Faithful, Fabulous, Extraordinary (Sometimes All at Once!)

We like to proclaim what we believe!

by Amalia Vagts
Executive Director

Beginning three years ago, we implemented two new ways of saying thank you to those who support our mission through financial gifts – Friends Circles and our annual report.

Friends Circles
We launched our new Friends Circles, putting our own mark on it with words that seemed most fitting – Faithful, Fabulous, Extraordinary – and sometimes using them all at once. This was a new way for us to invite our supporters to be public witnesses about their investment in rostered ministry by LGBTQ+ people. And it’s been great fun for me ever since as supporters tell me they like being faithful, fabulous, and extraordinary!

A glimpse at ELM’s Friend Circles –

Extraordinary Friends – those giving $10+ monthly
Faithful Friends – those giving $300 – 599 each year
Fabulous Friends – those giving $600 – 999 each year
Faithful & Fabulous Friends – those giving $1,000 – 2,499 each year
Extraordinarily Faithful and Fabulous Friends – those giving $2,500+ each year

Annual Report
Second, we began publishing an annual report. This year’s annual report is on its way in the mail to supporters and is now posted on our website where you can check it out.

Through our annual report, we update you, our supporters, and others about our work and finances in the preceding year – giving thanks to our wonderful friends who made it possible. We want to share how we are funded, how we are using your support, and help you see the work that you are making possible through your gift of $10, $100, or $10,000.

In 2016, 513 individuals, families, congregations and foundations sat at their kitchen table or computer and made a gift to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. It’s humbling and inspiring to receive your gifts throughout the year. And it is joyful and awakening to experience the results of our collective work.

Our work is about public witness and boldly proclaiming. We believe the public witness of LGBTQ+ ministers transforms the church and enriches the world – we see it happening every day. Here’s an excerpt from a letter one Proclaim member received this year following his internship:

You also, as a gay man coming into ministry, gave flesh to my belief, already long-held, that GLBTQ+ people should have the opportunity to be ordained and be in congregations and pulpits in the ELCA, and elsewhere.

You make this extraordinary work possible. Thank you!

I invite those who have not given yet this year, or haven’t given before, to join other friends who support LGBTQ+ ministry and its leaders. You can make your gift on-line here or mail your gift to: ELM; PO Box 14317; Chicago, IL; 60614-8503.

Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia

Amalia Vagts would like to devote this week’s blog biographical sketch to saying “Happy Birthday!” to her father, Jerry Vagts, and her mother-in-law, Shirley Vaughan Lester who were both born on the same day, same year some time ago! Dad and Shirley, I hope you are reading this. Just like the annual report, your cards are in the mail…

Rev. Amanda Nelson Named Executive Director of ELM

Rev. Amanda Nelson. Photo: Emily Ann Garcia.

It is with great joy and excitement that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries announces that the Rev. Amanda Nelson (she/her/hers) has been selected as the new Executive Director! Amanda brings a breadth of experience and personal connection to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries that leads her to be well equipped to further the mission and vision of ELM.

As Executive Director, Amanda will provide vision, direction, and leadership to ELM by partnering with the Board of Directors, managing staff, and guiding program implementation. She will also lead fund development, as well as operate as an ambassador for ELM, developing partnerships and relationships. Amanda begins in early August and will work from New England.

Search Committee co-chairs Rev. Dr. Elise Brown and Lois Voss write,

“This has been a Spirit-filled process. The caliber of candidates who applied affirms ELM’s strength as an organization and points towards a very strong future. Amanda was the unanimous final choice for the search committee and was affirmed by a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors. Amanda has the passion, competency, development skills and executive abilities to lead Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries into the strategic directions we have worked on together. We are energized by the vision and passion she brings to our mission.”

The two-month search was lead by a team selected by the ELM Board of Directors. In addition to co-chairs Rev. Elise Brown and Lois Voss, the team included Emily Ann Garcia, Mack Patrick (Proclaim Seminarian), the Rev. Jeff Johnson (Proclaim), and Ben Hogue (Proclaim Seminarian). The committee conducted five web and three in-person interviews with finalists before making their final recommendation.

Amanda writes,

“I am overjoyed at the opportunity to serve as Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and to give back to an organization whose ministries have supported me and helped me in my own journey to be a proud, publicly out, queer minister in the ELCA.

The people of ELM – from the members of Proclaim to the many individuals, families, and congregations who support our ministries – are what get me most excited about this position! If you’re looking for hope in the future of the church; for energetic, enthusiastic, creative, and deeply considerate leaders; and for a glimpse into God’s awesome Kin-dom, look no further, it’s right here!

In stepping into this role, I know I do so on the shoulders of giants. I was humbled to be counted as their colleague when I joined Proclaim six years ago, and now I look forward to the milestones we will accomplish together for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of LGBTQ+ leaders in our Church.”

A graduate of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, Amanda grew up on the East Coast and considers herself a true New Englander at heart. She attended Wheaton College in Norton, MA, majoring in International Relations and German Studies. After college, Amanda worked at a Domestic and Sexual Violence agency before following her call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. She comes to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries from Faith Lutheran Church and the community of East Hartford, Connecticut where she served as Pastor. Amanda is a member of Proclaim and served on ELM’s Fund Development Team as well as a Proclaim Chaplain.

This is an exciting next chapter for ELM and we are enthusiastic Amanda has said ‘Yes!’ to this new call. We’re thankful to you, our wonderful supporters, who make it possible for ELM to do ministry in the world. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of LGBTQ+ ministers transforms the church and enriches the world. Your support allows us to live out that belief through Proclaim, Accompaniment, and Ministry Engagement – thank you!

I Always Knew I Was Destined to be Erik Christensen’s Father

Linda Christensen representing Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries at the Southeastern Iowa Synod Assembly


Guest post by Larry Christensen
ELM supporter and Proclaim parent

If you go to the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Home page, look up at the right-hand upper corner. That guy in the blue clerical shirt and zipper sweater is my son, Erik. He is why his mother and I got involved in full inclusion actions, participated in marches, spoke at panels and forums, got arrested a couple times, and led “sing-ins” at the 2006 Churchwide Assembly in Chicago. We were also the go-to referral when parents had a child come out: “You should meet the Christensens.” Finally I got to be a voting member at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly when the policy changed. It is all Erik’s fault, and for that I am forever grateful.

That is how Linda and I ended up getting asked to sit at the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries information table for the 2017 Southeastern Iowa Synod Assembly this May. We had never done it and did not know what to expect. I took reading material in case business was slow, but there was no need. We had wonderful conversations with a variety of people. Some folks, naturally wondered if there was still a need for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries given the change in the ELCA’s policy, and that was probably our most meaningful work – to help people understand that the work is far from over. We were actually helped by the repeated pleas in the general sessions to recruit people for ordained and diaconal ministry. The clergy/deacon shortage and the availability of wonderful candidates was a natural case-in-point.

Some people wanted to know more about how to become an Reconciling In Christ congregation, and that was a referral to the table next door to visit with the ReconcilingWorks folks. Others simply wanted a chance to talk about how things were going in their congregation back home, and always we encouraged them to work now so that the next time they are in a call process there might be a conversation about a wider search for candidates. “You are from a rural community? Some of our ELM pastors grew up on farms you know.” The ELM materials are great and wonderful conversation points.

There was also another category of conversation which was in its own way sweet and maybe therapeutic. That was the retired pastors and church members reflecting back on the journey that they and the church had taken. It has been a pilgrimage to be sure, and we have all been changed. To be honest, I needed that time at the ELM table to heal a bit, to absorb the change, and enjoy the new wine and wineskins.

Larry Christensen was raised on a farm in Eastern Nebraska, then became a music teacher, then a church youth worker, and finally a church musician. Larry was a “Lay Professional” in the LCA, and “AIM” in the ELCA, and now, in retirement, would guess that he is a “Deacon” – all without additional schooling or degrees. He is married to a wonderful woman, Linda (pictured at right), who is unrepentantly decent, loving, and spiritual, and they are the parents of two children: Erik, who went into the family business and is a gay, Lutheran pastor in Chicago married to Kerry, and their Thai, adopted daughter, Tara, who has been dating a 6’4” car nut for seven years. Larry and Linda live in Des Moines, Iowa where they enjoy their home, yard, and the wildlife that cohabitates with them.

Announcing the 2017 Joel R. Workin Scholar

Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is pleased to announce that Benjamin Hogue is the
2017 Joel R. Workin Scholar!

Workin Selection Committee Chair Michael Price Nelson writes,

In this 500th year of the Reformation, it strikes me that if LGBTQ+ Christians are to help in the ongoing reformation, then surely Ben’s voice is one that needs to be lifted up. I speak for all the committee when I say we pray that, as a Workin Scholar, Joel’s witness will continue to shine and sparkle in Ben’s life and ministry throughout the years.

Ben’s resume illustrates the breadth of his experience, from a commitment to youth, the marginalized, multiple justice issues, and experience outside the Church. Ben’s essay was striking for its elegant prose, thoughtful reasoning, and the ease with which it integrates not only Joel’s writings, but thoughts from Martin Luther and Mother Teresa as well.

Each year ELM names a Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholar to honor the life and ministry of Joel Raydon Workin. Joel was one of the three seminarians who were refused ordination in 1989 after coming out to their candidacy committees. Upon his death, Joel’s parents, Ray and Betty, and other family and friends created the scholarship fund in his name to keep his prophetic voice part of the movement. This past November, Betty’s life was honored through many memorial gifts to the Fund after she passed away from cancer. The award comes with a $2,500 scholarship for academic or spiritual study and is available for members of Proclaim who are preparing for rostered leadership in the Lutheran church.

Upon hearing of the decision, Ben wrote,

I am so sincerely humbled and honored to be the 2017 Joel R. Workin Scholar and am grateful for Joel’s family for carrying on his legacy, as well as the selection committee for this honor, and the ministry of staff of ELM and the Board. Thank you!

During my time at PLTS and throughout candidacy, Joel’s words have accompanied me and will continue to impact my ministry. Through his sermons and essays, Joel has become in some ways a saint-mentor and I am so grateful for his witness.

It is not lost on me that I am receiving word of this award one year after the Pulse Night Club tragedy. This year has been difficult, especially for the LGBTQ+ community, communities of color, and those with intersectional identities. The anniversary of Pulse allows us to come together to do the hard work of existence, resistance, and persistence. Joel’s words remind us that death will not win, nor keep us from God. ‘God’s love, and I say this by faith and not by fact, is the mightiest thing in all creation and nothing will keep it from us.’ I hold that dear to my heart.

Ben is a candidate for ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a seminarian at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. Ben is from Grand Junction, Colorado and graduated from California Lutheran University in 2010 with a degree in Advertising/Public Relations and Sociology. Ben served with Peace Corps Ukraine, in the small village of Kolky from 2010-2013, teaching English, leadership, and country studies, and also helped to organize and run teacher and youth camps.

Ben has been an active member of the Proclaim community, attending the annual Gathering, and serving in various capacities, most recently as the Proclaim Seminarian Outreach Team Convener this past year. Ben will be on internship beginning this fall at Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, D.C., where ELM board member Rev. Michael Wilker is lead pastor.

Learn more about the Joel R. Workin Endowed Scholarship here.

Ecumenical LGBTQ+ Event This Fall

A guest post from the organizers of Rolling the Stone Away

Get ready for one of the biggest gatherings of founders, movers, and shakers in the LGBTQ+ ecumenical faith world. October 31-November 2, 2017, in St. Louis, prophets young and old will tell the stories of our history and explore our future at Rolling The Stone Away.

Special guests include the Rev. Chuck Lewis, Leo Treadway, Nicole Garcia and many others from a variety of backgrounds and faith traditions. The Rev. Dr. Megan M. Rohrer is serving on the planning team as the Lutheran representative for ELM and ReconcilingWorks.

Rolling The Stone Away is a conference of elders, saints and prophets from all generations to honor the ground-breaking achievements, relentless commitments, and often painful sacrifices many have made in religious organizations over the past five decades and to inspire the next generations to push forward.

The LGBT Religious Archives Network ecumenical planning team is committed to preserve, celebrate, and learn from the history of LGBTQ+ justice groups and activists in Christian faith traditions. Together we will worship, listen, reflect, and plan.

ELM Friends who are interested are encouraged to learn more/register:

Putting the ‘Protest’ back in Protestant!


Guest blog by Kristian C. Kohler
Proclaim member and pastoral intern at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Santa Monica / SoCal Lutherans

On the evening of Friday, May 19, three Proclaimers (Rev. Caleb Crainer, Kristian Kohler, and Rev. Asher O’Callaghan) descended upon Long Beach, CA to set up the SoCal Lutherans booth for Long Beach Pride. As the Southern California Chapter of ReconcilingWorks, SoCal Lutherans maintains an annual presence at Long Beach, Los Angeles, Orange County, and Ventura County Prides. We distribute buttons, pens, and most famously, temporary tattoos.

I was amazed by people who would come up to our table and say things like “I need my tattoo! I’ve been coming to you every year for 8 years, and it wouldn’t be Pride without it!” Others would say things like, “Wait, are you a pastor?!” Or simply “I love that a church is here!” This Lutheran tattoo parlor operates under a big banner that proclaims “God loves you and the ones you love!

The theme we chose for our festival and parade presence this year is “Putting the ‘Protest’ Back in Protestant.” After the weekend ended, I found myself wondering what exactly it was that our presence was protesting and proclaiming. The message of God’s love for all— especially for LGBTQ+ people—is itself a protest, I think.

Our protest is one of words: that God loves you and the ones you love, no matter what those who would try to use religion as a weapon of hate say. Our protest is also one of deed: putting temporary tattoos on bodies that have been told by others that they don’t count, don’t belong, or don’t matter to God. And our protest is one of heart (rainbow hearts, to be exact): witnessing to the incarnate Love of God.

As Pride season begins, we have many opportunities to offer public witness, to be our true selves and invite others to be their true selves. We can boldly proclaim that God loves all, and in so doing protest exclusion, injustice, hatred, and violence. We can literally and figuratively cover the world in rainbow hearts.

K.C. Kohler (pictured on the right with Sandy Smith (center) and Ruth Benner (left)) lives in Venice, CA, and is on internship at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Santa Monica / SoCal Lutherans (the Southern California Chapter of ReconcilingWorks). In August, Kristian will return to Reading, PA to await Fall Assignment. He is recently obsessed with a Netflix documentary series on castles starring the historian Dan Jones.