By Rev. Brad Froslee
Ash Wednesday marked the twenty-sixth anniversary of my “official” coming out. It was on this night, following the Ash Wednesday worship service, that I began sharing with friends a truth about myself—my being gay. The worship service with its message of facing the fullness of life, of death, and life beyond death became the nudge that pushed me towards authentic living—marked in the brokenness and the beauty of the cross. In the face of this period, a time marked by the AIDS pandemic, the stories of families disowning children, of ex-gay therapies, I knew that being marked with the ashes of the cross was God’s call to living fully, authentically, and faithfully…here and now.
It would be eleven years later, nearly two weeks after Easter, that I would be ordained as a Lutheran pastor with a call to serve a Presbyterian Church.
The years between that Ash Wednesday service in college and the Easter-season ordination would, in many ways, feel like a time of wandering through the wilderness—of keeping faith in the midst of a broken Church; of trekking across the country for school, of journeying to the other side of the country for CPE and again for Internship; of longing to find someone to share my life with; of meeting with a candidacy committee that threw Vision & Expectations in my face—only to approve me, because I wasn’t in a relationship at that time; of the hard work and challenges of staying hopeful when there was interview after interview with congregations who thought I was great, but weren’t quite ready for a “gay pastor.”
Yet, now as I look back at these eleven years of “wandering in the wilderness” I realize how this time has formed me as the pastor and person I am today.
I met some of the most amazing people and communities of faith; there was laughter, love, and strength mixed with the tears and frustrations; there were opportunities for side-winding trips—like being a publicist for a drag queen, waiting tables, caring for people living with HIV/AIDS, working alongside recent immigrants, immersing myself in justice work—that were life-giving; there were signs of God’s presence and care along the way.
As I reflect on the sojourners of the Exodus, I hold on to the struggles, the questions, and the pain of the wilderness; yet, I am aware of how it formed them, how it forms us, into a people of new and renewed faith and promise who dream and journey toward a place of promise.
Bio: Brad Froslee (he/him/his) lives in Minneapolis with his husband, Bill. Their family also includes a very active 8 year-old son, a Border Collie, and a tabby cat. Brad serves as senior pastor at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Roseville.
By Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson
“And now, it is time to let grace abound! It’s time for gay people to build worshiping communities. It’s time for us to bring God’s good news, and not the church’s bad news, to the LGBTQ [sic] community. It’s time to care for the kicked-out, the runaway, the imprisoned, the friendless, the dying. It’s time to celebrate what has already been done. It is time to remember that we are the church. We celebrate God’s gracious gifts. We proclaim the love, the life, and the grace of God at work within us and our community. We demonstrate the gracious power and glory that is ours when we come out and take the step saying, ‘We are here. We are Gay and Lesbian and Bisexual and Transgendered [sic]. We are friends of Lesbians and Gays and Bisexuals and Transgendered [sic]. We are God’s. We are the kingdom.’ The most precious grace God gives us is the grace to be ourselves. And now, it is time to let grace abound.”- Joel Workin
Often, when in the wilderness, I find myself hungry for wisdom and inspiration.
Because the wilderness can exist in my mind, my body, and my spirit, it can be quite overwhelming – this feeling of emptiness, being lost, disorientation.
In the context of wilderness, I find myself turning to the wisdom of prophets and ancestors as Mapmakers – using their maps to guide me today as I journey further into new territories.
Those whose wisdom and understanding hold a space that is beyond time or place. Whose words and actions are a gentle hand against my back encouraging me and propelling me forward.
As one of the “Berkeley Four,” Joel paved a path for me to enter candidacy and serve the church as an out queer woman when he challenged church doctrine by coming out as gay at PLTS with Jeff, Greg, and Jim in 1987.
Joel never saw the day when the church opened its doors to publicly out LGBTQIA+ pastors and deacons. He died in 1995.
And yet, he did.
Joel had a vision of God’s kin-dom of inclusion and wholeness for gender and sexual minorities and it propelled him in his work and his words.
Joel didn’t have to live in it to know it was possible.
I can only imagine who the prophets and ancestors were whose hand was at Joel’s back.
I count them as my prophets and ancestors too, even if I can’t name them.
God of counsel and wisdom, you have gifted your creation with the words, actions, and hearts of great prophets and sages. Thank you for the comfort and challenge this wisdom encourages and for the reminder that we are always surrounded by those determined to share your love for all. Amen.
Bio: Amanda (she/her/hers) is the Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. She thinks you should know a bit more about Joel:
Joel Raydon Workin (1961-1995) In 1987, Joel came out publicly as a gay candidate for the ordained ministry. Following this courageous and faithful act, Joel’s certification was revoked by the ELCA and his name was never placed on the roster of approved candidates waiting for call. Joel’s ministry continued in Los Angeles, however, at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and as Director of Chris Brownlie Hospice. He and his husband Paul were active in Lutherans Concerned/Los Angeles and Dignity/Los Angeles. The Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholarship Fund was established upon Joel’s death from AIDS on November 29, 1995. In keeping with Joel’s wishes, awards from the fund are used to provide scholarships to publicly-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer seminary students who proclaim God’s love and seek justice for all. The fund is managed by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
Dear Members of the ELCA Church Council,
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God” is fundamentally flawed in development, content, and implementation and should not be approved by the ELCA Church Council.
The premise of “Trustworthy Servants” and its predecessor, “Vision and Expectations,” is unethical. A simple revision of either document fails to eliminate their fundamental flaw: the fact that they were created to label and exclude marginalized leaders.
They should both be let go and set aside.
These documents claim to lift up the ethical standards of our church, yet were crafted to police human sexuality, especially with respect to candidates for rostered ministry. Both documents explicitly focus on a narrow construction of acceptable sexual expression and demean and dehumanize many who are and might be called to professional ministry within the church. Both “Trustworthy Servants” and “Vision & Expectations” confuse what qualifies as healthy intimacy and sexual expression and behaviors that should be labeled as misconduct.
Many gender and sexual minority leaders do not see themselves, their community, their families, or their values reflected in this document. ELM mourns and protests the dangerously narrow scope our Church seems to be using to define “trustworthy:” hyper-focusing on sexual expression while, for example, ignoring the needs of people with disabilities and failing to name white supremacy as sinful.
“Trustworthy Servants” and “Vision & Expectations” are morally compromised documents. They should have no moral or juridical authority over the body of Christ. Therefore, if approved, we refuse to be guided by this document or to advise seminarians, candidates or rostered leaders to shape their lives, conscience, or behavior according to their pages.
In Christ’s love,
Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson, Executive Director and The ELM Board of Directors
By Proclaim Member Alex Aivers
When I feel like I’m in the wilderness of my soul, there is an emphasis on the experience being ‘wild.’ I can’t tell what is right or wrong, or which way is up or down.
One way I seek to help me tame this wildness is on the dance floor.
This is where the unseen wilderness of my soul can become physically manifested.
The particular place I do this is key: while surrounded by my LGBTQIA+ siblings in a bar devoted to us. And if these LGBTQIA+ siblings are Christian, even better! Here, the dance floor becomes a place of healing. It becomes a holy place.
With myself and other bodies moving in time with the music, it can look like a whirlwind from the outside. But this is often when I feel most close to God and can acutely sense that God is near me.
Out of this whirlwind of music and bodies, I can find clarity.Job faced a time of being in the wilderness during his life. He lost his family and property, and then his health. It even appeared that God was not innocent in these happenings.
Those of us in the LGBTQIA community can feel similarly. We suffer hardships on account of who we love and/or how we present ourselves to the world. And it can appear that God is not innocent in causing these sufferings.
We can feel as Job feels “For the arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me.”
But then, out of this whirlwind, God speaks to us.
Even if God doesn’t tell us why these things are happening, God is still speaking to us.
Even during the times of wilderness in our lives, God still wants to draw near to us and touch our soul.
Bio: Alex Aivars is a candidate in Word and Sacrament, awaiting first-call. I worked in Web development for 7 years before getting the call to ministry at a Gay Christian Network (now Q Christian Fellowship) conference. In addition to dancing, I also love being in nature and reading.
By S. Leon LaCross
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” Luke 15:4
It’s easy to write this sheep off as sinful and in need of saving. However, I’m proposing that this sheep is brave. It takes a lot of courage to strike off on your own and do your own thing. As the Joel R. Workin Scholar, I’ve been identified as having a prophetic voice; but I don’t always hear it.
I fall into the trap of doubting myself, self-sabotaging and otherwise getting down on myself. I drift off from my community and feel like a pariah. But just when I think I’ve gone too far afield, when I’ve lost hope, when I start to get my wooly coat caught in the brambles, I’m found again.
I’m reminded that I have a flock of rainbow sheep that want me around. I bump into a queer colleague, sigh too deep for words, and appreciate each other’s struggle. I’m not alone out there.
To get intertextual, we are all in the wilderness, calling out…but we’re not making the roads straight. We’re skipping down the yellow brick road, over the rainbow, and into a brave new day, collecting friends along the way.
Good Shepherd, you tend every flock and gather in your forgotten sheep. Help us to be the shepherds searching for our siblings who have drifted away. Help us to be brave sheep, daring to forge new paths. Be with us in the wilderness and help us to hold space for those who have not yet found their flock. You rejoice with us as we are reunited with our kindred. Tend to us on our Lenten journey. Amen.
Bio: S. Leon LaCross (he/they) is a third year 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 as they intersect with theology. He is an adoring partner to his boyfriend, Noah (he/they), and a part time step-father for Noah’s cat Moxie (she/her) and dog Mr. Pickles (he/him). They enjoy cooking, gaming and gardening together as well as generally trying to become literally the gayest.
A reflection on this week’s events in the global church from ELM’s Board of Directors
The apostle Paul reminds us that we who claim to follow Jesus are one body in Christ and that “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Cor 12:26).
As members of the one body and in the spirit of co-suffering love, ELM mourns and laments, with all our United Methodist kin, the St. Louis 2019 General Conference’s vote to reaffirm and strengthen the ecclesial prohibitions on ordaining same-gender loving clergy and officiating same-gender weddings, as prescribed by the “Traditional Plan.”
As we know from experiences within our own Lutheran denominations, such decisions globally impact and harm LGBTQIA+ people who are and will be told that God does not love them or that they do not bear the image of God. They wound the whole body of Christ, because LGBTQIA+ individuals are members of this body and, thereby undermine the church’s witness to God’s ever-expanding, radical love.
ELM holds with tenderness and compassion, all individuals that have experienced similar instances of institutional sin across denominations that caused safety and trust to be threatened, and that lead to further marginalization and feelings of isolation for specific groups of people. The effects of trauma and re-traumatization stretch wide and run deep, and we encourage and support those impacted in seeking support during these painful times.
Furthermore, with the entire body of Christ, we acknowledge and lament our own active and passive participation in the sins embodied in this decision. We mourn the sins of queerphobia and transphobia. We rebuke the forces of fear, ignorance, and hate that keep the church from celebrating the gifts and ministries of LGBTQIA+ Christians.
As members of the body of Christ, we also confess and repent the sins of racism and white supremacy, particularly as enacted through colonization, which continue to enforce the gender binary and heteronormativity as divinely and scripturally ordained, thereby erasing global indigenous expressions of same-gender love and expansive gender diversity. These sins also lead to the creation of a false binary between LGBTQIA+ people and people of color.
As the scriptures teach us to welcome one another, just as Christ welcomes us for the glory of God, so we believe that the Gospel commands us to extravagantly welcome all people, particularly those who are marginalized and oppressed.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of sexual and gender minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world. We know the value and gifts that queer people bring to the church and to ministry throughout the world.
Grounded in this conviction, we commit to living in solidarity through mutual prayer and support with our UMC kin as they discern their way forward, just as we too continue to discern and struggle within our own denominational structures.
We rest in the knowledge that the Spirit continues to be present among us, calling and guiding as we journey towards God’s promise to gather all people as part of God’s one family:
Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed… Do not let the foreigner joined to God say, “God will surely separate me from God’s people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” For thus says God: To the eunuchs… I will bring them to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the sovereign God, who gathers the outcasts…” (Isaiah 56: 1, 3, 7-8).
May we hold each other graciously and tenderly in our times of sorrow. And, may we not forget to step out in bold faith, trusting the Spirit to guide us on the path of reparation and justice.
ELM Board of Directors
Emily Ann Garcia, Co-Chair Matthew James, Co-Chair
Margaret Moreland, Secretary Charlie Horn, Treasurer
Jessica Davis, Emily E. Ewing, Matta Ghaly, Jeff R. Johnson, Barbara Lundblad, Margarette Ouji, Angela Shannon