No Longer Just a Dream: #Proclaim300 in the Bay Area with ELM Movers & Shakers

By Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson, ELM Executive Director

Two weeks ago I had the joy of traveling to the Bay Area of California to meAmanda at St. Francis Lutheran, San Franciscoet 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!

“No way!”

“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:

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

 #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!




The Grace of My First Gathering: Unconditional Positive Regard

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 appareProclaimers Pass the Peacent. 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 

“The Ministry of Reconciliation”: ELM Welcomes Newest Board Member Rev. Angela Shannon 

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!

Matta Ghaly

Welcome new ELM Program Director Olivia LaFlamme!

Welcome Program Director Olivia LaFlamme! 
Dear ELM Community-
Join us in welcoming new ELM Program Director Olivia LaFlamme! Olivia (they/them/theirs) comes to ELM with a rich background of social justice work and spiritual practice, and we are excited to welcome them to the team. You can learn more from Olivia’s writing below, and read their bio. Olivia lives and works from Chicago, IL. Say welcome:
In Celebration,
Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson
Executive Director, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

“No Coincidences: Following Knowledge, Time, Ancestors, and Queerness”
By Olivia LaFlamme, ELM Program Director

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 around this same time that I began to build a relationship with my ancestors; inviting them to assist me and guide me. I asked them for confidence, inspiration, and motivation. I felt their presence, I saw signs, and I trusted that there were people who had my back at all times. With this energy, I began to critically engage the combination of queerness, time, and spirituality. How are queer people living out a different experience of time? What does engaging in an intentional relationship with the past (or those who have come before us) do to heal queer people today? Can spirits speak to us and can we speak to them?

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!

I’m excited to work with ELM because: I get to combine my professional life with my already fused personal and political commitments to centering marginalized experiences. I know it is my mandate to contribute to the movement for positive social change in any way that I can, and ELM’s work brings together faith and anti-oppression frameworks in powerful ways that I’m ready to learn from as well as be a part of building.
I’m inspired by: queer people of color that are blazing a trail in the name of our ancestors and demanding liberation and visibility! Intersectional queer feminist theory! Spiritual practice as self/communal-care!
These three things bring me joy: going to the beach with my partner, crafting for someone I love (knitting, crocheting, collaging, painting, anything really), and eating huge amounts of delicious food with friends and family.
When I’m not working, you can find me: listening to a true crime podcast, pondering good ideas for my next film, attending a lecture/book talk/discussion, or wandering around the contemporary or impressionist section of an art museum.

Bio: Olivia LaFlamme (they/them/theirs) is a Black queer feminist. They have an M.A. in Women and Gender Studies with an emphasis on queer theory and a B.A. in Comparative Women’s Studies with a concentration in Social Justice. Olivia is a budding filmmaker (focused in documentary) and their thesis project, entitled “Spirits Speak,” is an experimental documentary exploring queer temporality as it is demonstrated through ancestral/lineage projects (spiritual, archival and artistic). They have a background in organizing, administration in the university, and teaching.
Raised in the Assemblies of God Christian church, they have since cobbled together several religious traditions that inform their own spiritual identity. Olivia views faith in the Supernatural as crucial to their ability to move through this world that would seek to destroy their gender non-conforming, Black and queer body. They have an amazing and supportive partner, three younger siblings, and loving parents. They are looking forward to working and building community with everyone involved in ELM.
Pictured: Proclaim Members welcome and bless Olivia at 2018 Proclaim Gathering
Photos by Emily Ann Garcia

Drumroll please… Announcing #Proclaim300!

We’ve got news for you.

We’re fresh off the recent Proclaim Gathering near Baltimore Aug 5-8, 2018 bringing together over 60 LGBTQIA+ pastors, seminarians, and rostered leaders for a time of learning and community. On our final day, we announced big news we can now share with everyone.

Drumroll please… (click below video!)WATCH: #Proclaim300 Video 

Proclaim is approaching 300 members! And we’re kicking off a campaign to mark this momentum:

What is #Proclaim300?

Proclaim (ELM’s professional community for Lutheran pastors, rostered ministers, and those preparing for rostered ministry who publicly identify as LGBTQIA+) is growing exponentially! In September 2015, we reached our 200th member, and just three years later in 2018, we are approaching our 300th member. Wow! 

Photo by Emily Ann Garcia

Together, we will mark this momentum with:

1) A three-month visibility and fundraising campaign August- October 2018, helping a wider community know about ELM, including opportunities to financially support the increased membership of Proclaim and future of ELM, with a goal of 300 gifts of $300.

2) A week of celebration and gratitude September 17-23, 2018, sharing online about extraordinary gifts of LGBTQIA+ leaders, honoring those who have gone before us, offering prayers for a messy and beautiful community of God, naming barriers and triumphs faced by LGBTQIA+ people in the church, and inviting others to learn more about ELM and Proclaim.

What are our Goals for #Proclaim300?

#Proclaim300 has three main goals:

What are we asking you?

  • Celebrate your colleagues and partners in ministry. Thank a mentor, send love to a Proclaimer, enjoy this milestone!
  • Build our presence on social media by posting about #Proclaim300 and inviting others to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Follow the daily prompts September 17-23 and encouragefriends and allies to join in! Reach both inside and outside the church and queer community!
  • Grow ELM! Ask organizations, individuals, and congregations to give $300 (or more!) to honor and celebrate this exciting moment. Or raise these funds by guest preaching, having a special offering in Worship, starting a Facebook fundraiser, or hosting a giving gathering.

When can you start? NOW!

Give online, mark “attending” on Facebook, share gratitude with Proclaimers, start a fundraiser, forward this email, and ask your congregation, friends, and self: will you help us reach our giving goal?

In deep gratitude and excitement,

Anna Czarnik Neimeyer, ELM Associate Director of Development & Communications

Ben Hogue, Proclaim Member, ELM Fund Development Committee


Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer and Ben Hogue love ELM as an ongoing justice movement, and enjoy fearlessly asking people to be part of the movement with their time, talent, and treasure! The friends and colleagues each studied communications & PR, and like serving communion, high fives, puns, and service work; Ben was a Peace Corps volunteer and Anna volunteered at Holden Village.


Photos by Emily Ann Garcia 


Farewell from Program Director Asher: Anointed and Sent 

In Deuteronomy, when Moses is giving his final blessing to Israel, he said to the tribe of Asher, “Most blessed of sons be Asher… let him dip his foot in oil.” (Deut 33:24-25).

As a farewell, Barbara K Lundblad highlighted this passage as she led ELM’s Board of Directors in reflecting upon my namesake in the Bible (Asher means “happy” in Hebrew) and invited the group to share affirmations. After each affirmation, they all said together, “Thank God for Asher.” Then they all extended their hands (through their webcams) as they prayed blessing over me.

I felt as though my foot had indeed been dipped in oil.

As I wrap up my time serving as Program Director for ELM, it is remarkable to look back on all we have accomplished together over these past two years: We’ve doubled our presence at synod assemblies across the country. The average amount of time that our candidates are waiting to receive their first-call has decreased significantly. More bishops and synod staffs are acknowledging and using our resources to address the imagination gap that has held our candidates back from getting quality first-call placements more quickly. And as a community, Proclaim has reached nearly 300 members! It has been a joy to witness how all of the new members have strengthened us and helped us grow both more deeply into our roots and out towards the future.

My final day with ELM will be Friday August 17th and until then I’ll be running on all cylinders as we head into The Proclaim Gathering next week, and then setting everything up for the next Program Director the following week.

My new call will be to serve as pastor of Highlands Lutheran Church in Denver, Colorado.

I do plan to remain a member of Proclaim. And while I’ll be stepping back from any leadership in the community to allow the new Program Director to lead, I do look forward to embracing the vision they cast and continuing in fellowship with the community.

It has truly been an honor and a joy to serve as your Program Director for nearly two years now. I will miss working with our fabulous staff and volunteers. And I am so grateful for all that I have learned in this position and will be carrying on with me to my next call. Thanks to ELM’s staff, Board of Directors, our supporters who make our work possible, and to all of the Proclaim members out there transforming the church. Serving with you has been a blessing – You have dipped my foot in oil!



Asher O’Callaghan (he/him/his) is super excited for ELM’s Proclaim Gathering which begins this Sunday, August 5th! Lately he has discovered the joy of making iced soy chai tea lattes at home in the afternoon as a little mid-day boost. He lives with his cat, Jack, in Denver, Colorado where he appreciates the late afternoon thunderstorms that this time of year offers.



Behind the Curtain: Meet the Proclaim Gathering Dream Team

Each Year, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries hosts The Gathering for members of Proclaim (the professional community for publicly identified LGBTQIA+ Lutheran rostered ministers and candidates) and their families, for a time of renewal, community building, and professional development. We come together and embrace what it means to be publicly identified (“out!”) leaders as we care for ourselves, build community, and learn together.This August 5-8, 2018, over 65 Proclaimers from around the country will gather at Pearlstone Retreat Center outside of Baltimore!

Rev. Elizabeth Edman, author of Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity will be our keynote speaker, featured alongside workshops, social time, music, worship, small groups, and more. You can help sponsor a Proclaimer HERE.

In addition to ELM’s trusty Program Director Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, a small and mighty team has been crafting the Gathering’s schedule. Thank you to the Dream Team for all you do. Check it out!


Co-Chairs: Brian Hornbecker & Laura Kuntz

My name is: Brian Hornbecker

My pronouns are: he/him/his

I’m co-chairing the Fun Team because: I think the opportunity to kick back, relax, and have fun with friends and colleagues is one of the best parts of the Proclaim gathering.

I’m excited for: the chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones at the Proclaim Gathering.

Who I am: I serve as Faith Formation and Communications Coordinator at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN, just south of Saint Paul. I graduated from Wartburg Seminary last year and am candidate for the diaconal roster (although that is a long and complicated story). I live with my spouse, Josh Moss, who is also a Proclaim member and a candidate for the diaconal roster, and our nephew Trent in the Twin Cities area. We just bought a house, so most of our “fun” time lately has been occupied with moving and everything that comes with that.

My name is: Laura Kuntz

My pronouns are: she/her/hers

I’m co-chairing the fun Team because: I enjoy coordinating social activities to build community.

I’m excited for: making new friends and be in a space where my queer identity is celebrated at the Proclaim Gathering

Who I am: My wife and I live in Lakewood, Ohio where she is serving a call and I am in an interim position. We’ve been coming to Proclaim gatherings since we were seminarians and look forward to them every year. I love fly fishing and playing in stonewall sports leagues.


Co-Chairs: Kelsey Brown and Josh Evans

My name is: Kelsey Brown

My pronouns are: she/her/hers

I’m co-chairing the Worship Team because: I believe innovative and expansive worship are essential to Christian Life.

I’m excited for: all the fun you will have at the Proclaim Gathering, I’m sorry I can’t attend!

Who I am: Kelsey Brown serves as Vicar at St.Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California. She is originally from Long Island, NY but when she’s not in SoCal she calls Philadelphia and United Lutheran Seminary Home. She likes spoken word poetry, Drag Queens and dancing around her kitchen. She finds joy in lavender essential oils, Netflix binges and preschool laughter. 

My name is: Josh Evans

My pronouns are: he/him/his.

I’m co-chairing the Worship Team because: I am passionate about the church’s historic liturgy brought to life in new, vibrant ways, and I love experiencing the Body of Christ praying, singing, and communing together.

I’m excited for: worship (duh!) at the Proclaim Gathering — and also getting a chance to see so many wonderful people I haven’t seen since last year’s Gathering or haven’t met in person yet.

Who I am: I grew up in Michigan and I am a graduate of LSTC in Chicago, awaiting first call in the Metro Chicago Synod, and currently working as Interim Coordinator for Global Service Events at the ELCA Churchwide offices. In my precious free time, I enjoy reading, drinking coffee, enjoying all things Chicago, watching inordinate amounts of Netflix, and spoiling my two cats (Oliver and Sophia) and their canine sibling (Roscoe).


Co-chairs: Peter Beeson & Reed Fowler 

My name is: Peter Beeson

My pronouns are: he/him/his

I’m co-chairing the Program Team: because I was invited.

I’m excited for: community, learning from the speakers at the Proclaim Gathering, and enjoying the nature (and organic farming) of the Pearlstone Retreat Center.

Who I am: Peter R. Beeson currently lives at work and has developed a newfound obsession with getting out of New York City, and finding mountains and trees. In his spare time he enjoys turning around declining organizations, fostering transparency, and teaching his toddler how to do chores.

My name is: Reed Fowler

My pronouns are: they/them/theirs

I’m co-chairing the Program Team because: I enjoy creative planning and creating space for introverts.

I’m excited to: connect with nature and other Proclaimers at the Gathering.

Who I am: Reed is a seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In their downtime, Reed is at the pottery studio or hanging out with their partner, dog, and cats.

Making Room at the Table. ELM at Assemblies!

ELM is all over the place. Did you see us?

One core program of ELM, along with Proclaim and Accompaniment, is Ministry Engagement. This means we show up for you: around decision-making tables, at synod and churchwide assemblies, on campuses, and in your congregations. Through Ministry Engagement, ELM seeks and partners with organizations and congregations open to the transformative ministry of LGBTQIA+ leaders.

We know that representation matters, so we strive to make room at the table where it may not have been open in the past. This year, ELM had a goal of hosting information tables at 12 synod assemblies (up from 10 in 2017) and blasted through that goal, hosting a tables and making room at a record 18 assemblies. A few of the new synods we expanded to this year include: West Virginia/Western Maryland, Virginia, Southeastern, Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast, and Indiana/Kentucky. These synods match with one of ELM’s growing edges we’re working to address – expanding our presence and work in the South.

How did we do it?

We’re a small yet mighty professional staff, but could never have shown up in all these spaces if it weren’t for dedicated volunteers representing ELM at tables. Hear from Kari Louwagie, seminarian and member of Proclaim, currently in a summer internship at Messiah Lutheran in Mountain Iron, MN, on their experience at the Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly:

“Back in early May, I tabled for ELM at the Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly. Our assigned display table was right next to ReconcilingWorks, creating a lovely little rainbow corner where folks could learn about both how to support LGBTQ+ community members as well as candidates and pastors. Not as many people stopped by the table as I would have hoped, but the few conversations I did have were fruitful and life giving. 

One of the highlights of my synod assembly tabling experience was being able to bear witness to the good and holy work this organization does through sharing both provided resources and pieces of my own story as a Queer candidate for ministry. It was such a joy to represent and advocate for an organization that advocates for myself and so many other LGBTQ+ candidates and pastors.

 I must confess that I’m still getting used to being “out” in the church world, but the support I’ve received from ELM has helped give me the extra boost of courage needed to bring my whole self into my work.”

As Kari reflects, our connection with ReconcilingWorks has been intentional, as creating welcome in the pews of the church is often a first step to creating welcome within the pulpit, encouraging congregations to consider opening up call processes to LGBTQIA+ rostered ministers .

We’ll see you around the table!

ELM reps near you:

Proclaim Seminarian Team – LGBTQIA+ student reps at seminaries and divinity schools

ELM Seminary Advocates – faculty or staff members who serve as a liaison between ELM and their campus and as an ally and advocate for LGBTQIA+ students

Kari Louwagie (they/them)

Kari Louwagie grew up on their family dairy farm near Cottonwood, Minnesota.  They graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 2016 with a degree in Religion.  From there, Kari went on to teach English in Madagascar for a year through Young Adults in Global Mission.  Currently, Kari is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Apart from school, their hobbies include playing the trumpet, singing, crocheting, and spending time outside.  Good coffee, cows, Biblical Hebrew, and general weirdness bring Kari great joy!


Seeing Us in Ministry Changes Things

By Rev. Donna Simon

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.

Announcing new ELM staff! Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer & Hannah Dorn

Thanks to ongoing donations from people like you and a newly active endowment, ELM is growing! Join us in welcoming:

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:

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:


“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.