What does a Queer Lutheran Family look like? by Rev. Gretchen Rode

When my wife, Jill, and I got married 9 years ago this month, we had a reading from the book of Ruth. Drawn to the book by the two strong women who made promises to one another despite their different backgrounds and hard circumstances, we loved the vows that Ruth made to Naomi: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). United by our love for one another and our commitment to following our callings, we hoped this reading would set us up for a future full of love together. We sealed our promises to one another with a kiss.
9 years later, at the beginning of this month, we had what we lovingly called “baptismpalooza” for our four adopted children. We remembered the story of Abraham, longing for a family, being told by God to look to the stars and remember the promise of a family as vast and wide and varied as the stars. On a day of pouring rain, we met under a leaking overhang at our
favorite park and reminded Niya, Aysha, William, and Willie that God loves them always and forever, sealing this promise with water and prayer.
Adopting four children during the pandemic hasn’t been easy. Coordinating and leading two churches as a clergy couple hasn’t been easy. Being a queer person and a woman in the United States these days has not been easy.
And yet, when we doubt we can make it, when it seems like there is no hope, it is then that the promises of care from our friends, families, and congregations have come through. Our queer, beautiful, dynamic family has been embraced and supported in so many ways: by the food dropped off at our doorstep, by the crowd at the wet baptism, by the hopes and prayers of so many. At our kiddos’ baptism, we read words written for us by the Reverend Sarah Rouse Clark: “Families are made in so many ways; by birth, by adoption, by choice, by marriage, by
circumstance, by tragedy, by love, formally, and informally. The Bible is full of different kinds of families and over and over again we see that God dwells within them all” (SAPLC Adoption Blessing).
Our queer Lutheran family leans on promises. The promises that Jill and I made to each other. The promises we made to the judge when we adopted our children. The promises that our communities made to us to support us always. The promises that God made to each of us in our baptism: You are loved. You are beautiful. You are mine.
May the promises of God uphold you in your queer Lutheran family today and always.

Article ImageGretchen Rode (she/her) is the “One and Only Pastor” at House of Hope Lutheran Church in the Twin Cities, MN. She and her wife, Jill Rode (pastor at St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church) live with their four children and new pup in a house full of laughter, books, board games, maps, and far too many chicken nuggets for their liking.

Deacon Lewis Eggleston

Hands outstretched in prayer, friends, family members, members of the Proclaim community, ELM board members, and four (yep, count ‘em-Four!) bishops gathered, in-person and virtually, around ELM’s Associate Director of Generosity and Communications, Lewis Eggleston, last night to ordain him as a deacon in the ELCA and to officially install him in his call to ELM. It was the culmination of many years spent in the candidacy process, and a true joy to behold. As an ELM board member, watching Lewis’ journey through candidacy these last several years has been a testimony to how far we’ve come and how far we have left to go. Being a queer person in candidacy is not any easy feat, even now, and being a queer person called to a ministry of Word and Service, rather than Word and Sacrament doesn’t make it any easier, especially when that call lies outside of a congregation. Even just as an observer, it has been difficult to watch the long and sometimes arduous journey that led to this day. 
And yet. It was a day full of rejoicing, not just because I’m excited for my treasured colleague, but also because it was the first time I’d seen a service held on a seminary campus that was so delightfully queer. From the music to the banners, the paraments to the preaching that invoked drag culture, the famous rainbow suspenders, to the fact that two of the four bishops participating were themselves out queer Christians, last night’s service was a reminder of the fact that, in the 32 years since the forming of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (ELM’s predecessor body) and the first ordinations of out gay and lesbian pastors, so much extraordinary work has been done. Extraordinary in the sense of occurring extra-ordinem and in the sense of being bigger, better, and more daring than what is ordinary. 
Lewis-friend, colleague, and child of God, you have been carried to this place on the shoulders of giants-both those who found ways to serve in this denomination we hold dear and those who could not. They hold you still. And so do we-the colleagues, constituents, friends, and family who surrounded you last night and surround you in prayer today. When you call, we will answer. We will rejoice with you, mourn with you, hold you accountable, and journey with you as you continue to make the church a more hospitable place for LGBTQIA+ rostered leaders. Wherever this work and your servant’s heart call you, you will never go alone.

(Pictured: Proclaim members at the ordination)
Jessica Davis (they/she) is an ELM board member and a church consultant specializing in Christian Education and pastoral care.

Dear Churchwide: By Drew Stever

Dear Ecclesia,
Many of you know me. Many of you do not. I am Drew: pastor, step-parent, trans elder, son, partner of Hazel.
Yes. That Hazel. Pastor Hazel Salazar-Davidson.
I have been relatively quiet in the last eight months. This is a result of having to care for Hazel, myself, and our kids while maintaining my own call as a solo pastor.
During this time, we have experienced a palpable silence from the institution.
Institutions are created by specific people with specific worldviews, for specific people with specific worldviews. They are not made for marginalized folks, so they don’t know how to care for us. So they become silent.
This is what institutions do. They prioritize:
  • the institution over the people.
  • maintaining a perfect image over suffering.
  • public relations and political conversations over vulnerable and uncomfortable exchanges.
  • a facade over what is authentic.
  • pushing out any who hold up a mirror in one hand, and the gospel in the other.
“Is it even that bad? Why are we still talking about this?”
I have had to witness and learn more about how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up in a person as a result of religious trauma than I ever thought I would. And that person isn’t a congregant. They’re my partner. My love. There are no support groups for those caring for those experiencing spiritual trauma.
We have had to tend to the spiritual wounds of our kids, too. One of them, who was supposed to be a voter, chose not to attend Churchwide Assembly because they felt unsafe. She has experienced firsthand what it’s like to be a person from a marginalized group in this institution and as a young adult who grew up in the ELCA, has now taken steps to create distance from the institution during a season when the ELCA declares we are striving to bring in new young diverse leaders.
In the last eight months, we have not received one message of care from the presiding bishop, even after Hazel wrote to the bishops, reported to the listening team, published vulnerable accounts of her experience, and received a majority vote to speak at Sierra Pacific’s synod assembly.
Instead, we have received chaotic, dysfunctional attempts at care by the synod that have only perpetuated harm. As of the date of Churchwide Assembly, Hazel still has not received disability benefits, nor an income since December 2021.
We have been left to fend for ourselves in a system that was not created for us.
We have been left feeling like we are not wanted here, that eventually we will just leave so the institution can continue its trajectory of sweeping harm under the rug.
The thing is, we want to be here. We want to respond to God’s call to serve in this church.
However, it has gotten to the point where our safety is our utmost priority and wherever we find ourselves not experiencing safety, we look for the nearest exit.
Boz Tchivijivan, an attorney advocate for abuse survivors on the Hillsong:  A Mega Church Exposed documentary shared what he had consistently heard from those harmed by faith communities was that “‘the abuse that was perpetrated…by the perpetrator was traumatic and it is going to take me a lifetime to process it and heal from it. But what was worse than that was the response from the very community that I thought was going to be my greatest advocate, but who turned their back on me. That I don’t know if I’ll ever heal from.’” Tchivijivan found that the failed response of the faith community has a graver impact on the victim than the actual abuse itself.
There have been many in our denomination that are currently experiencing the same kind of hurt and abandonment. Those of us from the LGBTQIA+ community understand this kind of hurt on a very personal level.
This year’s assembly theme is Embody the Word. I invite us all to consider this word: Mark 21:12-13. It reads:
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’  but you are making it a den of robbers.”
Far too long this institution has ignored those on the margins. We have been distracted by the shiny things on the table. It is time we overturn tables and drive out those who are peddling goods that lead us away from God – goods such as legalistic resolutions, antiquated protocol, or “stay in our lane” mindsets.
Dear Ecclesia.
Dear Presiding Bishop Eaton.
Who are we called to be?
Are we called to witness suffering, but then ignore it until it goes away? Are we called to favor our own comfort? Are we called to check with our lawyers first before extending care?
Or, are we called to set down our egos, set aside what distracts us from one another, to witness suffering and move toward it, regardless of how we feel?
I pray this assembly moves toward the latter.

ELM encourages you to make a prayerfully considered gift for Hazel’s continued (unpaid) ministry within our church- you can Venmo her at @Hazel-Davidson. Thank you. 

Drew Stever (they/he) serves as Lead Pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Hollywood, CA. During this season, he helped co-found Koinonia Mutual Aid with Hazel and many other faith leaders, which is a network of care by BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ faith leaders, for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ faith leaders. Drew lives in Ventura County, CA with Hazel, the kids, their dog, fish, bird feeder and ever-growing abundance of succulents.