Behind the Curtain: Meet the Proclaim Gathering Dream Team

Each Year, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries hosts The Gathering for members of Proclaim (the professional community for publicly identified LGBTQIA+ Lutheran rostered ministers and candidates) and their families, for a time of renewal, community building, and professional development. We come together and embrace what it means to be publicly identified (“out!”) leaders as we care for ourselves, build community, and learn together.This August 5-8, 2018, over 65 Proclaimers from around the country will gather at Pearlstone Retreat Center outside of Baltimore!

Rev. Elizabeth Edman, author of Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity will be our keynote speaker, featured alongside workshops, social time, music, worship, small groups, and more. You can help sponsor a Proclaimer HERE.

In addition to ELM’s trusty Program Director Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, a small and mighty team has been crafting the Gathering’s schedule. Thank you to the Dream Team for all you do. Check it out!


Co-Chairs: Brian Hornbecker & Laura Kuntz

My name is: Brian Hornbecker

My pronouns are: he/him/his

I’m co-chairing the Fun Team because: I think the opportunity to kick back, relax, and have fun with friends and colleagues is one of the best parts of the Proclaim gathering.

I’m excited for: the chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones at the Proclaim Gathering.

Who I am: I serve as Faith Formation and Communications Coordinator at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN, just south of Saint Paul. I graduated from Wartburg Seminary last year and am candidate for the diaconal roster (although that is a long and complicated story). I live with my spouse, Josh Moss, who is also a Proclaim member and a candidate for the diaconal roster, and our nephew Trent in the Twin Cities area. We just bought a house, so most of our “fun” time lately has been occupied with moving and everything that comes with that.

My name is: Laura Kuntz

My pronouns are: she/her/hers

I’m co-chairing the fun Team because: I enjoy coordinating social activities to build community.

I’m excited for: making new friends and be in a space where my queer identity is celebrated at the Proclaim Gathering

Who I am: My wife and I live in Lakewood, Ohio where she is serving a call and I am in an interim position. We’ve been coming to Proclaim gatherings since we were seminarians and look forward to them every year. I love fly fishing and playing in stonewall sports leagues.


Co-Chairs: Kelsey Brown and Josh Evans

My name is: Kelsey Brown

My pronouns are: she/her/hers

I’m co-chairing the Worship Team because: I believe innovative and expansive worship are essential to Christian Life.

I’m excited for: all the fun you will have at the Proclaim Gathering, I’m sorry I can’t attend!

Who I am: Kelsey Brown serves as Vicar at St.Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California. She is originally from Long Island, NY but when she’s not in SoCal she calls Philadelphia and United Lutheran Seminary Home. She likes spoken word poetry, Drag Queens and dancing around her kitchen. She finds joy in lavender essential oils, Netflix binges and preschool laughter. 

My name is: Josh Evans

My pronouns are: he/him/his.

I’m co-chairing the Worship Team because: I am passionate about the church’s historic liturgy brought to life in new, vibrant ways, and I love experiencing the Body of Christ praying, singing, and communing together.

I’m excited for: worship (duh!) at the Proclaim Gathering — and also getting a chance to see so many wonderful people I haven’t seen since last year’s Gathering or haven’t met in person yet.

Who I am: I grew up in Michigan and I am a graduate of LSTC in Chicago, awaiting first call in the Metro Chicago Synod, and currently working as Interim Coordinator for Global Service Events at the ELCA Churchwide offices. In my precious free time, I enjoy reading, drinking coffee, enjoying all things Chicago, watching inordinate amounts of Netflix, and spoiling my two cats (Oliver and Sophia) and their canine sibling (Roscoe).


Co-chairs: Peter Beeson & Reed Fowler 

My name is: Peter Beeson

My pronouns are: he/him/his

I’m co-chairing the Program Team: because I was invited.

I’m excited for: community, learning from the speakers at the Proclaim Gathering, and enjoying the nature (and organic farming) of the Pearlstone Retreat Center.

Who I am: Peter R. Beeson currently lives at work and has developed a newfound obsession with getting out of New York City, and finding mountains and trees. In his spare time he enjoys turning around declining organizations, fostering transparency, and teaching his toddler how to do chores.

My name is: Reed Fowler

My pronouns are: they/them/theirs

I’m co-chairing the Program Team because: I enjoy creative planning and creating space for introverts.

I’m excited to: connect with nature and other Proclaimers at the Gathering.

Who I am: Reed is a seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In their downtime, Reed is at the pottery studio or hanging out with their partner, dog, and cats.

Making Room at the Table. ELM at Assemblies!

ELM is all over the place. Did you see us?

One core program of ELM, along with Proclaim and Accompaniment, is Ministry Engagement. This means we show up for you: around decision-making tables, at synod and churchwide assemblies, on campuses, and in your congregations. Through Ministry Engagement, ELM seeks and partners with organizations and congregations open to the transformative ministry of LGBTQIA+ leaders.

We know that representation matters, so we strive to make room at the table where it may not have been open in the past. This year, ELM had a goal of hosting information tables at 12 synod assemblies (up from 10 in 2017) and blasted through that goal, hosting a tables and making room at a record 18 assemblies. A few of the new synods we expanded to this year include: West Virginia/Western Maryland, Virginia, Southeastern, Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast, and Indiana/Kentucky. These synods match with one of ELM’s growing edges we’re working to address – expanding our presence and work in the South.

How did we do it?

We’re a small yet mighty professional staff, but could never have shown up in all these spaces if it weren’t for dedicated volunteers representing ELM at tables. Hear from Kari Louwagie, seminarian and member of Proclaim, currently in a summer internship at Messiah Lutheran in Mountain Iron, MN, on their experience at the Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly:

“Back in early May, I tabled for ELM at the Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly. Our assigned display table was right next to ReconcilingWorks, creating a lovely little rainbow corner where folks could learn about both how to support LGBTQ+ community members as well as candidates and pastors. Not as many people stopped by the table as I would have hoped, but the few conversations I did have were fruitful and life giving. 

One of the highlights of my synod assembly tabling experience was being able to bear witness to the good and holy work this organization does through sharing both provided resources and pieces of my own story as a Queer candidate for ministry. It was such a joy to represent and advocate for an organization that advocates for myself and so many other LGBTQ+ candidates and pastors.

 I must confess that I’m still getting used to being “out” in the church world, but the support I’ve received from ELM has helped give me the extra boost of courage needed to bring my whole self into my work.”

As Kari reflects, our connection with ReconcilingWorks has been intentional, as creating welcome in the pews of the church is often a first step to creating welcome within the pulpit, encouraging congregations to consider opening up call processes to LGBTQIA+ rostered ministers .

We’ll see you around the table!

ELM reps near you:

Proclaim Seminarian Team – LGBTQIA+ student reps at seminaries and divinity schools

ELM Seminary Advocates – faculty or staff members who serve as a liaison between ELM and their campus and as an ally and advocate for LGBTQIA+ students

Kari Louwagie (they/them)

Kari Louwagie grew up on their family dairy farm near Cottonwood, Minnesota.  They graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 2016 with a degree in Religion.  From there, Kari went on to teach English in Madagascar for a year through Young Adults in Global Mission.  Currently, Kari is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Apart from school, their hobbies include playing the trumpet, singing, crocheting, and spending time outside.  Good coffee, cows, Biblical Hebrew, and general weirdness bring Kari great joy!

Announcing ELM’s 2018 Workin Scholar: S. Leon LaCross!

Each year, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries names a Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholar to honor the life and ministry of Joel Workin. Joel was one of the three gay seminarians who were refused ordination in 1989 after “coming out” to their candidacy committees. Our world can sometimes feel like an unwelcoming place, where hope and inspiration seem on short supply. But prophetic voices like Joel’s, and all those who applied for this scholarship, continue to highlight that publicly identified LGBTQ+ ministers and seminarians can be beacons of courage and powerful models of justice in action.Thanks to a generous endowment started by Joel’s friends and family, and other ongoing contributions, this award comes with a $6,000 scholarship for academic or spiritual study and is available for members of ELM’s Proclaim group who are studying to be rostered leaders in the Lutheran church.

We are thrilled to announce that this year’s Workin Scholar is S. Leon LaCross, seminarian at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Read on for Leon’s announcement letter and bio.

Congratulations Leon, and thank you for your prophetic voice!

To read Leon’s powerful scholarship essays, click HERE.



Dear Leon,

I am writing to inform you of your selection as this year’s Workin Scholar. It was the scholarship committee’s conclusion that your outstanding essay (reflecting on “The Cost” by the late Joel Workin), not only embodied the cost of coming out, but also paralleled a moral courage that Joel exhibited throughout his life. It was clear to us that you understood the cost of the closet as you explained your own coming out story, especially as you moved toward candidacy and reached a deeper understanding of yourself, as this paragraph demonstrates:

“I came out to the psychiatrist as queer during my psychological evaluation as part of the entrance process to candidacy.  I received a blank stare for a moment before he asked me what that meant. I suppose I had a choice to take the easy way out and use the tangible category of “gay”, but it wouldn’t have been authentic to myself.  Perhaps I was courageous, or foolish, or demonic in doing so, but I had to tactfully explain that I do in fact desire men sexually and romantically, but that also doesn’t exclude other genders from the equation. Additionally, I had to explain to him that in terms of my gender, I’m comfortable with my body parts and presenting as a man, but that does not tell my whole story as a non-binary person.”

Borne from your own self-insight, this was just one of the moving “coming out” reflections you shared which, to be honest, was matched by many of this year’s applicants.  But your essay radically departed from others with your own “coming out” as a survivor of sexual abuse. Your eloquent description of the pain in recapturing that childhood memory, the consequences it had on your development and your theological reflection on it was nothing short of breath-taking:

“Recovering that excruciating memory was a baptism of sorts: a baptism of blood and tears.  It was a closet baptism into a community of victims and survivors that no one wants to be a part of.  A communion of saints and martyrs that instead of rejoicing when another member is added weeps, gnashes teeth and rends clothing.  Jesus wept when I was baptized in my own blood and tears. God cradles me in the expanse of Their hand – perhaps too large for me to recognize that God is in this pain with me.  This shadow communion, this bloody baptism: this is why I have stayed in the sexual assault closet for so long.”

On behalf of the committee, I congratulate you on becoming this year’s Workin Scholar. May God bless you and continue to heal you, Leon, throughout the coming years and into all the years of your ministry.  On behalf of the committee, I congratulate you.


Michael Price Nelson, Chair

Workin committee members: Greg Egertson, Rev. Matt James, Rev. Jeff Johnson, Michael Price Nelson, Rev. Becca Seely, Rev. Amanda Nelson

S. Leon LaCross (he/him/his/any)

Leon is a seminarian at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary pursuing a masters in Divinity with hopes to be ordained. His specific academic interests revolve around sex, sexuality, and gender in the context of the church. He is originally from Gaithersburg, Maryland, but has been in Berkeley, California, since commencing his MDiv. He grew up in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod until receiving his call to ministry in 2012 when he transferred into the ELCA.  When not doing church work (if there is such a thing…) he enjoys baking, crafting and spending time with friends and family. Additionally he is a connoisseur of tea with an ever-expanding tea library and tea pot collection.




Seeing Us in Ministry Changes Things

By Rev. Donna Simon

My first “official” call was to the bishop’s office. I had arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, in the evening, August 30, 2000. The next morning, I arrived at my first church office (yay!) and called Charles Maahs, bishop of the Central States Synod. When I told the administrative assistant who I was, there was a pause. Then she connected me with Bishop Maahs, and I apologized.

My apology was clear: I wasn’t apologizing for being a lesbian, or for accepting the call Abiding Peace Lutheran Church extended me in his synod. I apologized for the extra work my acceptance would create for him and his staff. Even after spending over half of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was still Midwestern enough to apologize for something that wasn’t exactly my fault. As I told the bishop that day, there was no other way to answer God’s call to ministry and maintain my own integrity than to do so via the extraordinary candidacy process.

A team from Abiding Peace met with the bishop and members of his staff regularly for months. In the end, Bishop Maahs censured us, but didn’t recommend the removal of the congregation from the ELCA, as had been the case with the last congregations to call openly gay or lesbian pastors. We were barred from serving on synod committees (a sort of Br’er Rabbit briar patch of a punishment). And for ten years, I attended the synod assembly as the “Visitor” serving as pastor of Abiding Peace.  

During that ten years, things changed. Other people—really good people and really great pastors—were ordained by the Extraordinary Candidacy Project.  In 2009, the rules changed, and eventually most of those folks were received to the ELCA roster.

I knew that change was afoot earlier, though. In 2004, I was leaving morning prayer at the fall Bishop’s Convocation to grab a cup of tea and go to the plenary room, when a colleague from rural Kansas approached me, looking very serious.  

“I want to talk to you,” he said.

“Oh good,” I thought.

He pulled me into the now empty worship space and said these immortal words:  “I’m on the other side of ‘the issue’ from you. But you’ve been coming around here for a few years now, and we’ve gotten used to you. You’re kind of like an old shoe. So I guess what I’m saying is you should keep coming around.”

All these years later, and I remember his words precisely.  Don’t have a clue what I said, though. Probably something brilliant like, “Um, okay.”  When I tell that story to other people, they are generally appalled.  But for me it was a signal that seeing us in ministry changes things. The change is slow. It’s one person at a time. But it happens…and the next thing you know, you’re working in that synod office you called with an apology all those years ago.


Rev. Donna Simon serves as pastor of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church and as one of two Directors for Evangelical Mission of the Central States Synod of the ELCA.  In both capacities, she focuses on mission, service, and justice for all persons. She was ordained extraordinem in Kansas City on October 28, 2000. Donna lives in the parish she serves with her wife, Colleen, and several cats and dogs.