Dear Churchwide: by Melissa May

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Dear Churchwide, 
The first time I was ever aware that the ELCA was a risk-taking denomination was at the Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee in 2003, where I was a young adult guest. On the street outside the convention center, a small group of protesters held up signs chastising our denomination for considering openness to queer leaders in relationships.

Controversy has been no stranger to our body. But I’ve always been glad that the ELCA is willing to take on challenging questions of faith and step boldly forward when the Spirit leads us.

However, realizing that you are in a persecuted group can slap you into the stark reality of never being far from churchgoing people who distrust your community.

The universal pressures of the last few years are compounded upon us who are ministers of vulnerable identities. If you’re a person of color, a woman, queer, and/or experiencing disability, you’re too frequently hammered with blame when congregants feel discomfort and fear. You’re hounded by more intense scrutiny and gossip. Frighteningly, many ministers from vulnerable demographics are chased away from places of ministry through parishioners’ passive-aggressive onslaughts, abetted by complacent status-quo-seekers.  Of course, sometimes queer, BIPOC, disabled, and female ministers are attacked outright. It can happen to anybody, but it happens to us so much more frequently.

I speak to no specific scandal here, but to many instances of beloved colleagues struggling desperately to hang on to a ministry call, find a new call in a non-toxic environment after being deeply wounded, or simply to find a call at all.

But “blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus declares to the crowds in Matthew 5. 

If we are who we say we are as the Body of Christ, and one of our goals is to lift one another up in our various beautiful identities–including but not limited to queerness–then we must continue to be courageous in the face of adversity and repeat: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

We are doing a God-led thing when we treasure and proclaim the sanctity of queer, black and brown, disabled, and women’s lives, and the lives of all who are downtrodden. We are choosing a Christ-like way when we describe the imago dei identity of all, especially folks who are persecuted. So my prayer for us all, Churchwide, from the bottom to the top, is that we keep being courageous in these ways, though people may leave our congregations. I pray they will stay long enough to have honest, thoughtful, and compassionate conversation before they depart, if they must.

Be brave, ELCA! God loves you deeply, and Christ is with you!

The Rev. Melissa May (she/her) is a regular supply pastor through the Virginia Synod, and teaches English as a Second Language at Eastern Mennonite University. She recently had the privilege of co-leading the SAWC Exploration known as the Virginia Eastern Shore Exploration. Some of her greatest joys are playing escape-room games with family, adventuring in Dungeons and Dragons, and engaging in creative writing.

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