30 Extraordinary Years: Reflection by Joel Workin Scholar, Cassie Hartnett

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There is a moment that I imagine sometimes, that I think is coming soon.


It’s that part of an ordination service when all the clergy gather around their new colleague, the bright colors of their stoles standing out against the white of their robes, their feet shuffling to make space for everyone, and they lay hands on the shoulders of the newest pastor in the ELCA. I imagine feeling the weight of so many hands, the energy moving from the fingertips that cannot reach me, that grasp for the backs and arms of people closer by. I imagine that if these hands surround me and hold me and build a safe place of support, I will be, just in that moment, invincible.


When Phyllis Zillhart, Jeff Johnson and Ruth Frost were ordained in San Francisco in 1990, they walked from the altar to the center of the sanctuary and held hands, just the three of them. Around them, the people—not just the ones in the stoles and robes—were invited to gather. They got close. They laid hands on one another. I wasn’t even born yet, and I know that the Holy Spirit was present. Watching the footage now fills me with a funny mix of awe and sadness.


I am in awe of thirty years of extraordinary ordinations, and in awe of the fact that because of this history, my ordination might be among the ones of the next thirty years. I am in awe of the members of Proclaim that I encounter every week in the course of parish work and in our online community, and I’m even in awe that I’m writing this reflection at all. So much progress has been made and so many LGBTQIA+ people have served God’s church with creativity, resilience, grace, and strength.


But at the same time, my awe is tinged with sadness when I imagine the world that Ruth, Phyllis, and Jeff faced in the days, months, and years that followed their ordination. I know things are different now, but I still feel the sting of microaggressions, offhand comments, or whispered rumors in the communities I serve. Stories about conversion therapy and high rates of mental illness among LGBTQIA+ youth break my heart. News bulletins about another trans woman of color lost to senseless violence makes me feel desperately lost. Our community is resilient, but we are not without our battle scars. 


One evening, I drove another Proclaim member home after we’d been at a synod event, and our conversation turned to this old, tired struggle. She was angry; I just sighed because it had been a long day. As she swung my car door open, we reminded each other: “I’m proud of you. You are fierce and powerful and you’re called to this work. I’ve got your back, no matter what happens.” 


There is a moment I imagine sometimes, where Ruth and Phyllis and Jeff and all the extraordinarily ordained said these things to one another. We build each other up and call each other to shine. For a moment, we make each other invincible. We’ve done it for more than thirty years, and we’ll keep doing it far beyond thirty more.


Cassie Hartnett (she/her/hers) grew up on the Connecticut shoreline and graduated from Union Theological Seminary in May 2019, where she studied psychology and religion, and wrote a new play for her thesis project. Previously, she studied at Barnard College and spent two years in the Twin Cities serving with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, including work with ReconcilingWorks. In August, Cassie began her internship year at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Parkville, MD. In her spare time, she practices ballet and yoga, bakes excellent cookies, and can recommend a great queer young adult novel.”

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