By JJ Godwin
There was a video that got me started on my path in the ELCA as a ministry leader. The video indicated that ELCA churches, especially all across rural America, needed pastors because many were retiring in the next 5 – 10 years. While this is true there is another video which calls students into ministry claiming that there isn’t only one way to be a church leader. I often hear in church spaces that we only have open calls for pastors and not deacons; that it is impossible for queer folx to find calls, and I must relocate to find any call in this church. I am starting to realize that barriers are not the future of this church.
As someone who is called to the intersections of pastoral care and mental health; I live out loud as a queer individual and I am vulnerable about my own lived mental health experiences as a peer support specialist. I listen deeply and notice the current church expects individuals like me to fold myself into Pastor replacements. I don’t want to be a replacement, rather I want to be seen and heard for the unique gifts I bring to the church. I want to hear these stories of the awe and wonder of all of God’s creation. I notice how the future of this church is in becoming a culture of celebration of the diversity that is the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12-27)
I have realized that in our social media culture, our Covid-induced move to video worship in pajamas, and our global societal awakening of our own mental health challenges during isolation; mental health chaplaincy happens everywhere. Through these technologically supported interactions, ministry is able to reach more of the body of Christ than ever before. The future of this church recognizes the equity that comes with the use of technology and continues to advocate for equitable access to technology for all, including access to virtual mental health and pastoral care. (Psa. 33:5)
The church is more than it’s buildings, more than the congregational reports by church boards and call committees for Swiss army knife pastors. The church is partnerships and sharing of gifts and resources for the glory of God, in the name of Christ, Jesus. This approach might look like our church buildings housing non-profits, so they can grow and meet needs in the community, while obtaining grant funds to support these projects. This could look like diaconal ministers receiving church calls to support the service projects of the church, affording the solo pastor time for self-care. Also, virtual ministries which engage passion projects for the church, developing conversations about social justice issues. (Acts 6:1-7) The future of this church is found in inclusion, moved by the Holy Spirit to create safe spaces and places, physically and virtually, which empower and inspire the full expression of all of God’s creation to show up and be loved.
JJ Godwin (they/them) is a genderqueer certified peer supporter living in Texas with their spouse, Michelle; their dog, Radar, and cat, Summit. JJ is in their final year at Luther Seminary studying Divinity and seeking ordination in the Word and Service roster of the ELCA. JJ is in candidacy with the Deaconess Community and a member of Proclaim. JJ is called to mental health chaplaincy and can be found in peer support group ministry on HeyPeers.com and PeerHopes.com. JJ practices self-care sabbath by taking their blue Nissan Frontier 4×4, named Buckbeak, out for hiking and bike riding in nearby state parks, with spouse and dog.