by the Rev. Bryan Penman
Proclaim member and pastor,
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Conshohocken, Pennsylvania
I think the season of Epiphany provides a wonderful backdrop to reflect on our work together as ELM. For many of us the themes of Epiphany resonate with our story of call – of searching, of bringing gifts to the church, and showing the way to Christ in our world through an expansive and inclusive church. For we are a people who have “observed a star at its rising” as we witness the ELCA become a more welcoming church for our LBGTQIA+ siblings.
As ELM continues to work towards this manifestation of the church, some of the work I have been helping to do is with our Ministry Engagement team. Like a guiding star in the sky, our team seeks to be a resource to guide conversations with congregations who are looking to call a new pastor. Part of that work has been to advocate and partner with Synod staffs who serve as the front lines of guiding these conversations with call committees and transition teams. Often our work with congregations is overshadowed by larger more fearful forces. Like Herod’s attempt to oust the Christ child from his midst, we often help congregations get from “I don’t think we are ready,” with a “let’s help you get ready!” (For more, check out this little video ELM put together about my call story).
Helping congregations take a step out in faith to find Christ is what the Ministry Engagement team is all about – helping to serve as a guide and resource to shape conversations at a congregational level for LGBTQIA+ candidates. Congregations often need the help of a guiding star to help them see the gifts we bring to the church as faithful and fabulous pastors, deacons, and other rostered leaders. ELM has prepared a resource called “Enrich and Transform: Welcoming LGBTQ Candidates into the Call Process” for Call Committees and Transition teams to equip them through the call process. In this resource you will find things like: factors to consider when creating a Mission Site Profile, resources to talk about with the congregation on why a congregation should consider calling an LGBTQIA+ candidate, information about why a First Call candidate adds value to a congregation, how not to offend the candidate in the interview process, and how to welcome and engage their new pastor.
The diversity of gifts that we bring to Christ in our church is what makes the work of our team so wonderful. We now have over 162 pastors and deacons serving in calls throughout the U.S. and Canada! But with several still awaiting calls and 89 seminarians in the candidacy process, we know that we have more work to do to prepare synods and congregations to affirm these leaders of the church across all of our 65 Synods. The star is rising, let us continue to search and seek to build an inclusive and expansively diverse church for the sake of the gospel and on behalf of the world.
Stay fabulous friends.
Rev. Bryan Penman is a dynamic pastor in the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken, PA where he actively engages in community outreach and regularly speaks on the topic of human sexuality in a Lutheran context believing that Jesus Christ calls our church to be just a tad more fabulous. In preaching and teaching, he frequently refers to the unconditional love of God; how we are all wonderfully made. In loving God we love each other, or as it is written in the gospel according to RuPaul, “Honey, if you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else!?!?”
by the Rev. Javen Swanson
Proclaim member and pastor,
Gloria-Dei Lutheran, St. Paul, Minnesota
It was August 2011 and I had just been approved for call. Because my husband Oby was then serving as pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation in the Twin Cities suburbs, I requested a restriction to the St. Paul Area Synod. My request was denied. I quickly learned that there are more candidates (both ordained and first-call) seeking calls in the Twin Cities than there are calls to be received.
Meeting with the synod staff to discuss my next steps, I was told that the fact that my request for restriction wasn’t accepted did not mean I couldn’t be considered for a call in the synod. They said the synod staff regularly reviews the names of candidates who are awaiting call and restricted to the Twin Cities. Perhaps a call would become available sometime in the future that could be a good fit.
But, they told me, I would also need to be my own advocate: keep an eye on the synod website for open calls; call the synod office monthly to discuss any new possibilities with the assistant to the bishop; get involved in the synod and network with other pastors in the area. I came away from that conversation with a clear sense that I would need to fend for myself.
Two and a half years later, I was feeling hopeless and all alone. When a call finally did come in the summer of 2014, it came not because the synod had passed my name onto a congregation, but because a fellow Proclaim member advocated for me and put my name in front of a call committee.
Seeking a first call can be a nerve-racking process for any newly-approved candidate, but it is often an especially difficult process for LGBTQIA+ candidates who, almost 10 years after the 2009 vote, still encounter roadblocks getting interviews and finding a call.
Two years ago, ELM’s Accompaniment Program launched a First Call Coaching Team. Twice a year, as recently-graduated Proclaim seminarians complete the approval process and receive their synod assignments, we offer to match them with a coach whose task is to walk with them through the process of seeking a first call. The coaches are all Proclaim members, most of whom have learned from their own challenging experiences how best to navigate the process and negotiate the obstacles LGBTQIA+ candidates encounter along the way.
The First Call Coaching Team has collected some of the best practices for LGBTQIA+ candidates awaiting first call, and coaches connect monthly with first-call candidates to offer support. Perhaps most importantly, coaches provide a listening ear, sharing in both the frustrations of awaiting first call and the joys of a successful call process.
If you ask me, synods should offer coaches to every candidate awaiting first call. Until then, ELM’s first call coaches will do the work of walking with LGBTQIA+ candidates as they seek a first call and supporting them through all the ups and downs of that journey.
Javen Swanson is Associate Pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota (one of TWO Proclaim pastors on the pastoral staff!) where he has served since 2014. He makes a home with several Old Testament characters: his husband Obadiah, dog Ruthie, and cats Amos and Hosea.
by the Rev. Mark Erson
Proclaim member and pastor, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Manhattan
It has been a total pleasure to serve on the Proclaim Team these last few years. It has given me the opportunity to witness the growth of this essential group of colleagues and to work with some pretty awesome folks as we strive to build and strengthen this community and its witness.
I know we have just started 2018, but I am already so excited for 2019. As one who loves to make the most of anniversaries and historic remembrances, 2019 offers us two amazing anniversaries to celebrate and to create a lot of hoopla over.
First of all, June of 2019 will mark Stonewall 50. Yup, fifty years since the uprisings at the Stonewall Inn (really a bar) here in the West Village of New York City. While some of us have been alive for all fifty years, we have all been affected by the movement that grew out of those initial events. As LGBTQIA+ people it is part of our legacy. New York will be World Pride City in 2019. Please, consider coming to NYC for the celebration. As a church that sits right on the Pride March route, I’m hoping to have 50 pastors cheering on the march from our steps.
But more importantly to the work of the Proclaim team, 2019 is also the tenth anniversary of the passing of the resolutions at Church Wide Assembly (CWA) that brought about policy changes regarding ordained LGBTQIA+ people. There will be another CWA in 2019 and the Proclaim Team is making it a priority to publicly celebrate this milestone.
We want to tell stories of ministry that has happened and is happening because of those policy changes. We want to proclaim the good news of radical welcome that the ELCA embraced in 2009 and continues to work at growing into. We want to challenge the church to be honest and see that there is still work to be done.
It is a tall order. There is a lot to do and say. Over the next 18 months there will be a variety of ways to have input into this project and this proclamation. Please keep watching, for opportunities to participate, vision, brainstorm and collaborate.
Due to the great divide in the 2009 vote, those of us who were rejoicing were asked to keep a lid on it so that those who were still struggling would not become angered. Well, this party has been ten years in waiting. Together we can make the most of it. In the words of a not too distant Advent season – Keep Awake, Keep Watch.
Mark Erson (he/him/his) is pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Manhattan, NY, on Christopher Street and wonderfully close to the Stonewall National Monument. As a theatre artist, he engages the performing arts every chance he gets at St. John’s for the sake of the gospel. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Scott Jordan, and is entertained continuously by their dog Brooklyn.
by the Rev. Amanda Nelson
ELM Executive Director
Happy New Year!
In this second week of Christmas, after leftovers from holiday meals have been eaten, and the noisemakers and champagne flutes from Sunday night are put away for another year, it is exciting to look back over the moments and milestones we have experienced, together, as a community.
We were off and on the move right from the start of 2017! Asher (Program Director) represented ELM at two national conferences, the Western Mission Network Conference on Lutheran Theological Education at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Arizona (where Proclaimer Rev. Richard Andersen is the Executive Director), and the Extravaganza! Gathering (an annual event for adults who work with youth in ELCA congregations). Then in February, Christephor (Communications and Development Coordinator) attended the annual ALDE Conference for development professionals in Lutheran contexts.
By the end of March, we celebrated three significant milestones. Long time Proclaim member Chris Wogaman – after a ten year wait – was called to Trinity Lutheran Church in Park Forest, Illinois. The Joel Workin Endowment (which supports our annual Joel Workin Scholar) reached $100,000. And, in bittersweet news, ten-year executive director Amalia Vagts announced her departure to pursue a new call toward ordained ministry with the ELCA.
In April, the Rev. Matthew James (Proclaim member and Director of Admissions at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago) joined the ELM Board of Directors, and Proclaimer and seminarian Laura Ferree shared the joyful experience of meeting other Proclaimers in the Holy Land. The end of the month was shadowed by the passing of long time ELM supporter Joe McMahon. This year was doubly hard as we also lost Blanche Grube in November, and important ally for ELM, both before and after the landmark ELCA Churchwide decision in 2009.
Moving into the summer, we were celebrating again as Asher was installed as the Program Director, and we ushered in a new strategic vision for the organization, further focusing goals for the upcoming years and fine-tuning our belief statement: Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of LGBTQIA+ ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.
June brought our presence at ten ELCA Synod Assemblies nationwide, Ben Houge (from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and currently on internship at Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, D.C.) was named the 2017 Joel Workin Scholar, and I was elated to accept the role as ELM’s new Executive Director.
July focused on the 2017 Proclaim Gathering: Healing the Violence, as 71 Proclaim members and their signifigant others came together for fellowship, discernment, worship, and ongoing learning.
The summer came to a close and we were “back to school.” Proclaimer seminarians shared their stories of internship: both lessons learned (from Proclaimer Josh Evans who concluded his internship at Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska), and eager anticipation of the unknown (from five seminarians about to embark on their journey: Laura Ferree, Dan Gutman, JoN Rundquist, Thomas Voelp, and Katy Wallace).
What makes the work we do together Extraordinary is the way in which we can support the people doing ministry in the world: our exceptional Proclaimers and their outstanding gifts. This ministry takes many forms, both in the pulpit and outside in different settings. In September we learned about the ministry Proclaimers are doing out of the pulpit. People like the Rev. Becca Seely, who serves as director of a campus ministry in New York; the Rev. Leslie Welton who just took a call as Assistant to the Bishop for Faith Formation and Candidacy in the Rocky Mountain Synod; and the Rev. Susan Halvor, a long-time chaplain who now is the Spiritual Care Director for Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.
And the year would not be complete without our own reflections on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation! We featured two months of guest-blog posts considering the event from an LGBTQIA+ point of view. We got the queer theology perspective from the Rev. Brenda Bos, an intersectional perspective from new Proclaimer Philipos Ghaly, re-formation of the body by trans Proclaimer JoN Rundquist, and what reformation looks like as an ally – the reflections of Bp. Thomas Aitken of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod.
As we shared in our 2017 highlight video, this past year saw big changes and big celebrations for us at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries; and, as we look to this new year, we’re excited to see what will unfold!
Whatever transpires, we know it will be extraordinary if we do it together!
Cheers to you, our supporters and friends, and to all the opportunities to love and support gender and sexual minority Rostered Leaders in the New Year!