We usually see what God is doing in our communities by venturing outside of our church walls and our comfort zones.

God is doing a lot of things in Ferguson, and so too are people. People are doing good things, bad things, complicated things.

What we do know is this: On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. It appears that he was shot six times. He joins an ever-expanding roster of unarmed young black men shot by police officers, and his death exposed a community’s pain over the way it is treated by the police. None of this is open to debate. It’s not a “side.” It is the truth. Mike Brown was unarmed, and he is dead. There is pain. It is being expressed.

There was also looting. And “rioting,” which is a word employed to describe a panoply of human behaviors, some of them peaceful and some more detrimental to persons and property. The looting and “rioting,” alongside details released about Brown’s behavior before and during his brief time in police custody have provided a neat opportunity to describe this situation in the language of Western modernism. There are “two sides,” to wit: the lawful side, whose primary symbol is the mostly white law enforcement community, and the side of those who believe that injustices have been perpetrated (and continue to be perpetrated) in Ferguson. Standing for the latter is a much more diverse community which includes Mike Brown, peaceful protestors, “rioters” and looters, national activists, and people who express their displeasure with the situation on social media and other outlets.

People expressing an opinion about Ferguson can expect to answer to the charge that they are “taking sides.”

I was there last night, and here is what I heard:

  • Every night, police have opened fire on the protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets, and possibly real bullets.
  • Greater St. Mark’s Missionary Baptist Church has been functioning as sanctuary space for the protesters, clergy and activists who are witnessing in Ferguson. The handwritten sign out front says “Safe Space. No alcohol. No guns.” People have used the space for rest and respite, and to wash tear gas out of their eyes. The police learned that the church had been offered as sanctuary, so they began a series of interventions which seem to be aimed at intimidating those inside. They lined their cars right outside of the gymnasium space occupied by protesters. They entered and confiscated items, including some Maalox which was being diluted to treat tear gas injuries. They threatened to remove everyone from the church property.
  • Police have chased protesters, hit them with batons and the butts of rifles, shouted at them, and practiced other forms of intimidation. People who have engaged in a lot of nonviolent civil action have been shocked by the extreme behavior of the police, especially the Ferguson PD (now relieved of duty) and the St. Louis County police.

Here is what I saw:

  • A community is hurting and angry. There are still protesters walking and shouting at the police. Their behavior may not be helpful, but their frustration should be understandable.
  • At least two grassroots organizations have grown out of this continued engagement between protesters and law enforcement. One is called Clergy United; that group is gathering clergy from the St. Louis Metro, and we were told last night that clergy from beyond the Metro are asking how they might become involved. The other group is made up largely of young people. They call themselves the Peacekeepers, and they are doing just that. Both groups have their names on shirts already. They are legit.
  • Young people are raising their voices in Ferguson, in largely constructive and courageous ways. Many were marching peacefully last night, at times chanting, “I’m young. I’m strong. And I’ll keep marching all night long.” Their energy shows no sign of flagging.
  • Clergy are present. I went to Ferguson with my friend and colleague Jennifer Thomas, because we were invited by the PICO National Network, a faith-based community organizing collaborative. Both Jennifer and I are active with PICO and our local affiliate, Communities Creating Opportunity. It was an easy decision. We are called to stand in broken places and offer a word of grace and healing.
  • People are marching because they have to. I mean that they are compelled to do so by frustration, faith, commitment to social justice. Also, they are required to do so by the police. No stopping is allowed.
  • There were a lot of cops. A lot. They were clustered in groups of 5-20. At least a couple dozen clusters. There were armored vehicles. The presentation is very combative and intimidating, which would seem to be the point.

So much remains to be done. So many words of healing and hope are still to be uttered. There has been precious little dialogue between law enforcement and community leaders, and the brokenness will continue until that happens in a viable and sustainable manner. This is going to be a long process. It will be a complicated process, and will require a lot of folks to stand down and give up some of their power in order to engage in real conversation. There are no sides. Just brokenness, pain, anger. So God is there also.

Rev. Donna Simon is pastor at St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church, in the urban core of Kansas City, MO. She is married to Colleen Simon and is a member of Proclaim, an active community of LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders, candidates, and seminarians.

St. Matthew's

Extraordinary Congregations – A Quick Tour through L.A.

by Amalia Vagts, Executive Director

Last weekend, I headed out to Los Angeles for Brenda Bos’ ordination. It was a marvelous celebration. While in town, I had the chance to connect with four extraordinary congregations – communities of faith that are allies in our work to affirm and support ministry by LGBTQ rostered leaders. Together, LGBTQ leaders and extraordinary congregations proclaim God’s love and seek justice for all people.

St. Matthew'sThe ordination was hosted by St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, Brenda’s home congregation. St. Matthew’s was the home congregation for Joel Workin and was previously served by late Bp. Paul Egertson and current Bp. R. Guy Erwin. This faith community has a long history of lifting up and supporting LGBTQ leaders and allies.

That evening, I had the great fortune of joining a group of people from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santahollywood bowl Monica for their annual outing to the Hollywood Bowl. A group of 25 or so gathered for a picnic meal ahead of time and then journeyed up the hill to hear the L.A. Philharmonic. It was a great time catching up with Pastor Jim Boline (Proclaim member) and members of the congregation. This wonderful group has been the host congregation for THREE Proclaim interns, including Brenda Bos, Becca Seely, and a week from now, Joel Bergeland.

beach crossThe following morning, after a little “God on the beach” (see the cross I found?), I headed to Lutheran Church of the Master. This congregation played a major role in the ONE VOICE campaign back in 2009 when they worked together to raise $40,000 in support of the allied Lutheran LGBTQ organizations. They have continued their witness through support of the L.A. area Proclaim internship and through the prophetic preaching and teaching of Pastor Ioan Ittu, a strong ally to the LGBTQ community.

And while I only had time for a drop-by visit, I was able to check in on St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church where Pastor Caleb Crainer (Proclaim member) serves. St. Andrew’s has grown in their witness in the past year, becoming an RIC congregation and expanding their visible welcome by placing a rainbow flag prominently in front of the building.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries does much to highlight rostered leaders. Equally part of the story are the individuals who make up the congregations that call and support LGBTQ rostered leaders. It was fantastic to be in the company of so many engaged, committed, and faithful people this past weekend.

Was your congregation not listed? A gal can only do SO much in 48 hours in L.A. Hope to catch you next time!


Amalia and Bp. Finck

Amalia Vagts is Executive Director of ELM and is thankful for chances to see extraordinary leaders and congregations in person as she travels around. She also gets to meet up with extraordinary bishops from time to time too!  She is pictured here with Bp. Murray Finck of the Pacifica Synod who presided at Brenda’s ordination, along with Bp. R. Guy Erwin of the Southwest California Synod.

The Works of God – that we know very well!

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. Psalm 139: 13-14

The soon-to-be Rev. Emily Ewing.  Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.
The soon-to-be Rev. Emily E.  Ewing. Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.

This scripture passage is part of the Psalm that will be read at the ordination of Proclaim member, Emily E. Ewing.  Emily, a recent graduate of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, has been called to serve as pastor and mission developer of Christ the King Lutheran Church in South Jordan, Utah.

The ordination will take place this Saturday, August 23rd, at Emily’s home congregation, Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church at the Vail Interfaith Chapel in Vail, CO at 11am MT.

Emily has been an active member of Proclaim since 2011 and has served in leadership with Proclaim seminarians, Proclaim retreat planning, and with our upcoming resource, Treasures in Clay Jars – sharing the stories and experiences of LGBTQ leaders in the Lutheran Church.  Emily was also ELM’s 2011 Joel R. Workin Scholar.

Here’s what Emily says about her new call:  “I am really excited for this new adventure.  I am looking forward to engaging in ministry with the people of Christ the King Lutheran Church and together discerning where God is calling us and what God might be calling us to.  I am also quite delighted to be back in the midst of mountains for this next step in my journey.

We share our joy and prayers with Emily, Christ the King Lutheran Church, Mount of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church, and all who will gather this weekend to celebrate the works of God – that we know very well!


Thank you for your gift that affirms and supports gifted LGBTQ leaders in their calling to serve God’s church.

Changing the Statistics

Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia
Proclaim Retreat 2014. Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia

This past spring ELM conducted a survey of the Proclaim community.  In addition to stats, we asked for longer written responses to some questions. This info is being shared throughout our program teams to inform and shape our work. 

Here is a link to  Highlights of the Proclaim Member Survey 2014.

For a quick peek, here are a few Highlights of the Highlights:

+ We have a diversity of identities within our community.  Here are some of the ways Proclaim members identify:

Gender Identity – male, transgender, Q, female, Emale, Queer, a-gender, transgender guy, queer woman, male-identified – most days, transgender woman, masculine/gender neutral, MtF, woman, cisgender male/man

Sexual Orientation – gay, lesbian, bi, queer, pan/bi, queer woman, homosexual, straight, bisexual

Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia
Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia

+ 64% of Proclaim members who completed the survey were raised Lutheran.   And about 50% of current seminary/divinity students who completed the survey were raised Lutheran.

+ We recognize relationships in a variety of ways.  65% of Proclaim members who completed the survey currently have a partner/spouse.  Some are legally married, some have had religious ceremonies, some have domestic partnerships or civil unions, and some recognize their relationship in other ways (details in survey highlights).

+ Of Proclaim members who completed the survey, only 2 out of 81 people knew an openly LGBTQ pastor growing up.  Thanks to the witness of Proclaim members and supporters of ELM, we are actively working to change this statistic!

Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia
Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia

Proclaim is an active community of 164 publicly identified LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders, candidates, and seminarians.  23 new members have joined so far in 2014.  We have Proclaim members in 48 of the 65 synods in the ELCA.   Want to meet some of these leaders? Check out Proclaim Profiles.

Want to see more results of the survey?  Highlights of the Proclaim Member Survey 2014

If you have trouble reading the document, here is the Proclaim Survey – black and white version

In Memory: Rev. Paul A. Tidemann – Pastor, Prophet, and Organizer

Paul A. Tidemann
Paul A. Tidemann

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries celebrates the life of  pastor, advocate for justice, and LGBTQ ally Rev. Paul A. Tidemann.

Pastor Tidemann played a significant role in the early days of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, notably during the 2001 extraordinary ordination of the Rev. Anita Hill. Pastor Tidemann served for many years as lead pastor of St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church. He was involved with many levels of the movement for LGBTQ justice in the Lutheran church, including ReconcilingWorks, Wingspan, and through his leadership at St. Paul-Reformation. And he was a tireless advocate for justice for many peoples in addition to LGBTQ people, including his advocacy for racial and economic equality

ELM Board Member Jeremy Posadas, who served on the Goodsoil Legislative Team with Pastor Tidemann remembers him this way,

Paul was truly the deep conscience within a whole community of folks trying to right the church’s moral compass. I was always awed by the wisdom he had wrought from long melding the roles of pastor, prophet, and organizer. Paul was one of the only people I know who had stared so far into the sinfulness of the institutional church but still held faith that it could yet be redeemed into the communion of grace God yearns for it to be — a faith strong enough that he endlessly agitated and advocated and organized wherever he could to hasten that redemption. I hope the LGBTQ Lutheran community will honor Paul’s memory by bravely imagining what new frontiers of justice — what new coalitions and solidarities — we will seek in coming years, as we inhabit the church in new roles.”

 We share our thankfulness and sadness with Paul’s family, friends, all those who were impacted by his ministry.

You can read Pastor Tidemann’s full obituary here. 

Gordon Straw

Gordon Straw Joins ELM Board of Directors

The ELM Board of Directors met for their August meeting yesterday evening, welcoming the newest member of the Board, Rev. Gordon Straw.

Gordon Straw
Gordon Straw

Gordon brings years of experience in organizational development, development of lay ministry leaders, and experience and commitment to intercultural competency. Gordon is an enrolled member of the Brothertown Indian Nation. He currently serves as the program director for Lay Schools for Ministry in the ELCA and is a former director for American Indian/Alaska Native ministries in the ELCA. Gordon is married to Evelyn Soto and they have a daughter, Amanda, who will begin her second year at DePauw University, Greencastle, IN in the fall.

Gordon writes,

“I am joining the ELM board because I want to make more public my personal commitment to the full inclusion and participation of LGBTQI leaders in the ELCA. While in Lutheran Student Movement, I began to make connections between my own personal struggle with acceptance of my “mixed blood” identity by others and the struggles of LGBTQI people with acceptance of their sexual and gender identities by the Lutheran church. This journey began in 1978; I like to say that I had been living with a bound conscience in the church, until 2009. I hope to bring together my passion for developing leaders for the church and my commitment to full inclusion and participation of LGBTQI persons in the church.”

The ELM Board of Directors consists of twelve individuals with diverse experiences and talents. These leaders are: Dr. Margaret Moreland (Berkeley, CA); Rose Beeson (Washington, DC); Asher O’Callaghan (Minneapolis, MN); Rev. Dr. J. Elise Brown (New York, NY); Jim Kowalski (San Francisco, CA); Ángel David Marrero-Roe (Boston, MA); Dr. Jeremy Posadas (Sherman, TX); Rev. Julie Boleyn (Chicago, IL); Charlie Horn (Pitman, NJ); Rev. Mike Wilker (Washington, DC); and Rev. Gordon Straw (Chicago, IL).

GET INVOLVED: Are you interested in serving on the ELM Board of Directors? We are always interested in talking more with potential  board members who have passion for and commitment to ELM’s vision and mission. Board terms are three years long and run from March 1 – March 1. Please reach out to Amalia Vagts, Executive Director, if you would like to learn more.

Amalia Vagts
Amalia Vagts

Amalia Vagts, Executive Director, gives thanks daily for the passion, dedication, wit, and wisdom of the ELM Board of Directors.