“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Growing up in Kansas, I knew this line (and all the others) from The Wizard of Oz by heart.
It wasn’t until much later when I was figuring out my own sexual orientation that this song took on a new meaning.
Dorothy’s world was just turned upside down and she finds herself in a strange bright place where everything is new. In this song from the beginning of her journey, Glinda brings everyone out into the open so they can offer her their enthusiastic support.
Coming out can be really scary, but one of the spiritual blessings of Proclaim is that it is a community of folks who have already chosen to fully live the lives God gave us.
I was at the initial Proclaim gathering back in 2011, and served on the leadership team as the community came together. It felt like crossing into technicolor. Each week we welcomed new seminarians, ordained clergy, or other rostered leaders into our fold warmly, with enthusiastic support.
Those involved with ELM before us had shown us the way, and now we were making it safer to come out. While our journey had begun, we knew others were still waiting; many of our fellow religious leaders were stuck in the monochrome closet. Could our new community help them? How could we be like Glinda?
ELM has seemed like the wonderful colorful land of Oz where the impossible becomes possible. From time to time clergy reach out to us asking for advice and support. They have been choosing to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity from their faith communities. We’ve tried to meet these requests as they come, but so far we haven’t produced a comprehensive resource that could help folks navigate their own coming out journey. There really isn’t any other written resource out there specifically for closeted religious leaders.
I have an activity I’ve done with some of my Adult Education groups, where together we take rolls of masking tape and we transform whatever table we’re sitting around into a giant maze.
At one end is “the closet” and the other end is “coming out”. I ask them to try to come up with as many different reasons as they can about why someone would stay in the closet and we would write them on the walls of the maze.
Soon the maze is full of barriers and obstacles, dead ends, and wrong turns labeled with things like “Anti-Gay Family,” “Already in a heterosexual marriage,” and “No role models.” Coming out can be difficult and each person’s journey has unique twists and turns.
We read the story from Genesis, chapter 20, where Abraham and Sarah travel in a strange place and choose to disguise their relationship out of fear, but then are protected when the truth finally emerges.
When I did this activity with my own congregation, I recognized parts of my journey and parts from others in Proclaim. We had been learning so much from each other this whole time! I wondered how the Holy Spirit could use ELM to make this journey a bit easier for our closeted colleagues.
In 2016 Proclaim decided to gather our collective experience and generate a document that could help closeted religious leaders finally cross into technicolor of truth. We gathered stories and quotes, interviewed each other, and shared scriptures we had found meaningful. All of us knew some colleagues who would benefit from something like this, and we wrote with them in mind.
God loves people still in the closet. We’ve been praying for them. We’ve been encouraging them. Now we have something to share with them. This resource is the first step toward this side of the rainbow. Hopefully it will be reworked and revised over time.
Coming out is one of the most significant things queer leaders can do to improve their lives and the lives of others. It’s not just a one-time experience, we are coming out all the time. We hope you’ll share this resource and help us improve it for the future. Our journey together is just beginning!
Rev. Caleb Crainer (he/him/his) serves St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in colorful Los Angeles, California. He enjoys attending science lectures, trying new foods, and playing in an all-gay kickball league. ELM, and specifically the Proclaim community, has been a major part of his vocational path toward ordained ministry in the ELCA. Pastor Caleb encourages us to bring our whole lives to church, because God loves us for who we actually are.
Photo at top: Provided by author
Bio Photo: Proclaim Gathering photo
Freed to Abundant Life
by Rev. Steve Hoffard
Proclaim member and Pastor of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church–Kingston, ON
One of the strangest things that happens to me as a pastor is that, occasionally, I am hit hard by the truth of the gospel right in the middle of preaching.
I can wrestle with a text and finding the right words for a whole week, going over it again and again. I even practice preaching it from the pulpit a number of times as part of my homiletic practice, and nothing particularly moving or spectacular happens.
Then wham! It does. Suddenly the Holy Spirit illuminates something for me right in the middle of proclaiming the gospel.
This is what happened to me two summers ago. A secret I had held tightly for fifty years, one that I had only whispered to one other person a few weeks earlier, confronted me in the middle of a sermon.
I was preaching on the Lutheran World Federation theme “Liberated by God’s Grace: Humanity Not for Sale”. In particular, I was speaking about the grace Jesus spoke of in John’s gospel saying, “I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” In that moment, I suddenly understood that not living my truth had affected someone else besides me.
By keeping my secret, my wife of twenty-two years was not able to experience the abundant life she deserved. It was in that moment that I knew what I had to do. It was the beginning of sharing my truth with my family, friends and congregation that I am and have always been gay.
I spent months coming out to family, friends and those closest to me. Then one day, I found myself standing in the same pulpit, trembling as I shared with the congregation how grace had called me forth in my full identity.
I told them about my orientation and how I no longer desired to change it. Most importantly, I told them that I was good with who God created me to be.
I recognized it as a gift that made me more sensitive to the struggle of others and therefore a better pastor. I had been freed to the abundant life that God intended for me and for all of us.
Now when I climb into the pulpit, I don’t expect something revelatory to happen. But I never know where the Holy Spirit will take me next!
Rev. Steve Hoffard (he/him/his) is pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Kingston, Ontario. He continues to blunder into God’s grace unexpectedly while exploring who God created him to be.
The Holy Gospel According to Coming Out Stories
by Rev. Amanda Nelson
Proclaim member and Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries
In college, a dear friend of mine did her senior thesis on the coming out process for LGBTQIA+ individuals. To write her thesis, she interviewed many of our classmates and friends who had already bravely come out, and some who were not yet ready to do so publicly.
At the time, I had not yet come out to her and had only started to give myself permission to even think of the possibility that I wasn’t straight.
I remember talking to her many times about her interviews and finding myself fascinated with what she was learning. One of the major points of her thesis, something that sticks with me even to this day, is the role of vulnerability and fear.
I asked her again recently to clarify this point for me and this is what she said: [when you come out] you lose control of how people will view you because that view could change. When you don’t come out, you retain the power and control: you are keeping this idea to yourself, no one can judge what they don’t know. The moment you tell people, you lose control as you don’t know how people will react/respond/change their views on you.”
There is so much truth in this! In my life and in my work, I encounter countless individuals for whom their relationships did change drastically when they came out.
Some relationships changed for the worse: communication was cut off, closeness was replaced with distance, and depth replaced by superficiality. At its worst, coming out can inflict physical, mental, and spiritual violence from those we thought loved us.
And, many of my peers who have come out have experienced relationships that changed in truly beautiful ways: fear of acceptance from our family and friends was met with unconditional love; fear of being able to express our identities in public through dress, speech, or displays of affection were quelled by the celebration of Pride in our communities; and, suffocating silence was transformed by safe, brave spaces into liberated voices of joy in our churches and schools.
At its best, coming out can mediate reconciliation of body, mind, and spirit.
To be honest, it’s not an “either, or” – you either have good experiences in coming out or bad ones – because what things in life really are binary? It’s more like a circle or a spiral of different reactions and experiences. It is a spiral we experience the first time we come out…and it is a spiral we experience the one thousandth time we come out.
It is this spiral that can hold many people back from ever fully expressing their identities.
When I am experiencing the hurtful phase of the spiral, I can deeply understand why people choose not to come out. And, when I’m experiencing the joy-filled phase, I feel as tho I have been lifted into a holy embrace with God and I want to shout it from the rooftops.
Fear and vulnerability are such powerful forces in our lives, and, they are transformational.
Brene Brown, who writes so beautifully on the subject of vulnerability, has said, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
In this season of Easter, of resurrection, I am finding gospel “good news” in the coming out stories of my peers and colleagues. Throughout these next two months, we are excited to share many of those stories with you.
Thanks be to God for those who serve our church publicly out, and for those who help to ensure that gender and sexual minorities experience a holy embrace from our church in celebration of those identities!
Rev. Amanda Nelson (she/her/hers) is Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. When she told her friend that she was gay her friend laughed and said “uh huh, yeah”…because many people had jokingly “come out” to her because of the topic of her thesis. When she realized Amanda was serious, she apologized and was perfectly loving and accepting. Amanda is grateful to her friend, Elena, for her unconditional love.
by Rev. Amanda Nelson
Proclaim member Executive Director of ELM
I never had the good fortune to meet Blanche Grube – she died soon after I started as Executive Director at the end of last summer. But, I had heard about her from ELM’s previous Executive Director, Amalia Vagts, as well as from Proclaim members and members of our Board.
Blanche’s legacy of loving ELM and the LGBTQIA+ leaders we serve well preceded her – and her legacy will now transcend the boundaries of life and death.
Blanche did something extraordinary before she passed away: Blanche added ELM to her will.
Blanche wanted to make sure that the gender and sexual minority ministers who she so valued would be able to flourish even after she was no longer here to send her annual gifts.
We are thrilled to announce, that, thanks to Blanche’s generosity, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ endowment is now active!
Over the next few months, ELM’s Board will be creating an Endowment Committee to discern the governance and vision for this endowment – ensuring the gifts made to ELM’s Endowment are stewarded with the utmost care and the funds are used to celebrate and support LGBTQIA+ leaders in innovative and necessary ways.
I will also be working with this Endowment Committee to expand our planned giving efforts and look forward to speaking with many of you about this opportunity!
In this season of resurrection joy, we dance to the hymns that proclaim: “Now the green blade rises from the buried grain, wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain; love lives again, that with the dead has been; love is come again like wheat arising green.”
We mourned the loss of our dear friend, Blanche, when she passed last summer. And now, we dance with her in this resurrection glee and give thanks for her generosity which surpasses the bounds of this worldly life.
We wouldn’t be where we are now without the support of donors like Blanche!
Please keep our Endowment Committee in your prayers as we embark on this new journey. And, please join us in giving thanks for Blanche Grube!
Rev. Amanda Nelson (she/her/hers) is Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. She is thrilled that it is okay once again to shout “Alleluia!” and lifts her voice in “Alleluias” for Blanche! Her favorite thing about Easter is Starbust jelly beans – she keeps a bag in her car this time of year for emergencies.
Photo at top: from the obituary for Blanche posted on Dignity Memorial’s website.
Bio Photo: Provided by author