Street Ministry During COVID-19

By Atticus Zavaletta

One of the shadow gifts of this pandemic has been the urgency that has galvanized energies and brought out leadership where it had been lying fallow. North Ave Mission, which I founded just a month ago together with the homeless and formerly homeless people among whom I minister in Baltimore—and the leaders in it—is one of those gifts.

As a trans person, wherever I am, I am always inevitably called to the margins. If you drop me in the center somewhere, it doesn’t matter where, I will find the edges and quick. Part of it is that I find myself in these places that the world has disregarded, because that’s who I was/am as a Queer and transgender person who grew up in a church that saw me as an abomination. I so desperately needed a theology and a spiritual community that saw in my difference the origins of my beauty and my worth as God’s child, and I had to live through many years of self-destruction, drawing nearer and nearer to death, because of those deep, deep wounds. When I uplift the beauty and dignity of people on the underside of power, I am also healing a part of my self. It is powerful for me to reflect that God uses exactly that part of me that was so broken to facilitate healing in the world.

I am lucky enough to have a Bishop who supports and honors not just my identity but also my calling: in January, I was called by my Bishop to be a street minister on North Avenue in Baltimore, an area home to many street homeless and food and housing insecure people. I began by walking the blocks, getting to know people, and listening to their stories and what needs there were in the neighborhood. One of my first days out, I met PeeWee, who identifies as pansexual, and her husband Nine, who identifies as bisexual. That day, PeeWee, who is like the mayor of the neighborhood, took me around the entire block and introduced me to every single person—elders, dealers on the corners, pizza store guys, and all her friends. PeeWee and Nine are both formerly homeless and they told me of their passion to be there for those going through what they had gone through. Often, PeeWee looks back on that day and says, “If you had never come that day, all of this would never have happened.” I join her in wonder and always reply that the Holy Spirit brought us together.

I started having a weekly presence at a vacant lot, which is a hangout zone for many on the streets. Soon enough, Thursdays became a time when we would gather there for prayer, food and friendship, and to hear updates, listen to concerns, assess needs, and do street outreach by passing out food and essential items on the street together.

Early on, I identified leaders: we started with Street Shepherds, and then added the role of Guardians. Street Shepherds check on everyone on the street and communicate needs back to me, then we reach out to the wider community when appropriate. They offer support, friendship, and care, and remind us that we are a family. Our Guardian is a supporting, protecting, defending presence, offering wisdom and counsel as we navigate the streets and ministry. The act of drawing in and building up leaders from the margins is a gift of my Queerness–which apprehends value where the world doesn’t always. Queerness has eyes to see, from the margins and from its own experience of alienation, the difference between a theology of glory, which calls things what they aren’t—calling the good bad, and the bad good—and a theology of the cross, which calls things what they really are. As a Queer transgender Christian, I am witness to a theology of the cross.

When COVID-19 hit, our “fellowship” decided to organize as North Ave Mission because we wanted to walk together through the storm. We successfully fundraised over $8500 to provide free groceries and hygiene and essential items to people. On Maundy Thursday, for instance, we distributed 7,500 lbs of fresh produce.

We asked what else could do in the face of this crisis, and everyone agreed: our priority was to house our street homeless members. So we set up Red Shed Village, where 5 people stay in a beautiful community garden lot in tents. Neighbors and community members immediately stepped up in beautiful ways, for instance by ensuring the Villagers have nutritious meals every day! Interestingly, but not surprisingly, a great majority of the people who leapt out to support the Villagers with food, bedding, masks, toiletries, and other forms of support- are members of the LGBTQ+ community. I believe that is because we in the Queer community know how to recognize the things of hidden but inestimable worth.  

Atticus Zavaletta (he/they) is a Street Minister at North Ave Mission and Vicar at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Baltimore, MD. 

Cocoon Days Well Spent

by Pastor Mark Erson

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

Upon opening my eyes and while still lying in bed on the morning of Monday, March 16, my mind started to race.  Isolating and Social distancing were becoming new words in our vocabulary.  Restrictions were just beginning to unfold.  And with that unfolding, lots of questions began to join that racing of my mind. How far would they go in changing our daily lives?  How long would they be in place? This is Lent, Holy Week/Easter are nearing, will this all be done so that we can celebrate “normally”? 

Obviously, I was not alone in my questions.  Perhaps, different sections of the country asked them on different days.  But we are definitely in this together.  We are all discerning and exploring how to be church, the body of Christ, at a time when the body of Christ cannot physically come together in worship, study, mutual support, consolation, and of course, those all-important meetings.

One of the needs that I saw in myself, and assumed for others, was a sense of structure to these days of upheaval that laid ahead.  Also, I anticipated a need to keep kindling the hope that is ours in God’s abiding presence.  So, I decided to start live streaming morning (9 AM) and evening (4:30 PM) prayer, Monday – Saturday.  I have engaged a variety of resources to give a little diversity.  It has certainly helped me to start and finish my day in this way.  And, from the comments of others, I see that it has been welcomed by others way beyond the members of our parish.  It has also reconnected me with folks from various chapters in life.  As one who struggled to enjoy online courses at seminary, I have been surprised how connected I feel when I see folks attending the live stream.  And then of course, there are many who view as they have time.

Something else that has been very heartening, comforting, and inspiring has been the collaboration that has been going on among colleagues.  And, no surprise, it is within our beloved Proclaim cohort that I have seen the most, the best, the most creative, and supportive expressions of collaboration in creating and sharing resources and spiritual support.  I am so thankful for this community.

One of my favorite Easter symbols is the butterfly.  This year, even while we are celebrating our butterfly-ness through the risen Christ, we also have the opportunity to benefit from gaining a deeper understanding of our cocoon days. I pray that we will hold onto the lessons learned, the collaboration bridges built, the new means of connecting engaged, for the sake of proclaiming the gospel and serving the world as the body of Christ.

Blessings, as you make the most of these cocoon days.

Mark Erson – (he/him/his) serves St. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, NY, as pastor.  He is also a theatre artist and award-winning playwright.  He is most excited and looking forward to working with Reed Noel on their internship in the coming year.

An Easter Reflection

By Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.” John 20:14 (NRSV)
I write thoughts on the joyful resurrection of Jesus Christ as a dispatch from the front, at the base of a cresting wave of pandemic viral infection, rapid-fire government regulations, and a hotbed of liturgical reinvention. I wish I could speak with singularly joyful affirmation on how our fellow comrades-of-the-keys (that’s pastor slang for well, pastors) are rising equally to the challenge with compassion and vigor. Instead, it’s more apt to say we are facing this uncertain new world like the earnest and imperfect apostles we are.
In John 20:1-18 we read the story of Easter that begins with Mary seeing something unfamiliar happening around the place where her Savior was laid. Neither Mary’s first, second, or even third reaction was to pray or otherwise reach out to God. Instead, in her uncertainly, she ‘run tell’ Simon and Peter, fellow followers of Jesus. Haven’t we done the same? Within the first week of COVID-19 the living room and boardroom warriors arose from their couches and desks with gusto. The interwebs abound with emails from every place we have shopped within the last 7 years letting us know how proactively they are facing the dastardly virus. Well-intentioned watchdogs of virtue are commenting on photos; “Are you standing 6 feet apart? You don’t look 6 feet apart.” The desire to do something, anything – to be in some sort of control – is as understandable as it is an illusion. 
Mary, Simon, and Peter were just as clueless together as they were apart. We can hope though, they were perhaps a bit less frightened, more confident, braver, more resilient. That alone is enough to encourage them to at least enter deeper into the tomb of mystery, bringing them closer to the recognition of Jesus in an unfamiliar context. Speaking of context, there are some pretty strong clues here that, to an observer removed by a couple thousand years, scream “divine miracle”. The linen death shroud piled in an empty tomb, a headcover neatly folded and set apart as if removed by unhurried hands…a big glowy set of angels. Mary, of course, sees the face of God and thinks “Hmm..must be the gardener. Nothing to see here folks.” Blessedly, even without the recognition of heavenly handiwork in a situation, God is able to move with freedom, ever patiently creating opportunities for us to catch up.
It is not until Jesus uses his teacher voice on Mary (feel free to pause here and breathe a special prayer of blessing and gratitude for educators) that the blossom of truth flowers in Mary’s heart and she breathes the word “Teacher” to Jesus, and knows him. When Mary remembers that she is a student, and surrenders herself to a position of openness and learning, truth is revealed. Even then, Jesus tells her not to hold her absolutes too tightly. (Feel free to pause here and breathe a special prayer of blessing and gratitude for scientists, and researchers.) Today’s truth will be tomorrow’s journey.
We have seen many such moments of revelation that come only with surrender and humility in the church and the world. The revelation (and many since received gifts) of people of color as visionary leaders, women as dynamic teachers, and LGBTQIA+ siblings of faith as powerful preachers happened only when we stopped talking past each other in stubborn argument and became observers of the world around us with hearts willing to learn new ways. Until we surrendered our illusion of control and stopped forging boldly ahead on a narrow path, we were not able to conceive another way. There is always another way. (Feel free, and this one is highly encouraged, to pause here and breathe a special prayer of blessing and gratitude for faith leaders and pastoral caregivers who have learned in two weeks to Livestream, Zoom, and conference call the Holy Spirit to God’s faithful even in the midst of half-addled trauma-brain.)
Until Jesus completes his journey fully, Earthly adventures abound. Easter ends Lent, but it is not the end. We remain students, learning how to recognize Jesus in a shifting landscape of face coverings and curfews. We seek community, affirmation, and practice what self-care we can to empower our faltering nerves and exited stumblings. Through it all, the Savior is ever-present, known and unknown, leaving signs for when we are ready to receive them. Beginning with Easter, not ending, we go boldly into the new and unknown, as seekers and receivers. We know we will most certainly miss the face of Jesus when we are grieving or scared, confused or lonely. Jesus will still be there. We will still be loved. God will still, without fail, be working.
“God of all life, learning, and inspiration, be with us in the time of pandemic and of Easter. Help us be church together, with compassion and openness, patience and thoughtfulness. Inspire us to receive new understanding and to serve your timeless commands in ways that speak to our modern context with faithfulness and respect. Grant us grace and mercy when we fall short and help us to know you in all places and situations. In Jesus’ lovely name we pray. Amen.

The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson (she /her/hers) is a redevelopment pastor serving a congregation in Lancaster, PA. Also the co-chair of Lower Susquehanna Synod’s Racial Justice Task Force, Carla is a queer femme Black (and a little Latinx) warrior for justice and equity. A former Poet Laureate of York, PA and a published writer, Carla is passing her quarantine time writing Triduum poetry and cuddling her puppies.

Triduum Lament

By Jon Rundquist

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Matthew 26:47-49 NRSV

I think I’m like most people these days, in that I really don’t know how to wrap my head around the words “global pandemic”. I cannot fathom either a world without the COVID-19 virus (it feels like it’s been so long) or a world with it. I just don’t really know what to do with it, except panic, and know that somehow, somewhere, God’s got this. 

When I feel out of control, and I need to get my thoughts out somehow, I like to write poetry. Usually, I write within my own confines of the rules of rhythm and metre. I count the syllables, make sure the words rhyme, and feel a slight peak of joy at knowing that I was able to squeeze a certain word into those rules. I hope the whole thing still makes sense. It gives me a sense of control in a world without it. 

However, this lament that I wrote one dark early morning last week, doesn’t follow those usual conventions. But neither does this virus. The following is my early Holy Week/Triduum lament. It just seems that this is what fits these times. 

Triduum Lament

The Last Supper

The feet were washed

The food was served

The people were gathered

The bread was broken

The wine was poured

We were just talking

About the need for unity

We didn’t mean to betray that

We didn’t mean to betray Jesus

We didn’t mean for this to happen

We didn’t need this to happen


Most suppers aren’t the last one, but this one could be. 

Most coughs aren’t life-threatening, 

but this one could be. 

It was just a kiss, Jesus

I don’t want to die, Jesus

I don’t want to kill, Jesus

I don’t want 

to kill 



Pilate Washes His Hands

What uncertain times we live in. 

What an uncertain time you lived in. 

People watching everything

People worrying about everything

What if this isn’t the Messiah we wanted

What if this isn’t the change we needed

What about all the other diseases to worry about

What about all the saviors we’d prayed about

There’s too many people dying, Jesus

There’s too many people killing, Jesus

There’s too many people dying

There’s too many people 

Killing Jesus


We’re not supposed to be on that cross

That’s you. That’s all you. 

Money is supposed to be on that cross

All our shame. All our sin. 

But someone got it backward. 

Pilate washes his hands daily

While Caiaphas pleads for us to stay home

Where’s God to set it right

Where’s our Messiah, if not on the cross

Where are you



In Between

What happened to the food

What happened to the friends

Where’s the parties

Where’s the friendship

We’re caught in the middle

And yet

Still alone

Still very much alone

In between life and death

Certainty and uncertainty

Isolation and safety

Community apart

Togetherness within


We anxiously await the end of this Jesus

We need this to end Jesus

When will it end

When will life begin


Loving and Gracious God, we long for a respite from this global pandemic. We see the hope found in other countries returning to a semblance of life as usual. We see our own neighborhoods reeling in fear and anxiety. We remember your journey to the cross, and the pain and suffering of your death. Be with us as we long for what comes next. Guide us through this pain, hold the hands for those lamenting loss. We hold onto your hope, Loving God. Be with us now, and in your kin-dom. In your Loving and Gracious name, we pray, Amen




Jon Rundquist (he/her/theirs) is a lover of Holy Week, a parent and a spouse, and 2017 MDiv. graduate of Luther Seminary. She’s worked at Target on and off since the end of internship, awaiting her own “what comes next”. 
For a little longer, he lives an “essential” worker life, while enjoying the added time home with his children and wife. They’ve loved being able to see their friends preach during the pandemic, and will celebrate the Triduum virtually. 







Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:2-3
Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.

This Sunday is Palm Sunday on our liturgical calendars.  This is the day where we commemorate the protest march against the Empire that Jesus coordinated in Jerusalem just before he was executed. Much like the history of Pride, Palm Sunday has become tragically de-politicized. What began in both cases as radical resistance against unjust authority is now painted as something of a politely permitted parade. But without keeping in mind these revolutionary roots, we lose context for Palm Sunday and for our own LGBTQIA+ history.

“Screaming Queens”. Photo courtesy of Taken after the Compton Cafeteria Riot in 1966 in the San Francisco Tenderloin district.

There is a lot that goes into planning an action like Palm Sunday, a lot of roles to play, a lot of materials to gather.  Jesus relied on the community to provide for the things that he would need. He trusted that the movement that was being built was wider and bigger than the people in his close personal circle. He knew that outside of the people he regularly interacted with, like his disciples and benefactors, there were people in the midst of their ordinary lives who were sympathetic and supportive of the cause in their own way.  Jesus – who had a target on his back – would have had every reason to be skeptical about who he let be a part of his work. But instead of being suspicious of outsiders or acting as a gatekeeper, Jesus reached outside the scope of his normal relationships to invite people in.

LGBTQIA+ people have often had to learn to reach outside of our normal, socially mandated circles – like our family of origin, like traditional churches – to build chosen families and gather support.  Many of us have been denied, betrayed, and wounded by our home churches or our families of origin. But out of this pain, new ways of being community have been formed. LGBTQIA+ people form networks of mutual aid to help one another in times of crisis or need, whether that is raising money for gender-affirming surgery or paying someone’s rent. When the ELCA did not ordain openly LGBTQIA+ leaders, we formed the extraordinary roster, outside of the normal, permissible way of doing things. And queer teenagers in isolated and queer-antagonistic regions reach out online to form friendships across the world that save lives.

Our status quo has been interrupted this year in the midst of a global pandemic.  Our normal ways of forming community, extending support, and sharing resources have been stretched. But the world and the church have much to learn from LGBTQIA+ people.  We have always been resilient and scrappy and creative in building unconventional relationships. We have often reached out, like Jesus, hoping that even if we didn’t quite know who it would be, that scattered amongst our neighborhoods and the internet, there are people there waiting and ready to provide for what we need.

Holy God, you sent your Begotten One, Jesus Christ to show us your radical way of Love and Liberation.  We praise you for giving us the gift of unconventional relationships and creative community building. Thank you for the unknown helpers embedded in our networks. Empower us too to be ready to provide for our neighbors’ needs in times of uncertainty. Amen.

Elle Dowd (she/her/hers) is a bi-furious seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a candidate for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America currently serving as the full-time pastoral intern at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Logan Square, Chicago. Elle has pieces of her heart in Sierra Leone, where her two children were born, and in St. Louis where she learned from the radical, queer, Black leadership during the Ferguson Uprising. She was formerly a co-conspirator with the movement to #decolonizeLutheranism and currently works as a community organizer with the Faith and Justice Collective and SOUL, writes regularly for the Disrupt Worship Project, and facilitates workshops on gender and sexuality and the Church in both secular conferences and Christian spaces. Elle has interests in queer and feminist Biblical interpretation and liberation and body theology. Elle loves spending time with the people she loves and on weekends, Elle tours the city of Chicago in search of the best brunch.

Elle’s Twitter and Instagram handles are @HowNowBrownDowd and her public Facebook page is