by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director
I saw a Facebook post last week related to what some are calling a “clergy gap.”
I couldn’t help but comment, “What clergy gap? What decreasing seminary enrollment?”
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 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.