St. Francis Continues to Light the Path

Guest blog by Malina Keaton, member of ELM’s Ministry Engagement Team

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ELM’s Ministry Engagement program connects congregations allied with ELM’s mission. Team member Malina Keaton has recently been interviewing some of these congregations to find out what makes them so, well, extraordinary! We begin, of course, with St. Francis Lutheran.

Nestled in the Castro District of San Francisco California, St. Francis Lutheran Church has long been involved in the gay rights movement with early ministry of the church centering around outreach to congregants and their families during the height of the AIDS crisis. As a significant portion of the community was impacted, the church served as a bridge for Lutheran families grappling with deaths of their brothers, cousins, or friends and looked to St. Francis for support.

At around the same time, the church decided that it was important to have LGBTQ pastors and hired a lesbian couple to minster to the congregation (Revs. Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart). Due to the ELCA’s previous policy of mandated celibacy for openly gay pastors the church was removed from the roster of congregations for twenty years, but St. Francis was determined to stay active as an independent Lutheran church- a successful ministry that can be contributed to strong lay leadership throughout its tenure. After this period, the church was invited back to the ELCA, and its outreach has continued to grow and evolve partially due to the fact that St. Francis has continued to support LGBTQ leadership.

Elaine Whitney, a longtime member of the church, considers having an LGBTQ minister important because of the different perspective they can bring, “I’m African-American, and so I have experiences in the world that give me a different perspective just because the way people treat me gives me a different side. It’s a similar kind of thing with rostered LGBTQ pastors, that you know they’re going to have different issues because life has given them, in our society at least, a different set of experiences.” It is this intentional uplifting of diversity in the body that has allowed the ministry of St. Francis to grow into various forms of outreach to the LGBTQ community.

Many of the pastors that have served the church have been on the front lines advocating for marriage equality. The church has a homeless/ marginally housed ministry, due to the fact that San Francisco has a large amount of young people who have been rejected from their homes due to their sexuality. Many partnered seniors have found that entering assisted living means they must essentially go back in the closet, and the church has become a place for individuals to be welcomed and come as they are. It has inspired a reexamination of liturgy and intentional conversation about whether God needs to always be referred to as male, or if the institution of marriage is only for straight couples.

But mainly Elaine sees the benefits of an LGBTQ pastor in the message the church can send to its congregants, “Bringing in an LGBTQ leader does a few things. One, it says visibly that a congregation is casting a wider net. That you don’t have to be a straight couple, don’t have to be a certain age, but you can be different and be Lutheran… I think it gives an opportunity to people maybe questioning or wondering- now that I know who I am, now what? It gives them someone who’s a role model of what it means to be Christ-centered in a way that makes it less frightening for those people coming out to their families. You don’t have to be afraid that you’re going to get rejected, or talk to someone who just doesn’t have a clue.”

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To find out more about how your congregation can be more extraordinary(!), see our resource for congregations and call committees – Enrich & Transform: Welcoming LGBTQ Candidates into the Call Process.



God Waits Too

Guest blog by Proclaim member Rev. Nate Gruel

I am comfortable assuming that I am in tune with many other people when it comes to waiting. I hate waiting. I hate waiting rooms. They are places of frustration and aggravation.

Rev. Nate Gruel presiding at the Proclaim Retreat,  with Rev. Anita Hill. (Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia)

I relate well to the pessimism of Samuel Beckett. In his tragicomedy Waiting for Godot, the characters Vladimir and Estragon are a couple of fellas I would be comfortable spending time with.

Some offer different perspectives. William Faulkner once wrote, “And sure enough even waiting will end…if you can just wait long enough.” On a less speculative note, someone once said, “The worst part of life is waiting. The best part of life is having something worth waiting for.”

On a decidedly positive note, someone has added, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain!”

Many in the former Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP, a predecessor of ELM) community and in the current Proclaim community have learned and/or are still learning to dance in the rain.

I was ordained on June 18, 1972, and I left (read “was removed from”) the public ministry when I exited from my private closet in 1979. That was 36 years ago, and since then I never stopped believing that God had called me into the public ministry of Word and Sacrament. For much of that time, life did seem to be all about learning to dance in the rain. That’s a lot of water – not the good, life-giving, life-affirming kind, but the overwhelming, drowning kind.

In the midst of the deluge, however, there have been times for coming up for breath, times for real, joyful, fun-filled rain dancing. In the mid-1980’s there was a period of a year, give or take, when a small community of God’s people in Muncie, Indiana, invited me to pastor them during a vacancy.

The end of that time was stormy, forcing me into some deep, deep waters, but the preceding time of rain dancing had been worth every soggy moment of what followed.

Some years later someone told me about a community of other “rain dancers” called the Extraordinary Candidacy Project. I became a legitimate part of that community in November, 2002, via acceptance to the ECP roster. That community taught me that GOD ALSO WAITS! It became obvious I wasn’t waiting alone, and as many of us waited through stormy times when our ministries were rejected, God was waiting with us; waiting for the storms to pass, waiting for the flood gates of renewal and newness to be flung wide open, waiting for something new.

And wonder of wonders, Faulkner was right. Waiting does come to an end. God must have been tired of waiting, and God knows, so was I. On April 30th of this year I attended a church council meeting of folks at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Ocala, Florida, who were told that the Florida-Bahamas Synod Bishop wanted to appoint me as their interim pastor.

I boldly announced to them the reality of my same-sex relationship, fully expecting that news would bring a swift and negative end to our conversation. (Lots of waiting often results in pessimism.) But they voted unanimously to approve the bishop’s recommendation, and as I write this blog, I am sitting in the office of the pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Ocala, having just written the first sermon I will deliver to this people of God.

I look back now with enormous amounts of gratitude for the many people, known and unknown, who provided varieties of support during my waiting, especially those who participated in and supported the ECP community. It is now so much more than just a cliché to affirm that “good things come to those who wait.” That is my hope-filled message to my brothers and sisters in Proclaim whose wait continues, along with a reminder that God really does wait with you.


nate gruelby Rev. Nate Gruel.  Trained at Concordia Theological Seminary (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod), Nate was ordained to ministry of Word and Sacrament in June 1972. He served two parishes in Indiana until 1979 and was subsequently removed from the LC-MS clergy roster.  For the next 32 years he worked in the newspaper industry as a graphic artist and editor. He was approved to the ECP roster in November 2002. He moved from Muncie, Indiana, to Florida in 2003. He served without a call as Assistant to the Pastor at University Lutheran Church and Campus Ministry in Gainesville, Fla., from 2010 to 2015. In March 2011 he was approved as a candidate for the ELCA roster in the Florida-Bahamas Synod. He was called to be the interim pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Ocala, Fla., on June 1, 2015.  Nate and his life partner, Paul Monaghan, will celebrate the 25th anniversary of their committed relationship in February, 2016.

The Eve of the Festival of Pride

by Amalia Vagts, Executive Director

Amalia with Parish Administrator Pella (yes, we are both 6 footers!)
Amalia with Augustana Lutheran Operations Administrator Pella Borh(yes, we are both 6 footers!)

About two years ago, I met Pastor John Kidd at a meeting of Metro D.C. Synod pastors. We visited about his congregation, Augustana Lutheran Church, and about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

“You should come visit sometime and be our guest preacher,” he said.

This past weekend, that casual comment became reality when Augustana hosted me to help them kick off D.C.Pride (which began this past Monday).

When I arrived, I was immediately greeted warmly by Fred and Doug, who have been members of the congregation for nearly twenty-five years and had arranged for me to stay in their building just near the church. The following day, Pastor John and his partner, Kate, hosted a gathering for members of Augustana who wanted to learn more about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. It was a bustling house full of people who clearly loved being around each other – and who still went out of their way to get to know me and learn more about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Augustana has created a strong culture of welcome and lives out their intention to be a diverse community.

The congregation has recently formed a call committee, as Pastor John is retiring at the end of the year. I had the chance to talk with a few committee members about Enrich & Transform (our guide for call committees), and share our best practice of starting conversations early about creating a call process that includes candidates who are LGBTQ.

With nearly 25 LGBTQ candidates (who are faithful, fabulous, and supremely qualified to do great ministry) awaiting first call, we need more congregations like Augustana who are taking these kinds of early steps to start the conversation.

Augustana Lutheran Church and Comunidad de Santa Maria are located in a somewhat tucked away corner between the busy neighborhoods of Adams Morgan and U Street. In addition to the wonderful events they hosted over the weekend (including a scrumptious dinner), the congregation covered my housing and flight and made a contribution to ELM to support our ministry.

Augustana has a solid online presence to bring their worship experience to those who can’t attend the service on Sunday. You can watch a video of my sermon here. Yes, I did say that Jesus was flaunting his beliefs. And, yes, those ARE Luther College graduates singing those beautiful solos!

Amalia VagtsAmalia Vagts, Executive Director, enjoyed her entire weekend in Washington D.C., but especially loved two moments: seeing a few former Planned Parenthood colleagues (and their kids!) out in the pew when she preached and observing Ruth (a 90 year-old-member of the congregation) recruiting Ben (who was baptized this past year as an adult) for a church project during coffee hour. Oh, and just being in D.C. There’s that too.


Multipling Connections & Sharing Fruitful Gifts at Synod Assemblies

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23a

By ELM Program Director, Rev. Jen Rude

synod assembly 2ELM is Fruitful and Multiplying (read ELM’s executive director Amalia Vagts’ blog about it HERE). It is true that we are seeing lots of fruitfulness and multiplying of LGBTQ rostered leaders and seminarians.  Proclaim (the community for LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders and those pursing rostered ministry) has quadrupled since 2009, actually moving from 193 to 194 members while I was writing this first paragraph – welcoming newest Proclaim member Rev. Jennifer Marlor from North Vancouver, British Columbia!

While we praise God for this thriving community, we continue to watch too many of these gifted leaders wait for a congregation to call them. Too many congregations have not had an intentional conversation within their community about being open to the diverse leaders that God has called to serve our church, including LGBTQ leaders.

We need to multiply congregations and ministries that are excited about partnering with an LGBTQ rostered leader.  We don’t want the church to miss out on these fruitful gifts!

Kyle Severson and Jen Rude at the Metro Chicago Synod Assembly.

This is why ELM’s Ministry Engagement Program hosted display tables at 4 Synod Assemblies this spring.  We’ve been present in Rocky Mountain Synod, Sierra Pacific Synod, Minneapolis Area Synod, and Metro Chicago Synod.  We’ve been working to connect with lay people in congregations, sharing our resources (including Enrich & Transform for Call Committees and Treasure in Clay Jars – stories of LGBTQ leaders in the Lutheran Church), hearing about their ministries, and multiplying connections.

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Proclaim member Diana Linden-Johnson (left), ELM board member Margaret Moreland (center) and ELM board member and Proclaim member Rev. Emily Ewing (right) at the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly

It was wonderful to connect with so many people, to share the stories of ELM, and to plant seeds that are beginning to bear fruit. The work we are doing is not just for those currently ready to serve or already connected with ELM. It’s also for those like the young person who came to our table and whispered, “I’m bisexual.”  When I asked, “Are you thinking about pursuing ministry?” their eyes lit up and they said “Yes!” and signed up for our mailing list.  I told them a little bit about ELM and Proclaim.  And I love knowing that as they and others continue discerning, they already know about a group of LGBTQ leaders, a community of faithful congregations and ministries, and a network of people like you.

Help us nurture these wonderful leaders and multiply congregations and ministries that are ready to partner with LGBTQ leaders  – share one of our resources with someone today!

20150418 Proclaim 151638By Jen Rude, ELM Program Director.  Jen gives a big shout out to Margaret Moreland (ELM board member and Ministry Engagement Convener), Jerry Vagts, and Kyle Severson, all of whom spent time with ELM display tables at synod assemblies.  Your work and witness is a gift that bears much fruit!