Special Announcement – 2015 Joel R. Workin Scholar is Justin Ferko

Friday, May 29, 2015

2015 Workin Scholar Justin Ferko
2015 Workin Scholar Justin Ferko

Today marks the anniversary of Joel R. Workin’s birth. In memory of Joel and the way in which his prophetic voice is alive today in the mission of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, we use this anniversary each year to name the annual Joel R. Workin Scholar. The 2015 Joel R. Workin Scholar is Justin Ferko, a student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio.

As we honor Justin and remember Joel today, we look to these words from Joel’s Personal Reflective Essay. A note of history – Joel Workin was certified for ministry by the American Lutheran Church. He was later “de-certified” by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America after he came out as a gay man. This essay was cited in the reasons for his de-certification. Joel writes,

“I am committed to and convinced of my own and the church’s need to be always reforming, daily dying and rising, on guard against too easy identification of God’s obvious ways and answers. More than this, however, I am utterly committed to and have been transformed by the great ‘yes’ of God. My story, other’s stories, the story of the world, are all, in the last analysis, in faith’s analysis, stories of grace. These are stories of a relentless, loving God who will not take ‘no’ for an answer, not my ‘no’ nor your ‘no,’ not the church’s ‘no,’ not the world’s ‘no.’ God keeps right on justifying, reconciling, liberating, feeding, ushering in the kingdom, saying ‘yes.’ Even if it kills God (and it did, the cross), even if it kills us (it does, baptism), somehow God is going to get everybody to that big banquet feast (resurrection, the kingdom, new life). I want to continue to be a messenger and means of God’s invitation, to share the good news of God’s ‘yes,’ to live a courageous and comforting life of faith, to incarnate Christ and the kingdom for my neighbor, to die and rise daily.This is my ‘mission.'”

Like all years, we received many excellent applications. Applicants submitted a short essay in response to Joel’s writing and a short answer to the question: “What is the prophetic word that LGBTQ people can bring to the church today?” They also submitted a resume, transcript, and letter of recommendation.

The Workin Committee is delighted with this year’s selection. Justin is a distinguished student and visible leader for LGBTQ people on campus and in the community.

The committee wrote this to Justin:

“We found your essay thoughtful and expansive.  You began with images of drowning and baptism and then eloquently expressed your own triumph over depression and despair with the words “Coming out was full immersion.”  From that point onward, you not only showed yourself to be an exceptional writer, but those of us who knew Joel had the sense we were “hearing” a voice like his, a voice unhesitant to speak Good News to a marginalized LGBTQ community and to boldly call the world and the Church into account on their behalf.  Your final paragraph speaks of “spreading the radical message of God’s abundant extravagant grace for all” and finally calls on God to “breathe Holy Spirit into the strange wildness of life.”  That final petition is as moving as it is masterful.  We are most eager to see where God’s “strange wildness” leads you in ministry.”

In a letter of recommendation, one of Justin’s professors wrote:

“Justin’s spiritual journey has included a great deal of theological reading and thinking, as well as confident advocacy for himself and other GLBQT students and initiatives…. his breadth of insight and analysis are consistently leavened by what sets him apart from even other strong students, namely the poetic sensibility, deep human sensitivity, and capacity for original liturgical/spiritual connection he brings to everything he does. “

Former Joel R. Workin Scholars include: Rev. Jen Rude (2006), Rev. Matthew James (2007), Rev. Julie Boleyn (2009), Rev. Laura Kuntz (2011), Rev. Emily Ewing (2011), Asher O’Callaghan (2012), Rebecca Seely (2012), Gretchen Colby Rode (2013), and Amy Christine Hanson (2014).

Congratulations to Justin and thank you to all the wonderful Proclaim seminarians who applied for this honor.

You can read more about Justin here.

You can read more about Joel Workin and the Workin Scholar Program here.

ELM Invites you to join us at Until All Are Free

UAAF_logo_FINAL_HEADER_webJoin ELM at the ReconcilingWorks biennial assembly, Until All Are Free, July 31 – August 2 in Minneapolis, MN (pre-events begin on July 30).

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries will lead a pre-event and two workshops during the Assembly.

On Thursday, July 30, we will host a pre-event afternoon session for those wishing to learn more about making a plan to be open to calling LGBTQ pastors. We are able to offer this session at no cost, thanks to a grant from the Philip N. Knutson Endowment at St. Olaf College.

During the Assembly, we will offer two workshops.  One will cover the history of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and what we’re doing now. The other will be a panel of LGBTQ rostered leaders and members of their congregations talking about the call process, the early days, and sustaining leaders who are LGBTQ.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is excited to support the work of our partner in ministry, ReconcilingWorks. Rev. Jen Rude, ELM Program Director and Amalia Vagts, Executive Director will lead the ELM events and attend the Assembly. We hope to see you there!

You can learn more and register for Until All Are Free here.

Black LIves Matter

The God who made me Queer also taught me what it means to say Black Lives Matter.

by Rev. Lura Groen, guest blogger
with thanks to many, especially Louis Mitchell, for feedback and edits

Making me Queer has been the Spirit’s way of breaking through to me, of teaching me, of giving me a burning in my bones about issues of oppression and enabled me to notice and care about racial oppression, police brutality, and the subtle white supremacy of our churches.

Black LIves MatterBeing Queer taught me that, although personal prejudice might break my heart, systemic injustice is what steals our lives, hopes, and dreams.

Depending on the person, how close I am to them, finding out that someone thinks “homosexuality is a sin” or “doesn’t believe in gay preachers” might hurt.  If they’re family, if they’re church family, the hurt may be very deep.  If I don’t know them at all, it just might not hurt at all.

But there’s a difference between a bishop denying my call because of my sexual orientation, and a member in the church I serve questioning it.  And that difference is power, and structure.  I know that if I worship in a denomination that affirms my call to ministry, one person’s personal prejudice won’t destroy me.  And that if my call is denied, the Spirit screams within me in a way that all the sympathetic friends and family can’t silence. So when I hear that racism is more than personal prejudice, but systemic oppression, the Spirit has taught me, through my Queerness, to listen.

Because I’m Queer, I’ve learned to value disobedience in the face of injustice.

I value the ability to feel, absorb and care deeply about oppression beyond my own, to recognize that there are those who will follow and that knowledge calls for action now! I’ve felt the burning unrest of not being able to live the way one is created to live. I’ve learned how the deadening of systemic oppression can be survived with righteous anger.  I’ve heard them say to me “follow our rules, and you won’t get hurt” and I know how deep a lie it is.  I got to experience standing with one’s community in intentional disobedience (in our movement, the Extraordinary Candidacy Project) and how it can change the rules that are killing us. Through my Queerness, the Spirit taught me to love the Jesus that rioted in the temple, and riots now in the streets of Baltimore and other places where racial injustice demands it.

Being Queer has taught me that how we talk about people in church matters.  When people describe God’s holy people and use words that don’t mean me, examples that don’t include my life, and issues that are never mine, I know that the sacred dignity of my life is not being affirmed, and worse, that the lives of other people are lifted up as somehow more godly than mine.  So when I hear white churches refuse to name police brutality, act as though Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Yvette Smith, Pearlie Smith and Tyisha Miller never died or were somehow not respectable enough to merit safety and trial – churches that worship for weeks without even naming Ferguson or Baltimore, I hear them subtly reinforcing white supremacy, teaching without words the heresy that white lives matter more to God.

Being Queer has taught me that God speaks in voices other than mine, that I need to shut up and hear, and eat, the words of the prophets. Change couldn’t have happened in the Lutheran Church without straight pastors preaching about the created goodness of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.  But oh boy, sometimes they’re awkward and say it differently than I might!  And when a straight pastor tries to tell me about my experience as a Queer person in the church, their loving blunders can cause me pain. Their experience isn’t mine, and I do not truly know the experience of being afraid that a police officer’s judgment about the color of my skin will endanger my life. I’m sure that my speaking of racial injustice is likewise a little awkward, a little wrong.  What I know I’ve learned from people of color, who had the grace, the gift, to instruct and correct me. The Spirit is teaching me that allies need to speak to those who haven’t yet heard, but will hear the Spirit’s voice when we sit down to hear the voices of Black people in the streets, and in our churches. And the truth is, every piece of this essay that I say the Spirit taught me, She taught me in the voice of Black colleagues and friends.

Because God created me Queer, I can’t stop hearing the voice of God in the protests, the rebellions, the sermons, the songs, and the curses of Black people around me.  And because I’m a pastor, I will burn in my bones until I repeat the words of God to those who haven’t yet heard.

lura groen Pastor Lura Groen served Grace Lutheran Church in Houston, TX for more than six years. With the congregation, she founded Montrose Grace Place, a safe, welcoming environment for vulnerable, homeless youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities, which provides nourishment, healthy relationships, and hope for the future. She continues her ministry on social media and in the Montrose community, while trying her hand at blogging, and experimenting with new forms of spiritual community.  Pastor Lura is a member of Proclaim. You can find her at luragroen.blogspot.com.

Thanks for stopping by!

by Amalia Vagts, ELM Executive Director

I don’t often get to visit with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) volunteers in my living room, but we accomplished that yesterday with our first ever “web-chat” for ELM program and committee volunteers. Fantastic!

ELM Program Director Pastor Jen Rude pitched this idea earlier this year, calling it a “state of the state” for the people committing a great deal of time and energy into ELM. Since our volunteers are located all over the country and often working on very specific areas, we wanted to give them a glimpse into what else is happening with ELM. We were able to use video chat technology (which we get through a wonderful donation from Citrix GoTo Meeting via the fabulous nonprofit tech site, Tech Soup) to bring us a bit closer together than the phone allows.

ELM Board Co-Chairs, Jim Kowalski  (left) and Pastor Mike Wilker.
ELM Board Co-Chairs, Jim Kowalski (left) and Pastor Mike Wilker on the ELM Volunteer Web-chat.

Jen invited ELM Board Chairs, Jim Kowalski and Pastor Mike Wilker; along with our three program conveners, Pastor Caleb Crainer (Proclaim); Margaret Moreland (Ministry Engagement); and Pastor Randy Nelson (Candidacy Accompaniment) to give an overview of the last year of our three core programs. She also invited Kyle Severson, who has served as the convener of the Proclaim Seminarians Team (created because of the growing number of LGBTQ seminarians joining Proclaim). Jen and I were also on hand to give some general overviews of the last year for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

Here is a highlight from each presentation:

  • A new Proclaim project is “First Friday Faithful & Fabulous Forums” – a chance for Proclaim folks to gather regularly throughout the year. Caleb also said his thanks (and we said ours!) as he is ending two years in this role and welcoming Pastor Emily Ewing as the new Proclaim convener.
  • Candidacy Accompaniment is continuing to focus on the needs of candidates, with a growing focus on support for those awaiting first call – as well as those who are in the first few years of a new call.
  • This month, Ministry Engagement launched one of their new projects – an ELM presence at synod assemblies. Margaret Moreland had a great visit at the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly. ELM will also be at the upcoming Minneapolis Area, Metro Chicago, and Sierra Pacific Synod Assemblies.
  • The Proclaim Seminarians Team has helped create a growing presence for Proclaim at our ELCA seminaries (and a few other divinity schools).

We use web-chats for our board, program, and committee work, and Proclaim regularly uses web-chats to gather for conversations and meetings. Yesterday was a fun chance to connect across the miles and we plan to host more of these for volunteers and other ELM friends in the future. I hope to see you on one!