My first “official” call was to the bishop’s office. I had arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, in the evening, August 30, 2000. The next morning, I arrived at my first church office (yay!) and called Charles Maahs, bishop of the Central States Synod. When I told the administrative assistant who I was, there was a pause. Then she connected me with Bishop Maahs, and I apologized.
My apology was clear: I wasn’t apologizing for being a lesbian, or for accepting the call Abiding Peace Lutheran Church extended me in his synod. I apologized for the extra work my acceptance would create for him and his staff. Even after spending over half of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was still Midwestern enough to apologize for something that wasn’t exactly my fault. As I told the bishop that day, there was no other way to answer God’s call to ministry and maintain my own integrity than to do so via the extraordinary candidacy process.
A team from Abiding Peace met with the bishop and members of his staff regularly for months. In the end, Bishop Maahs censured us, but didn’t recommend the removal of the congregation from the ELCA, as had been the case with the last congregations to call openly gay or lesbian pastors. We were barred from serving on synod committees (a sort of Br’er Rabbit briar patch of a punishment). And for ten years, I attended the synod assembly as the “Visitor” serving as pastor of Abiding Peace.
During that ten years, things changed. Other people—really good people and really great pastors—were ordained by the Extraordinary Candidacy Project. In 2009, the rules changed, and eventually most of those folks were received to the ELCA roster.
I knew that change was afoot earlier, though. In 2004, I was leaving morning prayer at the fall Bishop’s Convocation to grab a cup of tea and go to the plenary room, when a colleague from rural Kansas approached me, looking very serious.
“I want to talk to you,” he said.
“Oh good,” I thought.
He pulled me into the now empty worship space and said these immortal words: “I’m on the other side of ‘the issue’ from you. But you’ve been coming around here for a few years now, and we’ve gotten used to you. You’re kind of like an old shoe. So I guess what I’m saying is you should keep coming around.”
All these years later, and I remember his words precisely. Don’t have a clue what I said, though. Probably something brilliant like, “Um, okay.” When I tell that story to other people, they are generally appalled. But for me it was a signal that seeing us in ministry changes things. The change is slow. It’s one person at a time. But it happens…and the next thing you know, you’re working in that synod office you called with an apology all those years ago.
Rev. Donna Simon serves as pastor of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church and as one of two Directors for Evangelical Mission of the Central States Synod of the ELCA. In both capacities, she focuses on mission, service, and justice for all persons. She was ordained extraordinem in Kansas City on October 28, 2000. Donna lives in the parish she serves with her wife, Colleen, and several cats and dogs.
Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer, Associate Director of Development & Communications
Anna (she/her/hers) joins us with a background in outdoor ministry, social justice education, and nonprofit development, with past roles founding new initiatives at Holden Village and St. Norbert College’s Cassandra Voss Center. Anna lives & works from Seattle. Say welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hannah Dorn, Program & Administrative Assistant
Hannah (she/her/hers) joins us with a background in business, management, and nonprofits, with past roles at Services for Independent Living, and current role managing a rock climbing gym. Hannah lives & works from Chicago. Say welcome: email@example.com
“No Pulpit, No Pews, Just Pastors.”
Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer, ELM Associate Director of Development and Communications
Last Sunday morning, I went to church. There was no pulpit, no pews, no organ or hymnal. But there were pastors. Lots of them.
And also lots of glitter.
I marched in the Seattle Pride Parade with Open Door Ministries (an LGBTQIA+ inclusive ministry of the ELCA’s Northwest Washington Synod) and dozens of Lutherans from several churches in the area.
I marched, holding my sign next to a pastor as she waved, blew kisses, and curled her fingers into a heart gesture extended towards parade onlookers in the stands.
I watched the faces of these onlookers, and what I saw there was beauty, relief, joy, bittersweetness, and disbelief in recognition. Those attending the parade surveyed our group, led by a giant PVC pipe rainbow cross and a pastor in a straw hat perched atop a Jeep. They saw our signs, proclaiming God’s radical love and full inclusion of all people. They’d pause, then seeing the clerical collar, would shriek and leap with joy, as their faces morphed from confusion to elation in recognition: the Church is for them. God is for them. This pastor, sharing love from the march, is for them. Onlookers would literally reach out to try to touch us, clapping their hands and shouting “thank you.”
Later that day, lugging around my rainbow sign, a young queer person from the crowd approached me and asked where they might attend an inclusive church, and I was so proud to recommend my own ELCA congregation to them, pastored by members of Proclaim.
I came out in a Christian outdoor ministry setting, surrounded by other queer women of faith, knowing several queer pastors. But I often frequent circles where most people don’t have a pastor. In these spaces, it’s almost a bigger deal to come out as Christian than it is to come out as queer.
In many of my queer circles, folks have been so hurt by their faith of origin that they have left the Church, and sometimes their natal families. In many of my activist, academic, and social justice circles, there can be a certain tenor of suspicion related to religion, given the history of oppression in the Church; its collusion with racism, sexism, homophobia; and the outspoken voice of exclusionary-yet-loud fire and brimstone Christians who think they get to decide who and how God loves.
In my years of work doing outdoor ministry, nonprofit development, and social justice education, I’ve needed my faith and the leadership of pastors, often queer pastors and seminarians, to accompany me in ongoing struggle and discernment. I joined the ELM team to make sure there are more of these pastors in the world, and that they (you) are supported and freed from the confines of limiting paradigms and closed minds- freed to proclaim the good news, and freed to publicly proclaim the fullness of their identities. I’m thrilled and honored to join ELM.
Anna at a Glance:
I’m Excited to work with ELM because: of ELM’s unapologetic radical history of being on the cutting edge of creative justice and advocacy work in the Church, and its bold vision of inclusion and public witness for the future of a thriving and changing body of Christ.
I’m inspired by: the bravery and creative generativity of trailblazers, the first to do things in an environment not only oppositional, but seemingly devoid of solutions or joy. Prison abolitionist Angela Davis, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and those who came out early in the Church and followed their call to be extraordinarily ordained. Wow.
These three things bring me joy: sitting in a coffee shop writing for hours on something I care about; thrifting at Goodwill outlet and being active on my neighborhood’s “freecycling” website; singing and song-leading, including clapping along and harmonizing in church.
When I’m not working, you can find me: at a thrift store, eating popcorn or at a potluck with my friends or loved ones, doing activism or marching, walking the neighborhood checking out Little Free Libraries.
“Not Business as Usual”
Hannah Dorn, ELM Program & Administrative Assistant
During college, I worked at a small nonprofit called Services for Independent Living (SIL) in Columbia, MO. As a business student, I struggled to fit into the corporate mold that the University of Missouri seemed to be grooming me for. When it came time to procure an internship, nothing within the norm felt right. So I prayed. I prayed for God to show me my path. The next day I woke up to an email with the subject line: “Interested in nonprofits and need an Internship?” Following up on that email led me to one of the greatest experiences of my life. SIL provides resources to help disabled persons and low income elderly in the community live independently. At SIL, I learned the importance of appreciating one another for all that we are and that God was deliberate in the creation of each and every one of us.
Fast forward to my first adult job after graduating: I am sitting at a desk working a nondescript customer service position thinking Is this really it? This can’t be it. So I prayed. I prayed that God would, once again, show me the path. A month or so later I was presented with the opportunity to take over managing the small climbing gym where I am a member. I leapt at the opportunity to leave the desk behind and combine one of my greatest passions with my work. I knew it wasn’t quite enough to make a living, but I had faith that things would pan out.
That faith led me here, announcing my new position as the Program and Administrative Assistant for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. I am so excited to see where this new part of my journey leads and to have the opportunity to continue combining my passions with my work.
Hannah at a Glance:
I’m Excited to work with ELM because: I’ve seen in past jobs how key the background work within an organization is to keeping that organization running and fulfilling its mission. Knowing that I have even a small hand in ELM growing and providing support to more and more people gives me great joy. God has shown me that I don’t have to keep my passions and my career separate. I am so excited to continue combining my skills with the things I love to create a positive impact within ELM and my community.
I’m inspired by: my mom who, despite being a single mother, raised me to be strong, confident and unwavering in my love for Christ. She taught me to choose kindness in all things I do.
These three things bring me joy: when I give advice that I can see is genuinely needed and well received; when I get to teach people how to rock climb and help them train to be stronger climbers; when my 11-month-old nephew recognizes me and gets a huge grin on his face.
When I’m not working, you can find me: climbing at my gym, hiking with my boyfriend Matt, babysitting my nephew Franklin, trying a new beer at the tap room near my apartment, or hanging out with my wonderful cats Pablo and Lana del Kitty.