By Michael Price Nelson
In this post, Michael Price Nelson reflects on his friend and colleague, Joel Workin, and on this year’s Workin Scholar Christephor Gilbert’s essay on grace.
Thirty years ago this week, I first met Joel Workin at a Lutherans Concerned meeting at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood. While many of the faces there were new to me, Joel stood out – not least of all because of his 6’4” frame. Joel was immersed in his internship at a church in LA, and like most seminarians I’ve known, he radiated with an eagerness and joy about being something greater than himself, about living into his “call” of Christ in his life.
Less than 18 months later, however, after being certified for call by Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, two church officials summoned him to Los Angeles, along with Jim Lancaster and Jeff Johnson. In that meeting, the three were presented with a document outlining how they were to behave as openly gay candidates. Jim had prepared a list of specific questions: “Are we allowed to touch? Can we hold hands? What about kissing?” At this point, he was stopped by his inquisitors and told, “Look, we don’t know how to define it. We just know we don’t want you to do it.”
“Don’t you call unclean what I call clean.”
This was a favorite passage of Joel’s from the story of Cornelius. I can remember him preaching on this as he struggled with his own sense of call in the face of the ELCA’s “no” to God’s “yes” in his life. In the end, Joel was never ordained. Instead, he made a loving home with his husband Paul Jenkins and channeled his own sense of ministry into service for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, helping to establish the country’s first free standing AIDS hospice. He also served as newsletter editor for the local Lutherans Concerned chapter and wrote many essays about LGBTQ people in the church, which are the basis for his posthumous book “Dear God, I’m Gay. Thank You!”
In the years since he passed away, I’ve often struggled with how to make sense of all that happened to Joel. With his friends, I helped establish the Workin Scholarship in the hopes that would make sense. But on a deeper personal level, I’ve still wondered how anyone could go on once a calling is stolen from you because of who God made you to be. How do you go on? How does anyone go on after being rejected by family and friends for being LGBT? How does anyone go on after losing a job because of sexual identity? And why, why would you even want to?
Then I read this line, written by this year’s Workin Scholar, Chistephor Gilbert, in his beautifully crafted essay on grace: “And in the dark falling, in the everlasting emptiness, the grace is there saying, Get up and follow me.”
Even though I’m an every-Sunday-Lutheran, I need to be reminded of this, to have grace presented to me in new images, to re-engage me with its true nature. Christephor Gilbert’s essay has done that for me. He challenges me – and I hope all of you – to look anew at what Joel called “grace unbounded.”
Michael Price Nelson serves as chair of the Joel R. Workin Scholarship Committee. He was a colleague and friend of Joel’s and was the editor of both editions of “Dear God I’m Gay. Thank you!” Michael and his husband, Dale von Seggern, are members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, CA.
What’s on your summer reading list? We’ve got a few suggestions for you!
You may not realize all the resources that already exist to help LGBTQ people considering and following a call to ministry. ELM knows it’s good to be in community, rather than work it out by ourselves. So we put our best minds together and wrote this wisdom down.
All of the following resources have been created by teams of grassroots volunteers, led by ELM staff. We’ve gathered wisdom from pastors, candidates, bishops, candidacy committees, call committees, synod staff, allies, lay leaders, and all kinds of folks!
Please check them out and share them widely – all can be downloaded free from the ELM website. Limited printed copies of some resources are available thanks to a special grant from the Philip N. Knutson Endowment. Contact us for more information: email@example.com.
Enrich and Transform – Welcoming LGBTQ Candidates into the Call Process (Booklet & Video)
Is your congregation ready to talk about how to welcome LGBTQ people in your pastoral call process? It’s never too early to start this conversation – in fact, the sooner the bettter, and especially BEFORE you start a call process! This six-minute video and 10-page booklet are a ready made discussion and planning document for your congregation. You’ll learn how the extraordinary gifts of LGBTQ pastors can enrich and transform YOUR congregation and community – and find detailed information about how to get ready to consider or welcome and LGBTQ pastor.
Enrich & Transform – the Movie! Check out this 6-minute story about what happened in one congregation when they called a gay pastor.
Internship and LGBTQ Interns – A Guide for Supervisors and Committees – is your congregation considering hosting an LGBTQ intern? Would you like to? Are you right now and running into unexpected questions? Please check out this resource for detailed information about making this a positive and healthy experience for all of you.
Mysteries of the Ages (“A handy guide for people exploring or preparing for rostered ministry in the ELCA”) is a detailed, candid collection of stories and step-by-step instruction on how to navigate the candidacy process. LGBTQ people considering or following a call to ministry will want to read it, share it with your candidacy or internship committees, give it to your family and friends who don’t quite “get it” and then pass along a copy to your non-LGBTQ friends because they are also going to be THRILLED that such an amazing resource exists.
FOR CANDIDACY COMMITTEES:
Candidacy and LGBTQ Individuals – An Offered Resource for ELCA Candidacy Committees. This guide is already being used by a number of candidacy committees throughout the ELCA. Are you a friend looking to help? Check with your synod office to find out if they know about the resource, and if not, give them a copy! One volunteer attended a candidacy committee meeting prepared to share it, and unbeknownst to her, the Bishop already had prepared a 15 minute presentation about how the resource can help improve conversations with LGBTQ candidates!
Treasure in Clay Jars – Stories of LGBTQ Leaders in the Lutheran Church, which is chock-full of stories and photos of our faithful and fabulous members and their stories of coming out, first-calls, candidacy and generally serving the church with humor and integrity.
Joel R. Workin’s very important work Dear God, I am Gay – Thank You! is also available. Joel was one of the first four seminarians who came out to their candidacy committees in 1988. Joel’s voice is alive and well in the church today!
WHY WE DO THIS:
We have created each of these resources because we believe the extraordinary gifts of LGBTQ people in ministry enrich and transform our church and communities. And we know that it’s not easy to be faithful and fabulous all the time. ELM helps overcome barriers to ministry so LGBTQ people can fully live out their call to ministry.
We’re able to create and share these all of this thanks to the generous and wonderful friends who support ELM. Thank you to those who give to ELM!
If you have not made your gift this year, we invite you to donate now to help us share these resources and develop others.
And then, settle back into your hammock and start reading…ahhhhhh, summer!
Guest blog by Larell Fineren, ELM Synod Assembly Display Coordinator
When Ministry Engagement Convener Margaret Moreland called to ask me about volunteering to coordinate for the Table Display Hosts and Hostesses I imagined a bevy of Vanna Whites seductively pointing to various Tupperware items on kitchen tables across America. Err…no…She meant hosts and hostesses for those myriad information tables that decorate the way to the Cookie Table at Synod Assemblies. “Oh, that kind of host,” I said, feeling somewhat deflated. But being a good queer Lutheran, I quickly said yes and resolved to make it a success.
We managed to surface seven volunteers for the job. Diane Linden-Johnson at Rocky Mountain, Lois Voss at Minneapolis, Jerry Vagts at St Paul, Terry Krueger at Metro NY, Michael Nelson at Southwest CA, Bob Goldstein at Metro Chicago, the diversity team in Southeast Michigan, and me, Larell Fineren at Sierra Pacific, all rose to the hosting challenge. My job also included making sure the supply boxes made it from Assembly to Assembly between our first one on April 28th and the last one on June 11th.
We all reported good “table exposure” (no closets for us anymore!) which meant many visitors stopped by to talk and get resources. In general, we felt about 50% of our visitors were well aware of ELM and Proclaim. The other 50% got an earful when they stopped long enough to chat! I talked to two young LGBTQ folks who felt called to ministry and wanted to go to seminary. I was able to talk to them about our Candidacy Accompaniment program, of which they were unaware. Other hosts also reported talking to potential ministry candidates. Surprisingly, one host talked to two seminarians who didn’t know about ELM! That was a shocker to me. I imagined I was there mainly for the straight folks, to pitch our Ministry Engagement program. But it made me realize how important it is to continue to get our message out there to EVERYONE—over and over again.
One funny thing was how our clearly marked “Display copy only” booklets of Treasure in Clay Jars and Enrich & Transform were slyly taken when we either weren’t at the table, or weren’t looking. It was a bummer to have our materials disappear before others could see them. But the Spirit blows where and how She wants–I had to assume they went where they needed to go.
We all felt that hosting was enjoyable, worthwhile, and something we’d do again. Would you like to host a table at your Assembly next year? We’d like to at least double the number of Assemblies we’re represented at next year. If you’d like to give it a go (and store some treasure in Heaven), please contact ELM Operations Coordinator Christephor (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let him know.
By Larell Fineren. Larell lives in Petaluma CA and attends Elim Lutheran Church. She’s a member of the Sierra Pacific Synod Council, where she happily provides a queer perspective on issues.