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.
Extraordinary 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.
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 www.elm.org.