Thankful for a more trans* friendly church

by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director

With Transgender Day of Remembrance just behind us and as  Thanksgiving Day approaches, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries gives thanks for the many ways that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is widening its welcome to people who are transgender.

When the ELCA changed its ministry rostering policies in 2009 to allow partnered gay and lesbian persons to serve as rostered leaders, some wondered if this welcome would include those identifying as transgender. Actions taken by the ELCA in the past year have demonstrated that it is a church seeking to welcome the gifts of transgender people and ministry leaders.

elm_logo-acronymExtraordinary Lutheran Ministries is committed to providing more support and advocacy for transgender people who are following calls to ministry. In addition to work through our Proclaim, Accompaniment, and Ministry Engagement programs, ELM engages in specific efforts, such our advocacy with Portico (detailed below). Additionally, one of Proclaim’s affinity groups is Sparkle* – a group of  trans* identified Proclaim members, which provides confidential support and enables individuals in vulnerable situations or who are publicly low or non disclosing to have their issues raised without compromising their privacy. The “*” in the group’s name helps to remind people of the diversity of the trans* community and is an intentional invitation for those who are a part of the diverse transgender umbrella or questioning to join the group.

asherRecent good news in the ELCA and beyond…

This past summer, Proclaim member Asher O’Callaghan was the first openly transgender person to be ordained through the regular process of the ELCA. (Other openly transgender pastors were ordained prior to 2009 and outside the regular process of the ELCA). On the day of his ordination, Rev. O’Callaghan stated, “The Church is changing: There’s no need to choose between living life as your fullest self and belonging to a community of faith. For transgender people, this means that there are congregations who will affirm, respect, and celebrate our faith and our gender identities.”

Also this summer, a Religion News Service interview with Lutheran seminarian Nicole Garcia, who is transgender and Latina, (and a Proclaim member) went viral after being posted on Huffington Post.

The Rev. Megan Rohrer, Proclaim member, who identifies as transgender, was featured in an article in the September 2015 Lutheran magazine. In response to all the news recently, Rev. Rohrer stated, “Each step that the ELCA takes to support the health and ministries of transgender pastors, is the direct result of many prophets, saints, volunteers and donors who have persistently worked towards the day when people of all sexual orientations and gender identities would be welcomed on both sides of the communion table.”

This month, Portico Benefits Services, a ministry of the ELCA, announced changes removing exclusions to transgender healthcare and adding benefits based on recommendations from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. These changes will provide greater health care access to Portico plan members who are transgender, allowing them to make their own informed choices regarding their health in consultation with their health care providers. We’re thankful to Portico for their responsiveness and openness to our input. In addition to ELM’s advocacy, ELCA congregations contacted Portico about concern for the lack of trans-inclusive health coverage.

One of those congregations, Ebenezer Lutheran Church, shared the following remarks, “We are proud and grateful the ELCA will now offer transgender-inclusive health benefits through Portico. This step empowers the Church’s commitment to fully support the leaders God is raising up, and its mission to be a place where all are welcome.”

At their November 2015 meeting, the ELCA Church Council passed a social message on gender-based violence, which includes messages related to transgender people and raises awareness about transgender and gender non-conforming individuals.

For these and many other wonderful steps towards a church that is a place of welcome and belonging for all, we give thanks. And for you, the supporters of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, we also give thanks – through you, so much of this is made possible.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes that LGBTQ people have extraordinary gifts for ministry. Through their public witness LGBTQ rostered leaders proclaim the Gospel now. We live out this belief through three programs: Accompaniment, Ministry Engagement, and Proclaim, a community of LGBTQ+ rostered leaders, candidates, and seminarians.  Learn more at

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LGBTQ Seminarians – Still at the Forefront

by Rev. Jen Rude, ELM program director

A movement of out seminarians began in the late 1980’s when four seminarians came out to their candidacy committees. These and other acts broke open the movement for full inclusion in the Lutheran church.

elm 25+ logo final medium graphicAnd twenty five years later LGBTQ seminarians are still at the forefront.  Today we celebrate the impact Proclaim seminarians are making in our churches and seminaries.

In 2009, when the policy barring LGBTQ candidates and rostered leaders in same sex relationships ended, ELM was working with 2 or 3 LGBTQ seminarians each year.

Now, just six years later, there are 58 publicly identified LGBTQ seminarians connected with Proclaim. Seminarians make up more than 25% of the Proclaim community. The future looks very bright!

More and more LGBTQ people who are called to ministry are now able to follow this call into our seminaries, our congregations, and into the whole church.  Some are born and raised Lutheran and others are drawn into the Lutheran church through our theology, engagement in the world, and faithful witness.

Who are today’s LGBTQ seminarians?

Screenshot of a recent Seminarian Meet Up sponsored by the Proclaim Seminarian Team
Screenshot of a recent Seminarian Meet Up sponsored by the Proclaim Seminarian Team

They are scholars.  Seven current Proclaim seminarians are recipients of a merit-based full tuition ELCA Fund for Leaders Scholarship and several others were awarded partial Fund for Leaders scholarships.

They are community leaders.  Both on and off campus these leaders are involved in the work of being church in the world.  Proclaim seminarians are taking the lead on four separate campuses to work with our movement partner ReconcilingWorks toward becoming a Reconciling in Christ seminary. They are leading Gay-Straight Alliances and are involved in LGBTQ groups in the community leading conversations about faith. But don’t expect to find them exclusively in LGBTQ ministries.  Proclaim seminarians are active in Public Church Fellows, Interfaith Supper Club, and the Lutheran Office of Public Policy Council. They care about and are active in many aspects of the wider church.

They are servants.  Proclaim seminarians are serving on synod council.  Several members are serving as student body President and members of the student association at their seminary. As part of their seminary worship life they are serving as school sacristan and leading a liturgical dance group.

And that’s just a sampling.

While these seminarians are amazing leaders in so many ways, being LGBTQ is part of what makes them extraordinary – wonderfully “out of the ordinary.”  This experience of being an LGBTQ person of faith has shaped their call and their gifts for ministry.  They are faithful –  following a call to ministry in a church that still has a lot of room to grow in LGBTQ affirmation, and being unsure of where this call may lead them.  They are justice-seekers –  having a particular eye for those on the margins and others who may have felt excluded.  They are evangelical – sharing about the transformative power of God in their own lives as a way to share with others the Good News. And they are fabulous – bringing their unique and beautiful selves in service to God and God’s people.

Proclaim seminarians continue to lead the way in proclaiming the gospel with justice and grace. The road is not always easy, but these leaders have listened to their call, developed and shared their gifts, and are seizing the opportunity to be good stewards of their education, their ministries and the wider community.  

Your gift to ELM helps support these extraordinary seminarians so that one day soon they will be ready to be called to serve your congregation. Lucky you!

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By Rev. Jen Rude, who is inspired and humbled both by the witness of those early LGBTQ seminarians of the 1980s and the 58+ seminarians who continue the movement across our church today.

ELM & the 4-Day Work Week

Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  – Genesis 18:4

Sustainable growth means preparing for the long journey.
Sustainable growth means preparing for the long journey.

by Amalia Vagts,
Executive Director

It seems like everyone is busy these days. I’m guilty of it myself. When someone asks how I am, I usually have to stop myself from replying, “Busy.”

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries IS busy. You’ve heard me say it often this year – we are fruitful and multiplying! And – in the midst of that, we are also embracing a culture of balance over the allure of “busyness.” After about six months of conversation and exploration and then a two-month trial, ELM is moving forward with a four-day, 36-hour work week for our full-time staff (myself and Program Director, Rev. Jen Rude).

The concept was introduced to us at Rockwood Leadership Institute, which Jen and I attended earlier this year. We’ve since talked with others who have successfully moved to similar schedules. The purpose is to create a healthy, sustainable, and well-managed work environment that sustains leaders over a lifetime of activism. Those who have done this successfully have found that their employees are happier, healthier, more efficient, better at time management, more alive in their work and more renewed following the weekend.

Jen and I are using techniques from Rockwood (and other places) to get the most out of our workweek. Here are some key points from Rockwood we are using: keep a clear task list, include personal to-dos, plan for each new day and week, keep portions of the work week meeting-free, know the POP (purpose, outcome, process) of each project & meeting, answer email in batches, turn off email/social media alerts, be clear with everyone about our schedule, and create efficient systems for team planning, accountability, and communication. (You can get more details in this article “You can take care of yourself and still change the world“).

Jen and I both travel extensively for ELM, typically over weekends, with very full days. As a balance, when we are in the office, Jen and I will work Monday-Thursday, generally 9 – 6 (and some evenings for meetings). Fridays are for the following kinds of activities: personal tasks such as medical appointments, household chores, volunteering, congregational work, time with friends, workout classes, and general renewal. For the most part, we will be away from email and our phones Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Jen and I tried this schedule during August and September and we both felt renewed, supported, more effective, and able to give our most and best selves to the work of ELM. At the September in-person meeting, the ELM Board of Directors unanimously endorsed this plan.

We know that many people do not have the choice of this kind of schedule for their employment. We know that pastors and deacons are among the most overworked people in our culture. It is my hope that ELM can model a healthy personal ecology for others and find ways to sustain ourselves and our colleagues for the long haul in their work.

I welcome your questions and feedback.

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