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Picture description: ocean waves crashing along a rocky shore.
by JM Longworth
curly dark hair
a great secret
a vast ocean
Dipping the clay jar
will never end
bottling the ocean
Ocean in a jar?
This trick is
Your big idea?
She dips again
It will be
the greatest gift
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.
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Picture description: a finger drawn heart on a window with the light of a sunrise shining through.
by Carla Christopher Wilson
slip fingered though your grasp has been
against moments run like rain
through futile clenched hands
the brightness is coming
toes curled against a frozen earth,
braced against soil
determined in its lack of welcome
the warmth is coming
the cracking of dawn like a broken shell
is spilling gold
into the purple darkness
the sky is moving
humming vibrations gather speed,
lifting flattened arches
and resting heels
the earth is moving
Poised and present, taut and sharp eyed,
waiting with ears turned
and open cupped hands
day is coming
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
dawn is coming.
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Picture description: a snowy scene of evergreen trees with the peak of a church poking through.
By Jon Rundquist
As frigid winds across the prairies blow
And birds have left the northern Midwest climes
The church upon the hill collects the snow
Around the door and lot just like old times
And I with wife in hand and child in arm
Head out into the drift with dragging skirts
The snow lets up before the bell’s alarm
We leave with hope, and yet, my heart still hurts
With yearning pulpit dreams akin to grief
It’s been so long since I have been up there
The peace I had was stolen by a thief
A thief with Bible-twisted fear and glare
Of course, the conscience-bound are always right
They steal the dreams of queer and trans alike
The joy of Advent mired by hate and spite
Uncomfortability is giv’n a mic
“I’m sorry” so they say. “Not ready yet”
“Just give us time, okay?” How long to wait?
Awaiting Baby Jesus, Advent wreaths are set
For love to break the walls of fear and hate
As frigid winds across the prairies blow
We pray for opened minds from Advent’s themes
Embrace us all to fill your hearts and sow
The seeds of all our hopes and pulpit dreams
Jon Rundquist (he/her/theirs) is a non-binary trans/genderqueer rebellious preacher of the rural Northwoods, where they are a stay-at-home parent and an occasional electronics team member at Target. Jon has many loves, including his wife and two children, and an affinity for sci-fi/fantasy Star Trek/Wars/Gate. Yes, that’s six slashes. She hopes to one day serve in ordained ministry for the God and Church she loves. Rebellions are built on hope after all.
Emily Ann Garcia and Matt James
Board Members who were present included Matt James (Co-Chair), Emily Ann Garcia (Co-Chair), Margaret Moreland (Secretary), Emily Ewing, Jeff Johnson, Kelsey Brown, Margarette Ouji, Jessica Davis, JM Longworth. ELM staff who were present included Amanda Gerken-Nelson, Olivia LaFlamme, Lewis Eggleston and Ivy Ellis. Board members absent from the meeting included Jan Peterson (who joined via video when available) and outgoing board member Matta Ghaly.
This past October, ELM’s Board of Directors met for one of two annual in-person meetings at the beautiful Nicholas Center in Downtown Chicago. As we do in each meeting, we reminded ourselves of who Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is by reviewing and discussing our Belief Statement, Strategic Directions and Explicit Practices. At this meeting, we were able to engage deeply around what moves us in the daily work and what it may be time to revise or let go of as we continue to move forward with the work of ELM. As these conversations continue, we will be delighted to share more with all of you.
As part of our commitment as an organization and as a board to take anti-oppression seriously, all board members read Rev. Lenny Duncan’s book, Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the United States in preparation for the meeting. This led to fruitful discussion about the diversity of experience in the room. How do you know you belong here? In what ways does ELM need to repent for being part of an unjust system? What could it look like for ELM to offer reparations? What do you hope ELM will do tomorrow? These are just some of the questions we took on as part of this discussion, and the answers we are moving toward will deeply influence the direction of the organization as we grow into the future.
The board also got the opportunity to engage with ELM staff members around their goals for 2020. Staff has done an incredible job diving into their work and the goals they’ve set for 2020 were both impressive and inspiring. The board split up into groups to talk with Amanda, Olivia and Lewis about ways the board and board members can help support their goals over the next year. We won’t speak for everyone here, but the Executive Team’s conversation with Amanda was very exciting!
All of these conversations will guide the board’s and staff’s work in the coming months as we live into our dreaming. The board room holds a lot of energy for this work and we are very much looking forward to what the next round of conversations will bring!
The ELM Board’s next meeting will be a conference call in December. The next in-person meeting with be held March 19-22, 2019 in Pennsylvania at the Pendle Hill Retreat Center.
Questions or concerns you may have for the Board may be directed to Executive Director, Amanda Gerken-Nelson (email@example.com) who will pass them along to the Board’s Executive Committee.
Remembering Rev. Richard Andersen
A Creator of Things. Richard and I met in an Irish bar on the Riverwalk in San Antonio in 1992. Neither one of us was Irish nor from Texas, but a work conference and a night of frivolity brought us together to sing drunken Irish tunes. What we did have in common was having Midwest roots, strong spiritual backgrounds, and being gay men.
At the time, we were both financial advisors for the same company, struggling to build viable practices that served clients in the greater Lutheran community based on a model of care and generosity. I remember traveling to O’Hare at the end of another work conference in Chicago, when I picked his brain for ideas of how to organize and build my business. I focused on him, I think, because I knew he was smart, yet more importantly, he was wise. I was seeking guidance, not just ideas.
Sometime in the following year, his wisdom, along with vision from his business partner, culminated in a handshake where my life partner, Brian and I became business partners. From that weekend on I referred to Richard as my “Buddha” or “wise-guy”. He had a quality of knowing, yet with deep humility.
Any of you who spent time with him know he was good hearted and engaging, but you probably also came to see his handy work as well. He built things – walls, roofs, buildings, things of substance. Kind of macho things when I think about it. He knew how to use a hammer, as they say.
He also created other kinds of things: beautiful healthy food, usually Danish, connections with countless people, and amazing support for the institutions he loved. His creative spirit drew people together. He was an attractor, as I call it.
His ability to attract others made him an ideal board member. Thus, he served the ELM board for many years. I don’t think of him as one who was at the forefront of the movement for sexual equality within the ELCA or greater church, but one who supported and advised those who were. There was something about his natural traditional sense that didn’t put him out front on this issue. The arc of his own public coming out supports this idea. He grew into his role as an ordained, gay Lutheran servant. It took time. He described the journey this way: “My life has revolved around being gay and acknowledging my call to serve the church.”
On a walk in the Italian woods in Tuscany, we had a talk about the end of our lives, what would it be like, where did we hope our lives would be at the final point? I remember discussing the desire to be “all used up”, having it all “left on the road” as a runner would say. Richard’s sudden death this summer was stunning, it felt too soon. He seemed to be at the apex of his knowledge and sense of serving the world. He was lovingly walking through the days with his now husband, Patrick. It was good.
And then God said, it is finished.
Richard had told me of a visit with his own father at his deathbed many years earlier. His father, a good Dane, of course, and also a Lutheran pastor, was ministering to his son, Richard at that dying moment. He said, Richard, I love you, but most importantly, in your baptism, remember you are a beloved child of God.
Its easy to love an attractor, they are made for it. It’s harder to say goodbye to one such as this, for the connection, the glue that binds us, is so strong. Yet, just as Richard’s father reminded him, we are called to who we really are in our baptism, and we know we will not ever really have to say farewell.
Greg Jahnke is a wealth advisor with Thrivent Financial and resides with his husband, Brian Richards in San Francisco. They are active members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. They are both appreciative of all the efforts that have brought the church to its present stance on sexual minority issues. They too hope to PROCLAIM God’s goodness by welcoming everyone fully into the life of the church. In 2020 they will retire and move to Ashland, OR.
In my first blog post as the Executive Director of ELM, I wrote about how I was one of “those” people. I am someone for whom “coming out as queer and coming out as a pastor has been a journey intimately intertwined.”
I recall watching the livestream of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly with tears in my eyes as the votes came in just over the margin needed to recognize me as a beloved child of God with a call to serve the church. What power that moment held – what power it still holds over us.
When I was in discernment, I did not know the stories of Jeff, Joel, Greg, Jim, Ruth, and Phyllis; I did not know about the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP) or Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (LLGM); I didn’t know the stories of the countless queer and ally lay people who devoted years of their lives to transform our church.
I had a sense that I stood on the shoulders of giants, I just didn’t know their names.
As we approach the 30th anniversary of the first extraordinary ordinations, it has been a joy to feature the stories of some of those giants and to learn their names. And, we must also acknowledge, that in the retelling of ELM’s history there are glaring absences of the stories of our bi, trans, ace/aro, and intersex siblings as well as our queer siblings of color.
There is significant work that must be done to uncover the phobias and -isms of which we as a justice-seeking ministry are not immune so that we can repent and offer reparations so as to live more fully and truly into our values and our gospel-calling.
Today, we in the Lutheran tradition commemorate the Reformation by retelling the story of Martin Luther and his 95 theses. But, there was more to that story too.
In 2017, I participated in a 500th Anniversary tour of Germany with my parents where we went and viewed the historical Reformation sites: Wittenberg, Leipzig, Augsburg and more!
It was on this trip that my dad learned about Philip Melanchthon and all of his contributions, especially the Augsburg Confession – “why didn’t I ever hear about him in my confirmation classes?”
It was on this trip that I learned about Lucas Cranach the Elder and how his prints helped Luther tell the biblical stories through art. The trip gave me some perspective on the militaristic imagery that caused me angst in the song “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” when I saw the large, fortified castles that literally provided sanctuary to Luther and kept him safe during his life.
My mother was aghast at what Luther wrote about our Jewish siblings and how it was used by the Nazis during World War II – even worse, the ways the Lutheran Church allied itself with the Nazi party. “But, how could they?”
ELM seeks to be a movement that isn’t afraid to tell its whole story and won’t shut the door on those who wish to hold us to account – whether it’s 95 theses or 5 – with all of the change, accountability, and story-telling that goes along with it.
A movement is not one person and it is not immune from the phobias and -isms that plague our society. A movement must constantly be in motion and changing so that, in the words of Bishop Yvette Flunder, it doesn’t become a monument.
I think, when God called me to this ministry, the intentional intertwining of my marginalized identities with my call was meant to help prepare me for a ministry such as this. I pray daily that I am worthy of the call and am grateful for the giants and accountability partners who make it possible to continue the hard work of dismantling systems of oppression and injustice.
Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson (she/her/hers) is the executive director of ELM and in this role has the blessed job of meeting giants of this movement on a daily basis. Amanda and her wife, Tasha, are new homeowners and so they will have no life outside of house projects for at least the next five years.
At the start of the 30 Extraordinary Years campaign we highlighted the original footage from the “In the beginning” video of the Extraordinary Ordinations of the Revs. Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart, and Jeff Johnson. In 2013, through a grant funded by St. Francis Lutheran Church, ELM told its story about the work that we continue today. Here is that video…
CW: spiritual abuse/trauma
Larell Fineren (she, her, hers) retired from 50 years in nursing and now lives in Petaluma, CA. She keeps busy with the immigration fight and has applied to be a sponsor for a trans asylum seeker who’s currently detained. In her spare time she joyously welcomes new foster babies into her extended family, like little Annalee, our latest angel.
There is a moment that I imagine sometimes, that I think is coming soon.
It’s that part of an ordination service when all the clergy gather around their new colleague, the bright colors of their stoles standing out against the white of their robes, their feet shuffling to make space for everyone, and they lay hands on the shoulders of the newest pastor in the ELCA. I imagine feeling the weight of so many hands, the energy moving from the fingertips that cannot reach me, that grasp for the backs and arms of people closer by. I imagine that if these hands surround me and hold me and build a safe place of support, I will be, just in that moment, invincible.
When Phyllis Zillhart, Jeff Johnson and Ruth Frost were ordained in San Francisco in 1990, they walked from the altar to the center of the sanctuary and held hands, just the three of them. Around them, the people—not just the ones in the stoles and robes—were invited to gather. They got close. They laid hands on one another. I wasn’t even born yet, and I know that the Holy Spirit was present. Watching the footage now fills me with a funny mix of awe and sadness.
I am in awe of thirty years of extraordinary ordinations, and in awe of the fact that because of this history, my ordination might be among the ones of the next thirty years. I am in awe of the members of Proclaim that I encounter every week in the course of parish work and in our online community, and I’m even in awe that I’m writing this reflection at all. So much progress has been made and so many LGBTQIA+ people have served God’s church with creativity, resilience, grace, and strength.
But at the same time, my awe is tinged with sadness when I imagine the world that Ruth, Phyllis, and Jeff faced in the days, months, and years that followed their ordination. I know things are different now, but I still feel the sting of microaggressions, offhand comments, or whispered rumors in the communities I serve. Stories about conversion therapy and high rates of mental illness among LGBTQIA+ youth break my heart. News bulletins about another trans woman of color lost to senseless violence makes me feel desperately lost. Our community is resilient, but we are not without our battle scars.
One evening, I drove another Proclaim member home after we’d been at a synod event, and our conversation turned to this old, tired struggle. She was angry; I just sighed because it had been a long day. As she swung my car door open, we reminded each other: “I’m proud of you. You are fierce and powerful and you’re called to this work. I’ve got your back, no matter what happens.”
There is a moment I imagine sometimes, where Ruth and Phyllis and Jeff and all the extraordinarily ordained said these things to one another. We build each other up and call each other to shine. For a moment, we make each other invincible. We’ve done it for more than thirty years, and we’ll keep doing it far beyond thirty more.
Cassie Hartnett (she/her/hers) 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. In August, Cassie began her internship year at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Parkville, MD. In her spare time, she practices ballet and yoga, bakes excellent cookies, and can recommend a great queer young adult novel.”
As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first extraordinary ordinations, most of the focus has been on the three pastors who were ordained and on other pastors who followed them.
But none of this would have happened without the actions of the congregations that called them. This work started before January 20, 1990.
In American Lutheranism ordinations only happen after a candidate has received a call from a congregation. The extraordinary road began in 1989 when the members and pastors of First United and St. Francis Lutheran Churches decided to defy the ELCA policy requiring celibacy of lesbian, gay, and bisexual clergy. Call votes were taken at St. Francis on October 29 and at First United on November 12, 1989. They did not make this decision lightly or expect that there would be no consequences.
These two congregations were tried, suspended, and expelled from the ELCA. (Click link to read the full decision) Although it took ten years for the next one, fifteen other extraordinary ordinations occurred between 2000 and 2009. Two extraordinarily ordained pastors also received second calls. These calls and ordinations all happened because congregations (21 in all in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada) were willing to risk discipline in order to call a candidate that they believed would best lead and serve their ministry. Some of them were disciplined, but all remained in the ELCA or ELCiC.
The ministries of these congregations and their pastors demonstrated that LGBTQIA+ people (lay and clergy) are a vibrant part of the church. The members of these churches believed more in the Gospel than in church policy. They saw that the policy barring pastors in same-gender relationships was not only in violation of the gospel message, but also in violation of the ELCA constitution.
The Extraordinary Congregations were:
- First United Lutheran Church, San Francisco: Jeff Johnson, 1990
- St. Francis Lutheran Church, San Francisco: Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, 1990
- Abiding Peace Lutheran Church, Kansas City: Donna Simon, 2000
- St. Paul and United Lutheran Churches, Oakland and University Lutheran Chapel, Berkeley: Craig Minich, 2001
- St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, St. Paul: Anita Hill, 2001
- St. Paul, Resurrection, and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Oakland, and Trinity Lutheran Church, Alameda: Sharon Stalkfleet, 2002
- Bethany Lutheran Church, Minneapolis: Jay Wiesner, 2004
- St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square, Chicago: Erik Christensen, 2006
- Her Church, Christ Church Lutheran, St. Francis Lutheran Church, and Sts. Mary and Martha Lutheran Church, San Francisco: Megan Rohrer, 2006
- St. Francis Lutheran Church, San Francisco: Dawn Roginski, – June 1 2007
- Resurrection Lutheran Church, Chicago: Jen Rude, 2007
- Salem English Lutheran Church, Minneapolis: Jen Nagel, 2008
- Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Newmarket, Ontario: Lionel Ketola, 2008
- Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Houston: Lura Groen, 2008
- Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries to a hospital chaplaincy in Minneapolis: Jodi Barry, 2008
- First United Lutheran Church, San Francisco: Jay Wilson, 2008
- Holy Communion Lutheran Church, Philadelphia: Steve Keiser, 2009
- University Lutheran Chapel, Berkeley: Jeff Johnson second call, 1999
- University Lutheran Church of the Incarnation, Philadelphia: Jay Weisner second call, 2008
Margaret Moreland (she/her/hers) lives in Berkeley, California. She is happy to be married to Bennett Falk. Margaret was one of the founders of ECP (Extraordinary Candidacy Project) and has served on the Boards of ECP, LLGM (Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries), and ELM. She will be retiring from the ELM Board in February which will give her more time for tai chi and bicycling.