ELM Pride Blog: by Melissa Hrdlicka

And let the Church say Amen!
By Melissa Hrdlicka

When I enter a room, especially with my collar on, people tend to notice me. I am almost 6 feet tall, I have red hair, I’m plus-sized, and I have a fairly loud voice and laugh. I take up space, and this used to be something that made me shrink. As a kid I would hunch over so I didn’t tower over as many people and say my hair is brown and I wouldn’t speak unless spoken to. 
I loathed the largeness of my body and the loudness of my voice almost all of the time except when I was at a concert. At a concert I can see over everyone’s heads, I can sing as loud as I want knowing no one will hear me, and I can join in the collective dance knowing somehow I belong here. In a crowd with music pumping, I didn’t care how much space I was taking up. I was just there in the moment embracing all of me. As Sabrina Benaim said in her poem First Date, “I like my body best when I am not worried about how much space it is taking up, I mean dancing!”   
As a new pastor, I am still learning how to take up this space, how to let my name come second to my role and yet not be fully consumed by this beautiful, challenging, and important work. 
I am learning how to do this through a group of fellow queer pastors who meet weekly for text study over Zoom. Our jobs are often heavy so to lighten the space we start with songs either relating to the text or how we were feeling that day and we all dance in our little zoom squares like a silent disco. 
When someone offered “Amen” by Todrick Hall, I danced around my home office and suddenly everything came back together for me. I no longer worried about how much space I was taking up, I was just dancing. 
Even states apart, I felt safe in this sacred space we shared. This song was a call to worship for all of us queer preachers doing our best in ministry that doesn’t always love us, and doesn’t always allow us space to flourish. But in this moment of dancing in our own little boxes, we were free. 
The song beckons us in the same way I think Jesus would have, “come to the altar, you don’t have to be altered…come and rejoice here, come raise your voice here, love ain’t a choice here.” In Jesus there is no expectation, just an invitation to be in relationship with him and with each other just as we are. 
In the sacred space of music, queer community, and dancing, I find freedom, joy, and Jesus all over again. 
“And let the church say, Amen!”  

Melissa Hrdlicka (she/her/hers) is dancing her way through a year long term call at Grace Lutheran Church in Ripon, WI while the called pastor is deployed as a military chaplain. She finds joy in her cat Frankincense, frolicking through the forests, and making a splash in lakes, rivers, and Baptismal fonts!

ELM Pride Blog: Backstreet’s Back by Alex Aivars

When I was in high school in the late 90s, I was a huge boy band fan. But, I kept this love of boy bands to myself.
Whenever the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, 98 Degrees, LFO, or O-Town came on the radio, I felt my little gay heart bursting from my chest. I kept it cool on the outside though. Nevertheless, the music touched my soul in a way that no music ever had before then. 
I was team Backstreet Boys all the way (Nick Carter was just the cutest). I envied the girls who put up posters in their bedrooms of the boy bands they liked.
The Backstreet Boys song “I Want it That Way” was (and still is) one of my favorite songs. “I Want it That Way” spoke to my desire to love my way, to love another man. With the lyrics, “You are my fire / the one desire” my heart was aflame. I imagined saying that to a crush. The lyrics, “But we are two worlds apart / Can’t reach to your heart” spoke to being in the closet. All I could do was quietly pine after a crush – there was no way for me to reach out to them. “Tell me why / Ain’t nothin’ but a heartache” spoke to the heartache I felt at the time.
But there were other songs by the Backstreet Boys that just made me feel good. “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and “Larger than Life,” made me feel like everything was going to be OK. Those songs made me forget any troubles and worries going on in my life. I could step into the Backstreet Boys world and have fun.
When I would later come out in the mid to late 2000s, I would buy all of the Backstreet Boys CDs (as well as all of the other boy bands I had liked). I no longer had to listen to them by myself with the door shut. 
It wouldn’t be until the mid-2010’s, while in seminary, that I would finally see the Backstreet Boys perform live in person. 
Well, sort of.
After my first year of seminary I was looking through the Chicago Market Days schedule (kind of a mini Pride held in August) and one group stood out: Boy Band Review. I Googled them and learned that they covered all of the 90s and early 2000s boy band songs – all of the songs I loved as a closeted high schooler. 
I knew I had to go.
The Boy Band Review did not disappoint. At their show, I was able to dance and sing and jump up and down to my heart’s content. 
That scared little high schooler was finally able to fully be himself and openly love this music, surrounded by other people with a similar love. 

Alex Aivars (he/him) is in his second call as pastor of Christ United in Dewitt, MI. Since this is a part-time call, he also develops websites for businesses, non-profits, and churches. In his spare time, he likes to dance, be outdoors, travel, and read.

ELM Pride Blog Series: ELM Board Co-Chair Mycah McNett

Who Carries You Through?
By Mycah McNett

I have an entire playlist of music that brings my queer self-abundant life! I started developing the latest iteration of this playlist during a unit of summer CPE. It was my driving music that helped put me in the spiritual care mood, and spiritually cared for me when I was on my way home.
Often, the first song I would hit play on was “If You Got a Problem” by Joy Oladokun. I needed the reminder from the chorus: 
If you got a problem
I got a problem too
If you’re standin’ at the bottom
I’ll reach out for you
If you need someone to lean on
Baby, I can be strong
I will carry you through
If you got a problem
I got a problem too.
I imagine, at times, that this is Jesus singing through Joy Oladokun to the rest of us that if we got a problem, so does Jesus. Of the many, incredible things God has given us in this life, one of them is the gift that is Jesus Christ embodied in our community. That we can turn to each other and to Christ to lean on each other.
One of the biggest, joyfully queer parts of myself is how meaningful community support is in my life. I have learned so much about how important mutuality is in my relationships, personal and ministerial. Writers like bell hooks and Adrienne Maree Brown have formed my understanding that I won’t get very far in this life and call without you coming along with me, and the way we get there is radical love for each other. Love is an action word, and I love seeing us in action from a place of radical love.
For me, that love is incarnate in Jesus who came to build a joyfully, beloved, abundantly queer community starting with the disciples and Jesus’ early followers. We have the ability to reach out for each other, to cling to one another, because we got to know God in Jesus. Because Jesus knew what it was to be standin’ at the bottom, and the importance of carrying each other through. 
I would not have survived seminary, candidacy, internship, or any ministry without the support of my Proclaim community, without the ways we carry each other through following Jesus, carrying out God’s ministry in the world. I thank for each member of Proclaim and the wider community of support that carries us through.

Mycah McNett (she/her) is a candidate for Word and Sacrament in the ELCA, and has just started searching for a First Call. Mycah has been active in Proclaim, representing the program on United Lutheran Seminary’s campus, and is currently the co-chair of the Board of Directors for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Mycah lives on Lenni Lenape land, also known as the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area with her spouse and three cats, Minnie, Clio, and Clem.