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

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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.