From PALM to Eastertide

by Amanda Gerken-Nelson

“PALM”

That’s the term many of us in the queer community serving the church have called our partners, lovers, spouses, or significant others for the past ten years. Somewhat jokingly, yet somewhat seriously, this term embodied both our deepest love and our oppression.

It stands for “Publicly Accountable Life-Long Monogamous” and it’s the language used in the 2010 revised version of the ELCA policy Vision and Expectations – in place of partner, lover, spouse, or significant other for those who are in same-gender relationships. 

While seemingly descriptive, the term is explicitly conscriptive.

When the path to ordination for LGBTQIA+ individuals was opened in 2009, the invitation to serve was like that of so many churches and institutions: “you are welcome here as long as you look like us, act like us, and do not disturb our ways of being in this world.”

When I was serving as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in East Hartford, CT, I had the opportunity on a few occasions to receive new members. Recalling the wisdom of my Old Testament Professor, the Rev. Dr. Steed Davidson, who once told me “even when we welcome others into community, there is power: ‘I have the power to welcome YOU into OUR community,” I would always augment the rite of reception ever so slightly to say: “we look forward to how you will change us and help us grow evermore fully into the beautiful kin-dom of God.”

In 2019, I, on behalf of ELM, was able to bring both of these perspectives into the process to review and revise Vision and Expectations

I was able to lift up and share the voices, perspectives, and experiences of queer people and how this document has inhibited and excluded our gifts; and, I was able to share how our gifts have the potential to change the ELCA and help us to live ever more fully into the beautiful kin-dom of God. 

I have heard our church leaders say that Vision and Expectations is more than just about human sexuality, and yet it has been the crux of its application. Minimizing V&E’s focus on human sexuality minimizes and erases the oppression queer people have experienced in the world and in the church which hyper focuses on who we have sex with and/or with whom we have deep, meaningful relationships.

Certainly, there is more to V&E and the church than human sexuality, just as there is more to my relationship with my wife than our sexual intimacy. 

Yet, perhaps, healing our relationship with human sexuality is exactly where we need to start this process of reconciliation so as to liberate us from the ways we have tried to confine and construct such relationships rather than celebrate the joy and awe of God’s beloved creation.

Human sexuality needs a Good Friday – a time to die to the systems of oppression that have defined with whom and how we are to be in relationship and who has power – so that we can experience the delight and release of its Easter morning.

Thank you to those who gave of their talents and treasurers in 2019 to make ELM’s advocacy and activism in this process possible. The journey continues and I look forward to seeking it out with you in 2020.


 

Amanda Gerken-Nelson (she/her/hers) serves as executive director of ELM and is a proud member of Proclaim and a rostered minister in the ELCA. Amanda would like to thank Dr. Davidson for ruining Christmas and for giving her faith the breadth and depth she needed to sustain her in ministry.

Love is in the Air

A 2019 Reflection by Lewis Eggleston

In this season of hearts, chocolates and likes, it’s my great pleasure to reflect on the most liked ELM Communications of 2019! Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries received an extraordinary amount of love, likes, and shares in 2019 and, if you’re like me, you might be curious what resonated with our community.

Over the past year our social media presence has grown by over 60%! More folks read our Pride devotionals, our Advent Poems, our weekly blogs, than ever before. We have ministry leaders reading, educating, and praying with our weekly materials in their own contexts around the world. They are praising the heartfelt impact the perspectives of LGBTQIA+ ministry leaders have made on their community. ELM and the Proclaim community continue to enrich & transform not only social media platforms but hearts and minds as well.  

What could the Good News look like on Social Media? Let’s take a look:

This image is the most shared and far-reaching post from 2019 (photo left, image descriptions below). Thanks to the InFaith Foundation, ELM had a huge presence at the Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, which made it possible for ELM to stand in real-time solidarity on the floor of the assembly and watch in awe at the overwhelming support shown from the assembly when they declared the ELCA a “Sanctuary Body”. This post was shared nearly 1,000 times and reached over 97,000+ people! To me, this affirms that we remain a bold tradition and when we act boldly, rooted in the Gospel, it both resonates and commissions people to the inclusive church body.

Lastly, the post to receive the MOST Love & Likes (850+) in 2019 happened when the Southeastern Synod elected an openly gay & married Bishop. Proving that when congregations make the bold & Spirit-driven move to call LGBTQIA+ pastors they grow to LOVE these called ministry leaders and perhaps one-day vote them into office as Bishop. 

 

Thank you, ELM family for all the Likes and especially the . Blessings!

(Photo Descriptions: First: Image of Sky and Cross with text: The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) declares itself a sanctuary body. Second: Photo of Bishop Strickland with the words: Congrats Bishop-elect Strickland from your family at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.)

 

 

 

Lewis Eggleston (He/Him/His) is the Associate Director of Communications and Development for ELM. He currently lives in Germany with his Air Force spouse and their dog-child Carla. Ordination into the Ministry of Word and Service is his goal for 2020!

All That You Touch You Change, Right?

By Olivia LaFlamme (ELM Program Director)

Time, as we know it, is a construction. It is not naturally occurring. It is a tool, an instrument, that we use to measure our days and lives.
“I am 40 years old”
“I’m finally going on that trip to Copenhagen this year.”
“I was in labor for 22 hrs!”
 
Time is a factor in all of those statements. Their meaning is made known by the relationship to a measurement of time-gone-by but I notice something else in there. Change!
 
Time is also a way to mark a change, a movement from one thing to the next. As the great speculative fiction writer Octavia Butler said, “the only lasting truth is change”.  What if we calculated our lives in change? What if the equation included discovery, expansion, pruning, and stillness? That’s an exciting prospect for me and when I’m bogged down by a scarcity mentality, I remember that I have a choice. I can frame my life differently by posing a simple intervention, “but what has changed?”
 
Much has changed since February of 2019 for ELM. There are just three that I would like to bring forward.
1)    Proclaim membership continues to stretch out across the continent; growing up and out!
2)    The Gathering: The church (un)bound boasted the largest attendance ever.
3)    The Queer Leadership Development Series made a grand entrance as the new kid to the program scene.
*accepts round of applause*
 
Time changes us; that’s a fact. So does heartbreak, accepting a new job, moving into a new home, _________ (you fill in the blank). What changed you in 2019?
I want finish out the Octavia Butler quote because it’s just so good. Consider it my offering to you in the year of 2020.
 
“All that you touch
You Change.
 
All that you Change
Changes you.
 
The only lasting truth
Is Change.
 
God
Is Change.”

-Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (1993)

Olivia LaFlamme (they/them/theirs) is a Black gender non-conforming queer feminist residing in Durham, NC. They are the Program Director at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. These days home, family, and doing puzzles are at the center for them. A goal for 2020 is learning how to sew! 

Welcome Ivy!

Welcome Ivy!
The Board and Staff of ELM are thrilled to welcome a new staff member to the family – Ivy Ellis!
 
Hannah Dorn, our most recent administrative support staffer, left ELM in October to pursue a full-time position at a Chicago real estate firm. We’re grateful for all that Hannah brought to our team and our ministry. We wish her all the best in her new position!
 
Ivy’s role as Operations Assistant will consist of Program, Administrative, and Development Support. Feel free to reach out to Ivy and say “Hello”! Ivy’s email is operations@elm.org!
 
Want to know more about Ivy?!
She’s full of surprises!
 
Name– Ivy Ellis
Pronouns- She/Her/Hers
 
 
Where are you from?– I am originally from Los Angeles, but right now I live in Chicago and I love it!
 
Do you have any pets?– I have four pet rats and two cats. I have had pet rats for about 10 years and they are the greatest pets. They are smart, teachable, clean and very friendly. 
 
What are their names and professions? 
 
The Cats 
 
Jelly- Unemployed
 
Poodle (yes, a cat named Poodle!)-
Currently employed as a Queen
 
The Rats 
 
Guido– Owns a Pizzeria
 
Andy–  Grant Writer for a non-profit
 
Piglet– Retired, working on a puzzle
 
Boyfriend– Barista, getting a degree online 
 
Best moment on the job so far? I truly enjoyed getting to meet the board and the ELM staff when I popped in on the Fall board retreat.
Why are you excited to work for ELM? I am excited to be able to support an organization that is doing such brave and important work. 
 
Please help us give Ivy
(and her busy working family)
a warm welcome! 

Liberation, not Legitimacy

by Amalia Vagts

I noticed something about my route while walking to my pastoral internship site at Luther College the other day. It’s a little over a mile from my home and the last part crosses the campus. In the winter, I’m usually ready to get out of the cold, and the large imposing Center for Faith and Life looks steps away by the time I’m ready to be inside. But just at that point, the sidewalk takes a sharp turn and leads me in the opposite direction of my intended destination. Finding meaning in this route is unavoidable as I reflect on how the last and next 30 years of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ journey intersects with my own winding path to ministry. 

 

When the first extraordinary ordinations happened in 1990, I was in high school and in love with the Lutheran church. I was completely unaware of the dramatic events happening in San Francisco that year, although I was increasingly aware of my identity as bisexual. By the time I did hear about one of these events (Rev. Anita Hill’s in 2001), the path was leading me well away from the Lutheran church before winding back towards it through the LGBTQ+ liberation movement. In the fall of 2006, a series of life events led me to follow a call to serve with what is now called Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. The ordination stories became the heartbeat of my call – the candidates, congregations, and the expansive donor community who saw the church for what it would become. 

 

Beginning in the spring of 2016, my growing call to ministry of Word and Sacrament became increasingly clear. I wanted to offer what I had received. I left my job and enrolled full-time at Wartburg Theological Seminary. I don’t think I ever expected the path would make a direct turn towards clarity at that point, but I may have underestimated the new questions and challenges that would emerge for me as I seek to become one of the queer-identifying ministry leaders I supported for so many years. I now understand the necessity and power of ELM’s work in deeply personal ways. “We can’t do this work without you,” was something I often and earnestly said as ELM’s executive director. I can’t even imagine this call without Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is my truth now. 

 

What remains most central for me in the work that began over thirty years ago in congregations and communities is best summarized in words that Rev. Phyllis Zillhart wrote in a very early Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries’ newsletter, quoting the work of Barbara Smith. Phyllis wrote, “we are emboldened by the words of black, feminist writer Barbara Smith who says to her lesbian sisters and gay brothers, “You must ask yourselves in everything you do, in all your actions for freedom and justice. Is it legitimacy you are working for, or is it liberation? If it is legitimacy, what will you end up with by trying so hard to be accepted and good, rather than just and free?”* These words continue to challenge me to imagine and work to create communities that reflect and seek liberation, not legitimacy.

 

The movement for LGBTQIA+ liberation that began over thirty years ago with the extraordinary  ordinations and countless acts of courage and proclamation since unfolds with surprising turns. I continue to learn from the early pioneers and the current prophets of this movement. Those of us who were once on the outside could be easily tempted to settle for being “let” into the ELCA. But God is calling us to do more than try to be “accepted and good.” The church – the living Body – longs to be just and free – liberated. I’m going down that path.

 

* Rev. Phyllis Zillhart, 1990 Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries Newsletter

43055705_10156427688095259_4763265520361275392_o (1).jpgAmalia Vagts (she/her/hers) writes, plans, dreams, naps, studies, dances and bases out of her home in Decorah, Iowa, which she shares with her partner David Lester, stepson Finn, and adorable miniature dachshund, Le Nez. She is a third year Master of Divinity student at Wartburg Theological Seminary. located in Dubuque, Iowa. Amalia is serving as Vicar this year at Luther College, Bethany Lutheran (Elkader, IA) and Emanuel Lutheran (Strawberry Point). She’s been listening to a LOT of podcasts during her commute. Amalia is the proud owner of several URLs she has big dreams for, including napdoula.com and stjunia.org. Amalia served as Executive Director of ELM from 2006 – 2017. Photo of Amalia and Le Nez by Charlie Langton. Amalia is joyfully a member of Proclaim!

A Remembrance: 30th Anniversary of the First Extraordinary Ordinations – January 20, 1990

By Rev. Steve Harms

These are highlights from the joyous liturgy ordaining Ruth, Phyllis and Jeff many years ago.  Context:  The ELCA was two years old; 10,000 men had died in San Francisco from AIDS in the previous decade; and SF Lutheran Clergy claimed our theological heritage to follow the inspiration and authority of the Holy Spirit to call and ordain God’s candidates.  St. Paulus hosted us, nearly 1,000 people attended.  I worked with a Liturgy Team to design the ordination.  

 

30 Drummers from the Sons of Orpheus (founder Bruce Silverman) lined the entrance steps.  As people arrived they passed through this ‘Loving Gauntlet’ charged with a primal energy that nothing will be the same once you enter here.  The drummers led the Processional with approximately 80 clergy participating, 65 of them Lutherans.

 

A Litany of Defrocked Clergy preceded the Processional naming 30 clergy defrocked or prevented from serving the church for being gay. A powerful moment of grieving

 

We had asked Bishop Krister Stendahl to preach because of his international reputation as a forward thinking theological scholar.  Unfortunately, his schedule did not permit. Therefore Jeff and I asked that he send a Reflection about the Meaning of this Ordination and that served as our New Testament Epistle.  This epistle became the document that outraged the 65 bishops of the ELCA and it brought contention for years.  They publicly demanded by what authority do you speak for our church – since Stendahl was a Swedish Bishop who had taught at Harvard.

 

A Gospel Processional proceeded down the center aisle of this Gothic Church where Rev. Jack Schiemann proclaimed the Gospel.  As he began, the fog of San Francisco broke for a moment and the sun shone brilliantly through the stain glass windows on Jack, crucifer and acolytes.  This classic sunlit illumination of the Gospel was happily savored by many.  Drummers enthusiastically took the procession back to their places as I danced Rev. Carter Heyward to the pulpit.  Having climbed the steps she arrived in the elevated pulpit and the drummers dramatically stopped.  She let out a gasped shriek and said, “I’ve never begun preaching like this before!

 

The Ordination Rite began with Jim Lawson dancing a Fire Dance.  Grasping flames from the Fire Stick he was carrying he cast flames upon each of the candidates sitting in the front row.  We continued with the traditional Ordination Rite lead by Rev. John Frykman of First United and Rev. Jim DeLange of St. Francis whose congregations were both expelled from the ELCA for issuing their calls to ministry.  Many years later they were reinstated.

 

The culminating Greeting of Peace was a moment of pure ecstasy with the whole congregation blessing and dancing to the drumming.  A richness of Spirit that could never be contained.

 

The Eucharist Prayer included this memorable line, “You have made us giddy with the freedom of laughter and joy”.  Ruth, Phyllis and Jeff shared the Benediction.

 

For our Recession the Thurifer (incense bearer) had tied long rainbow ribbons to the thurible.  He was a member of Grace Cathedral (Episcopal high church) who was shocked and delighted by the joy and depth of the liturgy.  I gave him the nod to begin the Recession and as he passed by me he said, ” This occasion warrants Queen Anne’s”.  Swinging the thurible in circles over his head with rainbow ribbons flying in all directions he led everyone down the center aisle. 

And with immense joy the whole congregation came out.

Rev. Steve Harms (he/him/his) Senior Pastor at Peace Lutheran in Danville, CA.  Former President of the Interfaith Council. Founder of Ruah Drama Ministry.

A Poem for Apocalyptic Advents By Cassie Hartnett

CW: Strong Language

It is not the end of the world, my therapist says, 

and I don’t believe her.

 

I read somewhere that maybe the mentally ill, the addicted, the over-dramatic, 

the vulnerable, the socially awkward, 

the crying-on-the-subway-at-2pm-on-a-Tuesday

might just be the canaries

 

The bright yellow birds in the darkness of the mine that are screaming and screaming 

for someone to hear them, 

saying this is wrong, this is fucked up, 

this is loneliness and brokenness and disconnection and death.

 

This is the end of the world.

 

About that day or hour no one knows, 

no one knows when the sun and the moon will go dark 

and the heavens will fall to the earth,

when suddenly we’ll turn around and the tectonic plates will have shifted, 

the cracks in the foundation will send rubble down into the caverns of the mines

where the canaries have been singing 

let us out let us out let us out

 

And we sing that song every day for weeks 

and we are the birds with bones too brittle for this world, 

with feathers that fall out and drift away on the breeze 

and we feel delicate and small and raw and vibrating 

because this is the end of the world.

 

So we watch. 

Jesus, you said to watch and I am watching every day. 

I’m watching so hard that I’m shaking on the phone and I can’t ride the subway 

and none of my friends are sure I’ve been eating. 

I’m keeping so alert that when my girlfriend’s phone dies I assume she has too 

and my therapist says 

why do you smile when you talk about wanting to disappear?

 

Jesus, you said to watch 

and so I am also watching the fig trees put forth their leaves 

and the babies that go out walking in the park, 

their little faces turned up towards the sky that stays just where it belongs 

and for a minute in the sun I think

 

Maybe the world goes on. 

And maybe I must stay awake to see it through.

 

 

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 began 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.”

 

Annunciation by JM Longworth

 

If you post this image, please include the following:

Picture description: ocean waves crashing along a rocky shore.

 

Poem:

Annunciation

by JM Longworth

 

Small child

curly dark hair

smile betraying

a great secret

 

Stands at 

the shore

a vast ocean

roaring tides

 

She stoops

once more

Dipping the clay jar

into surf

 

It seems

the task

will never end

bottling the ocean

 

A stranger

sickly wings

sharp tongue

asks her

 

That’s it?

Ocean in a jar?

This trick is 

Your big idea?

 

Nose wrinkling

She dips again

Catching waves

Mist clinging

 

She replies

It will be

the greatest gift

ever given

 

JM Longworth (they, them, theirs) lives in Rutland, Vermont with their partner Sara and two dogs. They are currently serving as the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and as co-pastor of the Faith on Foot Ministry Cooperative. JM also serves on the Board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and as a Formation & Vocation Coordinator for the Order of Ecumenical Franciscan.

Advent by Carla Christopher Wilson

If you share this image, please include the following:

Picture description: a finger drawn heart on a window with the light of a sunrise shining through.

Poem:

Advent
by Carla Christopher Wilson

Hold fast,

slip fingered though your grasp has been
against moments run like rain
through futile clenched hands
Hold fast,
the brightness is coming

Stand firm,
toes curled against a frozen earth,
braced against soil
determined in its lack of welcome
Stand firm,
the warmth is coming

Be still,
the cracking of dawn like a broken shell
is spilling gold 
into the purple darkness
Be still,
the sky is moving

Listen,
humming vibrations gather speed,
lifting flattened arches
and resting heels
Listen,
the earth is moving

Be ready
Poised and present, taut and sharp eyed,
waiting with ears turned
and open cupped hands
Be ready,
day is coming

Go forward,
even against wind without source,
Look toward the cliffs where birds with restless wings build nests
You have not been brought into this tundra winter
without reason, and purpose

Go forward,
dawn is coming.

 
 
Carla Christopher (she/her/hers) is a seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary – Gettysburg and Vicar of Union Lutheran church in York, PA. She is the founder and co-president of the York LGBTQIA+ Resource Center and co-chair of Toward Racial Justice, the diversity task force of Lower Susquehanna Synod.