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.