Remembering Joe McMahon

Mari Irvin and Joe McMahon
Mari Irvin presents Joe McMahon with board leadership award.

by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director

“How are the pastors? What do they need?”

Nearly every conversation I’ve had with Joe McMahon over the last decade included questions like these. Joe always wanted to know about the pastors and was tireless in his care for them.

Joe, long-time board member of Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries (one of our predecessor organizations) and dear friend to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries passed away in his sleep on Thursday, April 20.

The Rev. Jim DeLange recruited Joe for the Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries board in 1995, when the organization moved from regional to national. Joe was a passionate member of the board for the following ten years, offering generous financial support, time, wisdom and commitment to the Gospel. Joe’s significant voice and generosity was critical to the movement at key points, a faithful leader who provided the necessary resources to bring the organization through difficult times. Joe invested in the mission because he believed it made a difference. Joe was one of the leadership givers to the One Voice campaign, which led directly to our growth into Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

Joe is often remembered as the leading voice in encouraging pastors to join the Extraordinary Candidacy Project Roster when it was created. He understood the power of the visible witness of a group of LGBTQ+ ministry leaders. The results of his dedicated work early on can be seen now in the 250+ ministers and seminarians in Proclaim.

Mari Irvin served as a board member with Joe for many years. She shared that after Joe stayed with her and spouse Jeannine Janson after one board meeting, Joe left a potted red rhododendron which they planted in in the front yard. She wrote that the plant has bloomed magnificently every spring and is an ever present memory of Joe and his generosity. Each year, Mari has sent Joe a picture when it has been in full bloom. Mari wrote that blooming is late this year because of all the rain they have had.

“The blooming,” she writes, “will have special meaning this year.”

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries extends our sympathy to Joe’s family and friends. We give thanks to Joe for his deep care for LGBTQ+ ministers and for his fearless advocacy to create changes in the church to welcome their ministry.

Memorial Service
Thursday, May 11 at 2:00 pm
Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
Performing Arts / Omni District
464 NE 16th Street; Miami FL 33132


Giving Thanks

Scholarship recipients at the 2016 gathering give thanks! Photo: Emily Ann Garcia

by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director


Today is a day of giving for LGBTQ+ organizations across the country. Thank you to all who give so generously in support of LGBTQ+ Lutheran ministry leaders. We would not be here without you! I want to invite those who haven’t given yet to make a contribution today in support of our 2017 Proclaim Gathering Scholarship Fund.

The Proclaim Gathering is the largest gathering of its kind. It brings together publicly-identified LGBTQ+ rostered ministers and candidates from across the country. The Scholarship Fund ensures that finances are not a barrier to students and those without call. This year’s Gathering, Healing the Violence, will be held July 16 – 19 in Chicago.

It’s so important that LGBTQ+ leaders gather.  Here’s what one attendee wrote after last year’s Gathering:

Attending the Proclaim Gathering helped me to feel like I belong to a community in a way I haven’t felt before. The Gathering allowed me to learn more about my own history as a member of this community. It also allowed for growth of relationships in a way that isn’t possible to do over video calls, Facebook, and email. The Gathering helped me to see my own story as deeply connected to others and as a sacred story.

It’s even more important that ministers and seminarians go home, renewed and ready to provide ministry to people who deeply need it. Another attendee from last year shared her thoughts about this:

The Proclaim Gathering replenishes my spirit to celebrate our history and envision our future together. It helps me return to my congregation renewed and better equipped for ministry.

Your gift of $50 or $100 – or any amount – will help us provide scholarships to all who need them. If you have the means, you can provide a full scholarship with a gift of $395. Any additional funds will help cover the other costs of the Gathering so we can keep the registration low for everyone.

While some attendees can use professional development funds to attend, most pay out of pocket – and nearly all cover their own travel costs as well. We keep the registration cost low so that as many in the Proclaim community can attend as possible. But many participants are in seminary or don’t have a call. Others serve churches that struggle financially. That’s why your scholarship gift is so critical.

The power of Proclaim is community. It means that even though LGBTQ+ ministers may feel isolated from time to time, they know they are not alone. They are connected through you and their friends in Proclaim. Your gift will give these leaders a chance to experience the strength of community.

And then, most importantly, they will go back to their congregations and ministry sites renewed for ministry in places and with people who need it.

Thank you for considering making your gift today. I’d love to add your name to the list of those who will receive thank you notes from the Proclaim Gathering this year – we love writing those notes!

Amalia Vagts (in yellow) looks unsure about Easter in this late 1970’s photo, but is definitely on board with it this year, especially after listening to her pastor’s Easter sermon and church council colleague’s meeting devotion to “practice resurrection,”  drawn from the poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” by Wendell Berry


The Rev. Matthew L. James Joins ELM Board of Directors


by Christephor Gilbert
ELM Communications and Development Coordinator

In February, the ELM Board of Directors voted to welcome the Rev. Matthew L. James as their newest member. Matt moved to Chicago in September of last year (with his husband, Deacon John E. Weit) to accept a call as the Director of Admissions at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). Prior to this call, he served for three years as Associate Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA, and as Protestant Campus Chaplain at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Matt received his Master of Divinity from the Lutheran Theological School at Philadelphia, and also holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism/public relations and communications from the University of Northern Colorado and a master of arts in media studies from The Pennsylvania State University. Matt is a member of Proclaim and a former Joel R. Workin Scholar.

I had the privilege of sitting down to talk with Matt about his various experiences, and was especially intrigued about his backstory as one of the first Proclaim members.

Matt’s journey to the ELM Board is in and through his experience as an LGBTQ+ candidate for Word and Sacrament prior to 2009, during the time of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP). The year was 2005, and through the movement of the Spirit and the guidance of his pastor at Luther Place in Washington, D.C., Matt began the candidacy process through ECP. Throughout the journey, including the three-year wait for his first call, Matt was bolstered by the pastoral and spiritual support he received through the cloud of witnesses that make up Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

He was excited to intentionally reengage with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries upon his move to Chicago and the new call at LSTC. It was then that he was contacted by Proclaim member and former ELM board member, the Rev. Rose Beeson, about serving on the board. Clearly, the Spirit at work, once again!

Matt is excited about the capacity ELM has to raise up LGBTQ+ leaders to serve – the hope, strength, and energy they bring to the church of tomorrow – but now! He affirms that there is much to celebrate post-2009, but still much work to be done to continue moving toward God’s preferential future.

When Matt isn’t finding the leaders of tomorrow at LSTC, or continuing to foster LGBTQ+ leadership through ELM, you might find him digging into scripture for inspiration, dreaming about finally taking those piano lessons, or adding yet another DVD or doll to his ever-growing Muppets collection (with Fozzie the Bear being his favorite).

Current members of the ELM Board of Directors are: Rev. Dr. J. Elise Brown (New York, NY); Rev. Brad Froslee (Minneapolis, MN); Charlie Horn (Pitman, NJ); Rev. Mike Wilker (Washington, DC); Dr. Margaret Moreland (Berkeley, CA); Rev. Emily Ewing (Peterson, MN); Nicole Johnson (Minneapolis, MN); Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad (Minneapolis, MN); Rev. Jeff Johnson (Berkeley, CA); Emily Ann Garcia (Vancouver, British Columbia); Rev. Matthew James (Chicago, IL).

Christephor Gilbert currently serves as the Communications and Development Coordinator for ELM, and is finishing up his second year in the MDiv Program at LSTC.  When he is not working or schooling, he remembers fondly when he sang both “I’ts Not Easy Being Green” and “The Rainbow Connection” in fifth-grade choir.

Proclaiming in the Holy Land

Proclaim Members on Travel Seminar in the Holy Land, January 2017.

by Laura Ferree
Master of Divinity student, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, and member of Proclaim.

Proclaim, a program of ELM, is a community of 250 publicly-identified LGBTQ+ Lutheran rostered minister, candidates, and seminarians.

On January 3rd, 2017 I arrived at the Columbus, OH airport excited to board a plane and make my way to the Holy Land. I was embarking on this trip with my school, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, as my January term course. I did not know what to expect as we were boarding our flight to Tel Aviv. Part of me was nervous and the other part was so excited to walk on the same land where Jesus walked.

After flying all night our plane finally landed in Tel Aviv and the trip became real. From the moment we stepped foot on holy ground our trip was off to the races and not slowing down! We traveled from Tel Aviv to Galilee to Caesarea to Zippori to Caesarea Philippi to Capernaum to Jericho to Bethlehem to Battir to Jerusalem and the list could go on. We had a jam-packed schedule! We were always being shuffled from one place to the next while our tour guide, Khalil, shouted, “Yella people!” meaning hurry up or let’s go in Arabic.

I remember one point in the trip when “Yella people!” was being shouted but I couldn’t hurry up! As I was getting on our bus after a stop by the Sea of Galilee I looked out the window and saw Proclaim members. I shouted, “Those are my people!” and ran off the bus, ignoring Khalil saying “Yella Laura!” We had just a short time to reconnect before I was pulled back onto the bus so that we could continue our journey but I remember feeling filled with joy as I saw “my people” in a land that is so far away from home.

This is not the last place that I saw “my people”. There were three ELCA seminaries in the Holy Land at the same time and we all happened to be staying in Jerusalem during the same time. A seminary meet up was arranged and I could not contain my excitement during the day that our meet up would happen knowing that I would get to see Proclaim folks for the first time in almost a year. This community is so interconnected that we even find each other while we are in a foreign land.

That night of community in the Holy Land reminded me to kindle my flame and allowed me to remember how meaningful the Proclaim community is to me. As I continued to bump into Proclaim friends throughout the trip it always brought me joy to remember that I am a part of such a tight knit community of folks who free me to proclaim God’s good word to all.

Laura Ferree lives in Columbus, OH and is a second-year Master of Divinity student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. Once she survives this spring semester, Laura will start as the intern at Luther Memorial Church in Seattle, WA.