Guest Blog—Loops of Change and Waves on the Lake: the ELM Board Meeting in Chicago

ELM Board of Directors. Back, L-R: Jeff Johnson, Elise Brown, Margaret Moreland, Mike Wilker, Nicole Johnson, Emily Ewing, Barbara Lundblad. Front, L-R: Rose Beeson, Charlie Horn, Emily Ann Garcia, Brad Froslee, Gordon Straw. Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia


“ELM has always had very committed, active board members. We’re ready to ride the waves of change!”







by Rev. Michael Wilker
ELM Secretary and Senior Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Reformation, Washington, D.C.

What do we talk about at an ELM board meeting? Loops and waves. Hegelian sublation and de-colonizing Lutheranism. Healthy sexuality and church leadership.
Those things—and generous donors, dedicated staff, creative volunteers, and gospel-proclaiming ministers.
The Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Board of Directors and staff met October 16-18 in downtown Chicago, a short walk from the waves of Lake Michigan. The waves, dazzling under the autumn sun, became a metaphor of sparkling ministries and leaders that bear God’s creative, dynamic grace.
Lisa Negstad, a long-time ELM friend and now a consultant, helped us see the waves of change in healthy, living systems—and the various roles leaders can play. We mapped ourselves on—or between—two looping waves that represented the current church and the future that is emerging. Negstad’s workshop was inspired by a TedX video from Deborah Frieze, Boston activist and entrepreneur. Where do you see yourself on the waves of change? Where do you see your ministry?
Some other highlights from the board meeting include:
•We thanked Rose Beeson for their six years of board service.
•We commissioned Asher O’Callaghan as program director, and Christephor Gilbert as communications and development coordinator
•Amalia Vagts, executive director, and Charlie Horn, treasurer, reported that ELM is financially healthy and continues to receive strong support from donors. Online and monthly giving to ELM are the two fastest growing segments of ELM’s income.
•We rejoiced that 10% of ELCA seminarians are members of ELM’s Proclaim community.
•We organized to address the “failure of imagination” as well as the lack of information in many parts of the church when it comes to raising up and calling LGBTQ ministers.
•Board members Barbara Lundblad and Jeff Johnson led us in courageous prayer and blessed us on our ways.
•We read aloud and prayed for the 239 people in the Proclaim community, giving thanks for these faithful and fabulous rostered leaders and candidates for ministry.
ELM has always had very committed, active board members—and we had 100% attendance at this in-person meeting. In prayer, we remembered our families, friends, and congregations that support our work on the board. I’m also grateful to each member of our board. Their compassion, wisdom, and courage is inspiring. Please take a look at the board photo and names. Join me in thanking them—and God—for their leadership and service. We’re ready to ride the waves of change!
Michael Wilker grew up on a hog farm in Southern Minnesota and was the 1982 MN State 4-H Reserve Champion Swine Showman. Now he lives in Washington, DC, with his spouse Judy, and children Maija and Karl—where they and 675,000 other DC resident have no voting representation in Congress. He wrangles worms in the backyard compost and shepherds the flock as senior pastor at Lutheran Church of the Reformation.

Guest Blog: ELM: The ELCA’s Best Kept Secret

2016 Proclaim Gathering. Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia
2016 Proclaim Gathering. Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia



“Share the good news of the ground that ELM is breaking in congregations like yours!”





by Deacon Lauren Morse-Wendt
Proclaim Member and Mission and Ministry Developer, Edina Community Lutheran Church, MN

It’s no secret that Lutherans are passionate about caring for our neighbors, both local and global.  Whether your congregation is engaged in ending hunger, disaster response, sheltering families, or combatting malaria, the story is likely told, as it should be, from the pulpit, in the newsletter, and during coffee time banter.  At our congregation, Edina Community Lutheran Church, we’re sharing another powerful story: the life-giving ministry of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
In 2016, there are:
♦  239 Proclaim members
♦  139 Proclaim members serving congregations and faith settings across nearly every synod
♦  68 Proclaims being accompanied as they go through Candidacy and await first call
Expanding the Party
We have so much to celebrate as LGBTQ ministry continues to grow in our Church — it’s time to invite all members of all ELCA congregations to the party!  As friends and supporters of ELM, I’d like us to commit together to unleashing what I’m calling the ELCA’s Best Kept Secret . . . and share the good news of the ground that ELM is breaking in congregations just like yours.   How can we expand the party? Here’s a few ideas:
♦  Invite a Proclaim member or ELM staffer to share their story during a worship temple talk, adult forum, or with a high school youth group
♦  Meet with your Outreach Committee or Church Council to discuss annual congregational financial support for ELM
♦  Share why you are passionate about ELM & LGBTQ ministry during a worship temple talk or congregational meeting
♦  Write an article or share an ELM blog post in your congregation’s newsletter or community bulletin board
Celebrate the Blessing of LGBTQ Rostered Leadership
We in the ELCA have so much to celebrate as more and more congregations are blessed by the ministry of LGBTQ rostered leaders — and I’d love to see each one of our congregations touched by the ministry of ELM celebrating that ministry during worship or education time and making a financial gift.  Join me in 2016 and invite your entire congregation to join in the party.  Because, really, we all know ELM knows how to throw a good party . . . and, there’s always room for more!

Lauren Morse-Wendt is a Diaconal Minister who serves Edina Community Lutheran Church. She’s excited for Halloween, when her wife will take their 4 year old Spiderman trick-or-treating because Lauren feels too guilty to leave trick-or-treaters at their house empty handed!

What do you bring to the Table?

Keynote speakers at Why Christian? Photo credit: #WX2016


“I heard God in the words of people who did not look like me and were not from my denomination and whose stories were very different from mine. I need their stories to understand my own.”




by Asher O’Callaghan
ELM Program Director

Why Christian? In the midst of everything that might be wrong with the church, why do you still call yourself a Christian?
About a week ago, I gathered at the Why Christian? Conference with about 1,100 people to pray, sing, and hear one another’s testimonies. Because ultimately, as Christians, we believe that our stories are all bound up in one another’s. My faith can’t survive in a vacuum of individual spirituality. We need each other. As Nadia Bolz-Weber put it, “faith is a team sport, not an individual competition.”
Reconciliation, conviction, and fire
And sometimes, especially in church, that means that there has to be a whole lot of reconciliation and forgiveness. Anna Keating confessed, “Going to church is hard because it is an act of self-accusation.” I needed to be reminded by Rachel Held Evans of  “God’s annoying habit of using people and methods we don’t approve of” as she recalled how a conservative youth minister showed her the love of Christ and encouraged her leadership in a congregation where women weren’t really supposed to lead.
I needed to be convicted. To hear Onleilove Alston testify to the Hebrew and African roots of her faith as she told us, “I am a Christian because God is not a white man and the white man is not God.” I needed to hear the voice of Neichelle Guidry as she talked about how Jesus got her through a divorce, how he told her to “Go on! Don’t stop here in a broken place. Go! There’s more to your story than this.” I needed to hear Jeff Chu contrast toxic masculinity with vulnerability showing us that, “The devil’s nastiest lie is that we should choose our pain and shame over God.”
I needed some fire from the Spirit. I needed to hear Jenny McBride‘s story of doing prison theology courses with death-row inmate Kelly Gissendaner who was executed while singing “Amazing Grace”. How in the midst of the spirit of fear, death, and oppression that cages people, “hope is protest.” And I needed to be reminded by Sandra J. Valdes-Lopez that, “our story of faith does not begin or end in the pain or violence of the crucifixion.” I needed to hear Rachel Kurtz sing with all the soul that’s it’s possible for a voice to carry. And I needed to be sent out with a challenge from Rozella Haydée White to work for repentance and change in a church that has been awfully late to speak up, notice and name the racism that is behind the violence against people of color in our country.
Christ is in our differences
The whole conference was a reminder to me of what church is all about. Church is what happens when we gather. When each of us shows up in the fullness of who we are. When we bring all of who we are to the Table, the God we hold in common shows up in all we have to learn from one another’s differences.
I heard God in the words of people who did not look like me and were not from my denomination and whose stories were very different from mine. I need their stories to understand my own.
The whole Church is blessed by our differences. Difference, for me, is where Christ most often shows up. Not in comfortable conformity. Difference is why I can’t be a Christian all by myself. My family and friends share far too much in common with me for our own common good. I need Christ, I need the Church, to keep turning me outwards. Something is missing if everyone at the Table is the same age, or cultural background, or race as me.
For those of us who are LGBTQ, it also means that our stories and voices are needed. Our sexualities and gender identities are part of what we bring to the Table. And when we bring all of who we are to the Table, others are freed to do the same.
So bring it all.

asher-with-borderAsher is a Christian because of you all. Your faithful fabulousness inspires his. He was a speaker at Why Christian? and while in Chicago also got to do lots of other fun things like: Hang out with Proclaim member and Director for Worship Formation and Liturgical Resources at Churchwide, Rev. Kevin Strickland; Meet Christephor Gilbert (ELM’s Communications & Development Coordinator) in-person for the first time ever; And attend his first ever ELCA Conference of Bishops. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton complimented his shoes! Twice!


About that “clergy gap…”

by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director

I saw a Facebook post last week related to what some are calling a “clergy gap.”

The post was in response to a recent article in the Living Lutheran magazine examining a growing number of open ELCA calls
Proclaim leaders ready to serve.
Proclaim leaders ready to serve.

I couldn’t help but comment, “What clergy gap? What decreasing seminary enrollment?”

It is true that overall, far fewer people are entering the ministry than in the past.

But from the viewpoint of the LGBTQ community, it’s a much different story.

There are currently 68 members of the Proclaim community who are enrolled in seminary, preparing to be Lutheran pastors and deacons.

Overall, there are about 735 people enrolled in ELCA seminarians, according to the most recent statistics.

That means at least 9% of all current ELCA seminarians publicly identify as LGBTQ.

There are 16 Proclaim members seeking a call. I couldn’t locate statistics about how many people overall are seeking calls right now – or how many calls are open. But I do know too many stories about congregations who have said no to talented candidates, simply because they are LGBTQ.

This isn’t just about diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. The report also shows that since 2012, enrollment of persons of color and those whose language is other than English is about 7%. These candidates and pastors face similar challenges (and even more so for those who are LGBTQ persons of color). 

We have an “imagination gap.”

Since 2009, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has been urging ELCA bishops, synod staff, candidacy committees, and congregations to open their imaginations to consider who God might be calling to serve as ministry leaders. After a few years of accepting that some “just aren’t ready” for LGBTQ leaders, we’ve realized it’s time to say, “Let us help you get ready.”

Diverse leaders are ready to serve. In fact, one of the growing congregations mentioned in the Living Lutheran article is led by Proclaim member Rev. Steve Renner. 

It can take some work to “get ready.” It’s not enough to merely tolerate increasingly diverse leaders. Rather, we are living in a time of great possibility to be a church where difference is seen as a gift, where variety is a virtue, where a plethora of perspectives is encouraged. While this may be challenging at first, the possibility of transformation makes it well worth the effort.

LGBTQ people aren’t going to seminary only because the rules now allow it. We are going because our experiences as LGBTQ people lead us to want to serve God and the church. We are going because we want to proclaim the Gospel now in a world that needs it.

Some see a church in decline. Others of us see a church in hopeful transformation.

And maybe it won’t be so hard once we start. As the late, wondrous Gene Wilder sang in the song “Pure Imagination,”

If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world?
There’s nothing to it.

Amalia Vagts
photo by Emily A. Garcia

Amalia Vagts spent parts of the past five days with a former Lutheran who kinda wants to take his kids to church, an atheist who likes how Nadia Bolz-Weber thinks, a bunch of Evanston, IL Lutherans who performed cabaret songs for each other to raise money for homeless youth, the ELCA Conference of Bishops, and the fabulously queer and brilliant “full-time friends” (i.e. staff) of ELM. Incidentally, she has many scenes from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory memorized, and had a pretty big crush on Gene Wilder during high school.