by the Rev. Erik Christensen
I met Blanche Grube in the fall of 2002, as I began my year of internship at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Toms River, New Jersey. Getting that internship hadn’t been easy. It was the spring of my senior year in the M.Div. program at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. As the majority of my classmates were receiving their first parish assignments, I was enduring one humiliating phone call after another with pastors who felt the need to tell me that their congregation wasn’t ready for someone like me.
On the outside, Blanche Grube might have appeared to be the kind of parishioner these pastors were worried about offending. When I met her she was already eighty years old. She’d been born in Brooklyn and was a lifelong Lutheran. She went to nursing school immediately after high school and quickly found work in a Manhattan hospital that had to work to keep fully staffed because of the number of young doctors and nurses heading off to serve in World War Two. Nursing suited her incredibly sharp mind and her stoic work ethic. In her career she went on to teach nursing to generations of students who kept in touch with her for the rest of her life out of love and respect for the way she invested in them.
I can relate. From the outset, Blanche went out of her way to let me know how thrilled she was that I, a gay man, was preparing for ordained ministry. She’d lived an entire life in New York City before I was even born, and there was nothing about my experience in life that shocked or offended her. She once told me, “People around here see a sweet little old lady, and forget that I lived through the war! I used to drink scotch and smoke like everyone else!” In honesty, it was only the cigarettes that she ever gave up.
Blanche took her role as a member of my internship support committee very seriously. Once a month she would take me out for lunch to ask me what I was learning, what I found challenging, and what I needed by way of support. When both my grandmother and my great-grand aunt died during my internship year, Blanche informed me that she would be my grandmother going forward. I took it as the sort of sweet thing that people say when they’re trying to be comforting. To the contrary, Blanche then took it upon herself to build her own relationship with my parents and sister. She attended my “extraordinary” ordination in 2006, my reception onto the roster of the ELCA in 2010, and my wedding to Kerry in 2015. At the end of that wedding weekend she let me know that would be her last trip.
Blanche Grube died on August 22, 2017 at the age of 95. She was an avid supporter of ELM with her money and with her prayers. She once said, “You shouldn’t have to be extraordinary to be a pastor! The church needs perfectly ordinary gay and lesbian pastors too.” If her language didn’t fully reflect the diversity of our community, it was no reflection on her heart, which was always large enough to welcome one more person into its chambers.
After eleven years as the redevelopment pastor with St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square on the north side of Chicago, Erik Christensen recently began a new call to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago as Pastor to the Community & Director of Worship. Around the same time, he and Kerry bought and moved into a new home. He is surrounded by cardboard boxes at every turn.