ELM Blog: When Coming Home Feels Less than Familiar

by Tom Gehring

Once again, we find ourselves entering the most sacred week of the church year.

As the child of two pastors, I consider myself intimately familiar with the church calendar as my life has been marked by its rhythms for 30 years now. Despite this long-running familiarity, however, the journey through Holy Week has always carried a meaningful significance. From washing feet and hearing the command to love as Jesus loved, to sitting through the painful emptiness of grief and keeping vigil, my spirit has always found peace and meaning among the familiar patterns. The Lenten runup and subsequent journey through this sacred week felt like a return home. It was a poignant reminder of who I am as an individual of faith as well as a member of the worldwide body of Christ. However, in recent years, Holy Week has not felt like much of a homecoming.

Four years ago, I was in my final year of seminary and navigating the early stages of a global pandemic that continues to mark our lives. As Holy Week approached, I struggled to find any peace, joy, comfort, or familiarity in the rhythms of the week because they had been so aggressively upended. I felt unable to feel much of anything through the observations of the week. Admittedly, I still struggle to some extent as the months and years since that first pandemic Holy Week have only grown increasingly chaotic and disheartening.

This year, however, I find myself wondering. If the familiarity of these sacred observances no longer brings a sense of comfort, introspection, and joy, then perhaps it can stir up something new within me, maybe in our communities as well. After all, the stories that shape and guide us, we profess to be a living Word. Though the structure and stories of this sacred week are relatively unchanged from year to year, we as individuals and communities have been shaped in myriad and tumultuous ways. I desperately want to believe that, despite living in a reality whose very fabric seems to be unfolding before our eyes, our collective journey through the days to come might help us face whatever comes next.

With everything in the world continuing to unfold, with each new and prolonged crisis, I cannot help but focus on the tenacity of this week. Perhaps, too I feel an indignant comfort in how staring down a world in chaos has only seemed to highlight the most important elements of this Holy Week: a protest through the streets that actively mocked an occupying empire, an intimate gathering of close friends sharing a meal amidst heightened anxieties, a desperate prayer in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, hours of keeping watch through the silence of night with a defiant hope.

However you approach this coming week, be it with anticipation and excitement or the numbness of enduring yet another year, I pray that the Spirit might find you and speak to you in the way you most need. May we all come home to this sacred moment and be transformed into the very Love we encounter in the altar, the cross, and the tomb. Amen.

Bio: Tom Gehring (He/They) is a pastor currently working as a chaplain in Metro Chicago providing spiritual care for individuals living with, or at risk for HIV. In their free time Tom loves to DJ, spend time outside, play lots of games (both video and board), read excessively thick fantasy novels, and work out with his lovely gym community. Tom has been serving as a member of ELM’s board of directors since October of ’23 and is honored to be a part of this ministry.

ELM Blog: Music Ministry to a New Beat

By Tom Gehring

The lockdown-era of the ongoing Covid pandemic had many of us exploring new hobbies and interests. For some, they nurtured sourdough starters and brought forth bountiful loaves. Others dove deep into the rabbit hole of brewing specialty coffee at home. Others still (most of us, if I remember) learned a lot about the world of exotic cats and the rather colorful characters who exist in that realm. For myself, it was an opportunity to do something I had been thinking about starting for decades: I started learning how to DJ.

Music has always been a major part of my life, and sharing music with others has been an integral part of how I enjoy the art. In elementary school, I always volunteered to provide music when we had a class party, and, as the child of a pastor, I attended more than my fair share of wedding receptions and was always enthralled by how the DJs could get an entire room of people out of their chairs, away from their food, and onto a dancefloor. And then, as a student at Luther Seminary, I had the chance to attend a house party planned and hosted by conveners of Decolonize Lutheranism. In between offerings of spoken word poetry, ongoing queer theology studies, and imbibing good food and drink, we danced to music provided by a DJ. It was one of the more authentic experiences I had of beloved community while a seminarian.

In January of 2021, I began my journey as a DJ, learning how to mix, how to match beats, how to blend between tracks, and transition across moods. I didn’t want the focus on me and my command of the tracks, rather I wanted to create a shared experience among the people who heard what I played. I was and still am fascinated and motivated by the concept of a group of people joining together and not just encountering the music I played, but co-creating a moment in time where we share in the same energies and emotions driven by the music.

I eventually created a persona for myself: DJ Happy Accidents (yes, in reference to the famous painter!) and started performing on the streaming platform Twitch. For just over 2.5 years now I have regularly played music on the internet and been intentional to keep the focus on the experience. For those who tune in, we not only enjoy the music and vibes together, but we share what we’re experiencing in life. Watching the people show up in Twitch Chat and support one another through hardships, while celebrating each other’s joys has been thrilling to see. When close colleagues first told me that in some ways, Twitch Chat was my mission field and my DJing was a ministry, I was resistant to the idea. I am of the opinion that we don’t need to ruin any more art forms by making Christian versions of them, and I have taken care to not bill myself as a Christian DJ.

However, in forming and creating this community online, as well as having opportunities to perform in-person, I do consider this hobby as a ministry. When we’re all caught up in the vibe of the music, I’ve found that people are willing and eager to show up as their authentic selves. The dance floor, or the chat window on Twitch, is a safe space for people to bring their full selves and engage in a co-creative process. We connect over the music, yes, but we also connect over the expression of emotion. And, for me at least, that is exactly why I continue to do this hobby.

If you’re interested in checking out my recorded mixes, want to tune in live on twitch, or shoot me an email, just follow this linktree: https://linktr.ee/djhappyaccidents

Tom Gehring (He/They) is a pastor currently working as a chaplain in Metro Chicago providing spiritual care for individuals living with, or at risk for HIV. In their free time Tom loves to DJ, spend time outside, play lots of games (both video and board), read excessively thick fantasy novels, and work out with his lovely gym community. Tom has been serving as a member of ELM’s board of directors since October of ’23 and is honored to be a part of this ministry.

ELM Blog: The Gay Man Who Became My Faithful Godmother by Mycah McNett

When I followed my heart after college to do a year with Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) with the ELCA, I did not expect that one of my best friends for years to come would be a 68-year-old Sister of Perpetual Indulgence.

To be honest, as a freshly graduated college student and someone who still was not quite out to herself, no less anyone else in my life, I was not sure what I was getting into by serving a church in Manchester, UK. What I found while I was there was the most welcoming, affirming, and diverse congregation that was excited to worship and be part of their local community for the benefit of everyone. It was the first congregation I had spent a significant amount of time in that so vocally and firmly believed that LGBTQIA+ people were beloved children of God and fully affirmed as we are.

One of my first outings with our church on the few days of arriving was to attend Manchester Pride and provide affirming messages of love from a faith perspective. We stood between the protesters and the rest of the parade, and it was from our spot on the sidelines that someone pointed out the float that one of our church members was riding. Alan was proudly in his full regalia as Sister Latex (OPI), waving with the other sisters.

(Left Photo) Alan and Mycah on a walk along a canal – he loved to walk around Manchester and share the city with me.

(Right Photo) Alan – Sister Latex OPI – posing with several Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at a Pride event. Alan is all the way to the left in this group.

Alan was the sacristan and always prepared the altar for worship (I learned more at his side about liturgical theology than I perhaps did in my own seminary class, sorry professor!). He also often prepared the other altar in our church, the counter where we hosted hospitality tea and cake. If no one baked a cake, he would pop around to the shops to get one and make sure we had enough tea to go around. In his spare time, he started a ministry teaching English to victims of human trafficking who lived near our church, getting a whole army of volunteers together to support our neighbors. He spent the rest of his volunteer time with an adult day center for people with dementia.

My friend, bless him, taught me what it was to be a follower of Jesus.

Alan came out as gay early in life, when he was sixteen and immigrated from a small town in Ireland to London, where he had a career in theatre and teaching. He joined the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence while there and shared so many wonderful stories of the loving chaotic ministry they did together.

We kept in near-weekly contact for a few years after I moved back to the US before he was diagnosed with cancer that he never recovered from. Even when he was too tired to respond, I would send him my latest updates from the States and remind him how deeply he was loved by his friends who became family, and by his creator.

Alan’s steady presence in faith and in my life was part of what brought me to my own understanding with God that I am a queer woman called to serve God’s people. I like to think of him as my faithful gay godmother who cheers me on in ministry every day.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are celebrating their 45th anniversary this Easter, and are distributing $45,000 in grants! The $250-$1000 grants are for projects that serve the Bay Area or particularly embattled communities in other locales around the country and the world that promote wellness, joy, tolerance, and diversity within our communities. Find out more about the grants and how to apply here.

The Rev. Mycah McNett graduated with honors in Biblical and Lutheran studies from United Lutheran Seminary. She was called as the second pastor at Saint Luke Lutheran Church in Devon, PA in the summer of 2023. Before seminary, Pastor Mycah served in church communication and youth ministry roles in Harrisonburg, VA, and was an ELCA Young Adult in Global Mission participant. Since 2022 Pastor Mycah has served on the Board of Directors for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and is an active member of the Proclaim Community for LGBTQIA+ Lutheran Rostered Leaders. Pastor Mycah lives in Downingtown with her spouse, Alyssa, and three cats, Minnie, Clio, and Clem.