morning light presses against the window pane and
Pastor Anna Gordy (she/ her/ hers) is a resident of San Antonio who grew up in the Deep South and who moved regularly across the continental United States as an adult. She is grateful after a lifetime of searching to finally be able to call Texas “home”. Mother, grandmother(!), artist, spouse, lover, pastor, and friend are her callings, and she believes the call we share is to be neighbor to all the world.
Second Sunday in Lent: A Reflection by Sergio Rodriguez
Creator, Keep us
From Familias torn up
Deja y Vete.
The words of promise from God to Abram lessen not the sting of having to leave home for a new home. This movement from Familia to better pastures is triune for person@s who make this journey during this Lenten season; away from tierra(country), hogar (home) y Dioscito. The pain is a triune mystery; pass the loaves around, tears abound. Creator, May the Forces that Defy you and tear apart our familias be kept away from us.
O Slumbering Shade,
Keep our Swiping left or right
And so, where does help come for those on this three-fold journey? It is a camino towards encountering life and love in the digital age. Our Shade slumbers, our profiles move left and right, and we are kept not in everlasting serenity but in an uneasy tension; in love and community. Our identity and place in our communities dubiously go in and out of sync; out going out and coming in predicated on human caprice and prejudice. Wake up, slumbering Shade, and rise up for rest and life stand ever so on the ever-moving ground of evil. Amen.
Heaven and Earth keep
Record of so-called progress
Humans born in bits.
The cosmos itself stands as a witness against the very working of principalities and powers in nulling our common life and existence as we race towards the point of no return. No longer shall our communities vacillate between the law and gospel, promise and wrath but between singularity and humanity. Our bodies, our Queer progeny, the very promise of land, all these realities continue to be fragmented by the principalities and powers with the promise of a new age of conformity. Not with a particular land, creed, identity and familia but in the white-washed promise that we shall call into existence the silicone things that do not exist. God of our ancestors, may your creation reveal to us the principalities and powers that struggle against our life in the cosmos that you may give life to we who are dead in the winding turns of this camino.
Hills and Paris Burn,
Love blows, fluids gush out,
…“From or where it goes”
The Pain of leaving behind, of love lost, of the struggle against principalities and powers, burns deep in our communal life. Yet amid this pain, the breath of life, the gift of love from above, comes into us. New life trickles down into the very communities that burn in the fires of the forces that defy God and births a radically different way of being. No fragments, no torn Familias, no false promises but the tender whispers of our teacher gushing out into our hearts. Words of love, Word of life.
Sergio Rodriguez (he/him/his) is the Pastoral Intern/Campus Minister-(Rice University) at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston, TX. He is a final year student at Wartburg Theological Seminary. He is originally from McAllen, TX.
I admit it: the first place I looked when I was assigned this text was www.workingpreacher.org, and my eyes fell on Melinda Quivik’s commentary immediately. There it was on the screen: “The pastor’s challenge is to work at making a familiar text strange…”
The point of this Lenten blog, it seems, is to make the familiar text queer.
What unique perspectives can the Proclaim community bring to reading the Bible? Most, if not all, LGBTQIA+ people have had to read the Bible with fear and trembling, then with anger, then curiosity. After a long time in the wilderness, we tend to read the Bible with liberation and courage. We demand things of the texts. We demand things of God. “Explain yourself!” “Where are you?” “What might you be doing in me and through me?”
Well, turns out Jesus was likely asking the same things of God as Jesus entered the wilderness, the passage we find in Matthew 4:1-11. We read this story at the beginning of every Lent. “O church,” the trembling pastor proclaims, “we enter the wilderness of Lent, these 40 days of denial and wandering.”
Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
The tried and true path preacher’s take on this text is the assurance we will be tempted, just as Jesus was tempted. Jesus forsook Satan (try to use the word “forsook”. It just doesn’t get enough airtime these days) Jesus forsook Satan and so should you. There’s rarely an acknowledgement that Jesus is God and can do things we cannot. So try really hard, dear listeners, like Jesus did. White knuckle it.
That’s a terrible way to introduce Lent.
Oh, we can muse about the temptations Jesus faces, the temptations to eat, the temptations of power. The temptations of risky behavior which God will save us from. We might describe different ways Satan tempts us today: too much social media. Obsessions with fitness or fashion or investment accounts. Political infighting. Racism, sexism, homophobia. Look how relevant this sermon is!
But what’s the queer perspective?
I won’t speak for all queers, but I’ll speak for myself. This Lent, as I approach this passage, I think about the wilderness.
To be LGBTQIA+ is to have spent time in the wilderness. There were lonely days. Days when we were sure no one understood us. Days when we didn’t understand ourselves.
For some of us, this led to suicidal thoughts. This led to violent behaviors, physical, self-harming, emotional and social violence. We lashed out to ourselves and others. We could not imagine a path out of this wilderness, so we wandered, getting into trouble. Getting lost.
In my queer reading of this story, I imagine the isolation. Jesus knew He was baptized. He knew He was God’s Son. Those experiences, described one verse earlier in Matthew, were real. Many of us were fortunate enough to know God claimed us and loves us, but we still cannot find our way among people. We cannot find a place to belong in society.
The wilderness changes us, y’all.
That loneliness may be healed, but it has changed the shape of our hearts forever. We know hunger in deep, embedded ways. We have longed to find a settled home, in our families, in our churches, in our relationships, either platonic and romantic.
Jesus spent 40 days not being seen. Not being heard. I suspect He would remember that forever.
It made Him compassionate to others He found in His ministry. He recognized the look of a lost soul because that lost soul connected to something deep inside, something that hadn’t been nurtured until the wilderness. Jesus knew how to speak to isolation, to self-doubt, to self-hatred, because He had lived into each of those things in the wilderness.
As Lutherans, we believe in the theology of the cross. We acknowledge God is found in the suffering. We acknowledge death is real and must take place for resurrection.
The Lenten journey leads to the cross, but it starts in the wilderness. It starts in a place of deep longing and confusion. It starts with that lonely place LGBTQIA+ people know.
For some of us, we had to wander in the wilderness for many years. For some of us, we have had to wander for only a brief period of time. The wilderness changes us, y’all. The wilderness prepares us to be uniquely qualified for compassion. It taught us things. Jesus received gifts for ministry in the wilderness, and so have we.
In the Matthew telling, Jesus comes out of the wilderness and finds out John has been arrested. His hometown is not safe. Jesus moves to a new place, makes new friends. Finds disciples. Starts his work. By the end of chapter 4, Jesus is healing, teaching, doing all the things God called Him to do. He finds His way. This, too, is the LGBTQIA+ story. There is a wilderness. There is also a community. There is power and strength and calling. Both are true.
Bless now, O God the journey that all your people make
The path through noise and silence, the way of give and take.
I love this hymn by Sylvia Dunstan because it acknowledges the truth. All of us go through the wilderness. I suggest this LGBTQIA+ community is ready to talk honestly about that wilderness, so that we might care for all people, all genders, all sexualities, about the times we have not been seen or heard.
And then the last verse of this hymn:
Divine eternal lover, you meet us on the road
We wait for lands of praise where milk and honey flow.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There is a long road of Lent to walk. There is a land of praise ahead. But first, we must let the wilderness change us.
Brenda Bos (she/her/hers) is the Assistant to the Bishop in Southwest California Synod, working with the first openly gay bishop, R. Guy Erwin, also a member of Proclaim. Brenda lives with her wife Janis and their son, Joshua. She has not yet given up her over-ambitious list of Lenten disciplines.
by Amanda Gerken-Nelson
That’s the term many of us in the queer community serving the church have called our partners, lovers, spouses, or significant others for the past ten years. Somewhat jokingly, yet somewhat seriously, this term embodied both our deepest love and our oppression.
It stands for “Publicly Accountable Life-Long Monogamous” and it’s the language used in the 2010 revised version of the ELCA policy Vision and Expectations – in place of partner, lover, spouse, or significant other for those who are in same-gender relationships.
While seemingly descriptive, the term is explicitly conscriptive.
When the path to ordination for LGBTQIA+ individuals was opened in 2009, the invitation to serve was like that of so many churches and institutions: “you are welcome here as long as you look like us, act like us, and do not disturb our ways of being in this world.”
When I was serving as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in East Hartford, CT, I had the opportunity on a few occasions to receive new members. Recalling the wisdom of my Old Testament Professor, the Rev. Dr. Steed Davidson, who once told me “even when we welcome others into community, there is power: ‘I have the power to welcome YOU into OUR community,” I would always augment the rite of reception ever so slightly to say: “we look forward to how you will change us and help us grow evermore fully into the beautiful kin-dom of God.”
In 2019, I, on behalf of ELM, was able to bring both of these perspectives into the process to review and revise Vision and Expectations.
I was able to lift up and share the voices, perspectives, and experiences of queer people and how this document has inhibited and excluded our gifts; and, I was able to share how our gifts have the potential to change the ELCA and help us to live ever more fully into the beautiful kin-dom of God.
I have heard our church leaders say that Vision and Expectations is more than just about human sexuality, and yet it has been the crux of its application. Minimizing V&E’s focus on human sexuality minimizes and erases the oppression queer people have experienced in the world and in the church which hyper focuses on who we have sex with and/or with whom we have deep, meaningful relationships.
Certainly, there is more to V&E and the church than human sexuality, just as there is more to my relationship with my wife than our sexual intimacy.
Yet, perhaps, healing our relationship with human sexuality is exactly where we need to start this process of reconciliation so as to liberate us from the ways we have tried to confine and construct such relationships rather than celebrate the joy and awe of God’s beloved creation.
Human sexuality needs a Good Friday – a time to die to the systems of oppression that have defined with whom and how we are to be in relationship and who has power – so that we can experience the delight and release of its Easter morning.
Thank you to those who gave of their talents and treasurers in 2019 to make ELM’s advocacy and activism in this process possible. The journey continues and I look forward to seeking it out with you in 2020.
Amanda Gerken-Nelson (she/her/hers) serves as executive director of ELM and is a proud member of Proclaim and a rostered minister in the ELCA. Amanda would like to thank Dr. Davidson for ruining Christmas and for giving her faith the breadth and depth she needed to sustain her in ministry.
A 2019 Reflection by Lewis Eggleston
In this season of hearts, chocolates and likes, it’s my great pleasure to reflect on the most liked ELM Communications of 2019! Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries received an extraordinary amount of love, likes, and shares in 2019 and, if you’re like me, you might be curious what resonated with our community.
Over the past year our social media presence has grown by over 60%! More folks read our Pride devotionals, our Advent Poems, our weekly blogs, than ever before. We have ministry leaders reading, educating, and praying with our weekly materials in their own contexts around the world. They are praising the heartfelt impact the perspectives of LGBTQIA+ ministry leaders have made on their community. ELM and the Proclaim community continue to enrich & transform not only social media platforms but hearts and minds as well.
What could the Good News look like on Social Media? Let’s take a look:
This image is the most shared and far-reaching post from 2019 (photo left, image descriptions below). Thanks to the InFaith Foundation, ELM had a huge presence at the Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, which made it possible for ELM to stand in real-time solidarity on the floor of the assembly and watch in awe at the overwhelming support shown from the assembly when they declared the ELCA a “Sanctuary Body”. This post was shared nearly 1,000 times and reached over 97,000+ people! To me, this affirms that we remain a bold tradition and when we act boldly, rooted in the Gospel, it both resonates and commissions people to the inclusive church body.
Lastly, the post to receive the MOST Love & Likes (850+) in 2019 happened when the Southeastern Synod elected an openly gay & married Bishop. Proving that when congregations make the bold & Spirit-driven move to call LGBTQIA+ pastors they grow to LOVE these called ministry leaders and perhaps one-day vote them into office as Bishop.
Thank you, ELM family for all the Likes and especially the ♥. Blessings!
(Photo Descriptions: First: Image of Sky and Cross with text: The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) declares itself a sanctuary body. Second: Photo of Bishop Strickland with the words: Congrats Bishop-elect Strickland from your family at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.)
Lewis Eggleston (He/Him/His) is the Associate Director of Communications and Development for ELM. He currently lives in Germany with his Air Force spouse and their dog-child Carla. Ordination into the Ministry of Word and Service is his goal for 2020!
By Olivia LaFlamme (ELM Program Director)
Time, as we know it, is a construction. It is not naturally occurring. It is a tool, an instrument, that we use to measure our days and lives.
“I am 40 years old”
“I’m finally going on that trip to Copenhagen this year.”
“I was in labor for 22 hrs!”
Time is a factor in all of those statements. Their meaning is made known by the relationship to a measurement of time-gone-by but I notice something else in there. Change!
Time is also a way to mark a change, a movement from one thing to the next. As the great speculative fiction writer Octavia Butler said, “the only lasting truth is change”. What if we calculated our lives in change? What if the equation included discovery, expansion, pruning, and stillness? That’s an exciting prospect for me and when I’m bogged down by a scarcity mentality, I remember that I have a choice. I can frame my life differently by posing a simple intervention, “but what has changed?”
Much has changed since February of 2019 for ELM. There are just three that I would like to bring forward.
1) Proclaim membership continues to stretch out across the continent; growing up and out!
2) The Gathering: The church (un)bound boasted the largest attendance ever.
3) The Queer Leadership Development Series made a grand entrance as the new kid to the program scene.
*accepts round of applause*
Time changes us; that’s a fact. So does heartbreak, accepting a new job, moving into a new home, _________ (you fill in the blank). What changed you in 2019?
I want finish out the Octavia Butler quote because it’s just so good. Consider it my offering to you in the year of 2020.
“All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
-Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (1993)
Olivia LaFlamme (they/them/theirs) is a Black gender non-conforming queer feminist residing in Durham, NC. They are the Program Director at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. These days home, family, and doing puzzles are at the center for them. A goal for 2020 is learning how to sew!
by Amalia Vagts
I noticed something about my route while walking to my pastoral internship site at Luther College the other day. It’s a little over a mile from my home and the last part crosses the campus. In the winter, I’m usually ready to get out of the cold, and the large imposing Center for Faith and Life looks steps away by the time I’m ready to be inside. But just at that point, the sidewalk takes a sharp turn and leads me in the opposite direction of my intended destination. Finding meaning in this route is unavoidable as I reflect on how the last and next 30 years of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ journey intersects with my own winding path to ministry.
When the first extraordinary ordinations happened in 1990, I was in high school and in love with the Lutheran church. I was completely unaware of the dramatic events happening in San Francisco that year, although I was increasingly aware of my identity as bisexual. By the time I did hear about one of these events (Rev. Anita Hill’s in 2001), the path was leading me well away from the Lutheran church before winding back towards it through the LGBTQ+ liberation movement. In the fall of 2006, a series of life events led me to follow a call to serve with what is now called Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. The ordination stories became the heartbeat of my call – the candidates, congregations, and the expansive donor community who saw the church for what it would become.
Beginning in the spring of 2016, my growing call to ministry of Word and Sacrament became increasingly clear. I wanted to offer what I had received. I left my job and enrolled full-time at Wartburg Theological Seminary. I don’t think I ever expected the path would make a direct turn towards clarity at that point, but I may have underestimated the new questions and challenges that would emerge for me as I seek to become one of the queer-identifying ministry leaders I supported for so many years. I now understand the necessity and power of ELM’s work in deeply personal ways. “We can’t do this work without you,” was something I often and earnestly said as ELM’s executive director. I can’t even imagine this call without Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is my truth now.
What remains most central for me in the work that began over thirty years ago in congregations and communities is best summarized in words that Rev. Phyllis Zillhart wrote in a very early Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries’ newsletter, quoting the work of Barbara Smith. Phyllis wrote, “we are emboldened by the words of black, feminist writer Barbara Smith who says to her lesbian sisters and gay brothers, “You must ask yourselves in everything you do, in all your actions for freedom and justice. Is it legitimacy you are working for, or is it liberation? If it is legitimacy, what will you end up with by trying so hard to be accepted and good, rather than just and free?”* These words continue to challenge me to imagine and work to create communities that reflect and seek liberation, not legitimacy.
The movement for LGBTQIA+ liberation that began over thirty years ago with the extraordinary ordinations and countless acts of courage and proclamation since unfolds with surprising turns. I continue to learn from the early pioneers and the current prophets of this movement. Those of us who were once on the outside could be easily tempted to settle for being “let” into the ELCA. But God is calling us to do more than try to be “accepted and good.” The church – the living Body – longs to be just and free – liberated. I’m going down that path.
Amalia Vagts (she/her/hers) writes, plans, dreams, naps, studies, dances and bases out of her home in Decorah, Iowa, which she shares with her partner David Lester, stepson Finn, and adorable miniature dachshund, Le Nez. She is a third year Master of Divinity student at Wartburg Theological Seminary. located in Dubuque, Iowa. Amalia is serving as Vicar this year at Luther College, Bethany Lutheran (Elkader, IA) and Emanuel Lutheran (Strawberry Point). She’s been listening to a LOT of podcasts during her commute. Amalia is the proud owner of several URLs she has big dreams for, including napdoula.com and stjunia.org. Amalia served as Executive Director of ELM from 2006 – 2017. Photo of Amalia and Le Nez by Charlie Langton. Amalia is joyfully a member of Proclaim!
By Rev. Steve Harms
These are highlights from the joyous liturgy ordaining Ruth, Phyllis and Jeff many years ago. Context: The ELCA was two years old; 10,000 men had died in San Francisco from AIDS in the previous decade; and SF Lutheran Clergy claimed our theological heritage to follow the inspiration and authority of the Holy Spirit to call and ordain God’s candidates. St. Paulus hosted us, nearly 1,000 people attended. I worked with a Liturgy Team to design the ordination.
30 Drummers from the Sons of Orpheus (founder Bruce Silverman) lined the entrance steps. As people arrived they passed through this ‘Loving Gauntlet’ charged with a primal energy that nothing will be the same once you enter here. The drummers led the Processional with approximately 80 clergy participating, 65 of them Lutherans.
A Litany of Defrocked Clergy preceded the Processional naming 30 clergy defrocked or prevented from serving the church for being gay. A powerful moment of grieving
We had asked Bishop Krister Stendahl to preach because of his international reputation as a forward thinking theological scholar. Unfortunately, his schedule did not permit. Therefore Jeff and I asked that he send a Reflection about the Meaning of this Ordination and that served as our New Testament Epistle. This epistle became the document that outraged the 65 bishops of the ELCA and it brought contention for years. They publicly demanded by what authority do you speak for our church – since Stendahl was a Swedish Bishop who had taught at Harvard.
A Gospel Processional proceeded down the center aisle of this Gothic Church where Rev. Jack Schiemann proclaimed the Gospel. As he began, the fog of San Francisco broke for a moment and the sun shone brilliantly through the stain glass windows on Jack, crucifer and acolytes. This classic sunlit illumination of the Gospel was happily savored by many. Drummers enthusiastically took the procession back to their places as I danced Rev. Carter Heyward to the pulpit. Having climbed the steps she arrived in the elevated pulpit and the drummers dramatically stopped. She let out a gasped shriek and said, “I’ve never begun preaching like this before!‘
The Ordination Rite began with Jim Lawson dancing a Fire Dance. Grasping flames from the Fire Stick he was carrying he cast flames upon each of the candidates sitting in the front row. We continued with the traditional Ordination Rite lead by Rev. John Frykman of First United and Rev. Jim DeLange of St. Francis whose congregations were both expelled from the ELCA for issuing their calls to ministry. Many years later they were reinstated.
The culminating Greeting of Peace was a moment of pure ecstasy with the whole congregation blessing and dancing to the drumming. A richness of Spirit that could never be contained.
The Eucharist Prayer included this memorable line, “You have made us giddy with the freedom of laughter and joy”. Ruth, Phyllis and Jeff shared the Benediction.
For our Recession the Thurifer (incense bearer) had tied long rainbow ribbons to the thurible. He was a member of Grace Cathedral (Episcopal high church) who was shocked and delighted by the joy and depth of the liturgy. I gave him the nod to begin the Recession and as he passed by me he said, ” This occasion warrants Queen Anne’s”. Swinging the thurible in circles over his head with rainbow ribbons flying in all directions he led everyone down the center aisle.
And with immense joy the whole congregation came out.
Rev. Steve Harms (he/him/his) Senior Pastor at Peace Lutheran in Danville, CA. Former President of the Interfaith Council. Founder of Ruah Drama Ministry.