ELM Blog: Albie Nicol

Pictured above are Albie Nicol and their Queer Lutheran family!

My Small, Gay, Lutheran Family: A Poem and Reflection

A Poem by Albie Nicol

Jacqui’s Eggplant Curry
As I rush between holy
Works, holy spaces, and
Spiritual works and burnout.

Jones’ patience as our hands 
Fumble across a table
Placing playing cards on top
Of each other as I learn Blitz.


Naomi’s home-cooked meals
With the musings of Tripp Fuller
And John Cobb playing in the
Background as she prepares
Nourishment for our theological night.
 

Grace upon grace,
Hand upon hand, 
A family created
Without necessity of man

 

Rainbow ribbons tied to bells and sticks
Queer clergy and allies all in a mix
Celebrating the new deacon in stride
Proclaim and the Spirit calling us into abide

 

Sunshine on asphalt and glitter everywhere
17,000 marching in Columbus Pride
So many of us Lutherans unwilling to hide
Croptops and collars equipped, worn, adorned with care

 

Grace upon grace,
Hand upon hand,
A family created
Without necessity of man

 

My heart is held by our Genderful Creator
In their outstretched arms, I feel queer love
Exploding into the communities I exist within
Calling each of us together, fitting like a glove.

 

As a young queer and trans person called to ministry, I was blessed with a wonderfully supportive family of origin who are some of my biggest cheerleaders. So when I was called to reflect on what a queer Lutheran family looked like, I had to look to my more recent experiences with seminary, and how our community built upon love and mutual aid has created a family straight out of God’s kin-dom. Truly I tell you, the seminary experience full of other queer and trans folks in my cohort and program has created additional room in my heart and mind of what it means to be a family, and how God’s intent and will is for us all to find family where we are in life. I am ever-thankful for the family I was given by God: the parts I grew up with, and the parts I grew into here at seminary.
 



Albie Nicol (he/they) is a queer and trans seminarian at Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University in Columbus Ohio. He is an entranced candidate for ordination in the ELCA and comes from the Northeastern Iowa Synod. He is the Proclaim Seminary Representative for Trinity, as well as a student leader. In his free time, Albie can be found in a hammock, at home crafting with his cats, or finding fun adventures to embark on with his seminary family.
 

A Tribute to Rev. James DeLange 

by Phyllis Zillhart, Ruth Frost, and Jeff Johnson

Pictured above are the 1990 San Francisco Pride Parade Grand Marshalls Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart, and Jeff Johnson with supportive friend & ally Jim DeLange at their side. 

A Tribute to Rev. James DeLange

Together with our colleague Jeff Johnson, we celebrate the life of James DeLange and the impact he left on so many lives, including our own. 

 
Over 30 years ago, The Rev. Jim DeLange envisioned a future beyond the ravages he witnessed in his small Lutheran parish in San Francisco. HIV/AIDS was taking the lives of gay men, sometimes within months. But hate-filled religious rhetoric, internalized shame-based messages, and isolation were even more devastating. Jim knew that credible ministry cannot be based in pity but only in respectful partnership. So he reached out, first to gay men and lesbians but soon to the wider community, and was instrumental in forming the connections and structures that would undergird a movement for full inclusion in the Lutheran church. He trusted that the extra-ordinary ordinations of 1990, in their creative boldness, were just the beginning as God’s call to life-giving ministry is as expansive as the needs within us and around us.
 
When asked about Rev. Jim DeLange’s influence, Rev. Jeff R. Johnson, offered these thoughts, “It is difficult to overstate the impact Jim had on the ELCA and on the lives of so many of us who suffered under and labored against the ELCA’s decades-long dehumanizing policies of discrimination against queer people. While most Lutheran leaders actively went along with or enforced these oppressive policies, Jim openly obstructed them. He organized vigorously against church bureaucrats who enforced these unjust policies. He was a keen strategist in our movement of confessional resistance. He understood that these rules destroyed faith, undermined love, derailed careers, and ruined lives.”
 
Phyllis and Ruth served alongside Pastor DeLange at St. Francis Lutheran Church for ten years. We witnessed his perseverance in the struggle and his good humor in the moment. Jim was in the waiting room when our daughter was born in 1993 and we sat in the pews when he and his beloved Diane exchanged marriage vows. Jim was not afraid of controversy but he also had a pastor’s heart. For those sick and dying men without supportive family, the congregation became their sanctuary and their surrogate family. Through Jim’s leadership, St. Francis established an informal partnership with a childcare center in the neighborhood. This resulted in dynamic relationships formed between children and elders. The meaning of family took many forms and was limitless. Old and young together, we all flourished.  Even after his retirement, Jim stayed active in the San Francisco Inter-faith Council, still looking for ways to expand the circle.

Thank you, Jim, for being there for so many of us. Please say hello to Diane from all of us and savor the gracious hospitality of your Creator’s welcoming embrace.

Rest in peace, dear friend.
 
A Tribute to Rev. James DeLange by
Phyllis Zillhart, Ruth Frost, and Jeff Johnson

ELM Churchwide Assembly & Bound Conscience Statement

If there is anything that could be said to be a catchphrase of 2022’s Churchwide Assembly, it would probably be “One million new, young, and diverse.” There is so much that went on during this year’s assembly that will reverberate throughout the church for years to come, but the implementation of the Future Church design, especially the portion of it most concerned with recruiting new members, seemed to occupy many discussions. 
 
As much as we must celebrate the accomplishments that came from Churchwide Assembly, there are also many things we can and should improve on not just as a church, but as the Church. Accessibility continues to be an unaddressed need at the event. From translation needs, lack of planning and accommodation for people of a range of disabilities, and getting this accomplished while being culturally competent. There were several times when people witnessed anti-black, anti-indigenous, anti-latine, and anti-trans sentiments or expressions both from the assembly and those leading.
 
It is ELM’s belief that this desire to recruit new members, should it have any hope of success, must be able to first define who it is seeking to recruit and what the ELCA has to offer them. Given our current demographics, “young” could mean anyone under 50.  And it is rare to find an LGBTQIA2S+ person, or a BIPOC person, or a disabled person in the ELCA who hasn’t yet been told patronizingly how special their “new voice” was to a community or event, or who hasn’t been saddled with tons of unpaid labor to explain to others what it’s like being “diverse.” Aka “Not a white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied person.” There is our carefully-defined norm, and then there is, well, everybody else- “Diverse folks.” Being seen and desired only as a counterpoint to the norm does not land as complementary to many in the groups to whom the ELCA claims to want to reach out.
 
But should the efforts to beckon to such people actually succeed, what will they find when they enter our doors? Will they be welcomed as true siblings, “all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13)? Will they be treated as ones with an equal inheritance to the kin-dom of God, or will they be tokenized, fetishized, and stripped of power and agency as they have been in the church for so long- e.g. the ELCA Listening Panel and their recommendations. ELM will be listening closely to our constituents (especially to those embodying multiple marginalized identities) and members of other historically marginalized groups as the efforts continue to identify how we can best use our collective power to create a church that is worthy and ready to receive those it claims to welcome.
 
One thing we know as ELM is that if the ELCA’s “One million new, young, and diverse”dream will ever become a reality, the ELCA must address our sins of racism and “bound conscience” (the four pillar definition of “bound conscience” can be found on pages 19-21 in this document).  As Lutherans, we confess our participation in these systems, yet we continually fall short in the ways to overcome these systems of oppression. In 2019, the Churchwide Assembly adopted a formal letter of repentance to commit to examine the church’s complicity in slavery, and to acknowledge “the ELCA’s perpetuation of racism.” At the 2022 Churchwide Assembly, Bishop Eaton formally apologized to the worshiping community of Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina for both individual and institutional racist harm done to the congregation & the Latinè community. To quote the words of the ELCA in the 2019 formal apology to the African Descent community, “An apology is only empty words and promises unless it is accompanied by action, which is grounded in prayer, education, and soul-searching repentance. We trust that God can make all things new.” While in many ways the ELCA continues to perpetuate racist harm, it has begun to confess this harm ploddingly. 
 
Paraphrasing Paul, as Bishop Eaton referenced in her apology and often reflects on, we are all one body with many members…the eye cannot say to the hand I have no need for you. Yet, “bound conscience” does just that- denying the sacredness of queer bodies in the ELCA. Queer people in the ELCA deserve an apology and behavior consistent with repentance for the harm caused by “bound conscience” and policies like “Vision and Expectations.”
 
ELM stands firmly with marginalized communities within the ELCA and we recognize the steps the ELCA has begun to take to live into Paul’s vision of one body. The ELCA has confessed and continues to repent in some ways the harm we caused to parts of the body regarding racism, slowness to affirm women clergy, plus a multitude of other harm. 
 
The ELCA has yet to take steps to affirm the parts of the body that are queer.
 
As Lutherans, we often reflect on Luther’s words when he said, “A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” In ELM’s belief statement we say, “We speak honestly, even when it’s hard.” So when a “new, young and diverse” voting member from the Southeastern synod stood up and proposed to reconsider “bound conscience” to be done before the 2025 Churchwide Assembly, the queer community held its collective breath in a flurry of emotions. Bishop Strickland followed the voting member from his synod with a stirring speech where he spoke to one instance as Bishop when he said the words “the Body of Christ, given for you,” and the congregant answered, “Not from you, Bishop.” 
 
This is both shocking and not an uncommon reality for some rostered leaders in the ELCA. Many queer-rostered ministry leaders experience this harm in the ELCA with little recourse because of “bound conscience.” 
 
A church that yearns for “one million new, young & diverse” voices cannot reach its goal of one million by withholding the diverse voices it yearns for from entering the pews and the pulpits. ELM urges the committee tasked with reconsidering “bound conscience” to include “new, young, and diverse” voices and those that have been most harmed by “bound conscience” to be invited to the table and most importantly that the church will listen and take actions based on the recommendations of these “new, young & diverse” voices.
 
It is time for “bound conscience” to go- it is time for all parts of the body to be affirmed for its beauty, accountable for its faults, and celebrated for its existence. It is time for the ELCA’s pattern of “empty words” be transformed into God’s promise of “empty tombs” that God’s love cannot be bound. It is meant to be in the world with our church sharing this good news and our collective gifts with the world. Amen. 
 
Expect more news regarding this opportunity for our denomination to repent and restore relationship with the LGBTQIA+ community. Your prayers and support will change the world.
 
-Your partner in ministry- the ELM Board & Staff

What does a Queer Lutheran Family look like? by Reed Fowler

My alarm clock sounds like ocean waves. I wake up, get dressed, and take Ari, my dog, out for her morning walk. She jumps back on the bed when we get inside, snuggling up next to my spouse.

When I go to feed our three cats, Greyson races out of one of our housemates’ bedrooms, because he prefers their bed most nights. I greet each cat as I set down their food dish. I ask Ari to sit before giving her breakfast.

I pass another one of our housemates in the kitchen, who is also getting ready to leave for
work. I leave the iced coffee out for them. As a queer-centered cooperative, we go through a lot of iced coffee. We also go through a lot of rapid tests, trying to keep each other as safe as we can. The dishwasher seems to be about full, so I start it before leaving.

Work is a point of transition, currently. Changing paths in the waiting. But I’m feeling aligned and supported and seen. My family is happy I’ll have a more life-giving balance. More space. More joy.

On lunch, I text my partner to continue a conversation and see how their day is going. There’s a few other group chats to respond to: one of our housemates lets us know a friend is coming over later, I ask if it’s rained at the house at all; another chat is talking color palate for mine and my spouse’s upcoming wedding part 2; another is trying to set a night for Dungeons & Dragons.
We’re all still and always learning how best to care for one another.

After work, I come home and water my raised beds, and the in-ground plants I’ve taken responsibility for – two of the three apple trees, a mulberry tree, and the beds we’ve deemed “mint land”. I harvest some rue to dry, and cut some zinnias for the kitchen. Inside, I start a bulk batch of garbanzo beans. I call my mom and chat while cooking, and then call a dear friend
from home.

It’s Tuesday, which means Bible study with a dispersed ecumenical Franciscan order I’m
discerning relationship with, and committed to. Afterwards I go to our art room – I pray
before weaving, and then fall into song-rhythm-prayer while weaving.

As I’m winding down for bed, my spouse and I watch an episode of Project Runway. I read a few pages of an autobiography of St. Francis, and then a chapter for a fiction book club. I write in my journal – a daily habit now for over a year – reflecting on family that is based in relationship, that’s intentional, and care-filled. Family that spans human and non-human and born-into and chosen kin.

May we each sew our lives into this tapestry of interrelation.
 

 

Reed Fowler (they/he) is an approved candidate for Word and Sacrament ministry in the ELCA. Reed completed their MDiv at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. After a year of managing a pet grooming salon, Reed is transitioning into operations support at Upstream Arts in Minneapolis, MN. Reed, his spouse Eric, and their three cats and a dog, all live at Rhubarb House, a queer-centered housing cooperative where they are founding members. Reed loves books about magical libraries, watching reality cooking shows, and weaving.