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!