ELM Blog: What does a Queer Lutheran Family look like? by Anonymous

As we wrap up our series on Queer Lutheran Families, we’re sharing an anonymous blog about a polyamorous family. We’ve decided to share this anonymously because ELCA policy would endanger the call of a person in a polyamorous, or ethically nonmonogamous relationship. And yet these relationships can be beautiful examples of the love and care of a Triune God who is relationship. So, we invite you to read the following with an open heart for where the Spirit might be leading the Church.
 



During the pandemic, I moved halfway across the country to be with the person I love, but if you asked me, it was because I had family in the state and community in the city that I moved to. Why couldn’t I be open and honest? Because the ELCA still has a policy that clergy cannot “cohabitate”. So terrified of sexual joy and liberation, and the prerequisite conversations, the ELCA has just decided sex in marriage=always good, sex outside marriage=always bad, and spending the hours between 12am and 7am together in a house, apartment, or room are the only times to have sex and sex will definitely happen then. I’m not actually sure I know anyone for whom the above guidelines for sex are 100% accurate.  

Why haven’t I been public about my current relationship? Well, aside from the fact that we are living together (strike one), my partner has another partner who also lives with us.

As someone who practices relationship anarchy, I deeply value the many different relationships I have, from my biological family to my chosen family; from sexual and romantic relationships to platonic ones; from best friends to my relationship with their kids. All of these relationships matter to me and one is not placed above the other (as our culture requires for cisheteronormative monogamy). When I do get married, I won’t be marrying my best friend because I already have one (a few actually). 

But even then, the ELCA requires legal marriage for relationships to count and may be codifying it, depending on how the Sexuality Statement revisions play out. So what do we do? Already people don’t understand when I talk about living with other adults in shared housing. They don’t seem to understand the financial need for shared housing due to out-of-control rental and housing costs. They also don’t seem to understand the particularly queer nature of chosen family. Right now our household includes me, my partner, their other partner, my partner’s sister, and her girlfriend. We share a house because it’s a financial necessity and because we are chosen family together.  Because “we rise together.”

We are family. We give each other rides to work, plan our groceries together, argue about dishes, and wish everyone would leave our bathroom shelf alone. We cover each other when one is short on rent and together plan on how to support our elderly parents in the twilight of their lives. Our porch is where we have family meetings, we plan for the future, and we dream about getting a dog. 

Things will change and we will eventually be able to be public about our love and commitments to each other. For now, we rest in our shared relationships and the ways we are able to be out in our neighborhood and among our close friends and family.

Image Description: The image shows the feet of five people standing in a circle on the wood floor with their feet pointing toward each other.

ELM Blog: Albie Nicol

Pictured above are Albie Nicol and their Queer Lutheran family!

My Small, Gay, Lutheran Family: A Poem and Reflection

A Poem by Albie Nicol

Jacqui’s Eggplant Curry
As I rush between holy
Works, holy spaces, and
Spiritual works and burnout.

Jones’ patience as our hands 
Fumble across a table
Placing playing cards on top
Of each other as I learn Blitz.


Naomi’s home-cooked meals
With the musings of Tripp Fuller
And John Cobb playing in the
Background as she prepares
Nourishment for our theological night.
 

Grace upon grace,
Hand upon hand, 
A family created
Without necessity of man

 

Rainbow ribbons tied to bells and sticks
Queer clergy and allies all in a mix
Celebrating the new deacon in stride
Proclaim and the Spirit calling us into abide

 

Sunshine on asphalt and glitter everywhere
17,000 marching in Columbus Pride
So many of us Lutherans unwilling to hide
Croptops and collars equipped, worn, adorned with care

 

Grace upon grace,
Hand upon hand,
A family created
Without necessity of man

 

My heart is held by our Genderful Creator
In their outstretched arms, I feel queer love
Exploding into the communities I exist within
Calling each of us together, fitting like a glove.

 

As a young queer and trans person called to ministry, I was blessed with a wonderfully supportive family of origin who are some of my biggest cheerleaders. So when I was called to reflect on what a queer Lutheran family looked like, I had to look to my more recent experiences with seminary, and how our community built upon love and mutual aid has created a family straight out of God’s kin-dom. Truly I tell you, the seminary experience full of other queer and trans folks in my cohort and program has created additional room in my heart and mind of what it means to be a family, and how God’s intent and will is for us all to find family where we are in life. I am ever-thankful for the family I was given by God: the parts I grew up with, and the parts I grew into here at seminary.
 



Albie Nicol (he/they) is a queer and trans seminarian at Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University in Columbus Ohio. He is an entranced candidate for ordination in the ELCA and comes from the Northeastern Iowa Synod. He is the Proclaim Seminary Representative for Trinity, as well as a student leader. In his free time, Albie can be found in a hammock, at home crafting with his cats, or finding fun adventures to embark on with his seminary family.
 

A Tribute to Rev. James DeLange 

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

ELM Churchwide Assembly & Bound Conscience Statement

If there is anything that could be said to be a catchphrase of 2022’s Churchwide Assembly, it would probably be “One million new, young, and diverse.” There is so much that went on during this year’s assembly that will reverberate throughout the church for years to come, but the implementation of the Future Church design, especially the portion of it most concerned with recruiting new members, seemed to occupy many discussions. 
 
As much as we must celebrate the accomplishments that came from Churchwide Assembly, there are also many things we can and should improve on not just as a church, but as the Church. Accessibility continues to be an unaddressed need at the event. From translation needs, lack of planning and accommodation for people of a range of disabilities, and getting this accomplished while being culturally competent. There were several times when people witnessed anti-black, anti-indigenous, anti-latine, and anti-trans sentiments or expressions both from the assembly and those leading.
 
It is ELM’s belief that this desire to recruit new members, should it have any hope of success, must be able to first define who it is seeking to recruit and what the ELCA has to offer them. Given our current demographics, “young” could mean anyone under 50.  And it is rare to find an LGBTQIA2S+ person, or a BIPOC person, or a disabled person in the ELCA who hasn’t yet been told patronizingly how special their “new voice” was to a community or event, or who hasn’t been saddled with tons of unpaid labor to explain to others what it’s like being “diverse.” Aka “Not a white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied person.” There is our carefully-defined norm, and then there is, well, everybody else- “Diverse folks.” Being seen and desired only as a counterpoint to the norm does not land as complementary to many in the groups to whom the ELCA claims to want to reach out.
 
But should the efforts to beckon to such people actually succeed, what will they find when they enter our doors? Will they be welcomed as true siblings, “all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13)? Will they be treated as ones with an equal inheritance to the kin-dom of God, or will they be tokenized, fetishized, and stripped of power and agency as they have been in the church for so long- e.g. the ELCA Listening Panel and their recommendations. ELM will be listening closely to our constituents (especially to those embodying multiple marginalized identities) and members of other historically marginalized groups as the efforts continue to identify how we can best use our collective power to create a church that is worthy and ready to receive those it claims to welcome.
 
One thing we know as ELM is that if the ELCA’s “One million new, young, and diverse”dream will ever become a reality, the ELCA must address our sins of racism and “bound conscience” (the four pillar definition of “bound conscience” can be found on pages 19-21 in this document).  As Lutherans, we confess our participation in these systems, yet we continually fall short in the ways to overcome these systems of oppression. In 2019, the Churchwide Assembly adopted a formal letter of repentance to commit to examine the church’s complicity in slavery, and to acknowledge “the ELCA’s perpetuation of racism.” At the 2022 Churchwide Assembly, Bishop Eaton formally apologized to the worshiping community of Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina for both individual and institutional racist harm done to the congregation & the Latinè community. To quote the words of the ELCA in the 2019 formal apology to the African Descent community, “An apology is only empty words and promises unless it is accompanied by action, which is grounded in prayer, education, and soul-searching repentance. We trust that God can make all things new.” While in many ways the ELCA continues to perpetuate racist harm, it has begun to confess this harm ploddingly. 
 
Paraphrasing Paul, as Bishop Eaton referenced in her apology and often reflects on, we are all one body with many members…the eye cannot say to the hand I have no need for you. Yet, “bound conscience” does just that- denying the sacredness of queer bodies in the ELCA. Queer people in the ELCA deserve an apology and behavior consistent with repentance for the harm caused by “bound conscience” and policies like “Vision and Expectations.”
 
ELM stands firmly with marginalized communities within the ELCA and we recognize the steps the ELCA has begun to take to live into Paul’s vision of one body. The ELCA has confessed and continues to repent in some ways the harm we caused to parts of the body regarding racism, slowness to affirm women clergy, plus a multitude of other harm. 
 
The ELCA has yet to take steps to affirm the parts of the body that are queer.
 
As Lutherans, we often reflect on Luther’s words when he said, “A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” In ELM’s belief statement we say, “We speak honestly, even when it’s hard.” So when a “new, young and diverse” voting member from the Southeastern synod stood up and proposed to reconsider “bound conscience” to be done before the 2025 Churchwide Assembly, the queer community held its collective breath in a flurry of emotions. Bishop Strickland followed the voting member from his synod with a stirring speech where he spoke to one instance as Bishop when he said the words “the Body of Christ, given for you,” and the congregant answered, “Not from you, Bishop.” 
 
This is both shocking and not an uncommon reality for some rostered leaders in the ELCA. Many queer-rostered ministry leaders experience this harm in the ELCA with little recourse because of “bound conscience.” 
 
A church that yearns for “one million new, young & diverse” voices cannot reach its goal of one million by withholding the diverse voices it yearns for from entering the pews and the pulpits. ELM urges the committee tasked with reconsidering “bound conscience” to include “new, young, and diverse” voices and those that have been most harmed by “bound conscience” to be invited to the table and most importantly that the church will listen and take actions based on the recommendations of these “new, young & diverse” voices.
 
It is time for “bound conscience” to go- it is time for all parts of the body to be affirmed for its beauty, accountable for its faults, and celebrated for its existence. It is time for the ELCA’s pattern of “empty words” be transformed into God’s promise of “empty tombs” that God’s love cannot be bound. It is meant to be in the world with our church sharing this good news and our collective gifts with the world. Amen. 
 
Expect more news regarding this opportunity for our denomination to repent and restore relationship with the LGBTQIA+ community. Your prayers and support will change the world.
 
-Your partner in ministry- the ELM Board & Staff

What does a Queer Lutheran Family look like? by Reed Fowler

My alarm clock sounds like ocean waves. I wake up, get dressed, and take Ari, my dog, out for her morning walk. She jumps back on the bed when we get inside, snuggling up next to my spouse.

When I go to feed our three cats, Greyson races out of one of our housemates’ bedrooms, because he prefers their bed most nights. I greet each cat as I set down their food dish. I ask Ari to sit before giving her breakfast.

I pass another one of our housemates in the kitchen, who is also getting ready to leave for
work. I leave the iced coffee out for them. As a queer-centered cooperative, we go through a lot of iced coffee. We also go through a lot of rapid tests, trying to keep each other as safe as we can. The dishwasher seems to be about full, so I start it before leaving.

Work is a point of transition, currently. Changing paths in the waiting. But I’m feeling aligned and supported and seen. My family is happy I’ll have a more life-giving balance. More space. More joy.

On lunch, I text my partner to continue a conversation and see how their day is going. There’s a few other group chats to respond to: one of our housemates lets us know a friend is coming over later, I ask if it’s rained at the house at all; another chat is talking color palate for mine and my spouse’s upcoming wedding part 2; another is trying to set a night for Dungeons & Dragons.
We’re all still and always learning how best to care for one another.

After work, I come home and water my raised beds, and the in-ground plants I’ve taken responsibility for – two of the three apple trees, a mulberry tree, and the beds we’ve deemed “mint land”. I harvest some rue to dry, and cut some zinnias for the kitchen. Inside, I start a bulk batch of garbanzo beans. I call my mom and chat while cooking, and then call a dear friend
from home.

It’s Tuesday, which means Bible study with a dispersed ecumenical Franciscan order I’m
discerning relationship with, and committed to. Afterwards I go to our art room – I pray
before weaving, and then fall into song-rhythm-prayer while weaving.

As I’m winding down for bed, my spouse and I watch an episode of Project Runway. I read a few pages of an autobiography of St. Francis, and then a chapter for a fiction book club. I write in my journal – a daily habit now for over a year – reflecting on family that is based in relationship, that’s intentional, and care-filled. Family that spans human and non-human and born-into and chosen kin.

May we each sew our lives into this tapestry of interrelation.
 

 

Reed Fowler (they/he) is an approved candidate for Word and Sacrament ministry in the ELCA. Reed completed their MDiv at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. After a year of managing a pet grooming salon, Reed is transitioning into operations support at Upstream Arts in Minneapolis, MN. Reed, his spouse Eric, and their three cats and a dog, all live at Rhubarb House, a queer-centered housing cooperative where they are founding members. Reed loves books about magical libraries, watching reality cooking shows, and weaving.

What does a Queer Lutheran Family look like? by Rev. Gretchen Rode

When my wife, Jill, and I got married 9 years ago this month, we had a reading from the book of Ruth. Drawn to the book by the two strong women who made promises to one another despite their different backgrounds and hard circumstances, we loved the vows that Ruth made to Naomi: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). United by our love for one another and our commitment to following our callings, we hoped this reading would set us up for a future full of love together. We sealed our promises to one another with a kiss.
 
9 years later, at the beginning of this month, we had what we lovingly called “baptismpalooza” for our four adopted children. We remembered the story of Abraham, longing for a family, being told by God to look to the stars and remember the promise of a family as vast and wide and varied as the stars. On a day of pouring rain, we met under a leaking overhang at our
favorite park and reminded Niya, Aysha, William, and Willie that God loves them always and forever, sealing this promise with water and prayer.
 
Adopting four children during the pandemic hasn’t been easy. Coordinating and leading two churches as a clergy couple hasn’t been easy. Being a queer person and a woman in the United States these days has not been easy.
 
And yet, when we doubt we can make it, when it seems like there is no hope, it is then that the promises of care from our friends, families, and congregations have come through. Our queer, beautiful, dynamic family has been embraced and supported in so many ways: by the food dropped off at our doorstep, by the crowd at the wet baptism, by the hopes and prayers of so many. At our kiddos’ baptism, we read words written for us by the Reverend Sarah Rouse Clark: “Families are made in so many ways; by birth, by adoption, by choice, by marriage, by
circumstance, by tragedy, by love, formally, and informally. The Bible is full of different kinds of families and over and over again we see that God dwells within them all” (SAPLC Adoption Blessing).
 
Our queer Lutheran family leans on promises. The promises that Jill and I made to each other. The promises we made to the judge when we adopted our children. The promises that our communities made to us to support us always. The promises that God made to each of us in our baptism: You are loved. You are beautiful. You are mine.
 
May the promises of God uphold you in your queer Lutheran family today and always.
 

 
Article ImageGretchen Rode (she/her) is the “One and Only Pastor” at House of Hope Lutheran Church in the Twin Cities, MN. She and her wife, Jill Rode (pastor at St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church) live with their four children and new pup in a house full of laughter, books, board games, maps, and far too many chicken nuggets for their liking.

Deacon Lewis Eggleston

 
Hands outstretched in prayer, friends, family members, members of the Proclaim community, ELM board members, and four (yep, count ‘em-Four!) bishops gathered, in-person and virtually, around ELM’s Associate Director of Generosity and Communications, Lewis Eggleston, last night to ordain him as a deacon in the ELCA and to officially install him in his call to ELM. It was the culmination of many years spent in the candidacy process, and a true joy to behold. As an ELM board member, watching Lewis’ journey through candidacy these last several years has been a testimony to how far we’ve come and how far we have left to go. Being a queer person in candidacy is not any easy feat, even now, and being a queer person called to a ministry of Word and Service, rather than Word and Sacrament doesn’t make it any easier, especially when that call lies outside of a congregation. Even just as an observer, it has been difficult to watch the long and sometimes arduous journey that led to this day. 
 
And yet. It was a day full of rejoicing, not just because I’m excited for my treasured colleague, but also because it was the first time I’d seen a service held on a seminary campus that was so delightfully queer. From the music to the banners, the paraments to the preaching that invoked drag culture, the famous rainbow suspenders, to the fact that two of the four bishops participating were themselves out queer Christians, last night’s service was a reminder of the fact that, in the 32 years since the forming of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (ELM’s predecessor body) and the first ordinations of out gay and lesbian pastors, so much extraordinary work has been done. Extraordinary in the sense of occurring extra-ordinem and in the sense of being bigger, better, and more daring than what is ordinary. 
 
 
Lewis-friend, colleague, and child of God, you have been carried to this place on the shoulders of giants-both those who found ways to serve in this denomination we hold dear and those who could not. They hold you still. And so do we-the colleagues, constituents, friends, and family who surrounded you last night and surround you in prayer today. When you call, we will answer. We will rejoice with you, mourn with you, hold you accountable, and journey with you as you continue to make the church a more hospitable place for LGBTQIA+ rostered leaders. Wherever this work and your servant’s heart call you, you will never go alone.
 

(Pictured: Proclaim members at the ordination)
 
 
Jessica Davis (they/she) is an ELM board member and a church consultant specializing in Christian Education and pastoral care.

Dear Churchwide: By Drew Stever

Dear Ecclesia,
 
Many of you know me. Many of you do not. I am Drew: pastor, step-parent, trans elder, son, partner of Hazel.
 
Yes. That Hazel. Pastor Hazel Salazar-Davidson.
 
I have been relatively quiet in the last eight months. This is a result of having to care for Hazel, myself, and our kids while maintaining my own call as a solo pastor.
 
During this time, we have experienced a palpable silence from the institution.
 
Institutions are created by specific people with specific worldviews, for specific people with specific worldviews. They are not made for marginalized folks, so they don’t know how to care for us. So they become silent.
 
This is what institutions do. They prioritize:
  • the institution over the people.
  • maintaining a perfect image over suffering.
  • public relations and political conversations over vulnerable and uncomfortable exchanges.
  • a facade over what is authentic.
  • pushing out any who hold up a mirror in one hand, and the gospel in the other.
 
“Is it even that bad? Why are we still talking about this?”
 
I have had to witness and learn more about how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shows up in a person as a result of religious trauma than I ever thought I would. And that person isn’t a congregant. They’re my partner. My love. There are no support groups for those caring for those experiencing spiritual trauma.
 
We have had to tend to the spiritual wounds of our kids, too. One of them, who was supposed to be a voter, chose not to attend Churchwide Assembly because they felt unsafe. She has experienced firsthand what it’s like to be a person from a marginalized group in this institution and as a young adult who grew up in the ELCA, has now taken steps to create distance from the institution during a season when the ELCA declares we are striving to bring in new young diverse leaders.
 
In the last eight months, we have not received one message of care from the presiding bishop, even after Hazel wrote to the bishops, reported to the listening team, published vulnerable accounts of her experience, and received a majority vote to speak at Sierra Pacific’s synod assembly.
 
Instead, we have received chaotic, dysfunctional attempts at care by the synod that have only perpetuated harm. As of the date of Churchwide Assembly, Hazel still has not received disability benefits, nor an income since December 2021.
 
We have been left to fend for ourselves in a system that was not created for us.
 
We have been left feeling like we are not wanted here, that eventually we will just leave so the institution can continue its trajectory of sweeping harm under the rug.
 
The thing is, we want to be here. We want to respond to God’s call to serve in this church.
 
 
However, it has gotten to the point where our safety is our utmost priority and wherever we find ourselves not experiencing safety, we look for the nearest exit.
 
Boz Tchivijivan, an attorney advocate for abuse survivors on the Hillsong:  A Mega Church Exposed documentary shared what he had consistently heard from those harmed by faith communities was that “‘the abuse that was perpetrated…by the perpetrator was traumatic and it is going to take me a lifetime to process it and heal from it. But what was worse than that was the response from the very community that I thought was going to be my greatest advocate, but who turned their back on me. That I don’t know if I’ll ever heal from.’” Tchivijivan found that the failed response of the faith community has a graver impact on the victim than the actual abuse itself.
 
There have been many in our denomination that are currently experiencing the same kind of hurt and abandonment. Those of us from the LGBTQIA+ community understand this kind of hurt on a very personal level.
 
This year’s assembly theme is Embody the Word. I invite us all to consider this word: Mark 21:12-13. It reads:
 
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’  but you are making it a den of robbers.”
 
Far too long this institution has ignored those on the margins. We have been distracted by the shiny things on the table. It is time we overturn tables and drive out those who are peddling goods that lead us away from God – goods such as legalistic resolutions, antiquated protocol, or “stay in our lane” mindsets.
 
Dear Ecclesia.
 
Dear Presiding Bishop Eaton.
 
Who are we called to be?
 
Are we called to witness suffering, but then ignore it until it goes away? Are we called to favor our own comfort? Are we called to check with our lawyers first before extending care?
 
Or, are we called to set down our egos, set aside what distracts us from one another, to witness suffering and move toward it, regardless of how we feel?
 
I pray this assembly moves toward the latter.
 

 
ELM encourages you to make a prayerfully considered gift for Hazel’s continued (unpaid) ministry within our church- you can Venmo her at @Hazel-Davidson. Thank you. 
 

 
Drew Stever (they/he) serves as Lead Pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Hollywood, CA. During this season, he helped co-found Koinonia Mutual Aid with Hazel and many other faith leaders, which is a network of care by BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ faith leaders, for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ faith leaders. Drew lives in Ventura County, CA with Hazel, the kids, their dog, fish, bird feeder and ever-growing abundance of succulents.
 

Dear Churchwide: by Chelsea Achterberg

Dear Churchwide, 
 
2022 will be my second time attending Churchwide Assembly. In 2019 I was the young adult voter for my home synod. I left Milwaukee aching that we did not discuss, yet alone vote on, an update for the Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust social statement. When I had a chance to serve again as a voter for 2022 in my new synod, it felt like a chance to finish the work. This year, a memorial to update the social statement has been removed from en bloc and will be considered by the assembly. Many, or maybe even most, of you reading this have strong feelings about the document as it is and about how it should be. Like many of you, it is personal to me.
 
In 2016, my wife Mandy and I were preparing to draft our Roster Ministers Profiles (RMPs) our senior year of seminary. We quizzed bishops who came to Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary about what we should select, married or publicly accountable lifelong monogamous relationship (PALMS). Of course, two bishops gave two opposite answers, both with sound reasons. One said, you should put PALMS. That makes clear you are in a same-sex relationship. It’s more honest and doesn’t look like you’re hiding anything. The documents of the church, the social statement and the now removed Vision and Expectations, still define marriage as between a man and a woman. Another said, are you legally married? Yes, we were legally married with a state issued license by an ELCA pastor in an ELCA seminary chapel. Then you are married and you should select married. The problem of course was that both were correct and both reflected legitimate views within our church.
 
That paperwork and plenty of others have changed since then. PALMS has been removed and non-gendered options have been added. Non-gendered titles for this assembly brought me great joy. It’s easy to change paperwork. Paperwork, especially RMPs, are only seen by a tiny number of people every year. Paperwork must be informed by policy and policy change is much harder. Policy is a public face of what we believe and discussing it opens us anew to scrutiny.
 
Since well before the Human Sexuality social statement, the policies of this church and all our predecessor bodies, have left some with privilege and some with the table scraps. We will not fix all of those at this assembly. But we might spend the rest of our collective days moving us closer to the mutuality we see in our triune God. My prayer is that this Churchwide Assembly will approve a reconsideration to revise the social statement not only in better accordance with our laws and our understanding, but in celebration of the great diversity of ways we glimpse the vastness of God through the diversity of people in God’s good creation.
 
 

 
Chelsea Achterberg(she/they) serves as pastor at  All Saints Lutheran Church in Aurora, CO and as a US Army Reserve Chaplain. While usually a solo runner, Chelsea is looking forward to running her first multi-stage relay race with a team other pastors this fall. She and her wife, Mandy have enjoyed the great community of Proclaimers they have found in Denver. 

Dear Churchwide: by Melissa May

Dear Churchwide, 
 
The first time I was ever aware that the ELCA was a risk-taking denomination was at the Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee in 2003, where I was a young adult guest. On the street outside the convention center, a small group of protesters held up signs chastising our denomination for considering openness to queer leaders in relationships.

Controversy has been no stranger to our body. But I’ve always been glad that the ELCA is willing to take on challenging questions of faith and step boldly forward when the Spirit leads us.

However, realizing that you are in a persecuted group can slap you into the stark reality of never being far from churchgoing people who distrust your community.

The universal pressures of the last few years are compounded upon us who are ministers of vulnerable identities. If you’re a person of color, a woman, queer, and/or experiencing disability, you’re too frequently hammered with blame when congregants feel discomfort and fear. You’re hounded by more intense scrutiny and gossip. Frighteningly, many ministers from vulnerable demographics are chased away from places of ministry through parishioners’ passive-aggressive onslaughts, abetted by complacent status-quo-seekers.  Of course, sometimes queer, BIPOC, disabled, and female ministers are attacked outright. It can happen to anybody, but it happens to us so much more frequently.

I speak to no specific scandal here, but to many instances of beloved colleagues struggling desperately to hang on to a ministry call, find a new call in a non-toxic environment after being deeply wounded, or simply to find a call at all.

But “blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus declares to the crowds in Matthew 5. 

If we are who we say we are as the Body of Christ, and one of our goals is to lift one another up in our various beautiful identities–including but not limited to queerness–then we must continue to be courageous in the face of adversity and repeat: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
 

We are doing a God-led thing when we treasure and proclaim the sanctity of queer, black and brown, disabled, and women’s lives, and the lives of all who are downtrodden. We are choosing a Christ-like way when we describe the imago dei identity of all, especially folks who are persecuted. So my prayer for us all, Churchwide, from the bottom to the top, is that we keep being courageous in these ways, though people may leave our congregations. I pray they will stay long enough to have honest, thoughtful, and compassionate conversation before they depart, if they must.

Be brave, ELCA! God loves you deeply, and Christ is with you!


 
The Rev. Melissa May (she/her) is a regular supply pastor through the Virginia Synod, and teaches English as a Second Language at Eastern Mennonite University. She recently had the privilege of co-leading the SAWC Exploration known as the Virginia Eastern Shore Exploration. Some of her greatest joys are playing escape-room games with family, adventuring in Dungeons and Dragons, and engaging in creative writing.