Today we hear from guest blogger, Diaconal Minister Lauren Morse-Wendt. On the eve of Thanksgiving, we wanted to highlight and share a wonderful idea from the extraordinary congregation Edina Community Lutheran Church.
by Lauren Morse-Wendt, D.M.
At Edina Community Lutheran Church we are always seeking new and active ways to engage in justice, so during this season of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share this as a simple and powerful activity for other congregations to try as well.
Our congregation is committed to mission and justice, and we often hear from parents and grandparents that they seek more opportunities to connect their children to these values.
But, most volunteer organizations are have a minimum age limit, so we’ve stretched ourselves to come up with opportunities accessible to all ages. Throughout the month of November, we reminded the congregation to donate food and hygiene items to our regular food shelf partner. By Christ the King Sunday, we had a hallway overflowing.
It took only twenty minutes to transform the sanctuary into a labyrinth, turn on some meditative music, and invite babies to crawl, toddlers to toddle, and children and adults to prayerfully walk through the labyrinth praying about hunger and our part in both creating and ending it.
Our faith, our worship, our call to seek justice are intertwined…but sometimes we need a tangible reminder. Physically moving the altar following worship, building a prayer labyrinth out of donated food, and prayerfully walking through the food itself was a physical reminder for what we as Children of God are called to do in this world.
Proclaim member Lauren Morse-Wendt is a Diaconal Minister serving as the Mission and Ministry Developer at Edina Community-Lutheran in Edina, Minnesota. When she’s not joining her faith community in advocacy acts…she’s at home with her wife advocating for their 2 year old to go to bed before 9 p.m.
Guest blog by Asher O’Callaghan
It’s been about 4 years since I came out as transgender. I’ll always remember the first vigil I participated in as a part of the International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). This day has been observed annually on November 20th since 1998 to honor the memory of those whose lives have been lost in acts of anti-trans* violence during the past year.
I had only been out for less than a month when I attended my first vigil and the experience was jarring. The event was held at a church building in a warm room with lots of candles and we sat in chairs forming concentric circles. As is typical at these vigils, each of the names of people who had been murdered was read. Even though I went into it aware of the heavy nature of the event, I was disturbed.
That year I was unsettled by several things I noticed about the names and people we were commemorating. Most of the people who had been lost that year were transwomen of color. We couldn’t pronounce many of the names. I will forever remember a comment my girlfriend made as we were driving home: “They butchered so many of the names.” It was true. Most of the people we were commemorating that year were from Central or South America. Yet most of the people gathered for the vigil (including me) were monolingual English speakers. I’m still glad the vigil was held, but the facilitators’ inability to correctly pronounce the names (and my own inability to do any better) spoke powerfully to me about how far my own experiences and privileges were from those of other trans* people around the world.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is important because we still live in a world where hate crimes happen based on gender identity and gender expression. The most basic of all human rights is the right to live. While coming out certainly did feel scary for me, this vigil and the others I’ve participated in since have been reality checks. Though I may worry about my right to marry, or the prejudices I may occasionally encounter, I feel pretty safe in public on a daily basis.
Some progress has been made towards trans* equality. Much has yet to be made. Surely God grieves over this world in which some of God’s children are not safe to live their lives as themselves. We are all called “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God” (Mic 6:8). For me, part of this call to ministry has meant bringing my whole self and all my experiences into the ministry I do: my gender identity, my sexuality, my cultural background, my privileges. At times this call to ministry has been a call to activism. At other times, it’s been a call to listen to the experiences of others. Sometimes a call to ministry means remembering to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).
If you’re interested in participating in a local vigil, you can find one nearby here: http://tdor.info.
What does the asterisk stand for in trans*? The asterisk is meant to symbolize that the term is being used as an umbrella to include a broad diversity of gender identities. So this term is meant to include not only people who identify as transgender or transsexual, but also people who identify as genderqueer, non-binary, gender fluid, third gender (just as a few examples). To read more on this, click here.
Asher is a faithfully fabulous bisexual transguy. He’s a Proclaim member, a candidate for first call, and is serving on ELM’s Board of Directors. In December, he’ll be graduating from Luther Seminary. Asher is excited to have been assigned to the Sierra Pacific Synod. He’s from the gloriously gorgeous land of Colorado and looks forward to spending lots of time doing outdoorsy things in another lovely part of the country.
By Jen Rude, ELM program director
Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 1 Peter 4:10
They really needed to hear what I had to say. And I needed to hear their stories. Last week I visited The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.
On both campuses I was able to meet with students, staff, and faculty – to develop relationships, share resources, and listen to folks who are committed to celebrating and lifting up the gifts of LGBTQ people called to ministry. It’s clear things are shifting and becoming more open, but there continue to be significant challenges for LGBTQ people called to ministry. Challenges I heard about include finding an internship congregation, coming out in a conservative congregation and wondering if you’ll lose your call, finding field ed and clinical pastoral education sites that are supportive of LGBTQ students, and waiting longer than straight candidates for first call and wondering if there will be a place to serve at all.
Whether folks knew about ELM or were new to our ministry, there was an overwhelming sense that what we offer to LGBTQ ministry leaders is a lifeline and a source of hope. Several straight allies came to conversations on campus and said both that they didn’t quite realize some of the challenges their LGBTQ peers were facing to follow their call and that the gifts these LGBTQ leaders bring are desperately needed in our church.
Through our work at ELM we are supporting and affirming LGBTQ people called to ministry, and helping the church live into a more inclusive vision of the diverse community of God, so that all the gifts God gives us are shared in service of the church and world.
I am honored to be able to connect with folks all over the church on behalf of ELM. What we are doing is important work and we need to keep sharing the good news!
Thank you for your support that helps make these connections possible.
By Rev. Jen Rude, ELM program director. As a preschooler Jen’s predicted profession was “Cruise Director.” She is thankful that she gets to use many of those cruise directing gifts in service of ELM. And she feels old when people don’t know who Julie McCoy is.
Remember that nervous feeling as you reach the end of the cafeteria line and then turn to face a room full of tables filled with people talking and laughing. Where do you sit? Will you make a new friend? Will you trip on your way across the room?
This feeling came up last month when ELM program director Jen Rude and I attended the ELCA Conference of Bishops. In fact, it happens several times a year for me when I attend the ELCA Conference of Bishops and ELCA Church Council meetings. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone throws a milk carton at me or slides their books over so I don’t sit down next to them (okay, that did happen once). But the unavoidable sense that I’m on my own comes up time and time again.
People do often ask, “Why are you here? The 2009 decisions were ages ago. Why do you keep coming back?”
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries made an organizational commitment in 2009 to be present at these meetings in order to be a visible witness of LGBTQ rostered leaders, candidates, and seminarians in the church. Over the years, I have developed wonderful relationships with Bishops, Church Council members, and Churchwide staff who, like me, are committed to living out God’s work. I have witnessed powerful conversations about faith, the future of the church, and spirituality. I have deepened my own sense of compassion for those different than me. On a couple of occasions, I have been invited to speak to address questions about LGBTQ rostered leaders. At other times, I have experienced again the deep, biting, pain of exclusion that caused me to step away from the Lutheran church years ago. It has been a deeply challenging and spiritually enriching part of my work.
There have been times when I have been one of a handful of openly LGBTQ people in a room full of people discussing the future of LGBTQ people in our church. It is most often the case that my colleagues from ReconcilingWorks and I sit at the back of the room and observe conversations about our community happen around us. It’s true that the people having the conversation are the appointed and elected leaders of the church and we are visitors. It is also true that without even our silent presence, many of these conversations would likely be very different.
ELM invests in this work. Caring ELM donors contribute funds to pay for my travel so I can be present at these meetings. We believe that it is vital that we are present when the church invests time in talking about matters impacting LGBTQ rostered leaders and seminarians.
I am extremely grateful for the surprising and new conversations I’ve had with the leaders of our church. I have not forgotten a single time that a person looked up and smiled as I crossed the room and invited me to join their table.
When I think back on junior high, I often remember some of my darkest and most devastating days. I also know that I learned who I was in those days, and have never forgotten those who valued me for who I was.
I give thanks that I am able to do this work. I’m heading off to attend the ELCA Church Council this coming weekend and invite your prayers for the Council and others engaged in the work and life of the ELCA. And the next time you see someone looking for a place to sit, consider the good that might come from you offering a smile and the chair next to you!