Blue Christmas

Photo: Analyse Triolo

“And so I reached out . . . and to paraphrase the Beatles:  I got by with a little help from my friends.”

Guest blog by Analyse Triolo
Proclaim Member and Vicar, Trinity Lutheran Church, New York City

Christmas hurts. It has for almost as long as I can remember. I guess that happens when you lose numerous loved ones around the holiday season. As a teen, the disconnect from the joy and cheer of Christmas felt isolating at times; it felt like I was the only one not enjoying the seemingly endless Christmas music, earning me the nickname Grinch on numerous occasions.

This year is going to be the hardest Christmas yet. I lost my Mom on September 4th of this year, just days before starting my internship at Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan, on New York City’s Upper West Side. When my supervisor, Rev. Heidi Neumark, offered me the opportunity to lead a Longest Night Service, sometimes called a Blue Christmas Service, I jumped at the chance without thinking, then immediately wondered if I had the emotional capacity to write the whole service from scratch. And so, I reached out. I reached out to ELCA clergy and my classmates on internship, and to paraphrase the Beatles; I got by with a little help from my friends.

Fellow proclaim members Rev. Brenda Bos, pastor of Christ Lutheran in San Clemente, CA and Rev. Bill Beyer of Grace Lutheran Church in Thiensville, WI shared some of their experiences leading Blue Christmas services with me.  “We started the Blue Christmas tradition in 2015,” said Rev. Beyer.

We had a large number of people in our congregation who had been affected by loss of one kind or another.  Some had experienced death, some rejection, and some were experiencing loss of another kind.  So many people had come up to me and said words to the effect of, “People just don’t know how hard the holidays are.” While many are rejoicing and singing carols there are a significant number of people in our lives who are in pain.  They keep that pain silent because at this time of year it is about love, family, peace, and happiness.  But that is not the reality for many . . . Blue Christmas honors that pain.

They went on to talk about what congregants found meaningful in the service.  Rev. Bos wrote:

We light four candles, with one pastor reading a prayer as we light the candles, remembering those we’ve lost, recalling pain, naming our loss of direction in our lives, claiming hope. The Christ Candle is in the center, lit last, to remind us Christ is the center of our lives. A slightly different take on the Advent wreath. My parishioners tell me that was the most meaningful part.

Rev. Beyer added that in his first Blue Christmas service worshipers were invited to place blue carnations in a vase in memory of loved ones lost, which remained up during other Christmas services, a very memorable and meaningful experience for those who were grieving.

Their reflections reminded me just how important ritual is, perhaps even more so when more complex and difficult emotions and experiences need to be named. As I finished writing the liturgy for my first Longest Night Service to be held on December 21st, the longest night of the year, what I was expecting to be a really painful process became therapeutic, bringing some peace to what will be a difficult time for me. It is my hope that this service will bring some of that same peace to others as well.



Analyse Triolo, sometimes known as The Vicar of Manhattan,  is trying to learn to navigate the worlds of internship and approval simultaneously while still trying to figure out why everyone is telling her she’s an adult now. She holds a Masters in Divinity from the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, a Masters of Arts in Ministry from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and is told she’s a Master Crafter too! If you know of a job opening be sure to let her know!


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Remembering Betty



Betty Workin:  January 5, 1940 – November 22, 2016

by Amalia Vagts
Executive Director

Betty Workin, longtime supporter of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the Lutheran church passed away on November 22, 2016, following a two and ½ year battle with cancer. We extended our deep sympathy and prayer to Betty’s spouse, Ray, and to their two living sons, Leon and Lowell, and their families. We also extend sympathy and prayers to the many “adopted” sons that Betty and Ray brought into their lives when rejected by their own families for their sexual orientation and AIDS diagnoses.

Of the many incredible conversations I’ve had over the years with friends of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, one of the most wonderful evenings I’ve spent was with Betty and Ray when the Rev. Jen Rude, Jim Kowalski (former ELM Board Member) and I visited last summer. We spent the afternoon hearing stories about her son Joel (who passed away in 1995), and Betty showed us some of the many scrapbooks she’d made over the years with clippings from Joel’s life, including many front page stories when he came out during seminary.

Ray and Betty Workin and their three sons.

In one of those articles in “The Forum,” on March 20, 1988, the reporter described one of Joel’s reasons for publicly identifying as gay: “‘If he couldn’t’ speak honestly with his parents,’ Joel said, ‘they might spend the rest of their lives in conversations no more meaningful than commenting on the weather.’”

Many of us in the Lutheran LGBTQ+ and allies community count Joel Workin among our saints, and it is a testament to Betty and Ray’s love for their family and commitment to the gospel that pushed them to seek understanding and a change of heart, leading to a lifetime of authentic relationship with their own family and many others.  Uncompromising support from his mother and family was central to Joel’s ability to challenge the existing polity of the ECLA as one of the first openly gay Lutheran seminary students and candidates for ministry.

After his death from complications from AIDS, Joel’s family and friends opened a scholarship fund in his name and created a living memorial by gathering Joel’s many essays and sermons into the book, Dear God, I am Gay – Thank You!  Many who have followed in Joel’s footsteps have found this book to be a profound text for study and personal prayer.  Joel’s legacy lives on in people like Proclaim members, the Rev. Joe Larson, who presided at Betty’s funeral and the Rev. Terry Hagensen, who was part of the historic Extraordinary Roster and delivered the homily at her service.

One of Betty and Ray’s sons, Leon, wrote:

Thank you to all that have donated to the Joel R. Workin Scholarship Fund both in tribute of Betty and in ongoing support. It is a mission that was, and continues to be, important to Betty and all of us and we are grateful for the incredible support. All the prayers and warm wishes have been encouraging in this time of grieving and loss and remind us of the wonderful life that Betty led and her walk with our Lord, Jesus Christ.

In a sermon delivered in April of 1986, on Mark 9:10-17, titled, “Those People,” Joel preached powerfully about Jesus’ association with those people, focusing most specifically on people with AIDS. Joel proclaimed, “Others may say you are one of those people, but God says, ‘You are one of my people.’”

Betty Workin wasn’t afraid of those people.  She will be remembered by the compassion, strength and love she showered on her son Joel and others who were cast aside for being gay and having AIDS.  She claimed them when others would not – God’s all-encompassing love reflected through her actions.

12-15-16-bio-picAmalia Vagts is looking forward to many rounds of “Workin Poker” over Christmas with friends and family, having taught it to many after learning it from Betty and Ray during her visit to their home in 2015.

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Guest Blog: Standing with Standing Rock





HoChunk Nation campsite within the Oceti Wakosin camp. Standing Rock. Photo credit: Marlene Helgemo
HoChunk Nation campsite within the Oceti Wakosin camp. Standing Rock.
Photo credit: Marlene Helgemo
“I believe the best way to stand for Standing Rock is to honor their sovereign right to govern themselves, protect their lands, their people, their ways of life 
and the water that brings them life.”

by Rev. Gordon Straw
ELCA Pastor and ELM Board Member

On December 4, 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied an easement for the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL) to cross underneath the Missouri River. This denial effectively prohibits progress on the pipeline. This is a huge victory for tribal sovereignty and the Standing Rock Nation!

The next day, Dave Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, whose sacred lands and primary water supply are being threatened by the DAPL, issued a statement thanking all the Water Protectors, the hundreds of tribes, and the hundreds of thousands from around the world for their support and prayers. Then, he told us that it is time to go home.

Wait, what? Go home? There has been so much struggle up until now and the need for support has only begun. How do we stand with Standing Rock now?

In a Context of Tension and Backlash

This is a complex situation, which promises to become more so as time goes on. The Army Corps will find an alternate route for the DAPL. This gives a more permanent solution that the Nation can accept, but will anger both Energy Transfer Partners and those who want to stop the pipeline completely. Chairman Archambault is concerned that Energy Transfer Partners and ND state government will be looking for any “justification” to step up their violent repression of the Water Protectors.

The Oil Protectors are already calling on President-elect Trump to overturn the ruling his first day in office. But, the ruling will likely prevent even the Trump administration from acting quickly. Others are rightly concerned that Energy Transfer Partners doesn’t care about the easement and will simply pay the fines for violating the law. It’s the cost of doing business. Tribal members and non-Indian residents alike live in a context of tension and backlash. Members of churches are pitted against one another, navigating between moral and economic integrity.

 It isn’t simple or easy to stand with Standing Rock.

Solidarity and Accompaniment

I believe the best way to stand for Standing Rock is to honor their sovereign right to govern themselves, protect their lands, their people, their ways of life and the water that brings them life. Despite competing agendas, these are what the Standing Rock Nation stands for.

I am proud to be part of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries because its members and friends understand the intersectionalities of oppression and suffering. ELM knows of St. Paul’s words, “when one part of the body suffers, all suffer.” ELM knows this is true not only of the Church, but for all of Creation. So, we stand with Standing Rock: with our prayers, our support, with direct action.

We stand with Standing Rock by when and where they ask us to stand. It is their land. We are their guests. We must listen to them. Chairman Archambault is not telling us to go away. He is grateful for our support. And he knows that it will be needed in the near future. But, for right now, we need to go home.

gordon-straw-with-frameGordon Straw is an enrolled member of the Brothertown Indian Nation. Gordon prefers the pronouns he, him, his. He has lived out his call to ministry in rural Minnesota, inner-city Kansas City, MO, American Indian/Alaska Native contexts, the Metro Chicago Synod, the ELCA Churchwide Organization, and as a bouncer in a downtown Minneapolis bar. He cherishes his wife, Evelyn, and daughter, Amanda. He has a passion for food, spirits, reading, music, and cross stitch.

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Gifts of Being



This is a story about a God who shows up to stand with them, with us.  This is a God who not only understands the depth of our joys and the immensity of our heartaches, but who also turns them into opportunities for us to touch one another, to be touched by God.  This is a God who is very queer indeed.” – Elizabeth Edman, Queer Virtue


by Christephor Gilbert
Communications and Development Coordinator

Do you wonder why you are seeing the word “queer” more these days? Do you wonder why it matters that we have pastors and deacons who are LGBTQ+?

My own, embodied identity tells me that there are beautiful gifts that LGBTQ+ persons bring to the theological table, gifts that make them perfect to serve God and church because of their LGBTQ+ identity, not in spite of that identity.  How do we talk about what we have to offer the church, those skills and ways of being that have been shaped in and through the reality of queer joy, pain, and transformation? 

It was with this question in the front of my mind that I discovered Elizabeth M. Edman’s 2016 book Queer Virtue:  What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How it Can Revitalize Christianity.

Queer  ↔  Christian

Queer – 1.  An umbrella term for the LGBTQ+ community; 2. transgressive action through reclamation of a historically negative term for the LGBTQ+ community; 3. the process by which binary boundaries are erased, the work of the academic discipline known as queer theory.

—Rev. Patrick Cheng, PhD, Radical Love

Virtue – 1. Conformity to a standard of right:  morality; 2. a particular moral excellence; 3. a commendable quality.

The Miriam Webster Dictionary

Recounting her own queer narrative as a lesbian, Episcopal, priest, Edman weaves together personal reflection, ecclesial experience, and queer theological reflection to make two ethical moves.  First, to “lift up the moral witness of queer life,” in order to show, once and for all, the queer people are justified in their place at the Christian table; and second, that progressive Christianity “will look to queerness as a lens for vivifying our expressions of faith, both personal and corporate, theological and liturgical” (p. 11). 

There are real lessons queers learn, in coming out, building community, and living authentic lives, that are moral lessons for all of the Christian community.

Dividing her text into two parts, Edman begins by considering just what it is that makes queer folk made for this work of the church, giving an overview of many of the authors and ideas in the history of both queer theory and queer theology.  The queer journey unfolds as a path on which we have some important stops to make:  identity, risk, touch, scandal, and adoption. 

We are built for this

Because we wrestle with our own identities, daring to be true to ourselves and move into that liminal space between human bodies in intimacy; because we face daily obstacles to our humanness that put us on the knife’s-edge between pride and shame; and because we ultimately live our lives in created communities that call us “not to respectability but to authenticity” (p. 100)—these are just some of the reasons why we are built for this work of God.  These are the underpinnings of our lives as Christians as well!

In part two, Edman turns the model upside down and shows how those things that queer folk get really good at—pride, coming out, authenticity, hospitality—are ways of being through which all Christians can live earnestly a life where we can “demand integrity within ourselves, require justice in our dealings with one another, and look to the margins to address individual/communal/global degradation and suffering” (p. 165). 

Ultimately, she does what she sets out to do with the work:  point to a faith tradition that is “inherently liminal, inherently queer;” show the congruence and “tremendous resonance between the paths of Queer and Christian virtue;” and lift up why it is that that “queer people are deeply motivated to do this work” (p. 28).

Queer Virtue is an accessible, yet comprehensive, look at queer theology in ethical practice, the theoretical laid at the foot of life itself!  There is a natural connection between queer experience and Christian living, a synergy of solidarity, transformation, and hope.

Go here for more information about Elizabeth Edman, the book, and to view five “micro sermons” on themes from the text.

Read these books for more information on queer theology.

young-me-editChristephor Gilbert was made for this the moment he put on blue satin overalls!  Currently, he  is wondering if Moses’ face was shining or had horns when he came down from Mt. Sinai the second time, counting the days until the end of the fall semester at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where he is an MDiv middler and a recently Endorsed candidate for Word and Sacrament Ministry in the ELCA.

Join us. Give in support of faithful & fabulous LGBTQ people whose public witness as pastors, deacons, and seminarians is enriching and transforming our church.