Nearly 30 years ago, the Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Bishop, the Rev. Lyle Miller, responded to the calls and ordinations of Pastors Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart, and Jeff Johnson at First United Lutheran Church and St. Francis Lutheran of San Francisco by saying:
“I sincerely regret the action of these two congregations in determining their own standards for call and ordination.”
(In the Beginning, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries
Thirty years later, the current Bishop, Bishop Mark Holmerud, of the Sierra Pacific Synod (home synod to First United and St. Francis) proclaims a different message that he would like the church to hear in honor of the 30th anniversary of the ordinations of Ruth, Phyllis, and Jeff and the 10 years since the ELCA policy change to remove barriers for LGBTQIA+ ministry leaders who are publicly out and partnered.
One Proclaimer’s perspective that may feel relatable to many LGBTQIA+ ministry leaders in the ELCA.
Thank you Analyse, for speaking truth to power.
Please take a minute to hear the Spirit moving through our sibling Analyse.
January 20, 1990 was a monumental day for the LGBTQIA+ movement in the Lutheran church. In a letter, Bishop Stendahl affirmed the ordinations of Phyllis Zillhart, Ruth Frost, and Jeff Johnson. Bishop Stendahl said if the church will not ordain these individuals then they must be ordained “extra ordinem” or Extraordinarily. Thirty years later, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries continues to affirm and support LGBTQIA+ Lutheran rostered leaders, and those preparing for rostered leadership, while also engaging allied congregations and ministries to proclaim God’s love and seek justice for all.
As we approach the upcoming anniversary, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries will dive into our history with personal stories, including videos of the ordinations, reactions from Bishops, interviews with leaders in the movement, and words of hope for the future of ELM from our current Proclaim members. ELM will also be introducing several fundraising goals to help sustain the efforts and ministry of ELM. Our FIRST exciting fundraiser includes a goal to get 30 new monthly donors in the month of August! Click here to learn how to become a monthly donor to receive this T-shirt!
Thank you for your continued support of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
To kick-off the 30 Extraordinary Years campaign, we could think of nothing better than to show you this EXTRAORDINARY video from the day where three unique ordinations took place. Please watch and stay tuned over the next few months to learn more about ELM!
Each year, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries names a Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholar to honor the life and ministry of Joel Workin. Joel was one of the three gay seminarians who were refused ordination in 1989 after “coming out” to their candidacy committees. Our world can sometimes feel like an unwelcoming place, where hope and inspiration seem in short supply. But prophetic voices like Joel’s, and all those who applied for this scholarship, continue to highlight that publicly identified LGBTQIA+ ministers and seminarians can be beacons of courage and powerful models of justice in action. Thanks to a generous endowment started by Joel’s friends and family, and other ongoing contributions, this award comes with a $6,500 scholarship for academic or spiritual study and is available for members of ELM’s Proclaim group who are studying to be rostered leaders in the Lutheran church.
Below is a letter from our Workin Scholarship Committee to congratulate Cassie on her achievement.
Congratulations Cassie, and thank you for your prophetic voice!
I am now writing to officially inform you of your selection as this year’s Workin Scholar. It was the Workin Scholarship Committee’s conclusion that your application, reflecting on Joel Workin’s essay “The Light of Lent,” stood apart from all the rest, not only for its outstanding writing, but for its sound theological reflection.
While referencing Joel’s thoughts on the comfort we take from darkness in our own lives, you revealed something of yourself, as a queer woman, who has struggled with her own “darkness” of anxiety and depression. The committee was particularly captivated by your imagery of this, and there was a lot of discussion about it and its relation to God’s grace. To quote your eloquent essay:
“…the depression-sweatshirt is so comfortable and familiar that something in us begs us to put it on, pull the thick hood over our head, and block out the world, surrounded instead in something that doesn’t make us happy and doesn’t allow us to connect with others, but nonetheless feels like the miserable, moth-eaten home we deserve… The good news of grace and truth and light and Christ is new and raw and scary and we don’t want to peel off our sweatshirts of sin and pretension and selfishness in order to stand shivering before the cross and the empty tomb.”
During this year that celebrates Stonewall 50, we were also impressed by your reference to the times in which Joel lived and wrote. It was certainly note-worthy that you, as a young seminarian, strove to identify with him and related his life experience to the present day. Joel wrote that “the light unfailingly shows us where we must die” and your response to that was most moving:
“Joel Workin would have known something about death, even when he spoke these word in his mid-20s. The AIDS epidemic had begun, and suddenly young, previously healthy gay men were watching their friends sicken and die instead of fall in love and make mistakes and raise families and learn new things and create beautiful art. For him to say that God’s light shows us where we must die was not a throwaway line…For gay men like Joel, and for queer people even now who watch as trans women of color are killed in the streets, as young gay men and their friends are shot during a night out dancing, or as queer youth are bullied into self-harm when school is supposed to be safe, death does not feel so far away.”
This was an insightful connection to his life and times.
On behalf of the committee, I congratulate you on a splendid essay and becoming this year’s Workin Scholar. As you continue to pursue the ministry of Word and Sacrament, may you continue to strip away your own sweatshirt of darkness and despair and, to paraphrase Joel, embrace the light which was does not require perfection, only your presence.
Cassie Hartnett (she/her) grew up on the Connecticut shoreline and graduated from Union Theological Seminary in May 2019, where she studied psychology and religion, and wrote a new play for her thesis project. Previously, she studied at Barnard College and spent two years in the Twin Cities serving with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, including work with ReconcilingWorks. Cassie will begin her internship year at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Parkville, MD this August. In her spare time, she practices ballet and yoga, bakes excellent cookies, and can recommend a great queer young adult novel.
Special thanks to Currents in Theology and Mission (www.currentsjournal.org) for allowing Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries to share this excellent resource with our wider ELM community! Click their link to read other great articles from this quarterly publication.
Proclaimer Lectionary Series– PDF File
Reflection by Deacon Ross Murray
The movement for LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the full life of the church lost a saint when Tim Fisher died.
For the casual observer of the Lutheran LGBTQIA+ movement, Tim and his work may not have been immediately apparent. He wasn’t someone who sought the spotlight, but worked diligently in support of others in the movement. Tim wasn’t a member of Proclaim. He wasn’t clergy or a deacon. He was a layperson, an administrator, a writer, an editor. And his calling was so clear and apparent to everyone who knew him. He was my colleague at ReconcilingWorks (though at the time, the organization was known as Lutherans Concerned/North America).
Tim’s ministry went beyond the issue of ordination, relationship recognition, or church policy. He worked, systematically, pragmatically, relationally, that we could become a church that continued to take steps that welcome, include, and utilize the gifts that we all, clergy or lay, bring to the church. A brilliant writer, he penned articles, op-eds, and social media statuses that informed, inspired, and challenged.
Tim was a quiet, non-anxious presence at Churchwide meetings. He listened to proceedings carefully, talked strategically with those who supported inclusion, gracefully engaged with those who were movable but had concerns, and gently challenging those who were in opposition to inclusion. Tim used his privilege and his presence to bring people from a place of rejection, to tolerance, to acceptance, and in some cases, even advocacy for LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church.
Tim was a straight man, who followed his calling to work for the Lutheran movement for LGBTQIA+ people. I was blessed to work with Tim on a conference for ReconcilingWorks in San Francisco in 2008, featuring a three-hour training on storytelling for change. After the training, Tim sat for a video, to practice his storytelling. In the video, Tim moves from uncertainty and discomfort to an increasing assertion that he has been the recipient of ministry and blessing, and that his work is essential to continue that blessing.
Tim fought for LGBTQIA+ people to be included in the church, because he was already the recipient of their ministry. Even after his death, the cycle of ministry continues. Tim was ministered to by LGBTQIA+ people, and because of that, he wanted to be in a ministry that would include LGBTQIA+ people into the life of the church. Because of Tim’s ministry, we have hundreds of openly LGBTQIA+ people fulfilling their calling to ministry, at the altar, in the pulpit, in organizations, and on the street, all over the country and world.
The cycle of ministry and advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community will continue, both within and outside the Lutheran Church. Tim Fisher’s calling was to push that cycle along. And for that, we can say, “Thanks be to God.”
Deacon Ross Murray is the Senior Director of Education & Training at The GLAAD Media Institute (https://www.glaad.org/), which provides activist, spokesperson, and media engagement training and education for LGBTQ and allied community members and organizations desiring to deepen their media impact. Ross uses the best practices perfected by GLAAD to train a new generation of advocates in order to accelerate acceptance for LGBTQ people, as well as other marginalized communities.
Ross is also a founder and director of The Naming Project (https://www.thenamingproject.org/), a faith-based camp for LGBTQ youth and their allies. The Naming Project has also been the subject of much media, including the award-winning film Camp Out, as well as the controversial episode “Pray the Gay Away?” of Our America with Lisa Ling.
Ross has secured national media interest in stories that bring examples of LGBTQ equality across diverse communities in America. He specializes in relationship between religion and LGBTQ people. He has written and appeared on numerous media outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Religion News Service. In 2014, he was named one of Mashable’s “10 LGBT-Rights Activists to Follow on Twitter.”
“It’s just so hard to be in this process,” I said, “because I have no idea where I’ll be six months from now! Normally I’d have an idea of what would be happening, but in the call process I could be anywhere in the country by then!”
She raised one eyebrow and gave me a pointed look, “nothing has actually changed. You haven’t actually lost control – only the illusion of having control to begin with. None of us really know what will happen to us in six months.”
My therapist knew how to offer me the gifts of wilderness. The wilderness strips away what was only an illusion and leaves us vulnerable to the truth: we never know what is coming next. A year-long call/coming out process filled with nine rejections was not the kind of wilderness I would have chosen. It was painful and raw and disheartening.
I don’t think God sent it into my life as some kind of twisted lesson.
But that doesn’t mean that God didn’t get to work stripping away my comforts, illusions, and self-identity until only the essentials were left: Child-of-God, beloved-queer, created-and-called.
This particular wilderness story has a happy ending: a congregation I adore and one that loves me back; a call that challenges me and makes me more myself; a community that is passionate and dedicated to the gospel. But, for every wilderness out of which I wander, another one presents itself almost as quickly. And, I am learning, ever so slowly, to hand myself over to that wilderness road, trusting that the gifts are still there.
“The Uses of Sorrow”
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
by Mary Oliver, from Thirst, 2007. Beacon Press.
The Rev. Megan D. Elliott is the pastor of Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church in Seguin, Texas. Before coming to Spirit of Joy she was the pastor at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in Alliance, Ohio. This summer she will celebrate 10 years in ordained ministry! When she’s not pastoring you might find her playing with her dogs, reading, running, crocheting, or enjoying anything to do with music. She has special talents for making babies fall asleep, folding fitted sheets, and buying entirely too many books.
Dear Members of the ELCA Church Council,
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God” is fundamentally flawed in development, content, and implementation and should not be approved by the ELCA Church Council.
The premise of “Trustworthy Servants” and its predecessor, “Vision and Expectations,” is unethical. A simple revision of either document fails to eliminate their fundamental flaw: the fact that they were created to label and exclude marginalized leaders.
They should both be let go and set aside.
These documents claim to lift up the ethical standards of our church, yet were crafted to police human sexuality, especially with respect to candidates for rostered ministry. Both documents explicitly focus on a narrow construction of acceptable sexual expression and demean and dehumanize many who are and might be called to professional ministry within the church. Both “Trustworthy Servants” and “Vision & Expectations” confuse what qualifies as healthy intimacy and sexual expression and behaviors that should be labeled as misconduct.
Many gender and sexual minority leaders do not see themselves, their community, their families, or their values reflected in this document. ELM mourns and protests the dangerously narrow scope our Church seems to be using to define “trustworthy:” hyper-focusing on sexual expression while, for example, ignoring the needs of people with disabilities and failing to name white supremacy as sinful.
“Trustworthy Servants” and “Vision & Expectations” are morally compromised documents. They should have no moral or juridical authority over the body of Christ. Therefore, if approved, we refuse to be guided by this document or to advise seminarians, candidates or rostered leaders to shape their lives, conscience, or behavior according to their pages.
In Christ’s love,
Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson, Executive Director and The ELM Board of Directors
By Rev. Rachel Knoke, Proclaim Member
From ELM: October is LGBTQIA+ History Month and Reformation Month! October is also the final month of ELM’s #Proclaim300 campaign, celebrating reaching 300 members of Proclaim, ELM’s professional community for publicly identified LGBTQIA+ ministers & candidates. In October, ELM is running a blog series on “Radical Reformation”: ministries led by Proclaim members doing prophetic work that is out of the ordinary! Read on from Pr. Rachel Knoke:
I like to say that Trinity Lutheran is the largest church you can drive right by and miss completely. Thanks to the movement of history, what used to be the front of the church (you know, the “pretty” side) is now the back and the back (the flat “ugly” side) is now the front. Which means, our building is really easy to drive right by without even noticing.
And as funny, and sometimes frustrating, as that is, it’s also a pretty appropriate image for our church. Our “pretty” side isn’t always what people see first. At first glance, we look an awful lot like every other nondescript, Midwest Lutheran congregation. We’re really white, getting older every day, and we’ll just say that vibrant, lively worship is not our greatest spiritual gift.
But this same community is still the first (and one of only two at the time of this writing) Reconciling in Christ congregation in our synod. And with zero hesitation, this same church opened up the doors to house a new group for Somali immigrants and an after-school program for neighborhood kids. For years we have run a food pantry out of our basement and we have a hand in a dozen or so other places of need around town. Our building may not be pretty, but it is a building with open doors.
When I was invited to contribute to this blog series highlighting, “churches led by Proclaim members that are doing prophetic justice work out of the ordinary,” my first thought was, “That’s not us.” I wouldn’t call this community exceptionally progressive or cutting edge. We’re not really on the forefront of anything. In fact, I think we secretly kind of like flying under the radar. But this is a church that is trying to follow Jesus. This is a church that is trying to throw the doors open for others in the same way God has thrown the doors open for us. For all of us.
When they called me as their pastor, not only was I their first gay pastor, I was their first female pastor. From the get-go, I expected to have to prove myself and my gifts, prove my right to exist and to thrive as a member of this community and a child of God. As it turns out, my expectations were wrong.
I’d like to think I’ve brought something good to this community, but more than anything, I know that this church has brought something good to me. This church has helped to bind up my own broken heart and shown me, once again, how much grace abounds in imperfection. And how much life grows when you give it away.
Like so many Lutheran churches, our future is questionable. But what I do believe is that if and when we die, we’ll die giving ourselves away for the sake of the world. And rumor has it, that’s not such a bad way to go. How’s that for a radical reformation hope?
Rachel Knoke (she/her/hers) is a first call pastor among the “frozen chosen” in Green Bay, WI. A Midwesterner by birth and recent resident of the Pacific Northwest, Rachel has enjoyed moving back to an area with four distinct seasons – “Packers season”, “post-season let down”, “June”, and “Packers pre-season”. She currently lives with her wife, Erin, their 3-legged monster/dog, and a spunky teenage daughter. Go, Pack, Go!
From ELM: October is LGBTQIA+ History Month and Reformation Month! October is also the final month of ELM’s #Proclaim300 campaign, celebrating reaching 300 members of Proclaim, ELM’s professional community for publicly identified LGBTQIA+ ministers & candidates. For the next 4 weeks, ELM will run a blog series on “Radical Reformation”: ministries led by Proclaim members doing prophetic work that is out of the ordinary! Read on, from Pr. Kari Lipke:
Right before worship on Palm Sunday 2017, Gethsemane Lutheran in Seattle, WA voted to become a Sanctuary Congregation. For us, it was a necessary response to the months of anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions kindled by the administration in Washington, DC and burning in communities across the nation. Liturgically, Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem on a donkey amidst crowds yearning for a different way to be community together—a way opposed to the xenophobic and dominating empire embodied by Herod and his flashy entourage—made sense as a moment for us to also oppose the xenophobic powers of our time and put our yearning for a more inclusive, respectful, and loving community into practice once again.
There are many ways to participate in the New Sanctuary Movement, but our congregation decided that our way would be to host in our building an individual or family under threat of deportation. Places of worship, you see, are on Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s very short list of “sensitive locations” and so ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) typically leaves undocumented immigrants alone when they take refuge within a church, synagogue, or mosque.
To prepare for our eventual guest or guests, Gethsemane worked with the Church Council of Greater Seattle, a nearly 100-year-old now-interfaith organization that connects faith communities in our area around our common work for justice. As part of their “For Such a Time as This” campaign, the CCGS offered orientations about the New Sanctuary Movement, organizing meetings to connect with other like-minded faith communities in our neighborhoods, and training sessions such as Cultural Humility, Know Your Rights, to Rapid Response in the event of a local immigration raid.
In June of 2018, as the nation roiled in anger over children in cages and family separation, Gethsemane’s Pastor Engquist received a phone call from partners at the CCGS: Jose Robles, a married father of three in Lakewood, WA, had been denied a U Visa Certification by the Lakewood Police Department and City Attorney. Without that certification he could not apply for a U Visa—a special visa for victims of violent crimes who cooperate with local law enforcement. Jose was scheduled to self-deport by boarding an airplane for Mexico on a Thursday morning. Instead, he came to Gethsemane Lutheran Church.
Jose is the 45th person to take Sanctuary in the United States in our current climate. You can Google his name + Gethsemane if you want to learn more from the media. But what I want people in the ELM community to know is this: As a queer person of faith, I’m heartened by the outpouring of love for Jose and his family shown by people in many Seattle-area faith communities. It resonates for me because I remember quite viscerally what it felt like to find people of faith willing to stick up for me, embrace me, and work for my equality throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s. Those people were hope, embodied, for me. And now we, together, are for Jose, and for the many who likewise live under the threat of deportation.
Even though it’s really hard to witness the unnecessary suffering that inhumane immigration policies and enforcement inflict on people, I can’t help but to also be inspired by our collective insistence as a Sanctuary Network that we will live our values: We will continue to love our neighbors and defend their dignity. We will continue to provide what antidotes we can to the abuses that some in our nation insist on visiting upon immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
I would like Jose to be home with his family, to be working at his job, to be living life uninterrupted by the threat of deportation. At the same time, I’m grateful that I get to know this man and his family. I’m thankful for the trust placed in me and others in the Sanctuary Network. I marvel at the courage this family shows—that at this vulnerable time in their lives they are willing to build new friendships and share laughter and meals, fears and hopes. They are changing me. I’ve never been one to keep my distance from working for justice, but now I am drawn even more strongly to that work. It’s inconceivable that I would not do all in my power to bring relief to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. I hope you who read this blog will see that if a small congregation in the “none-zone” can offer sanctuary as we have, so can your faith community wherever you are.
[Photo Above: Jose Robles addresses the congregation at an interfaith service organized to demonstrate solidarity and support. Pastor Joanne Engquist looks on and Michael Ramos of the Church Council of Greater Seattle interprets.]
To support Proclaim members like Pr. Kari or honor someone who builds a better world, consider a gift to the #Proclaim300 campaign, which aims to raise up Proclaimers, raise awareness about ELM, and raise 300 gifts of $300 by Reformation Day, October 31, 2018. www.elm.org/donate-now (indicate #Proclaim300)
Bio: Pastor Kari Lipke (she/her/hers) is originally from a farm in rural Minnesota and currently lives and serves in Seattle, WA, with her spouse Pastor Joanne Engquist. They share life with two dear cats and a delightful dog, and are “grandpastors” to several kids and pups in the congregation.