by Rev. Richard Andersen
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!