The Stories Have Been, Are, and Will Be

By Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director

As you read in last week’s blog past, our recent Proclaim Gathering for LGBTQ leaders focused on stories. The theme was “Queer stories/Sacred Witness.” One of the “a-ha” moments for me is that there is no “story” of this movement.  No story is alike, no two people have had the same journey. There are countless individual stories – told together, these stories create a tapestry of a movement and an organization.

Comments from the Proclaim Community
Comments from the Proclaim Community.

At the end of our time together, we spent some time in group conversation and reflection. We hung three sheets of paper on the walls, asking individuals to share their responses to the following prompts; “The queer stories/sacred witness of ELM was/is/will be…”

Words and phrases leap off these three pages – “holy & prophetic,” “life-saving,” “truth-telling,” and “expansive.”

One person wrote this on the “Will Be…” sheet:

“Something we don’t have words for yet.”

As we move deeper into the process of identifying the next strategic steps for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and the Proclaim Community, our individual stories must be realized, shared, and heard.

As one person wrote, we are called to “remember the past, live in the present, and proclaim the future.”

I invite your stories – for you, what have been the stories and witness of ELM? What are they? What will they be? I welcome your response at

AJV Signature NEW0001




Amalia and John BrettAmalia Vagts has served with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries since 2006. Part of her story includes meeting John Brett at a Reconciling in Christ training in Portland, OR in 2005, and having her life changed as he shared some of his own story.  Pictured together at the recent Proclaim Gathering (John Brett, part of the Proclaim Community and a seminarian who serves with the San Francisco Night Ministry is currently on street retreat with the Faithful Fools in San Francisco).


Kindling the Flame – Stories from the 2016 Proclaim Gathering

Rev. Jen Rude, ELM program director

Something powerful happened last week at the Proclaim Gathering.

Spirit-filled worship. Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia.

Proclaim member John Brett shared these words, “Never underestimate the power of a Proclaim Gathering worship to transform our perspective on the possible, our liberation, to kindle joy & deep gladness.”

Others shared these words and phrases:

Deepened connections and support
Engaging storytelling and story listening
Hilarity and laughter
Dynamic worship
Connecting with our roots

ELM board member and Instigator Margaret Moreland leads the board game “Beat the Eschaton - Full Inclusion Version” board game created by Bennett Falk to tell the history of our movement. You can see this year’s “Kindle the Flame” T-shirt on Andy Flatt (far left).
Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia

We gathered under the theme of Queer Stories/Sacred Witness. We began the gathering hearing from Instigators – people who were part of the catalyst for this movement for LGBTQ leaders in the Lutheran church (more on that in another blog soon!). In the evening ELM board member and Instigator Margaret Moreland led the board game “Beat the Eschaton – Full Inclusion Version” – a game designed by ELM supporter Bennett Falk to tell the history of our movement. 

The web of our connections - past, present, and future. Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia
The web of our connections – past, present, and future. Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia


We spent time tracing our history with red yarn linking us together as part of worship.  We were drawn in by the stories of our speaker Frank Rogers and then invited to draw on the stories within ourselves and to share those with each other.  We took hikes in the beautiful hills of the St Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista, CA.

We participated in creative workshops led by members of our Proclaim community.  We stayed up late jamming with tubas, guitars, hand bells, and our voices.  We had quiet conversations over a cup of coffee on the patio. We prayed while walking by the lake.  

Evening music! Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia
Evening sing along! Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia

Many were inspired to go out and share more of their story. Several Proclaim members shared that in the Sunday following the gathering, they felt more compelled to witness about being an LGBTQ person in ministry. Others had open conversation with airplane seatmates and family members. In short – they were proclaiming.

We hope these words and these pictures by our fantastic photographer Emily Ann Garcia give you a few glimpses into what we experienced.

Your support to ELM helps make renewing and sustaining gatherings like this possible for LGBTQ leaders in our church.  You help make queer stories and sacred witness possible every day.  Thank you!


Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia


By Jen Rude.  The Proclaim Gathering is one of the highlights of Jen’s year. She especially enjoys real life connections with people she’s had email relationships with, lingering over meals and great conversation, a ridiculous amount of laughing, being moved to tears by people’s stories, feeling the Spirit’s presence, and being renewed and energized for this work to which we are called.

Are You Feeling Extraordinary?

Guest blog by Margaret Moreland, ELM board member and Ministry Engagement program convener

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has a new way for congregations to come out about their support of LGBTQ people in ministry.  This vibrant new poster will be available for all congregations whose pastors or other rostered leaders are members of Proclaim or who support the mission of ELM in other ways.  It was given out at the Proclaim Gathering this week and will be available at ELM display tables at seven synod assemblies this spring (see below for how you can get one, too!).

Seeing the poster at a church will encourage members of congregations that have Proclaim leaders to remember their connection to ELM and learn more about our ministry.  It can also be an evangelical witness to visitors who will see the values important to the church they visit.  It might inspire an LGBTQ person to consider ministry and find the support to follow that calling.   And we hope it may also get congregations thinking about calling an LGBTQ pastor in their next call process.

If your congregation wants to come out in support of LGBTQ leaders and the ministry of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries by hanging this new poster, please contact to request a poster be mailed to you.

Thank you to University Lutheran Chapel Endowment Fund for a grant to print and distribute these posters along with other materials at Synod Assemblies.


margaret and bennettBy Margaret Moreland.  Margaret’s bio this week is brought to you by her spouse Bennett Falk: Margaret Moreland has practiced Tai Chi for more than twenty years, and she has worked for full inclusion of LBGTQ clergy for even longer than that. She is extraordinary every day.  We agree, Bennett!

Andrew Steele

Ubuntu – I am because we are

By Andrew Steele
Guest Blogger

Andrew SteeleGrowing up the son of two Lutheran pastors was quite an experience. I definitely saw church differently.

I hung out in a lot of church basements. I found interesting ways to play hide and seek in big church buildings. And when there was a portable communion kit in the backseat of the mini-van and I was hungry, communion wafers did the trick. (I know, this is sacrilegious but I was a young kid who had a craving for some tasteless snacks!)  

Needless to say, I kind of went through the motions of being a rambunctious, trouble-making pastor’s kid.  Church was part of weekly and daily life, and the people in our church community were as well.  That’s what I knew and that’s how it was for most of my childhood and young adulthood.

But over the years, I have grown in ways that I never quite anticipated.  

After college, I served as an ELCA Young Adult in Global Mission volunteer in South Africa where I was challenged in many ways.  I was challenged by the cultural differences. I was challenged by my own privilege. And I was challenged by the radical hospitality bestowed upon me by my host community.  I began living into what it means to be community, and I quickly adopted the South African way of life known as Ubuntu, or ‘I am because we are.’ This continued as I moved to Chicago after my time in South Africa to start working for United Way. I began attending St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Logan Square, where Pastor Erik Christensen serves as pastor. I quickly learned about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and Erik’s incredible journey to where is called today. Knowing what Erik’s leadership has meant not just to the Logan Square community but also to me has cemented my passion and belief in ELM’s mission.

So today I attempt to continue living out Ubuntu in a variety of ways.  One of those ways is being an ally and advocate for LGBTQ folks in church and society.  However, I really don’t see the term ‘ally’ being one that best describes how I wish to live this out. My hosts in South Africa taught me a lot about family. They taught me that being a child of God is all that matters, no matter the color of your skin, language you speak, etc. And so I will continue being the brother in Christ that I already am with my LGBTQ family members, more than an ally.

The body of Christ is all of us. We are all one body. And some of the body has cancer. Some of the body is HIV positive. Some of the body is LGBTQ.  The body of Christ cannot be full while some are missing.

As the struggle continues for equality and recognition in the church for our LGBTQ family, (and increasingly in society,) it’s important to remember that South African word, Ubuntu, that we are only who we are because of the people in our lives. That we are all children of a loving God whose love for us is unconditional, and that each member of this family belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:1-8.)

Andrew SteeleAndrew Steele, Director of Global Church Sponsorship for the ELCA, writes most of his reflections on one of his devices while awaiting a flight. He has become quite the expert in airport codes and expedited security lines.