(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
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.”