Joel Workin (left) and Paul Jenkins

Christephor Gilbert Named 2016 Joel R. Workin Scholar

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Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is delighted to announce that Christephor Gilbert has been named the 2016 Joel Raydon Workin Scholar. The selection committee was thrilled by the number of excellent applications and is thankful to all who applied.

Photo of Christephor
Christephor Gilbert

Christephor (he/him/his) is a member of Proclaim, a student in the Master of Divinity program at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and is in Candidacy with the ELCA toward Word and Sacrament ministry.  Prior to seminary, Christephor worked as the Program Manager for the Kentucky Center Governor’s School for the Arts in Louisville, KY, following his first career as a dancer, dance educator, and choreographer (MFA Dance, University of Hawaii, 1993).  Christephor lives in Hyde Park with his partner Donald and their three cats.  Christephor currently works one day a week as operations coordinator for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Christephor’s home congregation is Third Lutheran Church in Louisville, KY (where fellow Proclaim member, Rev. Steven Renner, is pastor).

Each year ELM names a Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholar  to honor the life and ministry of Joel Workin. Joel was one of the three gay seminarians who were refused ordination in 1989 after “coming out” to their candidacy committees. Upon his death, Joel’s parents, Ray and Betty, and other family and friends created the scholarship fund in his name to keep his prophetic voice part of the movement.

Joel Workin (left) and Paul Jenkins
Joel Workin (left) and Paul Jenkins

You can read more of Joel’s writing in the collection, “Dear God, I am gay – thank you!” The announcement is made in connection with Joel Workin’s birthday, which was May 29.

Workin Selection Committee Chair Michael Nelson wrote to Christephor,

“Your comparison of the grace of a dancer to God’s grace was captivating from the very first paragraph… I think what most moved us as a committee was your expansive language in describing God’s grace: that like the dancer, God’s grace is there for us when “gravity gets the best of you … a potential that was hovering just under the surface … And in the dark falling, in the everlasting emptiness, the grace is there.” …As Lutherans who recognize grace as key component of our theology, you opened our eyes to seeing grace in an entirely different light.”

Upon learning that he had been selected, Christephor replied,

“The passion, pain, hope, anger, and joy that Joel put to words in his work gives voice to a truth that is already writ large and deep on my spiritual center, a truth that ripples out beyond his experience and mine.  Each moment in the life of a queer Christian is set, remembered, and re-lived with each passing generation.  Change happens, sometimes at light-speed and sometimes so slowly you can barely tell that anything is different.  But then God’s grace is always breaking through.  And sometimes that grace shows us where more change must take place.

But we are in this together, a community of souls and a cloud of witnesses.  As Joel says, our greatest grace is to be ourselves—and to live without reservation into our place in the church.  Mary Oliver speaks to this community in her poem “Wild Geese.”  The final haunting lines remind me that the stories of others who have gone before, people like Joel Workin, tell me I belong—and encourage me to continue telling the stories:  ‘Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your place in the family of things.’

I like to think that when we each feel as though we are the only one, all it takes is the honk of another to remind us that the flock is just overhead.

It is an honor and a delight to be the 2016 Joel Raydon Workin Scholar, and I am deeply thankful to the selection committee, the staff and board of ELM, and Joel’s parents who carry on his legacy.”

The award comes with a $2,500 scholarship for academic or spiritual study and is available for members of Proclaim who are studying to be rostered leaders in the Lutheran church.

The Workin Selection Committee includes three personal friends of Joel’s – Michael Price Nelson; the Rev. Jeff R. Johnson; Greg A. Egertson; and former Workin Scholar, the Rev. Rebecca Seely. ELM Executive Director Amalia Vagts did not serve on the committee this year as one of the applicants was an ELM staff member.

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