A Monday morning email inbox. You know the feeling, right? But sometimes there are surprises. Yesterday morning I got a delightful email from Rev. Amy Current. Amy is the the Dean for Vocation at Wartburg Theological Seminary and she is also an ELM Seminary Advocate. Through Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ Candidacy Accompaniment program we have connected with a staff or faculty member at each of the 8 ELCA seminaries and several divinity schools to serve in this role. They serve as allies for LGBTQ students in the seminary process, as a connector between ELM and the campus, and as people who are committed to the educational and vocational development of LGBTQ students.
In this Monday morning email Amy was letting me know that she had shared ELM’s Candidacy Guide with an LGBTQ student on campus. This student then shared the resource with their candidacy committee and now the whole committee is meeting together to discuss how they can be the best advocate for this student and for other LGBTQ students in the candidacy process in their synod. The ripples are spreading.
It’s a wonderful thing to think about all the little (and big!) pockets of goodness that exist seeking to support and affirm LGBTQ leaders in our church, and to celebrate their unique gifts. In fact, it’s extraordinary! If you are reading this blog, it’s because we consider YOU one of these pockets of extraordinary goodness.
by Rev. Jen Rude
The little pockets of extraordinary goodness that Jen celebrates today include – warm fall sunshine in Chicago, the now 168 members of Proclaim, winter squash and fall apples, all those who worked to put together ELM’s resource for candidacy committees, and the special people who read the ELM blog – all the way through to the end.
Today (September 23rd) is bisexual visibility day. And so we have a guest blog from Jean Hay, who is a Proclaim member, a first call candidate in the ELCA, and the mother of a bisexual daughter.
I believe God knew I was gay when calling me to ministry, but I didn’t know at that time. When I entered the candidacy process to become a Lutheran pastor, I was married to a man and our children were in the later years of elementary school.
My (then) husband was a friend to me as I tried to work through this new self-understanding. He and I talked about it a lot, but of course we didn’t share this journey with our children.
But it’s not my story that I want to share with you right now. Rather, I’d like to share my children’s stories of self-discovery. They are both in their early twenties now and have agreed to let me share.
Our first discussion about affectional preferences centered around playground politics. My daughter, the older of the two, relayed a story about someone calling someone else gay as an insult. My son was born fabulously, flamingly, gay. He was too young to put words to his preference, but I wanted to ensure that, at the very least, time with family was a safe time for him to become himself. So, we talked about name-calling, and different ways of being family.
The real surprise for me in that particular conversation was the depth of my daughter’s attachment to hetero-normativity. When she blurted out “at least my monther’s not a lesbian,” I felt it was time to share with the children, that yes, in fact, that was the conclusion I had reached. Her mother is a lesbian.
Divorce, relocation, and economic upheaval followed. It was a tough time for my kids as they headed into adolescence. My daughter, always an avid reader, took comfort in books. She shared the book Luna with me. It is a sister’s story of her older brother’s struggle to become her true self. It is the story of a being family to a transgender sibling. My ex-husband was disturbed by the subject matter of the book. I was so proud of my daughter’s response when she said: “Look at my family, Dad, how can I not be an advocate?”
She had moved from surprise to acceptance to advocacy in the space of a year. She became a charter member of a Gay-Straight Alliance in her middle school. I think that being gay and gender queer can make a boy a target, and I thought it was fabulous that she was willing to be an outspoken ally for kids like her brother.
When she expressed an interest in girls, at first I thought it must have been about me. I thought she must have been identifying with her custodial parent. Losing her dad was hard and he ensured it was a loss and not a transition to a new way of being family.
Just as she had expressed disbelief when I told her I was lesbian, I inwardly expressed disbelief that she was lesbian. I thought I was observing very straight-girl behavior in her. It simply didn’t register that she might be telling me that she was interested in both boys and girls. She started shaving her legs about the same time I stopped. Her friends were mostly other girls. And they giggled a lot and talked about girl-things that still baffle me.
I only started to understand when the number of awkward teen age girls following her home from school matched the number of awkward teenage boys doing the same.
On the one hand, I could explain to seminary classmates that being bisexual wasn’t an imaginary state of being that reflected an inability to decide. On the other, I applied this very definition to my own daughter. “It’s just a stage”, I thought. “She’ll grow out of it.”
Please don’t misunderstand. As a parent, I just wanted my children to grow into their own authentic selves.
Have you heard about the coming out process sometimes being refered to as “bi now, gay later”? That was my route to self-understanding as I tried to reconcile my love for my husband and the growing realization that women caught my attention in a way that they don’t catch every woman’s attention.
Because it is not uncommon for a person to think they are bisexual as they transition from a hetreosexual self-understanding to a homosexual self-understanding, many people think bisexuality is just a way to ease the transition.
My daughter seemed to make her self-discovery as “gay now, bi later.” Also about this same time in her life, she completed confirmation classes and “graduated” from Christian faith. Given that she had front row seats to my struggle in seminary when sexuality was the only thing people wanted to talk about (2002 -2006), it’s not surprising that she quit the church. My son was probably born to ministry as surely as was born queer, and she also witnessed his interest in church life fade.
But she didn’t just quit the church, she stopped believing in God.
Did I mention that she was (and still is) an avid reader? In middle school, she read the (whole) Old Testament! She wondered why God was jealous and angry. And she decided that God was made in man’s image.
With all my education, with all of my own faith, I have not been able influence her understanding of the Old Testament or her atheism.
We still talk about faith. We still talk about different ways of being in relationship (affectional preferences).
She teaches me what it means to be an atheist. She teaches me what it means to be bisexual. I’ve learned a lot from my daughter, like: A person need not believe in order to talk about God. And a person need not “land” in a hetero- or homo- sexual identity. You can just love who you love.
I love my bisexual, atheist, advocate, daughter. She is helping me prepare to be a better pastor and advocate for all people in our church.
Jean Hay and her wife Jan live in Minnesota. During the day, she geeks out as a data analyst, but is also a First Call Candidate with the Sierra Pacific Synod and is excited for the day she can serve as a pastor.
Guest blog by Cary Bass-Deschenes, Proclaim member and First Call Candidate
In May I graduated from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and am now awaiting the Holy Spirit to call me to a congregation or setting where I can share my gifts. Most days it has been an exercise in patience. Whereas a year ago the synod had a number of calls that were readily available when students graduated, this year congregations in transition all seem to be at different points in their process. So we wait for congregational profiles, schedule interviews, and then have a sort of courting period that in some ways resembles a dating service.
And yet I cannot stay idle. For while the wheels of the ELCA process grind slowly (and with reason, we don’t want to rush people into inappropriate calls) the Holy Spirit yet nudges, coerces and compels me to engage in public ministry in ways that I can, using the opportunities I have.
Because of my affinities with drug offenders (I am over nine years clean sober) I am particularly drawn to prison ministry, and particularly in light of Jesus’ words “ I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25.36). For the last year I have been volunteering at San Quentin Prison and participating in a prisoner-led Restorative Justice roundtable. The roundtable is a weekly event in which participants sit around in groups and learn about the principals of restorative justice – a system of justice that regards the effect of a crime on the victim, the offender, and the communities, and seeks to repair the harm caused by the crime in appropriate ways.
Most weeks the men sit in a circle and read through a chapter of The Little Book of Restorative Justice for People in Prison by Barb Toews. They talk about how they are moved by what they are reading or how it applies to their lives, both with regard to their individual offenses as well as their lives in prison. Outside volunteers like myself also participate, sharing personal anecdotes as well as being active listeners to the men as they share their feelings. There is something remarkable in watching people who have been classified as irredeemable “hardened criminals” change and grow, understanding that what they do impacts those around them and that their own offenses have had impact far beyond where they expected.
Recently, ministry at San Quentin has added on a different dimension. I have several times now walked the tiers of Carson Unit (also known as “The Hole”) with Father George Williams, the Roman Catholic chaplain, visiting men who have been locked in solitary holding cells for a period of time. They may have done something to merit the awful punishment of solitary, they may be there for their own protection, or they may be simply awaiting transfer to another unit or another facility. In any case, their interaction with other human beings is limited almost entirely to the guards and the numerous voices of other prisoners of Carson in other cells who they cannot see.
This work is at the same time rewarding and draining. It is rewarding that by virtue of my very presence I am a source of attention, comfort, and interest, and I can provide them with a set of ears to listen to them and acknowledge their humanity and existence. It is draining because the conditions are dehumanizing and degrading, the suffering seems to be endless, and far too many have accepted that this way of life is the only way that is possible for them.
Prison Ministry offers a new challenge for me as an out gay man. Because as a volunteer we do not as a matter of course discuss our personal lives, there are no real opportunities to be a witness to the power of being a disciple of Christ in the guise of a person in a loving and committed same-sex relationship. Although the staff and other volunteers know who my husband Michael is and of our relationship, as far as the prisoners are concerned I might as well be as straight as most of them. In that respect I have had to consider how genuine this makes me, and I have decided to be more willing to be the pastor, and the person, God has made me. To share that God calls people from all walks of life, including members of sexual minorities. To share that being queer is compatible with leading a Christ-centered life and in fact can give us a unique perspective in overcoming self-doubt and finding grace, in turn leading others to the good news of a savior who is available to all people regardless of individual circumstances.
And so after decades of being public and open, (even as far as recently appearing in a widely published AP photo in my collar with my husband), in my prison ministry I have recently had the experience of “coming out” all over again. This time I decided to come out to one of the prisoners who has some leadership and with whom I have a great deal of contact. He responded favorably and thanked me for the trust I showed him by being genuine with him.
Not surprisingly, the world hasn’t ended as a result. And next week, I’ll be back again.
Cary Bass-Deschenes is a 47 year old first call candidate in the Sierra Pacific Synod, currently serving as Parish Administrator at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church. Prior to his clergy life, he worked as the volunteer coordinator for the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization behind Wikipedia, and as a writer, having published two short stories. Cary is a member of and worships at St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco and is a community participant in Way of Grace in the San Francisco East Bay. He lives full time with his husband Michael in their home in North Oakland, and Banjo, a 12-year old Staffordshire Terrier/Boxer mix.
An extraordinary congregation and pastor were highlighted yesterday by KALW, a San Francisco public radio station, in a story about the Rev. Megan Rohrer and Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church. Read or listen to the whole story here.
The story was about unexpected communities in San Francisco. It’s a great story about Grace Lutheran and Pastor Rohrer, and provides insight into a lesser known part of the LGBTQ community. Megan identifies as transgender and uses the pronoun they to reflect their comfort with male and female aspects of their identity.
Pastor Rohrer has a long history with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. They were a member of the historic ELM Roster, ordained extraordinarily in 2006. Pastor Rohrer was also part of the transitional leadership team that founded Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, serving as the volunteer Communications Director. Pastor Rohrer was received onto the ELCA Clergy Roster in 2010.
“...the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to God’s saints.” Colossians 1:26
There are indeed many wonderful mysteries in our faith. But some mysteries are meant to be revealed. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is excited to reveal our newest resource: The Mysteries of the Ages: ELM’s Unofficial Guide for LGBTQ First Call Candidates.
The candidacy and first call process for rostered ministry is filled with both faithful mysteries and frustrating mysteries. This resource is an attempt to relieve at least a bit of the frustrating part by sharing the wisdom and experiences of those who’ve been there before.
A group of first call pastors from Proclaim and members of ELM’s Candidacy Accompaniment Team worked together to create this new resource for LGBTQ candidates in the Lutheran candidacy and first call process. The resource is filled with prayers, tips, advice, questions, and a good dose of humor. And practical things like: where to come out in your paperwork, or how to deal with awkward questions about your sexuality, or how to celebrate the gift of being an LGBTQ child of God in ministry.
We hope that this will be a helpful tool for LGBTQ candidates as they faithfully respond to God’s call and the church’s call to rostered ministry.
Your contribution to ELM helped us create this and other LGBTQ-specific ministry resources. Thank you for investing in these leaders and ministries!
Rev. Jen Rude, ELM program director, lives in the tension between loving a good mystery and longing for a good reveal. Among life’s current mysteries she ponders are… why her favorite food (concord grapes) are only in season for a few weeks a year, why people put their feet/purse/backpack/garbage on the free seat next to them on a crowded El train, what God is up to that we might be missing, and how long she will be able to hold out before getting a smartphone.
When we came up with the name “Proclaim” for the group of Lutheran ministry leaders who publicly identify as LGBTQ, we knew it was perfect. And when I say “when we came up with,” I mean Jen Rude, ELM’s Program Director. At the time, Jen was serving on the ELM Board. We’d just finished a Board brainstorming session for the name and had come up empty-handed. From the backseat of the car on our drive home, Jen sat up suddenly and shouted, “Proclaim!”
And that was it.
As Paul writes in his second letter to the people of Corinth, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord…” And in Isaiah, “I am about to do a new thing…so that they might proclaim my praise.”
The proclamation of good news is the reason you and others invest in these leaders.
I am always looking for new ways to help the leaders of Proclaim share what is on their hearts. At our recent Proclaim retreat, the Rev. Brenda Bos combined her skills as a Lutheran minister and movie producer to create a series of brief testimonies from Proclaim leaders.
Please check out these stories and share them with others! Your wonderful support makes it possible for us to collect and share these stories so that the good news continues to be proclaimed from a wide variety of voices.
Amalia Vagts, Executive Director for ELM, has had the chance to see all of the incredible interviews that Brenda recorded and is excited for you to see them (except for hers, which was painfully awkward and fixed only through Brenda’s ace editing skills!). Amalia can be reached at director(at)elm.org
Note: This post was edited on 9/5/2014 to correct a URL link.
Since 2013 the number of seminarians in the Proclaim community has doubled, now totaling 48! The Holy Spirit is fiercely moving, strengthening the calls of more and more LGBTQ persons to ministry. In response to this growth, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries discerned the need for a more substantial way to support and celebrate Proclaim seminarians, resulting in our new, faithful and fabulous Proclaim Seminarian Team.
The Proclaim Seminarian Team is made up of student representatives from each of the 8 ELCA Seminaries and 1 student rep for students at non-ELCA schools. This team, of which I have the pleasure of convening once a month, is working to increase the visibility of Proclaim on campus, supporting and responding to the needs of LGBTQ seminarians, and offering insight and direction for ELM resources and programs from the seminarian perspective.
Already this fall team members have spoken at new student orientations introducing ELM and Proclaim and welcomed new LGBTQ students to campus. Throughout the fall we’ll continue to connect with seminarians through social events, meet with students interested in learning more about ELM, and be an active presence on our campuses.
One of the greatest gifts that I have found within the Proclaim community is the particular way in which fellow LGBTQ rostered leaders and seminarians can help bear your burdens, rejoice with you in times of gladness, grieve with you in times of sorrow and in all things, hold each other in prayer. In particular, as we seminarians walk the long, important journey through seminary and candidacy in preparation for public ministry in the ELCA, it has been profoundly helpful to have other LGBTQ persons who have walked a similar journey accompany us on our way.
It’s so great knowing that these colleagues and mentors are just a Facebook post, email, or call away. And certainly the Proclaim Retreats have been some of the most nourishing, inspiring and worth-while professional development experiences I have ever had. As we begin this new school year, I’m excited to share this community with more LGBTQ seminarians!