“Family in Christ– we are gathered this morning as children of a God that invites us into community to #JustBe. In this service we pause to worship and commune…to pray for our world and for our LGBTQIA+ siblings throughout God’s creation (we pray especially for our brothers Ronald, Shariff and Nathan in Uganda) and then we go out to join the masses in hip shaking and change making.”
– Vicar Kelsey Brown, LA Pride Sermon, 2018
I’ve been doing this Pride thing for a pretty long time, in fact my very first pride parade was over 10 years ago in New York City…little did I know, eleven years later I would take my spot on the streets of West Hollywood to be the street preacher at a Street Eucharist in LA Pride?!?
Pride is a marvelous thing! (FULL STOP) but as I said in my sermon Sunday morning on the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Blvd, Pride is something we hide behind. We all dust off our rainbow flags and throw on some Diana Ross’ “I’m coming out” the morning of June 1st but our people, in our pews and in the world need to know God’s delight in their identities 365 days a year.
11 years ago my favorite thing about the Pride parade was dancing in the street, carefree; this year however my favorite thing quickly became being the face of the “Church” for the people of Southern California.
In a world that tries to silence us, scare us and blame us – we were able to go out and change hearts and minds simply by being present. We got to hand out buttons and put temporary tattoos on people and we got to have a lot of fun, but most importantly we got to look them in the eye, like Christ would have.
I, as intern of both St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica and SoCalLutherans.com was able to wear my collar and hold my girlfriend’s hand as we marched. I couldn’t help but tear up as I passed people who looked at us with temporary confusion as they clocked my clerical collar but I kept on marching anyway because I couldn’t help feeling like maybe somewhere in the crowd stood a little girl like me who’d been told by her Church or by the world that she’s deviant or broken. I prayed our presence would reassure her that God hasn’t placed rules on who she can love.
That’s what pride means to me: it’s shining God’s delight for ALL God’s created.
Churches who march and attend pride events help bring that delight to the people who might need it the most – our very being there shakes up the notion of a God who hates who they’ve created, it peels back the curtain and it lets God’s rainbow light of love shine through.
Kelsey Brown (she/her/hers) is a 3rd year student at United Lutheran Seminary, Philadelphia Campus. She is currently serving as Vicar of St.Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California but is a native New Yorker. She likes dancing around the kitchen, advocating for racial justice and the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community and watching Netflix stand up comedy.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is seeking candidates to serve as ELM’s Program Director.
Interested candidates should email their cover letter and resume to ELM’s Executive Director, Amanda Nelson at email@example.com by July 10th, 2018.
About the position:
The program director builds and supports community through the Proclaim program; journeys alongside and equips candidates through the Accompaniment program; works to expand call opportunities at all levels of the church through the Ministry Engagement program; recruits, develops, and equips volunteer leaders for each program; and works collaboratively with the executive director, associate director, and the program & administrative assistant on strategic work and communications for these programs. The program director supervises one (part-time) staff person.
Applications will be accepted until July 10th, 2018. Position will be filled by August 15th.
Full job description and guiding qualifications: Program Director Position Description.
Questions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
ELM is committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all qualified individuals and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, marital status, veteran status, parental status, or any other basis prohibited by applicable law.
During the peak of the HIV/AIDS crisis in San Francisco, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zilhart began using this as a post-communion blessing at St. Francis Lutheran Church where they served as pastors:
“Live forgiven. Claim your wholeness. Go in peace.”
Phyllis and Ruth’s calls were extraordinary ones – literally “outside of the ordinary” process of the ELCA which did not allow the ordination of publicly identifying LGBTQIA+ people until 2009. In principled non-compliance with the ELCA’s policy, St. Francis Lutheran Church decided to call them and as a result was expelled from the denomination.
Nevertheless, week after week, Phyllis and Ruth persisted in presiding over and serving communion to those gathered for worship, many of whom were living with HIV/AIDS. Week after week, they served communion to family members, spouses, and friends caring for loved ones who were nearing the ends of their lives. And week after week, the body and blood of Christ was given to people who had lost loved ones to this disease, to which so much unnecessary social stigma has been attached. Their ministry was as extraordinary as their call.
We take pride in this history of persistence that our community has shown in the face of prejudice, the way gender and sexual minorities have thrived and done ministry that has transformed the church and enriched the world. This part of our community’s history has inspired our Proclaim Gathering theme for this year: “Claim Your Wholeness”.
The challenges and stigmas that LGBTQIA+ people face in our society and our church have shifted over the past 25 years. The landscape has changed, but the struggle continues.
What does it mean in our present context today for gender and sexual minorities to boldly claim our wholeness as rostered ministers and candidates in the church?
Here’s what a few of our Proclaimers had to say:
“It means standing up straight even as someone tries to kick you down. It means being 100% yourself even when it’s taboo to do so. I think of Wholeness as our entire being – even the broken bits or the pieces we’d rather hide away. Accepting love and grace from God and one another not despite our failings, but because of them. I think of being a queer POC in the whitest denomination in the United States… so when people ask me why I’m in this Church, why I’m a Lutheran? I answer because I’ve been a Lutheran my whole life, even if the Church struggles to find a “place” for me – God has already prepared a place for me at God’s side.”
-Kelsey Brown, co-chair of Worship Team planning this year’s Gathering
“I heard of a UCC preacher named Traci Blackmon say that she wasn’t giving up any of her boxes because each one of them gave her part of her strength. She refused to be Christian or gay or black or country or political or… she was each and every one of those things all at the same time, and the way they interacted was greater than the sum of her parts.”
-Carla Christopher, seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary
“God gives us this mustard-seed-sized glimpse of ourselves that isn’t fully realized until we claim ourselves and our wholeness and grow to be all that God imagined we could be in all our rainbow glory.”
-Katy Miles-Wallace, intern, serves as part of the Proclaim Welcome Duo which orients new members to Proclaim
What does it mean for you to Claim Your Wholeness? If you’re a Proclaim member, or would like to sign up to become one, we’d love for you to join us as we explore what it means for us in the church today.
The Gathering will be held at the Pearlstone Center just outside of Baltimore, MD from August 5-8 this year. Registration closes July 6th, and there are currently 23 remaining registration discounts left. So don’t wait, register here today! Scholarships are available for those who are retired, seminarians, or others without a full-time call as well as those experiencing financial need. Apply here for scholarship.
All Proclaim members and their families are welcome to attend the Gathering which is an annual in-person time for learning, community building, and renewal. You can read a bit more about the line-up for the Gathering this year here.
Asher O’Callaghan (he/him/his) serves as Program Director for ELM. He gets to lead the teams that organize and plan for the Gathering as part of his job. He hopes he’ll see you there this year!
June marks the start of Pride month across our country. From small towns to large cities, the LGBTQIA+ community and their friends and families will come together to celebrate identity, organize for empowerment, and remember those who have gone before us as extraordinary saints of our movement. During the month of June, ELM’s blog will reflect stories of Pride – the feeling, the event, the movement.
This week, ELM’s staff reflect on the theme: “Serving with Pride!”
Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, Program Director
10 years ago,
I never would have dreamed,
not even in my wildest of nightmares,
that I would end up here.
Happy, healthy, proud.
10 years ago,
I thought I was condemned to be
unhappy, unhealthy, ashamed.
I thought that love was beyond me.
I thought that God’s love was contingent
on me renouncing love,
on me never being me.
Life is surprising.
I didn’t know God as well as I thought.
I didn’t know myself as well I thought.
Being dead wrong saved my life.
Love is how we know God.
So when I cut myself off from love,
I cut myself off from God.
We can’t know God without love.
Because love is what God does.
It’s who God is.
Love makes all things new,
Love gave me a new name, a new identity, a new community.
Love made me transgender and bisexual.
Love gives us all a new calling.
It gives us the fire, the energy, to do things we never thought we could.
You can’t receive love without wanting to go share it.
Love has made me proud.
Proud of what God is doing.
Proud of who I am becoming,
The unimaginable person I’ll be in another 10 years.
Proud of the community surrounding me,
that loves people into being.
Proud of those who went before me,
the shoulders I’m standing on.
Proud of this work of love that God is still calling us to.
I am PROUD of what God’s love has done.
It is indeed right, our duty and our joy,
that we should at all times and in all places
on the streets in Pride Parades
and in the sanctuary every Sunday.
Hannah Dorn, Program and Administrative Assistant
Though I grew up in an ELCA church regularly attending services, I didn’t always feel a connection to my faith. It was like there was some kind of “Christianity Box” that I didn’t quite fit into. A square peg and a round hole. I believed I couldn’t be my true self within the church. It drove me away from my church, clouded my relationship with God, and ultimately caused me to feel unworthy of Christ’s love.
In January of 2015, I came across a booth in my college’s student center for a Christian Sorority. Though this was most certainly not my typical scene, I realized that God was presenting me with an opportunity for change and I joined up. It was within this organization that I first realized how different one Christian could be from another and that this was certainly not a bad thing.
It was here that I realized that my uniqueness was exactly what made me so perfectly equipped to share God’s love and that the sharing of His love and light is our greatest duty to God. It was here that I realized I was most definitely worthy of Christ’s love and I needed to spread that sense of worth to those around me.
The light and the love and the image of God are all boundaryless. Thus, we who are born into that light, cherished in that love, and created in that image cannot be placed in a single box.
To work for an organization that lifts up the uniqueness of God’s children and recognizes difference as strength rather than weakness brings me great pride and joy. I am so grateful to be given the opportunity to further understand the trials that face God’s children, especially within the LGBTQIA+ community. Through deeper understanding, we strengthen our ability to love in the way God loves every one of us no matter our shape: circle, square, star, rainbow.
Rev. Amanda Nelson, Executive Director
I didn’t go to seminary to be a gay pastor – in fact, I didn’t even mention my orientation in my entrance paperwork for the ELCA candidacy process. I didn’t yet see a connection between my identity as a queer woman and my calling to serve the church.
But when it came time for my approval essay, I couldn’t separate my faith, my calling, and my queer identity.
I didn’t intentionally pick to do my field education at First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco – one of the congregations that defied ELCA policy in 1990 by calling and ordaining the Rev. Jeff Johnson. I simply wanted to have a ministry site in a context unfamiliar to me (a suburbanite) and this site was in the city.
But in their midst, and in the context of the Bay Area, I was introduced to a history that had shaped my present and was shaping my future.
The Holy Spirit is sneaky that way: pushing us, engaging us, calling us into a holy narrative of liberating love and divine pride – and, sometimes, it takes a while for us to put the pieces together to see the bigger picture.
Today, I actually don’t mind being a gay pastor (though, I know this is not every LGBTQIA+ person’s call). And, I’m thrilled to be called to a ministry that not only celebrates my identity but sees it as an asset to the work that I do.
The ELM Board has never asked me to “tone down” my queer identity. I’ve never been asked by an ELM donor not to tell them about my fiancee, Tasha, because “they’re okay with LGBTQIA+ people as long as they don’t have to see it.” My colleagues encourage me to wear rainbow buttons and stoles at events so that I can be identified as an LGBTQIA+ leader in our church. I’m invited to preach on “gay things” in congregations across the country all the time.
I recognize that I serve a unique call, but I believe this liberation is possible in our congregations and in our Church. This glimpse into the kin-dom inspires me daily to do the work that I do – and I do it with such deep pride.
Happy Pride, beloveds!
The staff of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries work to support ELM’s programs and to spread the joy of LGBTQIA+ leadership to the Lutheran church and the wider world. ELM’s staff span the country – Asher in Denver, CO, Hannah in Chicago, IL, and Amanda in Portland, ME – and, take great pride in the work they do together.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is remembering an Extraordinary Saint in our movement this week: John Eric Rolfstad.
John Eric served on the Board of Directors for Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries – a predecessor body to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries – and was an avid supporter of Lutherans Concerned/North America, which became ReconcilingWorks.
“John Eric was a kind and gentle man,” writes ELM Board Member, the Rev. Jeff Johnson (San Francisco). “He was an early supporter of LLGM and the movement within the church to abolish the policies of discrimination against queer people.”
Jeff remembers that John Eric “was one of the lead organizers of an annual week at Holden Village for LGBTQIA+ people that countered the shame so many face in the church with affirmation, warmth, and unconditional loving kindness.”
It was there that Amalia Vagts, former Executive Director of ELM, first met John Eric: “I met him at Holden Village years ago before I began working with ELM. He was hosting a happy hour and had brought in an elegant selection of cheese and wine to share.”
Amalia shared recently that “John Eric was a wonderfully warm and kind presence. He lived generously and traveled when he could to be at extraordinary ordinations or special events and always seemed thrilled to connect with the ELM & LC/NA communities. He was always such a joyful, warm, kind, person.”
John Eric will be remembered for many things tomorrow (6/2) at his memorial service at Seattle’s First Baptist Church (1111 Harvard Avenue, at 1:00 pm with a reception to follow). To ELM, he will be remembered for his kindness, his hospitality, his belief in the gifts and beauty of the LGBTQIA+ community, and his hearty laugh.
For more personal information about John Eric, you may read his obituary here.
Rest eternal grant him, O God. And may light perpetual shine upon him. Amen.
Photo above from obituary.