A Tribute to Rev. James DeLange 

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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

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