One thing we commonly hear about LGBTQ pastors is that congregations just “aren’t ready.” As you know, we like to say – “Let us help you get ready!”
Thanks to this fabulous new short video, call committees and congregations now have a 6-minute conversation starter about “getting ready” to welcome LGBTQ people into the call process.
This video follows the story of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Conshohocken, PA and their process to call a gay man as their pastor (Proclaim member Rev. Bryan Penman!). It addresses questions including:
What do we do if we’re not sure we’re ready for an LGBTQ pastor?
How can we start this conversation in our congregation?
Why do we need to talk about it?
What are some special gifts of LGBTQ leaders?
Watch the full 6 minute video:
And we need your help! After you watch, please tell your friends about it. We’ve made this sweet 30 second trailer to make it easy for your to share on social media. Help us get the word out!
Thank you to the Philip N. Knutson Endowment in Campus Ministry and the St. Francis Lutheran Church Endowment for providing funds for this project.
+ And, exciting news! We just received word that ELM has received an additional grant from the Philip N. Knutson Endowment to help distribute Enrich & Transform resources!
By Amalia Vagts, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries & Leo Bancroft, ReconcilingWorks
“Our son came out of the closet,” he began, “and we went into one.”
Rick Nelson was speaking in a workshop led by ReconcilingWorks. His shared story drew the whole room into the deep truth of many families in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Mary Ann Nelson shared how their transgender child had been embraced and cared for by his Episcopalian church following a hospitalization. She shared how his church family cared for him in a way that his first church family had not. She looked out at the worship attendees gathered around the tables in front of her. “This could be our church.”
Her words hung in the air. They were a sentence. A charge. An invitation.
In the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries workshop we talked through the way many of us tend to minimize differences in order to avoid talking about them. One participant said, “It’s pretty comfortable being in a place of minimization – it seems like a lot of work to get out of it!”
We all knew what he meant. It is hard work. In our conversation, we focused on all the benefits and liberation awaiting our congregations if we do this hard work.
The ReconcilingWorks workshop reminded us of how high the stakes are if we don’t. Many people who have been welcomed into the pews are feeling that welcome comes with limits. Others feel silenced, unable to share even the joys of a granddaughter’s prom date or the pain of a son-in-law’s recent job loss.
“These are life-saving conversations,” Mary Ann shared. She said she was on a listserve with other mothers of transgender children. The night before our workshop, another mother wrote to say her child had committed suicide, because she had been unable to find a space of welcome and belonging.
“Too many of my friends in the LGBTQIA community believe there is no place for them in the church,” says Leo. “Too many of my friends have had heart-breaking experiences of rejection in faith communities. The church is not a safe space for many. The painful stories they tell me inspire me to give up my weekends traveling to various church settings to train congregations how to be more welcoming.”
The room where the ReconcilingWorks workshop was held had a statue of Jesus, with his arms spread open in embrace. Between the outspread arms of Jesus, Leo placed a flip chart page which read, “Welcoming LGBT Members into your pews: Reconciling Works – Welcome, Inclusion, Celebration of LGBTQ people in the Lutheran church.”
A few of the people stood up to take a picture of this moment, of Jesus embracing the work of welcome for the LGBTQ community. It was a poignant moment, illustrative of the hunger in our community for an acknowledgement of the love and hospitality of God, and the embrace of all people, no matter what.
The painful experiences that many have had in the church do not have to be the norm. We are touching lives and helping churches live into God’s welcome, even one training and one story at a time. There is hope, and there is grace.
We’ve come a long way. We’ve so much further to go. We do our work with joy in the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, and as a movement of people and organizations working together for the new day we all know awaits.
Leo Channing Bancroft (he/him) has a passion for advocacy for both the HIV and LGBTQ communities. When he is not working a tech job or hanging from a trapeze, he is a member of the Board of Directors for Cascade AIDS Project and ReconcilingWorks. Leo serves as a volunteer Regional Coordinator for ReconcilingWorks, is a member of the Proclaim Community, and a candidate for ministry in the ELCA. He enjoys training, preaching, and sharing his story as a bisexual trans man to help make the church a safe and welcoming space.
Amalia Vagts (she/her) has spent time in four cities in the last 7 days thankful to be working as Executive Director for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. She’s especially glad for the chance to have joined Leo and Mary Ann & Rick Nelson (longtime advocates for LGBTQ justice) this past Saturday for their workshop.
We celebrate with Jen, who has been a significant part of this movement for the last decade. Jen was an extraordinary candidate, ordinand and pastor; the first Joel R. Workin Scholar; a key member of the Extraordinary Roster and Proclaim community, an ELM Board Member – who helped create, launch – and name – Proclaim; a volunteer Proclaim Convener, and has served as Program Director since the fall of 2013. She will continue her involvement as a member of the Proclaim Community and as a supporter of ELM.
We give abundant thanks for the work Jen has done with ELM, especially as our first program director. Jen has worked in creative and deeply thoughtful ways to expand ELM’s three programs into thriving and growing work. These programs have experienced tremendous growth under Jen’s leadership. She has been a passionate and faithful leader, and a pastoral presence for the Proclaim community, staff and ELM board. She has been an exceptional colleague who has led with purpose and unparalleled integrity. She will be deeply missed by all of us who worked with her, and a tremendous gift to her new community at Pacific Lutheran University.
In Jen’s own words:
“ELM has played a critical role in my growth and formation as a pastor and as a person. It has been an honor, a gift, and a JOY to be in partnership with you and this community. I have loved my work at ELM with the board, program teams, the Proclaim community, and with all our communities and supporters. I am also incredibly grateful to Amalia, an extraordinary supervisor, mentor, and colleague. Her grace-filled, visionary, and faithful leadership is infused into the fabric of ELM.
I was not looking for a new call, but when this opportunity came up the Spirit kept stirring in me and I felt like I needed to at least explore it. This new call is a great fit for me and my gifts, and it comes with the great sadness of leaving my position with ELM. I will continue in my role as a Proclaim member, ELM supporter, and cheerleader for the awesome work of this organization and movement. I take this next step with a heart full of gratitude, confident that ELM will move into this next phase of its work as it has always done – with boldness, grace, humor, passion, faithfulness, and an overflowing cup of fabulousness.”
We’re thankful for a healthy organization with wonderful and passionate supporters, and a strong and committed board who will help guide the organization as we move into the new possibilities that will emerge from this unexpected change.We are putting together the next steps in our plan; beginning with reviewing the position and working on both short-term staffing and long-term hiring plans. We will keep our community informed as we move forward.
Confident in the Spirit who has led us through many changes, we will faithfully and joyfully move forward together in a way that strengthens our vision and mission.
We are thankful for the Chicago Metro Synod who affirmed Jen’s specialized call to ministry with ELM and we join the community of Pacific Lutheran University in celebrating this most fabulous new call for Jen!
(Editor’s note – many in the LGBTQ+ faith movement are starting to collect and document stories. As I shared in an earlier post – there is no “ELM Story,” rather there are many – and the stories are not just those of ELM or our predecessor organizations, Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project. Our stories are linked to those of denomination partners like ReconcilingWorks (formerly Lutherans Concerned/North America) and others – even to stories being shared today by friends in the United Methodist Church. Enjoy reading Mari’s story! – Amalia)
by Mari Griffiths Irvin Guest Blogger
As I write this, it’s been a month since I was with the Proclaim community in San Juan Bautista, California. I was one of the seven people invited by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) to participate in what was dubbed an “Instigators Gathering.” We were among those whose work led to the forming of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (LLGM) and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP) – both predecessors of ELM. Our time together, among the instigators and later with the entire Proclaim community was an experience that remains with me each day.
The weekend was a mix of old and new. In the early days of the movement toward full inclusion of LGBTQ people into the ministry of the ELCA, we were regularly meeting in one another’s living rooms. We arrived the day before the Proclaim Gathering to review some of the early organizational documents, newsletters, and records. What a reminder of those early debates and grand visions! The materials will be archived at the Center for Gay & Lesbian Studies in Religion (located at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA). We loved reading those letters aloud, sparking many stories from that time.
We also needed to prepare for the large-group plenary at the Proclaim gathering. Not an easy task as each of us could have talked for hours about the significance of this mission and its effect in our lives! Proclaim members had submitted questions like “What were the gifts and burdens of helping birth this movement?” and “What are you ‘known’ for and what would you like to be known for?” Our responses were videotaped and will be archived for future generations to learn about the beginnings of our movement.
Following our comments, each of the Proclaim members responded with one or two words about their experience of hearing from the instigators. In those moments, I saw in the Proclaim community the collective embodiment of the vision that guided our work for so many years.
With great passion – and in the abstract – we had created a way to ministry for those whose calls were being ignored, refused, or discarded by the ELCA because they were LGBT persons who wanted the option to have a partner and family. At that time, the ELCA required LGBT clergy to be celibate. We stood witness to the testimony shown in each life of each candidate for extraordinary ordination and call to active ministry.
As I listened and looked into the eyes of each Proclaim speaker, our long held vision came into sharp focus, embodied in each person. In those moments I more fully felt the Power of God, shown in the future ministries of these dedicated followers of Jesus. What is now will be continued. Their ministries and that of those who join them will truly proclaim the Gospel in ways we cannot yet imagine.
The vision that had guided me and many others for so long was now gloriously visible in the flesh before us. I see and celebrate that picture in my mind’s eye each day.
Thanks be to God!
Mari Griffiths Irvin’s long-dormant faith was rekindled by the extraordinary ordinations of Jeff, Phyllis, and Ruth in 1990 and her subsequent membership at St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Her retirement in 2000 as professor emerita from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA allowed her more time to work passionately as a Lutheran LGBTQ activist. More recently, Mari reinvented herself as a bookstore owner in Yachats, Oregon where she, her spouse (Jeannine Janson), and her sister (Mary Wiltse) work as partners in selling “previously enjoyed and gently used books.”
Guest blog by Proclaim member Ross Murray, diaconal minister
Calling is a funny thing. It’s almost never a direct path. We can plan, but God will intervene with what God’s going to do.
For the last five years, I’ve been working at GLAAD, the world’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy organization. Throughout my time at GLAAD, I’ve been the lead on religious work. Even though my exact title has shifted over the years, I’ve been blessed to preach, organize pro-LGBT faith voices to rally for LGBT equality, and support LGBT people and communities of faith. I’ve worked hard to dispel the myth that LGBTQ people and religion are opposed to one another, or “God vs. gay,” as we are so often told.
Perhaps the most Lutheran, and even protestant, thing I’ve done was developed and executed a campaign around Pope Francis’ visit to the US that highlighted the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and LGBTQ people. Instead of a church door, I was connecting media with LGBT Catholics who could talk about how they continue to keep their faith, despite alienation and sometimes outright persecution from the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
But until this point, I have been doing this work as an educated, hard-working Lutheran lay person. After April 30, I am now doing my LGBTQ advocacy work at GLAAD as a called and consecrated diaconal minister in the ELCA. Diaconal ministers go through theological education, candidacy, and a call process, just like clergy. However, the role of the diaconal minister is distinct.
While clergy are ordained into “Word and sacrament” ministry, diaconal ministers are consecrated into a ministry of “Word and service.” A diaconal minister is someone whose ministry is at the border of the church and the world. Historically, diaconal ministers have assisted in worship, run the administration of the church, directed aid for those in need. Diaconal callings usually involve a focus area: chaplaincy, administration, social service, prison ministry, etc. My particular calling will be to advocate for equality and acceptance for LGBTQ people, both in the church and the world, through my job at GLAAD.
While being called and consecrated is new for me, the fundamentals of my day-to-day job are unlikely to change. However, what will change is that mutual accountability that I have with the ELCA. My job is now my calling, which means I’m representing the larger church through my actions. It also means that I can continue to help the ELCA find ways in which to use its platform and voice to continue to call for the care and protection for LGBTQ people in society.
We are at a time when faith voices are critical to the LGBQ movement. That “God vs. gay” myth persists. Statewide “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRAs) attempt to reinforce it. Anti-LGBTQ advocates and public examples like Kim Davis want that myth to stay in place in order to protect their position in the world. My calling is about making sure that there continues to be a public witness that can use sound theology and a firm belief in the power of grace to spread the message that God has created us, knows us, and loves us, just as we are.
Ross Murray and Abby Ferjak were consecrated as ELCA diaconal ministers in a service on Saturday, April 30, 2016 at Advent Lutheran Church on Broadway in Manhattan, NY. Abby will continue her work as a hospital chaplain at Valley Health System in Ridgewood, NJ. Both Ross and Abby are members of Proclaim, a community of 220+ LGBTQ rostered leaders, seminarians, and candidates for ministry. Proclaim is a program of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
by Ross Murray. Ross is a Lutheran Diaconal Minister and member of Proclaim. He is GLAAD’s Director of Programs, focusing on global and the US South. He has written and appeared on numerous media outlets, including CNN, Al Jazeera, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Religion News Service. Ross is also a founder and director of The Naming Project, a faith-based camp for LGBT youth and their allies. If you’ve been thinking of jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, but don’t know where to start – check Ross out: @inlayterms – in 2014, he was named one of Mashable’s “10 LGBT-Rights Activists to Follow on Twitter.”