By Allison Bengfort, Proclaim Member
What is the Proclaim Gathering? ELM’s annual Proclaim Gathering was held August 5-8, 2018 at Pearlstone Retreat Center outside Baltimore, MD. The Gathering brings together members of Proclaim (ELM’s professional community for publicly identified LGBTQIA+ Lutheran rostered ministers and candidates) and their families, for a time of renewal, community building, and professional development as publicly identified leaders.
I am new to Proclaim – just joined in April. As a seminary student at LSTC, I was aware of Proclaim’s presence and had heard good things, but it wasn’t until I entered the first call process that my need to join became apparent. In the midst of ignorant comments in interviews and losing call opportunities because of my orientation, I needed a community. Apart from initial welcome emails, this year’s Gathering was my introduction to the community. I am pleased to say that I went away from the experience excited about new friendships, inspired by the idea of queerness as central to Christianity, and heartened by the potential of this group of leaders. The Gathering exceeded my expectations, but more importantly, it offered something I hadn’t expected.
In the world of clinical social work, which is my background, we talk about something called “unconditional positive regard.” Unconditional positive regard is an intentional, emotional posture that the best therapists extend to their clients. As its name implies, unconditional positive regard assumes the best in the client. It assumes that the client is inherently good, worthy, and worthwhile. It is able to separate misguided choices and challenging behaviors from who the person is deep down. It is essentially a clinical description of love and grace.
While I had experienced unconditional positive regard from outstanding therapists, until the Gathering, I had never experienced this posture from an entire community of people, all at once. I felt it extended to me in conversations about my difficulties in the call process, in theological discussions about problematic aspects of Lutheran theology, and in conversations about bisexuality and being “queer enough.” I witnessed it being extended to others in sessions on polyamory that challenged more traditional views, in worship services that intentionally included expansive language, and in day-to-day interactions in which both friends and strangers were deeply seen and accepted. Experiencing this openness and radical acceptance made me want to participate in it – want to reciprocate and extend this attitude to others. It made it so much easier to turn to my neighbor and offer them the same attention and acceptance.
Ideally, this experience of communal unconditional positive regard would be the mark of the church. Can you imagine congregation members feeling this way every Sunday morning or at every church event?! Talk about changing the world. Of course, this is not the case at many churches, and it is also important to recognize that my experience of the Proclaim Gathering was likely not universal. That being said, I truly believe that this community of leaders has something powerful to offer. Our experience as queer people has taught us the importance unconditional positive regard, and God has empowered us to offer it to others. Thank you all for extending this unexpected gift to me.
Bio: Allison Bengfort (she/her/hers) is an approved candidate for ordination, currently assigned to the Metro Chicago Synod. Born and raised in the Midwest, Allison moved to Seattle in 2016 for a final-year internship and loved the area so much, she decided to stay while she awaits call. Allison holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College, a Master of Social Work from the University of Chicago, and a Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. As a bisexual woman, Allison is passionate about dismantling systems of oppression in the church and the larger world. While awaiting her first call as a pastor, Allison stays busy teaching violin lessons, working at a church preschool, and playing lots of Ultimate Frisbee.
Photos by Emily Ann Garcia
By: Br. Matta Ghaly, CSJC, ELM Board Member, Justice & Recruitment Convener
ELM is responding to the Holy Spirit’s call by growing into an intersectional organization and a beloved community that is shaped by diverse experiences. I have known Rev. Shannon to be a gifted pastor, wise teacher and vocal supporter of LGBTQIA+ ministers. Her voice and experience will enrich our witness to the gospel and justice-making labor in God’s kin-dom. Read on to learn more:
The Rev. Angela Lynn Shannon grew up in a law enforcement family in Gary, Indiana. Pastoral ministry is her second career but first love and calling. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology/criminal justice from Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana. Rev. Shannon graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in June 1996 and was ordained January 12, 1997, the feast day of the baptism of our Lord at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Gary, IN. She has served congregations in Indiana, Ohio and Texas. She has served as Dean of Student Life of Luther Seminary, St Paul, MN.
Rev. Shannon is the national Vice-President for the African Descent Lutheran Association. For over twenty years she has been involved in ecumenical and interfaith conversation at home and abroad. A self-described, church “blerd,” she loves liturgy and theology.
However, her driving passion is the ministry of reconciliation. As such, she is trained in conflict transformation. Says Rev. Shannon: “My deepest hope is that we will deepen our empathy for one another in these very odd times and restore hope. To engage a sustainable reconciliation, we must take a middle step towards each other.”
Rev. Shannon is a tireless bridge-builder whose vision invites us into multi-issue and collaborative work with other associations and communities. Along with the rest of the ELM Board, please join me in welcoming Rev. Angela Shannon!
Bio: Br. Matta Ghaly, CSJC. (all pronouns) is a candidate for the ministry of Word and sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and currently serves as vicar at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN. Along with a passion for congregational ministry, Matta feels a deep call to the@logical education and serves as adjunct faculty for Islamic and Quranic Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, CA. In the midst of laboring, Matta is spiritually replenished through religious life as a Brother of the Community of Saint John Cassian (CSJC), a vowed apostolic community under the Episcopal Church. Matta is married to Rev. Sonny Graves (United Church of Christ), and finds a lot of joy in travelling, writing and teaching, composing multi-religious music, exploring unfamiliar food scenes and brewing delicious coffee.
I’ve made academia my home. The classroom was the birthplace of my intellectual curiosity, my understanding of my identities, and my passion for liberation. I felt like I could never know enough, could never read enough, and always pushed myself to integrate every piece into my larger worldview; constantly evolving. Then it became time for me to shift to become a knowledge-producer. I had to ask myself what do YOU think? What are the connections YOU are seeing? How do you articulate something that hasn’t been said before? This process tested everything I thought I knew about myself. It was really hard. I realized that I didn’t trust myself or what I knew and I definitely didn’t believe that I had something unique to contribute (hello, imposter syndrome!).
It was like BOOM! One day I woke up and just realized that I have something important to say. Thanks to the faith that I have in powers bigger than this world, I know it was no coincidence. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries came to me on the coattails of that moment. I finally felt like I could say 100% yes, I have something to offer here and I’m confident in casting a vision. I’m still an academic at heart, but I think that takes many forms. Knowledge is everywhere, and I want to practice what I know in as many ways as possible. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn from ELM as well as contribute to its strengthening and growth. Thank you!
We’ve got news for you.
We’re fresh off the recent Proclaim Gathering near Baltimore Aug 5-8, 2018 bringing together over 60 LGBTQIA+ pastors, seminarians, and rostered leaders for a time of learning and community. On our final day, we announced big news we can now share with everyone.
Drumroll please… (click below video!)
Proclaim is approaching 300 members! And we’re kicking off a campaign to mark this momentum:
What is #Proclaim300?
Proclaim (ELM’s professional community for Lutheran pastors, rostered ministers, and those preparing for rostered ministry who publicly identify as LGBTQIA+) is growing exponentially! In September 2015, we reached our 200th member, and just three years later in 2018, we are approaching our 300th member. Wow!
Together, we will mark this momentum with:
1) A three-month visibility and fundraising campaign August- October 2018, helping a wider community know about ELM, including opportunities to financially support the increased membership of Proclaim and future of ELM, with a goal of 300 gifts of $300.
2) A week of celebration and gratitude September 17-23, 2018, sharing online about extraordinary gifts of LGBTQIA+ leaders, honoring those who have gone before us, offering prayers for a messy and beautiful community of God, naming barriers and triumphs faced by LGBTQIA+ people in the church, and inviting others to learn more about ELM and Proclaim.
What are our Goals for #Proclaim300?
#Proclaim300 has three main goals:
- Celebrate ELM’s Proclaim community. Raise each other up.
- Build the momentum. Raise friends.
- Grow our support! Raise funds.
What are we asking you?
- Celebrate your colleagues and partners in ministry. Thank a mentor, send love to a Proclaimer, enjoy this milestone!
- Build our presence on social media by posting about #Proclaim300 and inviting others to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Follow the daily prompts September 17-23 and encouragefriends and allies to join in! Reach both inside and outside the church and queer community!
- Grow ELM! Ask organizations, individuals, and congregations to give $300 (or more!) to honor and celebrate this exciting moment. Or raise these funds by guest preaching, having a special offering in Worship, starting a Facebook fundraiser, or hosting a giving gathering.
When can you start? NOW!
Give online, mark “attending” on Facebook, share gratitude with Proclaimers, start a fundraiser, forward this email, and ask your congregation, friends, and self: will you help us reach our giving goal?
In deep gratitude and excitement,
Anna Czarnik Neimeyer, ELM Associate Director of Development & Communications
Ben Hogue, Proclaim Member, ELM Fund Development Committee
Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer and Ben Hogue love ELM as an ongoing justice movement, and enjoy fearlessly asking people to be part of the movement with their time, talent, and treasure! The friends and colleagues each studied communications & PR, and like serving communion, high fives, puns, and service work; Ben was a Peace Corps volunteer and Anna volunteered at Holden Village.
Photos by Emily Ann Garcia
In Deuteronomy, when Moses is giving his final blessing to Israel, he said to the tribe of Asher, “Most blessed of sons be Asher… let him dip his foot in oil.” (Deut 33:24-25).
As a farewell, Barbara K Lundblad highlighted this passage as she led ELM’s Board of Directors in reflecting upon my namesake in the Bible (Asher means “happy” in Hebrew) and invited the group to share affirmations. After each affirmation, they all said together, “Thank God for Asher.” Then they all extended their hands (through their webcams) as they prayed blessing over me.
I felt as though my foot had indeed been dipped in oil.
As I wrap up my time serving as Program Director for ELM, it is remarkable to look back on all we have accomplished together over these past two years: We’ve doubled our presence at synod assemblies across the country. The average amount of time that our candidates are waiting to receive their first-call has decreased significantly. More bishops and synod staffs are acknowledging and using our resources to address the imagination gap that has held our candidates back from getting quality first-call placements more quickly. And as a community, Proclaim has reached nearly 300 members! It has been a joy to witness how all of the new members have strengthened us and helped us grow both more deeply into our roots and out towards the future.
My final day with ELM will be Friday August 17th and until then I’ll be running on all cylinders as we head into The Proclaim Gathering next week, and then setting everything up for the next Program Director the following week.
My new call will be to serve as pastor of Highlands Lutheran Church in Denver, Colorado.
I do plan to remain a member of Proclaim. And while I’ll be stepping back from any leadership in the community to allow the new Program Director to lead, I do look forward to embracing the vision they cast and continuing in fellowship with the community.
It has truly been an honor and a joy to serve as your Program Director for nearly two years now. I will miss working with our fabulous staff and volunteers. And I am so grateful for all that I have learned in this position and will be carrying on with me to my next call. Thanks to ELM’s staff, Board of Directors, our supporters who make our work possible, and to all of the Proclaim members out there transforming the church. Serving with you has been a blessing – You have dipped my foot in oil!
Asher O’Callaghan (he/him/his) is super excited for ELM’s Proclaim Gathering which begins this Sunday, August 5th! Lately he has discovered the joy of making iced soy chai tea lattes at home in the afternoon as a little mid-day boost. He lives with his cat, Jack, in Denver, Colorado where he appreciates the late afternoon thunderstorms that this time of year offers.