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!
By: Kari Lipke, 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. 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.
By: Katy Miles-Wallace, Proclaim Member
I’ve never been “conventionally attractive.” For me, that would have meant being a good slender southern girl in flannel, riding boots and a puffer vest, monogram on my chest just below my long sleek hair. No, I was never quite that way.
While I do wear flannel and puffer vests, I’m more suited for boots and snapbacks or flat caps, preferring the butch over the femme. Unfortunately, that has meant that much of my life has been plagued by self-comparison to those conventionally attractive femme bodies that I would never look like (and that, for a while, I tried and failed to look like). The trying and failing and self-comparison have left a mark. This mark persists despite the fact that I feel more myself than ever, despite the fact that I’ve found comfort in wearing men’s clothing, in having a short haircut, in being referred to as handsome, a husbawife, a nonbinary person.
And so, it was quite a shocking moment when, at the beginning of the #Proclaim300 initiative, I saw that it was my face starting back at me from my phone and my laptop. That mark started to creep up again, to remind me that I’m not what people once wished me to be, that I’m not necessarily what one might call pretty. And then…and then the #Proclaim300 donations started. Donations totalling more than $5,000, across many fundraisers, in e-mails, Facebook campaigns, and mailed donations. My own Facebook fundraiser started to bring in gifts of various amounts, and from givers I hadn’t imagined!
At first, I was just excited for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries- excited that the fundraising of 3oo gifts of $300 (one for each Proclaimer, now that we’ve reached 300 members!) seemed to be going well. And then I realized: those notices and calls for donation had carried my face, my unconventionally pretty, butch, expressively eyebrowed, imperfect toothed, glasses wearing, heavyset, short-hair framed face. And those donations weren’t out of sympathy; they weren’t to fix all those things about me or about any of the rest of the Proclaimers that look vaguely like me, but to support me and others, to advocate for more unconventionally beautiful people in the pulpit, behind the table, and in service to the body of Christ.
So, what is it like to participate in these fundraisers and to be the face of the #Proclaim300 campaign? It is a realization of how Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and the Proclaim community, and all their supporters are here and ready to lift up a world which is different, which is more loving, which appreciates that which is unconventional, and unique, and new, and that which has previously been ridiculed. It is seeing all of that love and support in real time, a wave of the Kin-dom of God breaking into the world.
It is feeling whole and finished, just the way that I am. Thank you, to all of those who gave and who brought this sense of wholeness to me and I’m sure to others whose fundraisers you participated in. You gave much more than just money.
To support Proclaim members like Katy 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: Katy Miles-Wallace (they/them & she/her) is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, currently residing in the Southern Ohio Synod while awaiting call. Katy is originally from Seguin, Texas and enjoys time with their dog, Molly, and wife, Jessica. Katy is also an artist, specializing in semi-orthodox representations of queer saints.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries
Associate Director of Development and Communications
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 20, 2018
“Proclaim” Community for LGBTQIA+ Lutheran Ministers & Candidates Celebrates 300 Members
CHICAGO, IL: Proclaim, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ (ELM) professional community for publicly identified gender and sexual minority ministers and candidates, has reached 300 members. To celebrate, ELM has launched the #Proclaim300 campaign to raise support, awareness, and funds. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of gender and sexual minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.
On September 20, 2018, Proclaim celebrated reaching 300 members when Sergio Rodriguez (he/him/his), a seminarian at Wartburg Theological Seminary, joined the community.
The son of immigrants, Rodriguez says a mentor at a church in San Antonio “…reaffirmed my dignity as a gay Mexican Lutheran and made me aware that God calls people to ministry regardless of where they are in their lives, their gender, their sexuality, and their race.”
Rodriguez recalls, “When a classmate of mine encouraged me to join Proclaim, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was God gathering me to a community of fellow believers and leaders to join them in proclaiming the Gospel…that all may know the all-inclusive love of God.”
Says ELM Executive Director Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson, “We rejoice in the growth of Proclaim! This is an enormous milestone for our organization and for the church – this means there are 300 publicly-out LGBTQIA+ leaders who are dedicating their lives to calls of public ministry! This means that LGTBQIA+ folks are feeling more and more free and able to say ‘yes’ to God’s call – even in a church that for so long said ‘no’ to their leadership.”
ELM was founded in 2007 as a merger between Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (LLGM) and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP), which for years ordained LGBTQIA+ ministers “extraordinarily,” outside the bounds of the ELCA’s official doctrine, which did not allow it.
In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America changed their policy to allow gender and sexual minorities to serve the church as out and partnered ministers. Even still, congregations can refuse to consider ministry candidates because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and LGBTQIA+ ministry candidates continue to face barriers and prejudice.
ELCA Bishop Kirby Unti of the Northwest Washington Synod reflects on the gifts of Proclaim members: “The church has entered a time when what we need are effective adaptive leaders. Our LGBTQIA+ ministers tend to be some of our best adaptive leaders. Their lives have relied upon adaptive sensibilities in order to thrive.”
Says ELCA Bishop William Gohl, “From Appalachia to the inner city, in suburbia and specialized ministries, Proclaim rostered ministers are blessing our Delaware-Maryland Synod with gifts that cultivate the more-inclusive and diverse communities for which this church prays and aspires to. I am grateful for the partnership of #Proclaim300 colleagues who are serving, that all the world may know the redeeming love of God in Christ, for all – without exceptions.”
To meet the needs of a growing Proclaim community – increased by 50% in the past 3 years – ELM’s #Proclaim300 campaign aims to raise 300 gifts of $300 by October 31, 2018 (Reformation Day), totalling $90,000.
“ELM’s goal is to continue to support Proclaimers at all stages of ministry,” says Gerken-Nelson. “A gift at any level is a blessing. We are grateful for the many who make these ministries possible!”
In addition to facilitating the Proclaim professional community, ELM’s Accompaniment program provides individualized guidance, mentorship, and resources for publicly identified Lutheran LGBTQIA+ ministers and candidates. ELM’s Ministry Engagement program advocates for these leaders by advising on church policy and equipping churchwide leadership, seminaries, congregations, allied nonprofits, and other organizations to employ and embrace Proclaim members.
Follow #Proclaim300 on social media September 17-23, 2018 to see and hear stories about the gifts of LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, plus) ministers through videos, images, personalized fundraisers, and testimonials.
For more information: www.elm.org
Follow #Proclaim300 Week Sept 17-23, 2018: www.FB.com/extraordinarylutheranministries
Contribute to the #Proclaim300 Campaign: www.elm.org/donate-now
Images for use:
“Sergio Rodriguez” (courtesy of Rodriguez)
“Proclaim300” (courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries)
“1 of 300” (courtesy of Emily Ann Garcia Photography, for ELM)
By: Sergio Rodriguez, Proclaim’s 300th member
From ELM: We did it! Proclaim (ELM’s professional community of publicly identified LGBTQIA+ ministers and candidates) just hit 300! Join us in a bold welcome to Sergio Rodriguez, Proclaim’s 300th member.
I must from the outset thank and praise our Triune God for the grace which brought us all here together for ministry in our world today. This message of the grace of God in Christ Jesus continues to shape and mold our communities from which God calls us and will call others like us to ministry.
Growing up the gay son of two Mexican immigrants, the notion that God would call anyone outside the sexual and gender norms of our Mexican-American society seemed contrary to God’s will. Though I loved Jesus, his mother Mary, and the church, I found myself at odds with the wider Roman Catholic institution because of my sexuality. While this effectively made me leave the church during my high school years, I found myself returning to the Roman Catholic church as I studied at Baylor University.
At Baylor University, I felt God called me to serve the capacity as a minister of the church and to test this out. I became the chaplain of two music organizations; the Baylor University Marching Band and Kappa Kappa Psi.
Despite serving in this capacity, I still resented my sexuality and found myself hungering for a God who would simply accept me for who I was and who I wanted to be.
During my senior year of college, God showed me the message of radical and inclusive grace for all through my studies of Dr. Luther’s works, conversation, and conversion to Lutheranism.
At that time, I felt that I needed to wait before I dived right into word and sacrament ministry. From the end of college up to this present day, I managed to complete a Master’s of the Arts in Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary, switch from the LC-MS to the ELCA, and move to San Antonio where I briefly studied Marriage and Family Therapy.
About two years ago, the weight of these changes finally took their spiritual toll on me as I contemplated giving up the idea of being a rostered word and sacrament leader in the ELCA.
I felt that I was unable to find an affirming congregation that would also attend to my identity as a Latinx Lutheran. Precisely at that moment, God made me aware of Gethsemane Lutheran Church and Jesus Maestro church in San Antonio where I met my future pastoral supervisor and Spiritual Father who awakened in me that call I felt so many years ago in college.
Moreso, he reaffirmed my dignity as a gay Mexican Lutheran and made me aware that God calls people to ministry regardless of where they are in their lives, their gender, their sexuality, and their race.
So when a classmate of mine encouraged me to join Proclaim, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was God gathering me to a community of fellow believers and leaders to join them in proclaiming the Gospel of our Crucified and Risen Lord that all may know the all-inclusive love of God!
Bio: Sergio Rodriguez (he/him/his) Growing up in the Texas borderlands in an immigrant household, my parents raised me to be aware of how the border defined our identities, culture, and lives as children of God. While my formative years were spent growing up in socially conservative Mexican household in McAllen, TX, I found affirmation, mercy, and unconditional love amongst my fellow musicians, religion majors, and friends at Baylor University.
Though I continued to struggle to integrate my Latinx identity with my faith, I felt God calling me in the midst of an emotionally difficult time of my life during my senior year of college to a position of leadership knowing full well the lucha that people of color face in the church.
Unbeknownst to me as I navigated through the institution of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, God needed me to mature, develop, grow and learn further about what radical grace means for all people today.
Rather than be disingenuous to my God-given identity as a Latinx believer, I left the Missouri Synod while I finished a Master’s in Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary because God showed me the depth, the breath and the height of the love of Christ for all people with no exception to gender, race, sexuality, age, creed, capacity or the like
After taking a year off following graduation and moving to San Antonio, God kindled in me the passion, the confidence and knowledge for being a leader in the church for the sake of the world and moved me to start the candidacy process for rostered word and sacrament ministry. As I progress through my studies at Wartburg Theological seminary and candidacy process, God has continued to assure me there is no more certain calling for me than to proclaim Christ crucified for the sake of the world in word, sacrament, and deed.
By: Pastor Gus Barnes, Jr., Proclaim Member
The call began in the mid- sixties. Our family relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city that was healing from racial riots (and still has issues even in 2018). We rented a third story flat owned at the time by a LCA (Lutheran Church of America) pastor who was African American.
Upon an invitation to Lutheran Church of the Epiphany, now called All People’s, my brother Mark and I found ourselves playing church! Of course back then I was the presiding minister because I remembered all of the parts and I could sing! This church’s invitation welcomed me into the Lutheran fellowship, because I was baptized Baptist.
This church groomed me to serve God’s people even though it was healing from the darkness of the racial riots. I served in many capacities in those years including becoming the first person of color to hold the office of Council President.
As attendance and membership declined, we collectively decided to give the building away so that a new congregation could begin. Epiphany offered me a full scholarship to Wartburg College and to Wartburg Seminary. As excited as I was about the offer, I turned it down… I felt the church was not ready for a man of color who also discovered he was gay.
The call continued as I attempted to identify my identity within a Black community that did not accept “homosexuality,” so my few relationships were with white men who “did not see color.” This acceptance was very difficult for my father, who blamed it on my mother’s side of the family: my uncle was gay and we did not talk about it.
After Church of the Epiphany closed, I journeyed to find where my sexuality and faith was welcomed. In 2000, I sang for a wedding at Reformation Lutheran in Milwaukee. After the service, Pastor Mick Roschke informed me that they were welcoming new members the following Sunday. My response was, “Ok! Ok what!?
I told him that I was waiting for a church to ask me to join! This, friends, holds true today: people are waiting to be asked and invited back to church!
I served this congregation faithfully for ten years until a change in leadership in 2010 assured that two of us would be let go. Sadly, I was one. The other was Director of Music, also gay. I served the Greater Milwaukee Synod since we became the ELCA, serving at three Church-wide gatherings- 2009, 2011, and 2013.
The sense of call became stronger and when my mother’s life ended in the spring of 2012. I enrolled at Wartburg Seminary with the assistance of a church who supported me. Year one was difficult due to a seminarian who wanted to “pray the gay away.” Thanks be to God, I finished in five years!
The call continues! I married my spouse Steve in 2017, graduated in May of 2018, accepted a call at Luther Memorial in Delevan, Wisconsin, with Ordination coming on September 15, 2018. Luther Memorial is a Reconciling in Christ congregation. I cherish the name Gus because I am one of G.od’s U.nique, S.ervants. Thanks be to God!
Bio: Gus Barnes, Jr. (He/Him/His) I will be ordained on September 15, 2018 by Bishop Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld, the ELCA’s second-ever African American woman pastor elected as Bishop. I will be her first ordained as an African American man who is openly gay, in an interracial marriage.
By Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson, ELM Executive Director
Two weeks ago I had the joy of traveling to the Bay Area of California to meet friends and supporters of ELM. Some of these folks I had met before while I was a student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) in Berkeley, and many were long-time supporters and old friends of ELM who are becoming new friends of mine!
As we sat around kitchen tables, I could barely contain my excitement to tell them that Proclaim anticipates welcoming its 300th member this fall!
“I just can’t believe it.” “Well isn’t that just amazing!”
These were just a few of the reactions to the news.
You see, many of these supporters have been a part of our movement since day one. Many of them attended the first Extraordinary Ordinations of Jeff, Ruth, and Phyllis in San Francisco in 1990; many of them served on the Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries Board, the grants committee, and even the West Coast candidacy committee for the Extraordinary Candidacy Project; many of them were present the multiple times our Churchwide body took up the conversation of LGBTQIA+ welcome and some were even arrested for their public, peaceful resistance. Piqued your interest? You can learn more here: www.elm.org/history/
For many of them, 300 members of Proclaim (meaning 300 publicly-out LGBTQIA+ seminarians, pastors, and deacons who have made a commitment to public leadership in our church) was only a dream!
We celebrated this momentous occasion, and we also took time to reflect on the process of how we’ve gotten to this point. I was quick to remind them that we got here because of them! Because of you!
Because of people who have believed in and adored LGBTQIA+ pastors with their whole hearts for years and have supported ELM and our ministry to support and advocate for gender and sexual minorities in our church!
As ELM celebrates #Proclaim300 and gears up to mark the milestone with #Proclaim300 Week Sept 17-23, I am so grateful to all of our supporters who have gotten us to this point and made this occasion possible!
While in California, I was also able to meet with communities who had helped to form me while I was a student at PLTS. And, it was my pleasure to share with them the story of Proclaim and ELM, and our joy at our accomplishments.
Thanks for ALL the ways you are joining us in this celebration! Will you forward this e-mail to help others support #Proclaim300? Could you make an ask to help us get to our goal of 300 gifts of $300, or consider a special gift yourself at www.elm.org/donate-now?
#Proclaim300 is a time to celebrate and thank those early movers and shakers and donors in our movement who paved the way for our 300th member to join our community.
#Proclaim300 is a time to go wild with joy for the community Proclaim is nurturing.
#Proclaim300 is a time to tell the story of how important ministries like Proclaim are for LGBTQIA+ leaders and for our church as a whole.
Bio: Amanda Gerken-Nelson (she/her/hers) got married this summer – that’s why her name has changed! Surrounded by those they love, Amanda and Tasha committed their lives and love to each on a small farm in Maine. Now they are planning a honeymoon to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia – if you have recommendations, they’d love to hear them!
Pictured: St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco made a special cake for Amanda’s visit & preaching, and gave a #Proclaim300 gift to honor the occasion!
By Allison Bengfort, Proclaim Member
What is the Proclaim Gathering? ELM’s annual Proclaim Gathering was held August 5-8, 2018 at Pearlstone Retreat Center outside Baltimore, MD. The Gathering brings together members of Proclaim (ELM’s professional community for publicly identified LGBTQIA+ Lutheran rostered ministers and candidates) and their families, for a time of renewal, community building, and professional development as publicly identified leaders.
I am new to Proclaim – just joined in April. As a seminary student at LSTC, I was aware of Proclaim’s presence and had heard good things, but it wasn’t until I entered the first call process that my need to join became apparent. In the midst of ignorant comments in interviews and losing call opportunities because of my orientation, I needed a community. Apart from initial welcome emails, this year’s Gathering was my introduction to the community. I am pleased to say that I went away from the experience excited about new friendships, inspired by the idea of queerness as central to Christianity, and heartened by the potential of this group of leaders. The Gathering exceeded my expectations, but more importantly, it offered something I hadn’t expected.
In the world of clinical social work, which is my background, we talk about something called “unconditional positive regard.” Unconditional positive regard is an intentional, emotional posture that the best therapists extend to their clients. As its name implies, unconditional positive regard assumes the best in the client. It assumes that the client is inherently good, worthy, and worthwhile. It is able to separate misguided choices and challenging behaviors from who the person is deep down. It is essentially a clinical description of love and grace.
While I had experienced unconditional positive regard from outstanding therapists, until the Gathering, I had never experienced this posture from an entire community of people, all at once. I felt it extended to me in conversations about my difficulties in the call process, in theological discussions about problematic aspects of Lutheran theology, and in conversations about bisexuality and being “queer enough.” I witnessed it being extended to others in sessions on polyamory that challenged more traditional views, in worship services that intentionally included expansive language, and in day-to-day interactions in which both friends and strangers were deeply seen and accepted. Experiencing this openness and radical acceptance made me want to participate in it – want to reciprocate and extend this attitude to others. It made it so much easier to turn to my neighbor and offer them the same attention and acceptance.
Ideally, this experience of communal unconditional positive regard would be the mark of the church. Can you imagine congregation members feeling this way every Sunday morning or at every church event?! Talk about changing the world. Of course, this is not the case at many churches, and it is also important to recognize that my experience of the Proclaim Gathering was likely not universal. That being said, I truly believe that this community of leaders has something powerful to offer. Our experience as queer people has taught us the importance unconditional positive regard, and God has empowered us to offer it to others. Thank you all for extending this unexpected gift to me.
Bio: Allison Bengfort (she/her/hers) is an approved candidate for ordination, currently assigned to the Metro Chicago Synod. Born and raised in the Midwest, Allison moved to Seattle in 2016 for a final-year internship and loved the area so much, she decided to stay while she awaits call. Allison holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College, a Master of Social Work from the University of Chicago, and a Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. As a bisexual woman, Allison is passionate about dismantling systems of oppression in the church and the larger world. While awaiting her first call as a pastor, Allison stays busy teaching violin lessons, working at a church preschool, and playing lots of Ultimate Frisbee.
Photos by Emily Ann Garcia
By: Br. Matta Ghaly, CSJC, ELM Board Member, Justice & Recruitment Convener
ELM is responding to the Holy Spirit’s call by growing into an intersectional organization and a beloved community that is shaped by diverse experiences. I have known Rev. Shannon to be a gifted pastor, wise teacher and vocal supporter of LGBTQIA+ ministers. Her voice and experience will enrich our witness to the gospel and justice-making labor in God’s kin-dom. Read on to learn more:
The Rev. Angela Lynn Shannon grew up in a law enforcement family in Gary, Indiana. Pastoral ministry is her second career but first love and calling. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology/criminal justice from Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana. Rev. Shannon graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in June 1996 and was ordained January 12, 1997, the feast day of the baptism of our Lord at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Gary, IN. She has served congregations in Indiana, Ohio and Texas. She has served as Dean of Student Life of Luther Seminary, St Paul, MN.
Rev. Shannon is the national Vice-President for the African Descent Lutheran Association. For over twenty years she has been involved in ecumenical and interfaith conversation at home and abroad. A self-described, church “blerd,” she loves liturgy and theology.
However, her driving passion is the ministry of reconciliation. As such, she is trained in conflict transformation. Says Rev. Shannon: “My deepest hope is that we will deepen our empathy for one another in these very odd times and restore hope. To engage a sustainable reconciliation, we must take a middle step towards each other.”
Rev. Shannon is a tireless bridge-builder whose vision invites us into multi-issue and collaborative work with other associations and communities. Along with the rest of the ELM Board, please join me in welcoming Rev. Angela Shannon!
Bio: Br. Matta Ghaly, CSJC. (all pronouns) is a candidate for the ministry of Word and sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and currently serves as vicar at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN. Along with a passion for congregational ministry, Matta feels a deep call to the@logical education and serves as adjunct faculty for Islamic and Quranic Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, CA. In the midst of laboring, Matta is spiritually replenished through religious life as a Brother of the Community of Saint John Cassian (CSJC), a vowed apostolic community under the Episcopal Church. Matta is married to Rev. Sonny Graves (United Church of Christ), and finds a lot of joy in travelling, writing and teaching, composing multi-religious music, exploring unfamiliar food scenes and brewing delicious coffee.
I’ve made academia my home. The classroom was the birthplace of my intellectual curiosity, my understanding of my identities, and my passion for liberation. I felt like I could never know enough, could never read enough, and always pushed myself to integrate every piece into my larger worldview; constantly evolving. Then it became time for me to shift to become a knowledge-producer. I had to ask myself what do YOU think? What are the connections YOU are seeing? How do you articulate something that hasn’t been said before? This process tested everything I thought I knew about myself. It was really hard. I realized that I didn’t trust myself or what I knew and I definitely didn’t believe that I had something unique to contribute (hello, imposter syndrome!).
It was like BOOM! One day I woke up and just realized that I have something important to say. Thanks to the faith that I have in powers bigger than this world, I know it was no coincidence. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries came to me on the coattails of that moment. I finally felt like I could say 100% yes, I have something to offer here and I’m confident in casting a vision. I’m still an academic at heart, but I think that takes many forms. Knowledge is everywhere, and I want to practice what I know in as many ways as possible. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn from ELM as well as contribute to its strengthening and growth. Thank you!