Always Asking the Question

The Rev. Leslie Welton and Bp. Jim Gonia (Rocky Mountain Synod) serving communion at Welton’s installation as Assistant to the Bishop.

by Rev. Leslie Welton
Proclaim member

Editors Note:  Have you wondered where God is calling LGBTQ+ people within the greater church? This is the final in a four-part series on Proclaim leaders who are doing ministry outside of the parish ministry context.


I have been in my current call for three weeks . . . It feels like three days! A month ago, I was saying tearful goodbyes to a congregation I loved very much and moving half-way across the country to a new role in a synod office. Very different ministries, to say the least.

So the past three weeks have been drinking from the firehose of information!

I also find myself asking questions at the rate of an inquisitive toddler: Who are these congregations? Who are these people? What do they expect of me? Can I really do this work? What if I annoy my colleagues? What if I screw up? Did I make the right choice?

That last question is the one that I find myself camping with a bit, and it’s partly due to my new role around candidacy in this synod. As the Assistant to the Bishop for Faith Formation and Candidacy, I get to walk with folks discerning a call to rostered ministry in this church. My own road of discernment in the beginning was a bumpy one; and, as I get to know these candidates, who are asked to be very vulnerable in the process of discerning a vocation, I am reminded that my call here is to pray for these leaders as they are being formed.

These are the new “congregation members” for whom I am called to pray in my ordination vows, and I love that!

One of my favorite lessons in seminary came from a professor who said we should always ask, “Can I honestly say I’m where God is calling me to be today?” I am mindful that LGBTQ+ folks have a rocky road in candidacy, and we get asked a lot of questions.  Questions of identity and call can be frustrating when the church around you can’t see what you and those who know you best can see. I’m thankful that I can be a voice in the process and advocate for candidates on a wider level.

The move from a congregation to a specialized ministry was not an easy decision, but three weeks in I can say it was the right decision. I still feel a bit like Joshua standing at the border of Canaan not knowing what was in store, but I also hear that voice from the cloud assuring, “Do not be afraid, I go before you.” (God did have to tell Joshua that about a dozen times before he got it). I grieve the loss of the relationships in the congregation, the stories I was privileged to share, the rhythm of preaching with a congregation, and learning from one another, and the community. But I see where my passions in ministry are such a fit in this call.

Faith formation is what we are about in the church, and it’s all about asking the questions that bring us closer to the God who loves us so much. For that I am grateful and excited to see what the years ahead hold.

Leslie Welton is happiest with a cup of coffee in one hand, a book in the other and one of her cats on her lap. She is a perpetual student of all the instruments she owns but cannot yet play and nurtures an obsession with miniature anything. She will try any food but bologna and sees the hospitality of her own table as integral to understanding the hospitality offered at Christ’s. The recent move from California to Colorado (to serve as Assistant to the Bishop for Faith Formation and Candidacy, Rocky Mountain Synod) has her excited to explore the mountains but a little bit chilly.

Five Careers and Counting

View from Ravenscroft Chapel at Spirit in the Desert. Photo by Christephor Gilbert

by Rev. Richard Andersen
Proclaim member

Editors Note:  Have you wondered where God is calling LGBTQ+ people within the greater church? This is the third in a four-part series on Proclaim leaders who are doing ministry outside of the parish ministry context.

I have been the executive director at Spirit in the Desert retreat center since January 2016, and have been thrilled to welcome more than 3,800 people from all over the U.S. and 41 countries as they participated in 151 programs – and the numbers keep growing! We are already seeing 20 percent more people in 2017 so far.

 Our purpose is to offer the opportunity for renewal, reconciliation, healing and transformation for every participant.  We do this with welcoming hospitality, the expertise of program facilitators, and our serene, eight-acre, Sonoran Desert environment that includes open spaces for meditation, prayer and reflection.

 Retreats this fall include “Healing of Memories” for veterans and first responders, “Boundless Compassion” for all those seeking to live and share compassion, mercy and justice, “Leading Well” for clergy and ministry leaders, and “Spiritual Director Training.”  People with LGBTQ+ identity are among the guests who are welcome here. Our mission is to provide the supportive environment and resources for people to freely discover their calling.

 ELM helped me discover my calling.  I graduated from Luther Seminary in 1979.  At that time I joined the ARC Retreat Community instead of seeking a call as an ordained pastor.  In 1986 I was ordained and took a call to a parish in Southwestern Minnesota while remaining in the closet.  Hiding my LGBTQ+ identity did not work and I resigned from my call.  From 1987 until 2008 I sought and found successful alternative careers in restaurant management, financial planning and fundraising.  After the vote in 2009 the St. Paul Area Synod Council called me to specialized ministry with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSSMN).  In 2016, the Grand Canyon Synod called me to my present position at Spirit in the Desert.

 The calling I have received to serve the ELCA as an ordained pastor has brought me great joy.  I waited a long, long time.  However, the experiences I had working at the ARC Retreat Center, managing five restaurants, building a financial planning team and raising funds for LSSMN are the reasons I was qualified to accept the call to Spirit in the Desert.

 In my experience ELM gave me the structure, the support, and the pathway to follow my calling.  I am grateful!

Richard lives in Cave Creek, AZ with Patrick Burns.  They met the first day of college in 1964.

When Did You Feel Welcome?

Rev. Susan Halvor conducting a blessing of the motorcycles.

by Rev. Susan Halvor
Proclaim member

Editors Note:  Have you wondered where God is calling LGBTQ+ people within the greater church? This is the second in a four-part series on Proclaim leaders who are doing ministry outside of the parish ministry context.

At a recent staff meeting of hospital chaplains, I asked that we each share about times when we felt welcomed or included, or when we did not – the stories were powerful!
One person shared that after a life of moving from place to place and always feeling like an outsider, finally they were being truly welcomed into a small Alaskan community, so much so that the community rallied to find this person a (rare) winter job.
Another spoke of the process of slowly breaking into the tight-knit Emergency Department culture: first ignored, then referred to as “chaplain,” and finally the moment when the nurses actually knew this chaplain by name.
Or the one who spoke about visiting the back areas of Laboratory Services for the first time and being celebrated as the much-loved chaplain who prays enthusiastically over the intercom in the mornings.
And, one person talked about offering ashes on Ash Wednesday in an administrative section of the hospital, and, after many refusals, came across a woman who wept and said “you have no idea how much I needed you to come by right now.”
As we shared our own stories of vulnerability and welcome, I thought about how vulnerable it feels to be a patient, to be cut off from your “normal” life and activities and community.
And I thought about how each of us on our team has felt “other,” and the ways that has informed our ministries. In our department, we are straight, lesbian, queer and transgender. We are African, Indian, Caucasian, Nicaraguan, Alaska Native, African American and Scottish.
As a queer Lutheran hospital chaplain and pastor, I often feel like I don’t quite fit in many of the spaces I inhabit. The Proclaim community helps me feel a sense of belonging; but I also realize that that sense of “otherness” actually connects me to the people I serve here at the hospital – patients, their loved ones, the hospital staff who care for them and the hospital staff that keep this operation running.
My own experiences of vulnerability, my own wondering, “Will you still love me if you truly know me?” helps me better care for the child who has just been diagnosed with diabetes, the Hmong teenager who has experienced the death of a parent or sibling; the transgender patient whose anxiety increases with every new person who walks through the door; the patient with a traumatic brain injury and their partner, looking ahead to a completely different life; the patient whose opioid addiction and mental illness makes it difficult to develop a safe discharge plan.

It’s the best job in the world – I get to care for patients and their loved ones, hear incredible stories, support staff, and teach about my passions (compassion, cross-cultural communication, resilience, grief education, and more). Every day is different, and it is a gift to follow this call.

Photo by Emily Ann Garcia

After 11 years as a Children’s Hospital Chaplain at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska, Susan Halvor is now the manager of the Spiritual Care Department and has to sneak away to spend the time she loves with patients and their families. When she’s not at work, she’s happiest playing outdoors in Alaska with her dog Jack, wrangling her two cats, line dancing or eating ice cream. Some of these activities have been known to happen at the same time! She also enjoys serving as one of the chaplains to the Proclaim community.

Beloved and Enough: Cultivating Community Through Campus Ministry

Photo by Kathleen Koran. Pictured (L to R) Huiquao Yao and Becca Seely

by Rev. Becca Seely
Proclaim member

Editors Note:  Have you wondered where God is calling LGBTQ+ people within the greater church? This is the first in a four-part series on Proclaim leaders who are doing ministry outside of the parish ministry context.

I wasn’t raised up in church.  Growing up, my primary exposure to Christianity was through the voices of the Christian right that seemed to saturate the media in the 1990s.  The older I got, the clearer it seemed to me that Christian faith was just a pious mask for moralism and bigotry.  By the time I came out as gay in high school, I thought I had Christianity’s number and I was sure as heck not calling it.  But like it does for so many, college changed me.  The courses I took in the religion department opened my eyes to a faith that was much more complex than I had understood.  I was exposed to a multiplicity of voices from the Christian tradition and my assumptions were challenged one by one.  I went from a kid who thought she had it all figured out to a young woman realizing how little she knew about faith and God – and how much she actually wanted to know.

Ash Wednesday Service. Photo by Gregory Togbah. Pictured (L to R): Megan Macpherson, Christian Pisco, Sedalia Mahlum, Becca Seely, Jordan Mosley.

Fast forward fifteen years and I am now a campus pastor, walking with young people as they navigate the exciting, challenging, assumption-busting, identity-shaping college years.  I serve as director of a campus ministry network in New York City, where I work with an incredible diversity of students.  It is a joy to get to accompany young people as they go through their own transformations – as they begin to figure out what they do and don’t believe, who they are and who they feel called to become.  It is also a joy to cultivate Christian community that is actively LGBTQ affirming, especially when, even in New York City, the dominant Christian voices on campus are not LGBTQ welcoming.  I delight in the fact that many of our students are LGBTQ young people who long to know there is a place at the table for them in the church and that many of our non-LGBTQ students care passionately about setting a table where all are welcome.  One queer student told me that she wasn’t sure she could be part of church anymore after some hurtful past experiences but that on her first day at our campus ministry, when we included gender pronouns in our introductions, she finally felt at home.  Now she is one of our peer ministers.

I am grateful every day for the opportunity to be an out pastor serving in this context because just by being fully who I am, I am able to bear witness to the wideness of Christ’s love – to embody the reality that everyone who feels like an outsider for whatever reason is unconditionally beloved of God.  I feel blessed to be called to a ministry where daily I get to share with stressed, uncertain young adults the good news that they are beloved and they are enough.

Photo by Molly Greenberg.

Becca Seely (she/her/hers) is Executive Director of Lutheran Ministries in Higher Education of New York City.  She enjoys hanging out with her Proclaim member wife, Abby Ferjak, doing elaborate craft projects, speed reading young adult fiction and being the proud caretaker of a professional grade sno cone machine (in case you ever need to borrow one).