by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has been engaged in a strategic vision process over the last year. Early on in the process, I shared with the board a valuable sailing lesson I’d learned years ago. Many know that when you want to change directions in a sailboat, you “come about.” And most sailors will alert their occupants to “prepare to come about.” One wise sailor friend of mine would always warn us to “prepare to prepare to come about.” While this was always said somewhat in jest, I’ve learned that with vision work, when change comes, things happen very quickly and it’s better to take the time preparing so you are ready when it’s time.
And it’s time! We’re excited to announce our new vision and strategic objectives. This has been an evolutionary process – the church, our communities, and our own organization have been in a period of growth and change. The work we did helps set the course for the incoming executive director and the work they will do with the board and staff to create and implement the next steps for ELM.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of LGBTQ+ ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.
Our belief statement has evolved from focusing on the “extraordinary gifts” of LGBTQ+ ministers to an emphasis on public witness. This is a more active belief statement that describes the real change that is possible and is already happening because of the work of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES (next 1-3 years)
Public witness: Model God’s liberation for all by publicly claiming the value of visible LGBTQ+ led ministry. Public witness is one of the core gifts ELM brings to the church – by being our true selves, we invite others to be their true selves. ELM’s focus on this brings purpose to our work and clarity to the point of Proclaim. This is so central to our identity that we must be clear and committed to it. Unwavering commitment to this value will provide clarity and direction in all of our work.
Boldly proclaim: Boldly address barriers and create space for emerging ideas, leaders, and movements. These times call for boldness. By proclaiming boldly we step into brave space, we engage in holy provocation, and we explore big ideas like funding emerging ministry. If we do not embrace boldness, our work could lead us down the road of safely fitting within the system. If we embrace boldness, this direction resonates with the history and spirit of ELM and meets a need in the church right now for truth-telling and action.
As part of this work, we also discussed and named some basic “explicit practices” that describe how we function as an organization. These simple statements describe our commitments and practices.
We listen deeply, we publicly claim our identities, we work collaboratively, we act transparently, we ask ‘who is not here?’, we speak truthfully, even when it is hard, and we laugh together.
I’m so thankful to the board and staff for their thoughtful and engaged work throughout this process. Thanks also to the wonderful Lisa Negstad and Michael Bischoff who guided us through this process.
We welcome your input and engagement as we move forward!
Last week, I was part of a group of people who gathered on a Sunday afternoon in western Los Angeles to install the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan as program director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
Asher has been serving in this role since last August and in the Lutheran tradition, we most often think of installations as a service a congregation hosts for their new pastor.
So why were we installing Asher?
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recognizes that ministry happens in a variety of places. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has a long history of engaging in street, hospital, nursing home, and community ministry. Together, we celebrated Asher’s synodical call to specialized ministry among the LGBTQ+ community as program director of ELM. It was a glorious and significant day as Bishop Guy Erwin, other leaders from throughout the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA, and friends of ELM gathered to recognize Asher’s call.
We honored the extraordinary nature of the day through expansive language and a variety of tools for ministry for Asher (like a pea plant to recognize the Proclaim, Accompaniment, and Engagement programs of ELM!). The Southwest California Synod has recognized Asher’s work as part of his call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Asher’s ministry is not one of place, but of creating space. It is not a ministry with a building, but rather one that is about building a ministry.
I gave the sermon and had quickly honed in on the phrase “rekindle the gift of God within you” from 2 Timothy. Shortly before the service, lector Jason DeRose (ELM Extraordinary Friend and frequent internship committee member for Proclaim interns at St. Paul Lutheran in Santa Monica) checked in with me to see if I was using anything from that reading. Jason planned on using another translation.
It turns out one of the phrases that was worded differently was the very one I’d chosen as a “refrain” for my sermon. Instead of “rekindle the gift of God within you,” this translation read, “fan the flame of God’s gift.”
The day was made especially beautiful thank you to open-hearted hospitality by the people of Lutheran Church of The Master in Los Angeles, who hosted the service and threw a fabulous reception in honor of Asher’s installation and my upcoming departure from ELM. Lutheran Church of the Master has long supported the work of ELM and Proclaim pastors. We give thanks to interim Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson, the many service participants, and all who threw such a lovely reception! Thank you also to Bishop Guy Erwin for presiding and for all who attended the service – the offering of $475 will go towards the Proclaim Gathering Scholarship Fund. (You can make your own gift for this fund right here).
May we each through our own vocation fan the flame of God’s gift.
Amalia Vagts, who at present is changing nearly every aspect of her life and is mostly keeping up, serves as executive director of ELM until July 31, 2017.
Guest blog by Jeffery Ogonowski
Proclaim member and Master of Divinity student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary
The Trinity Lutheran Seminary (TLS) community has experienced steady grief since the announcement of its reunion with Capital University. Capital and TLS were one campus for many years, but over the last 38, the two have grown apart as independent institutions. This reunion will reduce costs and broaden the portfolio of Capital University, but sadness and anger cloud TLS’s students by the uncertain future of the seminary. The community longs for comfort and safety of financial stability, yet it wishes to maintain its autonomous validity. Amidst this challenging climate, TLS welcomed Asher O’Callaghan, program director for ELM, to campus and celebrated the progress of the LGBTQ+ community this past week.
On May 2, 2016, the TLS board approved the designation to be an RIC seminary. Though only for a short time, TLS publicly proclaims itself as a safe and accepting campus for the LGBTQ+ community. This past week the campus celebrated the path of the students who strove for acceptance. The Tuesday morning litany created space for Margie Farnham to testify her pursuit of LGBTQ+ acceptance and safety on the campus. Margie was a student at TLS in the early 90s and joined the staff in 2008. In her testimony, she explored the grief of the cross, reflecting on her faith for a day when LGBTQ+ students could walk the TLS campus in celebration of their gifts for ministry.
Despite the small student enrollment, the LGBTQ+ population is growing at TLS. Among the 1st year students, approximately 19% represent the LGBTQ+ community. However, at the end of June, the majority of the TLS’s staff will lose their jobs, leaving no representation of LGBTQ+ church leadership on the seminary campus. Despite the struggle to gain acceptance for students, the climate on campus continues to need advocates like Margie. This week was for celebration, but as TLS forms leaders for Christ’s church at work in the world, the challenge of acceptance remains.
It is easy to dwell on the fear of the unknown future, but African Theologian John S. Mbiti describes a different understanding of time’s movement. He writes:
In traditional African thought, there is no concept of history moving ‘forward’ towards a future climax, or towards an end of the world. Since the future does not exist beyond a few months, the future cannot be expected to usher in a golden age, or a radically different state of affairs from what is in the Sasa [now] and the Zamani [past].(1)
Despite the worry for the coming years of the transition into a unified campus, stories like Margie’s provide hope for the ‘now.’ Stories like hers help reverse the movement of time and dispel the fear of the unknown future.
(1) John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1977), 23.
Jeff Ogonowski is in his first year of seminary at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. He worked in music retail for five years and has taught piano for the last 10 years in his hometown of New Bern, North Carolina. He enjoys theological discourse and craft beer.
This Sunday, May 7, the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan will be installed as Program Director for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Asher has received a synodical call from the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA to specialized ministry in his role with ELM.
All are invited in body and spirit to Lutheran Church Of The Master in Los Angeles, California. The candlelight eucharist and service of installation begins at 4:00 p.m.
Bishop R. Guy Erwin will be presiding and Amalia Vagts will be preaching. ELM supporters from area congregations are involved with various parts of the service.
All are welcome after the service for a festive reception celebrating the installation, departing executive director Amalia Vagts’ work with ELM over the last decade, and ELM’s ongoing work supporting the public witness of LGBTQ+ ministers in the Lutheran church. Join us as we celebrate fabulous ministers like Asher whose public witness is transforming the church and enriching the world.