By Ashlei Buhrow
Proclaim Member and MDiv student, Luther Seminary
Well, it’s that time of the year! School is starting, new faces are coming onto campus, and there is a feeling of orderly chaos. For the first time in a long time, I actually am looking forward to the start of a school year. Why? Because I’m starting to see the ways in which I can use my gifts at Luther Seminary.
Last year was my first year of seminary, and that came with a lot of changes: turning 21, moving to a new state, living with unfamiliar people, and most life changing—coming out. In October of 2016, I told my friends and family that I was a lesbian, and not unlike many, felt very alone. I knew that there was a group on campus called Emmaus that was an LGBTQIA+ group, but I didn’t have the guts to reach out to them until much later.
Then, this group called Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) kept coming up in my circles, and I was encouraged to get involved! I joined, and immediately got connected with Proclaim. Lucky for me, a position in the Seminary Outreach Team had opened up the following week—and I was invited to be the student representative for Luther Seminary. To be honest, I had no clue what I should or shouldn’t do; honestly, I didn’t even really grasp what it meant to be gay. But I knew I had support and always would be supported.
That brings us to this year at Luther Seminary. Everyone deserves to feel like they can be authentic and true to themselves, and that’s exactly what I hope to help bring to the Luther Seminary campus as part of the Seminary Outreach Team, and leader for Emmaus!Today, we tabled at the Open House hours during First Week orientation—rainbow and trans flags flying, with the addition of some Skittles and Starbursts. These past few years, a lot has changed at Luther Seminary, and so I decided to leave it up to the campus population to help decide what Emmaus and Proclaim will mean to them. Those who were interested placed their names, pronouns, and contact information on a sheet for me to connect with them; the sky is the limit after that! Some ideas currently in place are: working with Decolonize Lutheranism and Naked and Unashamed; learning more about LGBTQ+ rights and their roles in the global church; and facilitating more opportunities on campus for education on trans rights. I look forward to this school year and starting fresh, but even more so I am looking forward to being a person that people know is here for them and connecting them to resources they find helpful.
Ashlei Buhrow is a Master of Divinity middler (second year, for those not in the know!) at Luther Seminary, and in candidacy toward Word and Sacrament ministry in the Northwestern Wisconsin Synod (a surprising turn of events discerned only three days after she finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin)! Currently job hunting for something that feeds her passion for youth ministry and LGBTQ+ engagement, Ashlei enjoys testing out the breweries of Minnesota, spending time with her partner and her dog, and exploring in nature.
By Rev. Amanda Nelson
Executive Director, ELM
It took me a little longer to figure it out than some of my peers; although, I suppose still earlier in life than some people I know. When I think about it, there were signs of it when I was a little girl. My parents had an inkling.
I had good role models when I was a child and again when I was in high school and college, so it’s not like I thought it was a bad thing. But still. I felt nervous when I thought of myself in that way.
It took some time of real listening to my own heart before I was finally able to say: “I want to be a pastor.”
Did you think this was going in a different direction? You’re right, I could’ve said these things about finally being able to say “I’m gay.”
Isn’t that fascinating?
When I was visiting Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) as a prospective student, we spent one evening sharing with each other our call stories: how did you know you were called to be a leader in the church? As we went around sharing, I texted my girlfriend at the time and said, “Wow! This feels an awful lot like sitting with LGBTQ+ friends sharing our coming out stories.”
Deep listening. Feeling a sense of identity and purpose. Fear in telling our friends and family. Risking backlash from our society and culture. Bravely claiming our calling.
Coming out as queer and coming out as a pastor has been a journey intimately intertwined. For me, once I was completely honest with myself and my community about who I am and my sexual orientation, I was then freed and called to be completely honest with myself and my community about my vocation, my calling. I’m one of those people.
As you get to know LGBTQ+ leaders in our church, you’ll hear similar stories to mine. Stories of people for whom the discernment process of listening and struggling to understand who we are and how we are in the world reveals not only our sexual orientation or gender identity, but also reveals to us God’s calling to leadership and ministry. As we come to understand both our calling and our sexual or gender identity, we find both strength and wonder.
This is why it is so important for LGBTQ+ leaders like myself to share our orientation and gender identity publicly as we serve as ministers and leaders in the church: for many of us these identities are symbiotic. They inspire each other and each adds depth to the other.
And yet, this public profession of identity and calling can be risky business. Being LGBTQ+ is still not totally acceptable in our society and in our church. Serving as a pastor in the institution of the Church is not as flashy as working for a start-up or becoming a lawyer. And, still we’re here – with a desire to bring the good news, to share the radical love of God with our hands and voices and hearts.
This is the gift LGBTQ+ ministers bring to our church and our world. This is the dynamic that influences our theology – our understanding of God’s love – and our public ministry – how God’s love can be present in our world. This is why the public witness of LGBTQ+ ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.
And, it is this intimate relationship of identity and calling that sang out to me as I applied to become the next Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. I feel blessed to be in the position to echo back the strength and wonder of that relationship as I take on this role; and, share with others the gifts and joys of LGBTQ+ leaders in our church.
I look forward to singing with you!
Rev. Amanda Nelson is the new Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. She comes to ELM having served as a parish pastor in East Hartford, Connecticut for the past two years and is a member of Proclaim. Amanda lives in Portland, Maine with her dog Cinna (yes, named for the Hunger Games character) where they love to take in the sights and sounds of living in such a beautiful coastal city.
Proclaim Members Off to Internship. Pictured (L-R, Top -Bottom): Jon Rundquist (photo by Emily Ann Garcia), Katy Miles-Wallace (photo by Emily Ann Garcia), Thomas Voelp, Laura Ferree (photo by Emily Ann Garcia).
By Dan Gutman
ELM editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part feature on Proclaim seminarians and internship. Like Moses who set out for the land of Midian (Ex. 2:11-20), a place where his identity was shaped by God and God’s people, so too do our seminarians make a home away from home on internship, God building on their call so they might return to their home – their Egypt – equipped more fully for the work of ministry. Last week we featured a Proclaim seminarian, Josh Evans, reflecting on his year as an intern in Omaha, NE. This week, we feature stories from seminarians who are about to embark on internship this fall with the intention of lifting up a multitude of experiences from across the Proclaim community. In preparation for this week’s post, ELM sent a questionnaire asking soon-to-be-interns to reflect not only on their hopes and apprehensions as LGBTQ+ candidates, but also on the overall process with their synods and their seminaries. What came back was honest and, frankly, hard to hear in light of the overall struggle that LGBTQ+ persons in ministry continue to face. And yet, it was important for us to lift up these experiences as a true reflection of what it means to be called to serve this church at this time. Thanks to Proclaim member, and new intern, Dan Gutman, for contextualizing the experiences of our Proclaim seminarians.
Internship placement is a time rife with excitement and anxiety for seminarians. For LGBTQ+ candidates in particular, fear and apprehension can overwhelm the process and resurrect our deepest insecurities. Depending on relationships the candidate has with the seminary, the synod, and the potential internship sites, the overall process can be a continuous series of revelations that are reminiscent of that initial experience of coming out as LGBTQ+. Candidates find themselves once again in the vulnerable position of being accepted and welcomed as their whole selves.
For some Proclaim interns, we are the first LGBTQ+ person people in the congregations have interacted with. Jon Rundquist is serving Living Waters Lutheran in Sauk Rapids, MN and Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer of Minneapolis. “As an out transfeminine intern…I was one of the first trans folk that many in the congregation had interacted with.” Initially, Jon was concerned whether these congregations would even allow a trans person to serve as intern. However, as Jon settles into their sites, they are hopeful: “the growth that I achieve, the relationships I form, and the progress that is made – make it abundantly clear that God is calling me to lead a congregation in ordained ministry, and that God is at work in both [of my internship] communities, forming positive experiences so the reality is affirmed that a queer leader in the ELCA can serve wherever God is calling them.”
Recently, LGBTQ+ seminarians have run into a shortage of internship sites open to receiving them as interns. “I was essentially…put into a secondary search.” For Katy Miles-Wallace the process was rough. Only three of the available churches listed in the pool of sites offered to her would interview an LGBTQ+ candidate. Of those three, none were a good fit. Katy feels fortunate to have had the support of the Proclaim Accompaniment Team throughout her application process and gives thanks for the people of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Dublin, OH who were willing to open their doors to an LGBTQ+ intern and have been incredibly generous and welcoming!
For many LGBTQ+ interns, internship is another point in the process where sexual identity is conflated with sexual activity and we, once again, feel punished for having healthy understandings of sexuality. For Thomas Voelp at St. Peter’s by the Sea Lutheran Church in San Diego, CA, internship has brought personal relationships into question. Thomas feels supported by his supervisor and many in the congregation. However, when it comes to his desire to date while on internship, Thomas feels restricted by an either/or binary of what relationships look like and the process they take – the expectation that candidates be either single or married. “I want to scream: ‘God does not despise sexuality or dating!’”
For a growing number of our Proclaim interns, the internship placement process is filled with grace and joy. “My hope for the process is that each candidate for internship may have an experience like mine.” Laura Ferree, serving one of the only two RIC congregations represented in this article, Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA, was not without apprehensions in this process but says, “I felt supported throughout the entire process and as if my identity and safety mattered to my school and future internship site.” Laura’s hope for the process is, “that other RIC congregations are willing to step up and create safe internship sites for LGBTQ+ candidates.”
ELM’s Accompaniment program walks alongside and supports candidates throughout their journey to first call. This program works to address many of the issues the seminarians in this article articulated so that more LGBTQ+ seminarians have an experience like Laura’s.
It’s encouraging to see the fruit of our work and the glimpses of hope each Proclaimer carries with them into internship. And yet, there is so much more work to be done until every LGBTQ+ candidate’s whole self is affirmed, supported, and warmly embraced by the whole church.
Dan Gutman (he/him/his) is just beginning his internship at St. John Lutheran Church in Celina, OH. He is a member of Proclaim and is married to Mandy and they have the most adorable children you’ve ever seen, Sam (2 yrs) and Luke (2 mos). Dan loves being outside, playing with his children’s’ toys, and drinking snooty beer (preferably all three at once). Dan’s hopes for internship are to leverage the privilege he is ascribed by being in a heteronormative relationship to move the congregation toward a more affirming place with LGBTQ+ candidates.
Note: To mark the start of the fall semester of the academic year, this is the first of a two-part feature on in-coming and out-going interns from our Proclaim community.
Internship is made up of experiences, many of them firsts: from preaching sermons to leading adult forum, from teaching confirmation to presiding at funerals and weddings, and so much more. And yet: No backdrop from my year spent at Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, is more vivid than that of the Homy Inn.
Just minutes away from Augustana, the Homy, as we call it, is the (un)official watering hole of the congregation I served for the past year. After midweek Lenten services, as the custom goes, the small but faithful crowd shuffles out the doors of the chapel and soon reunites around a table at the Homy. And as the weeks of Lent rolled on, so too our group grew larger.
I am convinced that on those Wednesday nights during Lent our liturgy did not end with the last notes of Holden Evening Prayer but continued in force at the Homy around food, drink, music, and fellowship — all elements familiar within stained glass-lined walls but reminders, too, that “church” happens even in “ordinary” or “secular” places.
For me, it was this sense of community at Augustana, embodied at the Homy, that continued to strike me throughout internship. The same community that intentionally sought out an LGBTQ+ intern and welcomed me with an extravagant welcome was also the community that coalesced in mutual support and celebration during parishioners’ life passages and the community that devoted themselves in service to its neighbors in the city and the world.
I remember that palpable sense of community, too, when I preached and led worship during our annual Reconciling in Christ (RIC) commemoration this past March. That Sunday, I preached my most personal sermon to date, telling my story and expressing my gratitude for a community built around inclusion and the ongoing work of reconciliation. After the service, at which members of the River City Mixed Chorus joined us to enhance our worship with song, I heard comments from our visitors and our regulars alike about how much they appreciated and needed to hear what I had to say. Humbling and inspiring feedback indeed.
Years earlier, in my entrance essay, I wrote about coming out to the pastor of a church I had only visited a couple times before meeting with him. When that pastor welcomed and affirmed me without question or reservation and invited me into deeper leadership, I reflected later how part of my sense of call is rooted in a desire to be in some small way what that pastor was for me in that moment of vulnerability. I suspect I was able to do just that with my RIC Sunday sermon, and maybe even in other less obvious ways, during my internship year. As one friend, who identifies as queer, told me this year: “Even something as simple as seeing someone like me at the front of the church means a lot even after having been out for years.”
Had it not been for the welcome of that pastor and the church I soon called home, I may have never wound up in seminary… I may have never found Proclaim and ELM… I may have never been able to serve and be served by the people of God at Augustana… And yet, with the support of all these communities, here I am, a candidate for Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. Deo gratias!
Josh Evans (he/him/his) has just returned from internship at Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, and is eager to embark on his final year of seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago this fall. He is also a self-admitted bandwagon Cubs fan, probably drinks too much coffee, watches inordinate amounts of Netflix, and (usually) behaves himself for his four-legged children (cats Oliver and Sophia and dog Roscoe). You can follow/stalk Josh online at sermonsetcetera.wordpress.com.
On behalf of the Board of Directors of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, we warmly welcome our new Executive Director, the Rev. Amanda B. Nelson.
Amanda, through the Executive Director search process, incorporated the story of the prophet Miriam from the book of Exodus. Amanda highlighted the incredible joy and tambourine playing of Miriam and her Jewish sisters when liberation arrived; yet, Amanda also lifted up the journey that still lay ahead as the Hebrew people traversed the sands of the Sinai and held out hope for the promised land.
In a similar manner, Amanda acknowledges the incredible work that led the ELCA to affirmative votes in support of LGBTQ+ individuals, their families, and rostered leaders in 2009. There certainly was dancing and tambourine playing! Still the road is winding and there is much to be done before we reach the promised land. Amanda feels called to step into leadership with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries during this time that continues to celebrate the work achieved for the LGBTQ+ community…and that holds out the promised land as a hope towards which we continue to work and journey.
Bringing skills as an ordained pastor, a community organizer, and leadership in a small non-profit, the Board of Directors feels that Amanda holds an incredible set of gifts, an energetic presence, and a vision that will continue the work that has brought us to today and will continue to create a bright and bold future. Having raised our tambourines and done a little dance in thanks for Amalia Vagts, our former Executive Director, and all who have charted the course toward life and liberation, we now begin this next chapter of the journey filled with hope and thanksgiving. And for this work and the years ahead the ELM Board of Directors is thrilled to welcome the Rev. Amanda B. Nelson as Executive Director!
Peace and Blessings,
The Rev. Dr. J. Elise Brown The Rev. Brad Froslee
Co-chair, ELM Board of Directors Co-chair, ELM Board of Directors
To contact Amanda:
Office hours: Monday through Thursday, 9:00am – 6:00pm, CST