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Wisdom in the Wilderness

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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.

Like Joel.

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.

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