The Holy Gospel According to Coming Out Stories
by Rev. Amanda Nelson
Proclaim member and Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries
In college, a dear friend of mine did her senior thesis on the coming out process for LGBTQIA+ individuals. To write her thesis, she interviewed many of our classmates and friends who had already bravely come out, and some who were not yet ready to do so publicly.
At the time, I had not yet come out to her and had only started to give myself permission to even think of the possibility that I wasn’t straight.
I remember talking to her many times about her interviews and finding myself fascinated with what she was learning. One of the major points of her thesis, something that sticks with me even to this day, is the role of vulnerability and fear.
I asked her again recently to clarify this point for me and this is what she said: [when you come out] you lose control of how people will view you because that view could change. When you don’t come out, you retain the power and control: you are keeping this idea to yourself, no one can judge what they don’t know. The moment you tell people, you lose control as you don’t know how people will react/respond/change their views on you.”
There is so much truth in this! In my life and in my work, I encounter countless individuals for whom their relationships did change drastically when they came out.
Some relationships changed for the worse: communication was cut off, closeness was replaced with distance, and depth replaced by superficiality. At its worst, coming out can inflict physical, mental, and spiritual violence from those we thought loved us.
And, many of my peers who have come out have experienced relationships that changed in truly beautiful ways: fear of acceptance from our family and friends was met with unconditional love; fear of being able to express our identities in public through dress, speech, or displays of affection were quelled by the celebration of Pride in our communities; and, suffocating silence was transformed by safe, brave spaces into liberated voices of joy in our churches and schools.
At its best, coming out can mediate reconciliation of body, mind, and spirit.
To be honest, it’s not an “either, or” – you either have good experiences in coming out or bad ones – because what things in life really are binary? It’s more like a circle or a spiral of different reactions and experiences. It is a spiral we experience the first time we come out…and it is a spiral we experience the one thousandth time we come out.
It is this spiral that can hold many people back from ever fully expressing their identities.
When I am experiencing the hurtful phase of the spiral, I can deeply understand why people choose not to come out. And, when I’m experiencing the joy-filled phase, I feel as tho I have been lifted into a holy embrace with God and I want to shout it from the rooftops.
Fear and vulnerability are such powerful forces in our lives, and, they are transformational.
Brene Brown, who writes so beautifully on the subject of vulnerability, has said, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
In this season of Easter, of resurrection, I am finding gospel “good news” in the coming out stories of my peers and colleagues. Throughout these next two months, we are excited to share many of those stories with you.
Thanks be to God for those who serve our church publicly out, and for those who help to ensure that gender and sexual minorities experience a holy embrace from our church in celebration of those identities!
Rev. Amanda Nelson (she/her/hers) is Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. When she told her friend that she was gay her friend laughed and said “uh huh, yeah”…because many people had jokingly “come out” to her because of the topic of her thesis. When she realized Amanda was serious, she apologized and was perfectly loving and accepting. Amanda is grateful to her friend, Elena, for her unconditional love.
by Rev. Amanda Nelson
Proclaim member Executive Director of ELM
I never had the good fortune to meet Blanche Grube – she died soon after I started as Executive Director at the end of last summer. But, I had heard about her from ELM’s previous Executive Director, Amalia Vagts, as well as from Proclaim members and members of our Board.
Blanche’s legacy of loving ELM and the LGBTQIA+ leaders we serve well preceded her – and her legacy will now transcend the boundaries of life and death.
Blanche did something extraordinary before she passed away: Blanche added ELM to her will.
Blanche wanted to make sure that the gender and sexual minority ministers who she so valued would be able to flourish even after she was no longer here to send her annual gifts.
We are thrilled to announce, that, thanks to Blanche’s generosity, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ endowment is now active!
Over the next few months, ELM’s Board will be creating an Endowment Committee to discern the governance and vision for this endowment – ensuring the gifts made to ELM’s Endowment are stewarded with the utmost care and the funds are used to celebrate and support LGBTQIA+ leaders in innovative and necessary ways.
I will also be working with this Endowment Committee to expand our planned giving efforts and look forward to speaking with many of you about this opportunity!
In this season of resurrection joy, we dance to the hymns that proclaim: “Now the green blade rises from the buried grain, wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain; love lives again, that with the dead has been; love is come again like wheat arising green.”
We mourned the loss of our dear friend, Blanche, when she passed last summer. And now, we dance with her in this resurrection glee and give thanks for her generosity which surpasses the bounds of this worldly life.
We wouldn’t be where we are now without the support of donors like Blanche!
Please keep our Endowment Committee in your prayers as we embark on this new journey. And, please join us in giving thanks for Blanche Grube!
Rev. Amanda Nelson (she/her/hers) is Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. She is thrilled that it is okay once again to shout “Alleluia!” and lifts her voice in “Alleluias” for Blanche! Her favorite thing about Easter is Starbust jelly beans – she keeps a bag in her car this time of year for emergencies.
Photo at top: from the obituary for Blanche posted on Dignity Memorial’s website.
Bio Photo: Provided by author
by Reed Fowler
Proclaim member and
MDiv student at LSTC
In this time of Lent as we follow the call to journey into the wilderness, we also remember our ancestors in faith who went before us. To help us in doing that, several Proclaim members will be reflecting upon the mystics in their blog posts here during the month of March.
The industrial structures that are the fabric of United States are based on the lie that we have to seek outside of ourselves and community to fill spiritual needs. Marketing is designed to trick us into believing that we aren’t enough. That we don’t have the capacity to encounter the Divine in our very cells, but that we need to be supplemented by things that we buy and consume.
“You can’t exist in your body as it is, you need to change it…”
“You can’t reach the Divine unless you subscribe…buy…”
What could our world be if more people lived into the reality that we already have what we need spiritually in ourselves and in community? To lean into our dirt-creaturehood and realize that we are Good and made for the delight of the Divine?
There is a power in being receptive to mystic happenings, because it requires vulnerability and openness, and a counter-culture belief in experience. It’s also a muscle that can be trained. Artistic practice helps to develop those muscles in my embodiment and daily life. It’s hard for me to be still and quiet in traditional meditative forms, but while weaving or throwing clay, I can center.
Dorothee Söelle is a mid-century German mystic, who proposes that mystic experience can be an act of resistance, a balance point. “But if I need both, the inner light of being at one with every living thing and the resistance against the machine of death, how do I get them together?”* The artistic impulse is to react from your gut with a ‘yes’. Yes, things are messy and rough right now. Yes, God is still near. Yes, we are holy and can experience the Divine.
*Söelle, Dorothee. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2001. pg. 5
Reed Fowler (they/them/theirs) is a seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a candidate for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They are invested in interfaith collaboration, holding space for witness and tenderness, and centering alternative and artistic expressions of the sacred. They spend downtime knitting, queering faith + domesticity, gardening, and snuggling with their ever-increasing menagerie.
Photo at top & Bio Photo: Provided by author
Notes from March ELM Board of Directors Meeting
by Dr. Margaret Moreland, ELM Board Secretary, and the Rev. Amanda Nelson, ELM Executive Director
The ELM Board of Directors had their spring, in-person meeting this past weekend, March 8-11, 2018, at Seafarers International House in New York City. The ELM Board meets twice a year in person, in March and October, and then meets viateleconference in the in between months.
This month’s meeting had a full agenda which included reports from ELM’s staff and Treasurer, reflections and discernment regarding the situation at ULS, investing in the future of ELM, anti-oppression training, and the Installation of ELM’s Executive Director, the Rev. Amanda Nelson.
Here is a brief update and synopsis.
Board Members who were present included Matt James (Co-Chair), Emily Ann Garcia (Co-Chair), Margaret Moreland (Secretary), Emily Ewing, Jeff Johnson, and Brad Froslee. ELM’s Treasurer, Charlie Horn, was present as well as Mike Wilker who is coming off the Board after serving two consecutive terms, most recently as Secretary of the Board. ELM staff who were present included Amanda Nelson and Asher O’Callaghan. Board members absent from the meeting included Barbara Lundblad and Elise Brown.
The Board spent significant time in conversation around the situation at United Lutheran Seminary – reflecting on the pain this event has caused the ULS community and the reverberations felt within our church. The Board was also able to spend time in conversation and prayer with our Board Member, Elise Brown. The Board’s response, which summarizes the sentiment and spirit of our conversations, was published on Wednesday, March 14th.
The Board heard healthy reports from ELM’s Treasurer and Executive Director which highlighted, in particular, the significant increase in the amount of the Joel Workin Memorial Scholarship – from $2,500 to $6,000 – thanks to the regular gifts and generosity of ELM’s supporters! The Joel Workin Committee is now accepting applications from eligible Proclaim members for the 2018 scholarship.
The Board authorized Executive Director, Amanda Nelson, to begin the search process for a part time (18 hour) Program and Administrative Assistant position to replace Christephor Gilbert who left ELM at the end of January to complete his seminary studies; as well as a new, three-quarter time (27 hour) Associate Director of Development and Communications position. The Program and Administrative Assistant is a Chicago-based position whereas the Associated Director of Development and Communications can be done remotely. The job listings are posted on ELM’s website.
The ELM Board devotes 4-8 hours of our spring, in-person meeting to anti-oppression training. This year, River Needham, student at LSTC and candidate for ministry in the MCC, led our Board in eight hours of training on the subjects of gender, ace-spectrum orientations, and polyamory.
Former Board Secretary, Mike Wilker, and current secretary, Margaret Moreland, introduced much needed revisions to ELM’s Bylaws which were unanimously accepted by our Board. The Board would also like to thank former Board Member, Jeremy Posadas, and ELM friend and supporter, Sara Stegemoeller, for their help and guidance in updating our bylaws.
The Board spent time dreaming and brainstorming around three specific areas: ELM’s presence at the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, ELM’s work and presence in Canada supporting our Proclaimers in the ELCIC, and grants that give ELM permission to dream about the future of our programs. No specific actions were taken, but the Spirit is swirling in our midst.
A highlight of our gathering was the service of installation for Executive Director, the Rev. Amanda Nelson. Hosted at Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish, this service featured joy-filled music, a stirring sermon preached by the Rev. Jeff Johnson, the reminder of God’s presence and blessing experienced in the sacraments, and a festive reception hosted by the Board and local Proclaim members. Thanks to all who made it such a wonderful celebration!
The Board’s next meeting will be by conference call on May 17th. The next in-person Board meeting will be held October 4-6 in Chicago.
Questions or concerns you may have for the Board may be directed to Executive Director, Amanda Nelson (email@example.com) who will pass them along to the Board’s Executive Committee.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is seeking candidates to serve as ELM’s Associate Director of Development and Communications as well as Program and Administrative Assistant.
Interested candidates should email their cover letter and resume to ELM’s Executive Director, Amanda Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the positions:
The Associate Director of Development and Communications organizes and supports the fundraising efforts of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and coordinates internal and external communications in partnership with the ELM staff. Applications will be accepted until April 20th, 2018. Position will be filled by June 1, 2018.
Full job description and guiding qualifications: Associate Director of Development & Communications Job Description
The Program & Administrative Assistant provides general administrative support to the ELM staff and programs. Applications will be accepted until April 13th, 2018. Position will be filled by, if not before, June 1, 2018.
Full job description and guiding qualifications: Program & Administrative Assistant Position Description
Questions may be sent to email@example.com
ELM is committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all qualified individuals and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, marital status, veteran status, parental status, or any other basis prohibited by applicable law.
Response to United Lutheran Seminary from ELM’s Board of Directors
A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil.
A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
– Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, 1518
Since its inception, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) has been a community rooted in the Gospel’s call to justice. This call birthed a movement of resistance in principled non-compliance with the systems of oppression, marginalization, and injustice which plague our church and society. Although much has changed since our genesis in 1990, oppressive systems continue to be embedded within our institutions and communities and our call to prophetic witness remains vital to the well-being of the body of Christ and the world.
Through God’s abounding grace, our commitment to discipleship in Christ demands that we reject the corrupt practices of a death-dealing empire to be transformed by faith to live according to the Way of Jesus. At the center of this commitment is the mystery of the cross by which we are called to proclaim the Word in Law and Gospel, to call for confession and repentance, and to make way for redemptive and restorative justice within our church.
ELM acknowledges that the situation at United Lutheran Seminary (ULS) is the product of a larger, systematic, institutional culture that utilizes secrecy and devalues transparency for the purpose of self-preservation and fragile stability. These systems create a pattern of sin that protects the powerful and privileged and harms the vulnerable and marginalized. Although we claim to be evangelical, our church has not been immune to this sin. In fact, the current state of affairs at ULS has clearly exposed how deeply our beloved church is entangled in and complicit with these systems.
In order to protect and prioritize its public perception for the sake of respectability and approval, institutional leadership discourages individual leaders from telling their story, be it by confessing the ways in which they enacted and perpetuated oppression, or the ways by which they were, through the gospel, transformed and restored to right relationship with God in community. The Rev. Dr. Theresa Latini and others have been taught and encouraged to not bring their whole selves and whole journeys into the greater narrative of the church by elders in our community who, in their deceit, mean well but perpetuate shame. When stories are hushed and veils pulled over our eyes, we do not get to see the cross but are expected to believe in the false glory of a manufactured and superficial resurrection.
Our ability to respond to brokenness is also tainted with sin: when lack of transparency and deep corruption (systemic sin) is exposed, individuals are either sacrificed through punitive measures, not as a corrective to abuse of power, but for the purpose of institutional continuity; or, they are defended and protected by the institution – praised for their leadership in handling a hard situation. In these broken systems, individuals are either scapegoated or protected, excommunicated or permitted to remain. This false binary assumes there are only two options: one which works to preserve the systems of oppression deeply at work in our institutions at the cost of the marginalized; the other which further isolates people from one another, their deeper humanity, and reintegration in community
As the ELM Board, we see these systems at play and know that we are no less susceptible to their influence. We acknowledge that this sinful system would have us either wholeheartedly support the Rev. Dr. Elise Brown as a member of our Board and ignore her role in this situation or banish her completely from our community and ignore our kinship.
As a queer organization we reject this false binary.
We understand the Gospel as calling us to name the truth of the situation and events, listen deeply to the pain, confess the harm, and repent—turning to a new way of being that includes, to the extent that it is possible, making amends, creating correctives for the power imbalance, and restoring just relationships.
Having met together this past weekend with times for deep listening and conversation, the ELM Board has received and accepted the resignation of the Rev. Dr. Elise Brown. While Elise’s role on the ELM Board has ended, our relationship with her has not and will not end. Elise will continue to be a member of our community through relationships with our Executive Director, the Rev. Amanda Nelson; Board members who are companions with her on this journey of reconciliation; and, individual Proclaim members with whom Elise has a close relationship. ELM is providing opportunities to Elise for continued engagement and anti-oppression training in the recognition that she will continue to be an ally to gender and sexual minorities and that all allies need to be equipped and encouraged.
The ELM Board also acknowledges that we must continue to educate and train our Board Members to more fully embody ELM’s explicit practices of listening deeply, publicly claiming our identities, working collaboratively, acting transparently, asking “who is not here?”, speaking truthfully even when it is hard, and remembering to laugh together. As a Board, we commit ourselves and our time to continuing to explore ways to live into our practices and receive the training needed to deepen our own understanding of the systems of oppression to which we are susceptible.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries will continue our work of lifting up and spotlighting LGBTQIA+ leaders whose experiences, voices, and ministries matter in times like these. We are deeply encouraged by and stand in solidarity with the organizing that has occured on the ULS campuses by LGBTQIA+ students and their colleagues. Systemic change happens when folks within communities erupt with purpose and calling – and that is happening in Philadelphia and Gettysburg as well as at other seminaries as they respond to this situation and their colleagues’ pain.
As the Board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, we would like to affirm that the messy is valuable. We know that there is pain and grief and sorrow in our communities right now; and, we believe that by listening to the cries of those on the margins the church has the opportunity to repent – to turn to a new way of being that includes, to the extent that it is possible, making amends, creating correctives for the power imbalance, and restoring just relationships. We are committed to walking the way of the cross.
In solidarity and hope,
The Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Board of Directors
Emily Ann Garcia, Co-Chair Matthew James, Co-Chair
Margaret Moreland, Secretary Charles Horn, Treasurer
Emily E. Ewing Brad Froslee Jeff R. Johnson Barbara Lundblad
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of gender and sexual minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.
by Carolyn Lawrence
Proclaim member and
MDiv student at LSTC
In this time of Lent as we follow the call to journey into the wilderness, we also remember our ancestors in faith who went before us. To help us in doing that, several Proclaim members will be reflecting upon the mystics in their blog posts here during the month of March.
The first time I told someone I was a mystic, it didn’t go over too well.
I mentioned to a coworker, with whom I frequently discussed theology, that I had been reading a fair bit of Meister Eckhart and that I would identify myself as a Christian mystic.
“Oh wow,” he scoffed with incredulity, “that’s a bit of a big claim, isn’t it?”
“Is it?” I responded.
His reaction surprised me. I wondered why I was receiving pushback by identifying myself within a long and venerable tradition of Christian mystics. I am a mystic through and through. Searching for union with God is my singular desire in my faith, and I didn’t find my identify to be scandalous.
Perhaps it’s because I have an encompassing view of Christian mysticism. I would argue that we are all mystics when we go to the altar to receive Christ’s presence in bread and wine. For me, that’s the pinnacle mystical moment in our worship. If one defines a mystic as a person seeking union with God, then the taste of Jesus’ body and blood surely qualifies as a mystical encounter!
And, as a Lutheran, I believe there is another space where union with God is possible: Martin Luther’s ethics were dominated by the call to love and serve our neighbor. Both he and I take the second great commandment—“Love your neighbor as yourself”—to be paramount to Christian engagement in this world. And, it is in loving our neighbor that we encounter the Divine.
Against this Lutheran backdrop and with my deepening mystical identity, I recenlty came to a stunning realization reflecting on Matthew 25:31-46. In this well-known passage, Jesus speaks of himself as a king welcoming in those who served him when he was hungry, thirsty, estranged, and imprisoned. Jesus identifies completely with those on the margins; “I was hungry…I was thirsty…I was naked…” The righteous are confused — when did they see him this way? Jesus replies in verse 40: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Taking these words at the mystic level, the result is profound: to see the face of God, one must look to the outcast of this world. To have union with God one must welcome and embrace those on the margins of society. I am a mystic because I search for God’s union and love. I am a Lutheran mystic because I believe that God’s presence is found among those who the world casts down.
As we continue this Lenten mystical journey, I invite you to seek, serve, and love the Christs in your communities to find a glimpse of the Divine.
Carolyn Lawrence (she/her/hers) serves as Operations Coordinator of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. She attends the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In her free time, Carolyn enjoys baking bread, debating theology, and cuddling her cat Percy.
Photo at top: Cary Bass-Deschenes
Bio Photo: Provided by author.
ELM Statement Concerning United Lutheran Seminary
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries was deeply saddened to hear that the Rev. Dr. Theresa Latini, President of United Lutheran Seminary, previously served as the director of One by One, an anti-LGBTQIA+ organization that promotes conversion therapy as a solution for people “in conflict with their sexuality;” and, that Dr. Latini – in her previously published writings – described herself as someone who had struggled with a “homosexual orientation” but through prayer and one-on-one counseling was able to change her orientation.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of gender and sexual minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world. By living into the fullest expression of their identities, LGBTQIA+ leaders model God’s liberating love for all and boldly proclaim the goodness of their being – so beautifully captured in the words of the Psalmist: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139: 14a).
Organizations like One by One and the horrific practices of reparative and conversion therapy are the antithesis of the Psalmist’s beautiful lyric, not to mention the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, these practices and organizations promote self-hatred and the systemic oppression and repression of LGBTQIA+ people; they mentally and physically abuse children and youth; and, they cause spiritual, emotional, and physical death.
Rather than boldly stating her past and joyfully celebrating her identity and transformation of heart, Dr. Latini chose not to share the fullness of her story to the ULS Board during the hiring process. Tragically, once informed, the Board also chose not to make an announcement in the interest of full transparency. The mismanagement and secrecy surrounding these events has instilled fear and mistrust in the LGBTQIA+ community towards the seminary and its leaders.
Because, unfortunately, time and again, gender and sexual minorities have been lured into the halls and sanctuaries of our churches with promises of “all are welcome” only to be faced with heteronormative biases, un-checked prejudice, and statements like “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries condemns and abhors the assumption that gender and sexual identities are sinful, wrong, or need to be changed in any way. We lament Dr. Latini’s history with an anti-LGBTQIA+ organization, and mourn her perceived need to hide her personal story of identity. We grieve our church’s inclination towards institutional preservation over the honoring of God’s beloved children.
Likewise, ELM is deeply saddened and troubled by the entanglement of ELM Board Member, the Rev. Dr. Elise Brown, who has served on ELM’s board faithfully and honorably for the past six years. Dr. Brown is also the Chairperson of United Lutheran Seminary’s Board of Trustees. ELM’s Board of Directors under the leadership of our Co-Chairs, the Rev. Matthew James and Emily Ann Garcia, are engaging in discernment and conversation regarding Elise’s role on our Board.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes that we are called to respond to God’s love and call to justice by listening deeply, publicly claiming our identities, working collaboratively, acting transparently, and speaking truthfully. We covenant to live into these practices with all those who desire truth, trust, and justice.
ELM dreams of a Church in which gender and sexual minorities do not need to question whether they are welcome wholly as they are – in our congregations, at our seminaries, or in our pulpits. Our lived experiences remind us daily that we are not there yet. While we are on the journey, ELM will continue to advocate for LGBTQIA+ leaders, offer our gifts as resources to the broader community, accompany individuals and communities in the holy work of loving the “fearfully and wonderfully made” Body of Christ embodied in all its queerness, and hold each other gently when the world doesn’t live up to God’s promises.
Board of Directors
Emily Ann Garcia, Co-Chair Rev. Matthew James, Co-Chair
Dr. Margaret Moreland, Secretary Charles Horn III, Treasure
Rev. Emily E. Ewing, Rev. Brad Froslee, Rev. Jeff Johnson, Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad, Rev. Michael Wilker
*Rev. Dr. Elise Brown is a member of ELM’s Board but is not listed as a publisher of this statement due to her dual roles as Chair of the United Lutheran Seminary’s Board of Trustees.
by the Rev. Douglas Barclay
Proclaim member and Pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church, Manchester, CT
When I was a child I would hide beneath the pew during the endless sermons at my central PA church. But when the organ would play it was like the voice of God. I would sit up on the pew and strain to see the organist: clearly the person closest to God.
Other Sundays with my grandmother we wouldn’t “go to church” but we could watch TV church…The Hour of Power. The Crystal Cathedral had water features and the glass doors would open as the organ postlude exploded…I was convinced that Fred Swann was a divine being.
I was hooked.
While some children dreamed of becoming astronauts, I wanted to be a church organist, preferably a caped organist.
After years of piano lessons at 14 my dream job finally emerged. My English teacher offered me my first organ job at her Methodist church. A vintage Wurlitzer electronic organ was the instrument. Soon enough I would soon graduate to the bigger Lutheran churches with real pipe organs in the small town in Western PA.
In the midst of all of this I was also struggling with the realization that I was gay. I would have done anything to be delivered from such a fate, especially in scary gun-toting Western PA. It was in that place of fear that I heard God’s voice once again through music.
While preparing for Sunday worship, sitting on the organ bench, I had what I can only describe as a mystical encounter with God. As I was playing, I felt the entire world melt away…erotic rapture.
I interpret that experience as one of pure grace. God’s presence made me aware that I was entirely held, known, loved and accepted.
I think I was given this gift so that no matter how bad it got in school or at my house, no matter how close to self-harm I came, I would have something to keep me alive.
God gave me the gift of escape through music as well and I went on to study piano and organ at college. The music of the church and the liturgy kept calling. My first job out of college was as an organist at a Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore. Even though it wasn’t a gay mecca, I finally could be out and doing what I loved.
That freedom and space created room for me to discern that I was called through music into the priestly ministry as well. Now I get to wear incredible capes even more often.
I still don’t particularly like sermons. I don’t feel particularly holy or in divine ecstasy often these days.
But I know that the God of acceptance and holy affirmation continues to speak through fiery musicians and dissonant chords and the congregation’s song.
Thanks be to God for the gift of music. Thanks be to God for the gay musicians who have mentored me. Thanks be to God for the work of Proclaim in always keep God’s acceptance and Yes before us. Also, thanks be to God for fabulous capes.
The Rev. Douglas Barclay is pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church in Manchester, CT. He graduated from the seminary formerly known as LTSP after setting the world on fire with a particularly good sermon on the importance of capes in 2nd c. Gallican worship. He worked for years as a church musician in Baltimore, including a brief but spectacular stint at Christ Lutheran Inner Harbor as Interim Director of Music where he was also ordained. He and his partner Sean live in New Haven, CT and enjoy long walks on the beach, Swedish hip-hop artists and pizza from Modern. He hopes to one day be interred in the organ loft at Notre Dame in Paris.
Photo at top: Public commons
Bio Photo: Provided by Rev. Barclay
by John Weit
Proclaim member and Deacon serving as the Program Director for Music in the Office of the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA
I have long sensed my calling to be a leader of the church’s song. Growing up in church I was amazed at how a single person could sit behind an organ console and use the various buttons and keys to make a multitude of different sounds. What was even more incredible to me was how that one person behind that instrument could help a large group of people sing together.
Music can unite a gathered assembly, form memory, and serves as a vehicle to conveying theology. It is sometimes daunting knowing that the words that I choose to be sung and through my leadership I am essentially putting theology in people’s mouths. Through song, sung together in worship, our prayer, proclamation, praise, and lament are shaped and given communal voice. It is not about what I as a leader like to sing and what styles are comfortable to me. In whatever leadership role we have, we need to move beyond ourselves and consider what best proclaims the gospel and shapes the prayer of the church.
With communal song at the core, there is often other music that enriches the worship life of the church. Choirs, soloists, and instrumentalists offer music to glorify God, as well. Silence can also surround our music. All of this works together to shape and support the song of the people.
The vocation of the church musician is something I have cared deeply about these last few years. I’m happy to currently serve in a call with the ELCA that, in part, offers tools and resources to help church musicians think about their vocation and craft. In my role I work very closely with the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians (ALCM). In 2016 as part of their 30th anniversary as an organization, a statement titled Called to Be a Living Voice was crafted to reflect on the varied role of Lutheran church musicians, often called cantors. I encourage you to read and reflect on this statement and share it with the musicians in your context.
It is true that not all musicians come to this work as a career. Many church musicians I know are bi-vocational. Some musicians may see working for a church as a way to some make extra money or to build their resume. Musicians will take on different levels of responsibility depending on the context. I pray that musicians who serve our assemblies continue to feel strengthened in their sense of call to their vocation and feel supported by their ministry colleagues.
In 2018, ALCM is helping to support the vocation of the Lutheran church musicians by organizing several one-day workshops around the U.S. and Canada under the theme Hearts Hands Voices. The ELCA is pleased to be partnering with ALCM to offer an extended skill-building session in Valparaiso Ind., July 23-26. These events will cover a multitude of styles, instruments, and topics. Visit alcm.org for more information and please share this with the church musicians in your lives.
May the church continue to be blessed with musicians who faithfully lead our assemblies, surrounding word and sacrament with song.
Deacon John Weit serves as Program Director for Music in the Office of the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. He lives in Chicago with his husband, the Rev. Matt James, and their cat, Buddy. John also serves as Assistant Organist at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago.
Photo at top: Emily Ann Garcia
Bio Photo: Provided by John Weit