by Asher O’Callaghan
ELM Program Director
This past weekend, about 600 adult youth ministry workers descended upon the city of Louisville, Kentucky for the 2017 Extravaganza. If you’re unfamiliar with the Extravaganza, it is an annual 4-day event for adults who work with youth in congregations of the ELCA. According to the ELCA Youth Ministry Network which does a fabulous job of putting on this event:
It is for the professional and the volunteer. It is for the old and the young. It is for the urban, the suburban and the rural. It is for pastors, it is for laypeople. It is for all who share in the adventure we call youth and family ministry.
The event features a whole bunch of workshops, speakers, worship, music, renewal, and networking. See why it’s called an extravaganza???
According to Miriam-Webster, there are two definitions of the word “extravaganza”. The most frequent way that I’ve heard this word used is to indicate “a lavish or spectacular show or event.” The other definition (of which I was previously unaware until I consulted the dictionary) is: “a literary or musical work marked by extreme freedom of style or structure and usually by elements of burlesque or parody.”
As far as I’m aware, there was no burlesque at this event, but there was an extreme freedom of style and structure that it was refreshing to experience at a church related function. It was organized and structured but unconventional. Within one worship service, you might find: a contemporary Christian praise song, a Lutheran camp song complete with all the motions, a reading from Scripture, a quote from Beyonce, a ritual, and a game. It was truly amazing… Kind of like youth ministry.
So of course there were several Proclaimers involved in it! Proclaimers Brenda Bos and Paul Clark both served on the planning team. Becca Seely and I served as speakers and worship leaders. And Proclaimers Sara Cogsil, Laura Kuntz, Matt James, and Jeff Ogonowski were all in attendance. Since there were a number of Proclaimers in the same place at the same time, Steven Renner hosted a Regional Proclaim Meet-Up at the Troll Pub Under the Bridge. And Lutheran rapper and LGBTQ ally, Dave Scherer, aka AGAPE*, even joined us to break bread.
We’re all taking something different away from it. Becca is walking away with “a lot of hope for the church and the world – not because of our youth, whom I trust are full of passion and giftedness, but because of the adults, many of them volunteers, who are so committed to sharing the gospel of God’s unconditional love with youth and empowering them to live authentically and change this world for the better.” As a seminarian, Jeff is taking away three credits in youth and family ministry, along with, “a deeper understanding of fundraising, protection policies, self-care, and the value of continuing education for all youth leaders”. Laura commented, “I feel like I was soaking in creativity and energy from all the wonderful leaders at the Extravaganza. This helped spark my own creativity and gave me ideas and energy for daily ministry.” My take away is passion – when we do our work with passion, we bring out the passion in others.
Asher O’Callaghan (pictured with Becca Seely) is grateful for those who are working in youth ministry and are reminding us all that church can actually be FUN!
It was a stimulating mixture of people to have in one room at the same time: from Rev. Tuhina Rasche, one of the conspirators of #decolonizelutheranism (and a co-curator of #RendtheHeavens, a Twitter Advent devotional), to Rev. Dr. Robin Steinke, the President of Luther Seminary. There were about 40 of us gathered from several different fields of ministry to discuss the future of Lutheran theological education at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Arizona.
This annual gathering called the Western Mission Network Conference, was formatted as a series of short 12-minute talks—like TED talks. The topic for these talks, however, was experiments and partnerships in theological education. And when we used the term “Lutheran theological education”, we weren’t only talking about seminary. We were talking about the vast range of ways that we learn and grow in the faith: from campus ministry, to interreligious dialogue, to outdoor camps, to youth ministry, to lay leaders learning to preach, to synod staffs equipping call committees as they search for their next pastor. We got to share with one another stories of how new experiments and partnerships are transforming theological education… the church… and ultimately the world. After all, the church exists not for its own sake, but for the sake of the whole world.
In Scripture, we experience a God whose extraordinary love brought all things into being. In the account of creation in Genesis, we experience a God who has an imagination and a knack for creativity. Our God delights in the wildest possible array of diversity from flowers to jellyfish, from whales to humans. So the question for us becomes: When we look at our congregations, when we listen to the perspectives of our candidates for ministry, when we think about theological education, do we experience that same kind of rich and vibrant diversity? When you experience church, do you experience a God who delights in difference? If you don’t, how does that diminish your witness to this God?
Diversity in all its forms is a gift. Diversity reflects God’s extraordinary love in a way that homogeneity just can’t. We need leaders in the church who reflect this reality. So where do we begin?
I shared with the group that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes that the public ministry of LGBTQ+ people transforms church and community, proclaiming God’s love for all. I introduced them to our programs and several of our resources for synod staffs, call committees, and candidates. It was a joy to get to talk to so many people who were new to our work and to hear about all the innovations going on in everyone else’s settings. (Shout out to Proclaim member and Associate Professor of Homiletics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Shauna Hannan, who presented on preaching as a ministry of the whole congregation!)
We closed our time with worship. Rev. Gordon Straw, who has served on the ELM Board of Directors and is a member of the Brothertown Indian Nation preached. In the passage for the day, he translated the word that anglos like myself typically translate as “righteousness” to “right relations” instead. He proclaimed Christ as the one who came to fulfill all right relations, in his Baptism, his living, his dying, and rising. May we the church learn from Christ’s extraordinary love how to live in right relation with God, one another, and all of creation. Amen.
Asher O’Callaghan is the Program Director of ELM and he got to preside at the closing worship. He is grateful for the theological education he’s received over the years: from his parents, Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, camp counselors, pastors, transgender people of faith, anti-oppression trainers, Proclaim colleagues, spiritual directors, professors, mentors, and all the congregations he’s been a part of. His education is on-going. There’s just so much to learn.
Amalia likes to expand her view by getting out there!
I’m headed for the wilderness! (and the city and the sea).
During the month of February, I will be taking a month of study and renewal leave in Mexico. Not only is the practice of sabbath part of our religious tradition, it is also a concept that is supported by many in the field of social justice work. Doing hard work in life-giving ways is a central value for ELM. Two years ago, we were introduced to the concept of the 4-day work week at Rockwood Leadership Institute and after six months of conversation and exploration, we made this our practice. Eventually, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries hopes to offer a full-fledged sabbatical for long term staff.
But for the time being, we all agreed that a month made sense for ELM and me right now. And after ten years in the role, I’m looking forward to the chance to think in new ways for a spell. I’ll be spending the month in Mexico, primarily on the Yucatán Peninsula, traveling with my partner, David. I am looking forward to opening up my daily routine, spending time in another culture, and stretching myself figuratively and physically. I will be taking two weeks of language and culture classes and combining it with two weeks of vacation. In addition, I’m planning to focus my reading and reflection on two main subjects: love and prayer (and a little dash of dancing).
Two quotes to guide me:
[S]o our customary practice of prayer was brought to mind: how through our ignorance and inexperience in the ways of love we spend so much time on petition. I saw that it is indeed more worthy of God and more truly pleasing to [God] that through [God’s] goodness we should pray with full confidence, and by [God’s] grace cling to [God] with real understanding and unshakeable love, than that we should go on making as many petitions as our souls are capable of.
—Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love
I thank God every day/that I woke up feeling this way.
—Meghan Trainor, “Me Too”
Asher, Christephor, and the ELM Board will be keeping things going strong while I’m away. Being part of a collective effort has been one of the greatest joys of my work with ELM. And it’s always good to be reminded from time to time that things go on just fine without us when we take time away. I’m incredibly grateful to the Board, Asher, and Christephor, and all of you for your support during this time.
Amalia Vagts is Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and has served with the organization since October 2006. Amalia’s last day in the office is Thursday, January 26. She will return to work on Wednesday, March 3.
Happy New Year!
Thank you for being part of another extraordinary year! The donations are still flowing in, but I am excited to say that we have achieved our 2016 goal! It is equally exciting to look back over the past year’s achievements we have made as a community on which to build an even more incredible future in 2017.
2016 kicked off with newness all around. After an amazing year-end of 2015 (which saw a 25% increase in Proclaim memberships and a solid financial foundation for the work of the year) we published the first LGBTQ 60-page candidacy guide, Mystery of the Ages: A Handy Guide for LGBTQ People Exploring or Preparing for Rostered Ministry in the ELCA. This electronic document is one of several that ELM offers up to congregations, rostered leaders, and those considering the ministry.
Later in that second month we gave great thanks for the work and ministry of our outgoing part-time administrator Marie O’Brien (of Grace Lutheran, Evanston, IL) as we welcomed our new Operations Coordinator, LSTC MDiv student Christephor Gilbert.
April brought the 2016 Proclaim National Gathering – Kindling the Flame – in Northern California. The 3-day event was kicked off with a gathering of our ELM/Proclaim instigators: the seven faithful and fabulous ones who were instrumental in the origins of ELM. Stories were shared and energy renewed for the ongoing journey.
In preparation for a greater presence at Synod assemblies this year, we produced (as part of our Ministry Engagement arm) two compelling communication pieces. First, a beautiful, full-color, 11×17 poster, that boldly proclaims who and what ELM is all about, and second, a sleek six-minute video that encourages congregations in ways to get ready for an LGBTQ leader. Our new communications materials made the job of telling ELM’s story at Synod assemblies across the country even easier!
In May, ELM and ReconcilingWorks were invited by the Southwestern Washington Synod to participate in an education event, presenting companion sessions on the theme “Welcoming LGBTQ+ People to the Pews and the Pulpit.”
The summer began with the announcement that Rev. Jen Rude, intrepid Program Manager since 2013, extraordinarily called pastor, and fierce LGBTQ advocate, was called to serve Pacific Lutheran University in Washington. We sent her off with a grand celebration and deep gratitude for her service with ELM.
Summer 2016 also brought an event that will forever be etched in our LGBTQ collective minds: the impossibly tragic mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Rev. Ángel D. Marrero, proclaim member and pastor to Santuario Luterano in Waltham, MA, gave a most poignant reflection as a gay Latino pastor.
Our 2016 Joel R. Workin Scholar was named. The honor fell this year to ELM’s own Christephor Gilbert, who shared a new way to think about grace.
ELM jumped at the chance to talk to ELM friend and Lutheran playwright, Tom Jacobson, right before the premiere of his new work Captain of the Bible Quiz Team in Los Angeles to rave reviews.
Early August brought the 2016 Churchwide assembly, a place where the clergy shortage was a hot topic, and the invisibly-visible presence of LGBTQ rostered leaders (on the lips and in the minds of our Churchwide leaders) gave ample opportunity for reflection and transformation.
The end of a busy summer brought new joy and new energy as we welcomed our new Program Manager, Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, to the team, and promoted Christephor from Operations coordinator to Communications and Development Coordinator.
Always looking for the Spirit on the cutting edge, ELM was present at the first #decolonizelutheranism conference, held in Chicago at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Proclaim was in full force at this event, with pastors like Tita Valeriano, Lura Groen, and Andrew Nelson as organizers and keynote speakers.
Speaking of keynote speakers, ELM’s very own Asher O’Callaghan was tapped to present at the 2016 Why Christian? Conference, also in Chicago, where he represented with the up-and-coming of religious leaders like Nadia Bolz Weber, Onleilove Alston, and Rozella White.
Our seminary teams fostered community and sharing all around fabulousness at our seven Lutheran seminaries and affiliated theological schools.
The brain-trust of ELM, our delightful and dedicated board members, gathered together in Chicago at the Nicholas Center for an in person board meeting, where we laughed, prayed, and dreamed about the future of ELM and our strategic vision.
And as the year came to a close, we realized that the work was just beginning, work that must now unfold within a new political climate in the united states, one that has already proven to be a tenuous and tension-filled area where it is even more important to proclaim the inclusive message of the Gospel, a message that ensures everyone – regardless of one’s multiplicity of identity- has a privileged place at God’s table of grace.
While the months ahead may seem daunting, we know that it is all possible with you, ELM’s ardent supporter at our back! ELM donor and playwright Tom Jacobson recently said, “This is not business as usual. We’re living in extraordinary times and we need extraordinary leaders.”
Thank you for your extraordinary support which provides us the resources to carry on this much needed work.
Here’s to our partnership in 2017!
Thank you for being part of an extraordinary year. We look forward to catching up with you soon about all we accomplished and all that is to come in 2017!