It is with great joy and excitement that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries announces that the Rev. Amanda Nelson (she/her/hers) has been selected as the new Executive Director! Amanda brings a breadth of experience and personal connection to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries that leads her to be well equipped to further the mission and vision of ELM.
As Executive Director, Amanda will provide vision, direction, and leadership to ELM by partnering with the Board of Directors, managing staff, and guiding program implementation. She will also lead fund development, as well as operate as an ambassador for ELM, developing partnerships and relationships. Amanda begins in early August and will work from New England.
Search Committee co-chairs Rev. Dr. Elise Brown and Lois Voss write,
“This has been a Spirit-filled process. The caliber of candidates who applied affirms ELM’s strength as an organization and points towards a very strong future. Amanda was the unanimous final choice for the search committee and was affirmed by a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors. Amanda has the passion, competency, development skills and executive abilities to lead Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries into the strategic directions we have worked on together. We are energized by the vision and passion she brings to our mission.”
The two-month search was lead by a team selected by the ELM Board of Directors. In addition to co-chairs Rev. Elise Brown and Lois Voss, the team included Emily Ann Garcia, Mack Patrick (Proclaim Seminarian), the Rev. Jeff Johnson (Proclaim), and Ben Hogue (Proclaim Seminarian). The committee conducted five web and three in-person interviews with finalists before making their final recommendation.
“I am overjoyed at the opportunity to serve as Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and to give back to an organization whose ministries have supported me and helped me in my own journey to be a proud, publicly out, queer minister in the ELCA.
The people of ELM – from the members of Proclaim to the many individuals, families, and congregations who support our ministries – are what get me most excited about this position! If you’re looking for hope in the future of the church; for energetic, enthusiastic, creative, and deeply considerate leaders; and for a glimpse into God’s awesome Kin-dom, look no further, it’s right here!
In stepping into this role, I know I do so on the shoulders of giants. I was humbled to be counted as their colleague when I joined Proclaim six years ago, and now I look forward to the milestones we will accomplish together for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of LGBTQ+ leaders in our Church.”
A graduate of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, Amanda grew up on the East Coast and considers herself a true New Englander at heart. She attended Wheaton College in Norton, MA, majoring in International Relations and German Studies. After college, Amanda worked at a Domestic and Sexual Violence agency before following her call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. She comes to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries from Faith Lutheran Church and the community of East Hartford, Connecticut where she served as Pastor. Amanda is a member of Proclaim and served on ELM’s Fund Development Team as well as a Proclaim Chaplain.
This is an exciting next chapter for ELM and we are enthusiastic Amanda has said ‘Yes!’ to this new call. We’re thankful to you, our wonderful supporters, who make it possible for ELM to do ministry in the world. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of LGBTQ+ ministers transforms the church and enriches the world. Your support allows us to live out that belief through Proclaim, Accompaniment, and Ministry Engagement – thank you!
Last week, I was part of a group of people who gathered on a Sunday afternoon in western Los Angeles to install the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan as program director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
Asher has been serving in this role since last August and in the Lutheran tradition, we most often think of installations as a service a congregation hosts for their new pastor.
So why were we installing Asher?
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recognizes that ministry happens in a variety of places. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has a long history of engaging in street, hospital, nursing home, and community ministry. Together, we celebrated Asher’s synodical call to specialized ministry among the LGBTQ+ community as program director of ELM. It was a glorious and significant day as Bishop Guy Erwin, other leaders from throughout the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA, and friends of ELM gathered to recognize Asher’s call.
We honored the extraordinary nature of the day through expansive language and a variety of tools for ministry for Asher (like a pea plant to recognize the Proclaim, Accompaniment, and Engagement programs of ELM!). The Southwest California Synod has recognized Asher’s work as part of his call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Asher’s ministry is not one of place, but of creating space. It is not a ministry with a building, but rather one that is about building a ministry.
I gave the sermon and had quickly honed in on the phrase “rekindle the gift of God within you” from 2 Timothy. Shortly before the service, lector Jason DeRose (ELM Extraordinary Friend and frequent internship committee member for Proclaim interns at St. Paul Lutheran in Santa Monica) checked in with me to see if I was using anything from that reading. Jason planned on using another translation.
It turns out one of the phrases that was worded differently was the very one I’d chosen as a “refrain” for my sermon. Instead of “rekindle the gift of God within you,” this translation read, “fan the flame of God’s gift.”
The day was made especially beautiful thank you to open-hearted hospitality by the people of Lutheran Church of The Master in Los Angeles, who hosted the service and threw a fabulous reception in honor of Asher’s installation and my upcoming departure from ELM. Lutheran Church of the Master has long supported the work of ELM and Proclaim pastors. We give thanks to interim Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson, the many service participants, and all who threw such a lovely reception! Thank you also to Bishop Guy Erwin for presiding and for all who attended the service – the offering of $475 will go towards the Proclaim Gathering Scholarship Fund. (You can make your own gift for this fund right here).
May we each through our own vocation fan the flame of God’s gift.
Amalia Vagts, who at present is changing nearly every aspect of her life and is mostly keeping up, serves as executive director of ELM until July 31, 2017.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is seeking a candidate to serve in the Executive Director position. Interested candidates should email their cover letter and resume to the Executive Director Search Committee, email@example.com. Applications will be accepted until May 1, 2017, position will be filled mid-June.
About the position:
Grounded in the belief that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identifying (LGBTQ+) people have extraordinary gifts for ministry, the Executive Director provides leadership in partnership with the Board of Director and staff. The Executive Director casts a strategic vision, leads fund development, and guides operational and program implementation. The Executive Director serves as the only full-time development position on staff.
Full job description and guiding qualifications: Executive Director Job Description: ELM-EDJobDescription
Thank you for being part of an extraordinary year. We look forward to catching up with you soon about all we accomplished and all that is to come in 2017!
It’s our first #GivingTuesday!
On this day, individuals are giving across the globe to causes and organizations they love. We welcome your gift in support of the public witness of LGBTQ pastors, deacons, and seminary students. These leaders enrich and transform our congregations and communities.
Their witness is a path to those who will follow. Here are some powerful words from the Rev. Katherine Fick at St. Olaf College about this:
“We counsel students regularly who are LGBTQ and been hurt by the church or their family, some of whom have even self-harmed or attempted suicide because of these conflicts between who they are and what they have been told and experienced in faith communities. To be able to share with them ELM resources, particularly Treasure in Clay Jars, helps them see that there are faithful people out there like them, and communities beyond our college that would not only welcome them but empower them to be leaders. I have experienced firsthand that ELM resources help save lives, because they help people with their understanding of God, the nature of the Christian faith and community, and themselves.”
–Rev. Katherine E. Fick, Associate College Pastor at St. Olaf College
Your gift to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries provides community through Proclaim (a community of 240 LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders and seminarians); support through Candidacy Accompaniment; and connection to LGBTQ-led ministries through Ministry Engagement. You make it possible to create and share resources (like Treasure in Clay Jars mentioned by Katherine) and advocacy for LGBTQ people in ministry.
Thank you for making sure we can do all we can to affirm and support the public witness of publicly-identified LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders. Thank you for all you do.
by Asher O’Callaghan
ELM Program Director
“Thank you, ma’am!” For years, I cringed every single time I was called “ma’am”. I appreciated the respect that people were trying to show me. It’s just that I hated being reminded that the rest of the world understood me to be someone I wasn’t. It felt awkward and embarrassing and uncomfortable whenever I ordered a cup of coffee, or ate at a restaurant, or checked out at the grocery store. I’ve spent most of my life being perceived as someone I’m not: “young lady”, “sister”, “ma’am”, “her”, “she”, and “hers”.
Thankfully, these days I tend to be perceived as a guy. I’m transgender, which for me means that I’m not the gender I was assigned to at birth. It’s been several years now since I transitioned into living as a guy, and most of the time I don’t even notice being called “sir”, “he”, “him”, or “brother” anymore. I have the privilege of taking it for granted. But I’m reminded every time I see a friend get misgendered in public. And I’ll always remember how affirming and freeing it felt the first time someone asked me if I’d like them to start using he/him/his for me. It felt like – “Finally!! Someone is seeing and recognizing me for who I am.” It’s amazing what a difference words can make.
The moral of the story? You can’t tell a book by the cover. Even though we’re used to operating on assumptions about how people identify based on how they look, our assumptions often turn out to be inaccurate. And giving people the opportunity to ask for how they’d like to be referred to can make a big difference in helping someone feel welcomed, seen, and affirmed.
Have you noticed that ELM has some community practices regarding personal pronouns? Personal pronouns are the words that we use to refer to someone without using their actual name. Words like: she, her, hers, they, them, theirs, he, him, and his. All of ELM’s staff members include pronouns in our email signatures and we ask all new Proclaim Members about what personal pronouns they use. At every meeting of the Board of Directors and every Proclaim Gathering we include personal pronouns in our introductions. We ask everyone so that everyone has an opportunity to self-identify with whatever they feel most comfortable with.
Asher O’Callaghan has gotten into the practice of asking others what pronouns they prefer because ELM was the first organization that asked him what pronouns he prefers. It felt awesome to be asked, so he has gotten into the practice of asking others. Asher is transgender and bisexual but is not an expert on all things LGBTQ+. He’s still learning and hopes you’re not intimidated when learning about new language in our community or new ways to be an ally – It’s a process and we’re all learning together! In his spare time, Asher serves as a loyal staff member to Jack, his cat.
Rev. Asher O’Callaghan began as the Program Director for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries this past Monday. Welcome, Asher!
by the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan
Fearful and excited—this is how I remember feeling as I stepped into the opening worship at my first ever Proclaim Gathering. I was excited, living out the joy that comes when we’re following our sense of call. But I was also nervous, maybe even downright afraid of the future…
What if I after all the student loans, and years of seminary, and CPE, and all the candidacy essays and interviews, what if after all of that, there would never be a congregation on the other side that would be ready to call me? Was I stupid to be taking these risks? Was my hope just a pipe dream? Was God’s call going to be enough to get me through to the other side of candidacy and into a first call?
That Gathering was my first encounter with ELM and it was just the fresh breath of Spirit I needed for the road ahead. In the years since then, getting involved in the work of ELM has gotten me to where I am today. It was really as a member of Proclaim, a volunteer with Candidacy Accompaniment, and member of ELM’s Board of Directors that I began to develop a sense of my own voice and gifts for ministry.
I’ve come to experience how LGBTQ+ identities are not hurdles to ministry but a doorway: A doorway inviting us to connect with people who are on the margins, who are being oppressed, who have been hurt or disenfranchised by the church. A doorway to witnessing the power and freedom that comes from living as whole and integrated children of God. A doorway out of fearing our differences as a threat to unity. A doorway into embracing our differences as gifts for our work together as Christ’s Body.
I’m so grateful as I look back at the way ELM’s work has transformed me and continues to do so. It fires me up to imagine how our work together can continue to transform our church. I’m convinced that our church needs ELM’s message as much today as I needed it years ago as a seminarian wondering whether my sexuality and gender identity were going to be insurmountable hurdles to ministry.
And so it has been with that same sense of joyous excitement that I had years ago at my first Proclaim Gathering that I’ve begun my work here as ELM’s new Program Director this week. But this time, it’s with a bold sense of fabulousness rather than a timid sense the fearfulness.
This week I’ve been diving into the work and getting oriented with things: We’ve had our first full-staff meeting across 3 states and 2 time zones, I joined in on a Proclaim Team Meeting, and am contacting each of our 3 Program Conveners to touch-base and set up times to meet. Would love to hear from you too! To get in touch with me, feel free to friend me and message me on Facebook or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asher O’Callaghan is enjoying the ocean breeze through the window of his apartment in Long Beach, California. He looks forward to meeting those of you who he hasn’t yet. His favorite color is green because he likes things that grow. When he’s not working or writing about himself in the third person, he enjoys things like open-water swimming, hiking, eating good food, and struggling to learn how to surf. He hopes that you’re having a fabulous day.
by Amalia Vagts, Executive Director
with gratitude for input from others in the LGBTQ community
I’ve just returned from the 14th ELCA Churchwide Assembly and inaugural Grace Gathering in New Orleans, attending in my capacity as executive director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. For me, the week was a combination of joy, sadness, growth, challenge, gratitude, disappointment, and a deepened commitment to proclaim the good news. Hey, sounds like church!
I was reminded of what called me to engage in this ministry in the first place. My fire has been lit with resolve. We’ve got work to do.
Seven years and three assemblies after changing church policy to affirm the calls and relationships of LGBTQ people, our community was largely invisible in the programming throughout the week. I’m thankful for all the thought and hard work that went into an increasingly wonderfully diverse and multi-perspective assembly. I’m thankful for the provoking and energizing conversations about racism, racial equality, and white privilege. It was fantastic to see how much is changing! Our church could have also delighted this past week in celebrating LGBTQ folks as we rightfully celebrate the growing, gorgeous and long overdue overall diversity of our denomination. There are now 659 Reconciling in Christ ministry settings, with another 430 on the journey. There are 230 openly LGBTQ pastors, deacons, and candidates for ministry. There are congregations that have formed or grown because of the ELCA’s deepening welcome of LGBTQ people. All cause for great joy – yet, our church leaders missed many opportunities to celebrate this good news and the gifts of LGBTQ people.
Because there was no formal space for LGBTQ people at this assembly, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and ReconcilingWorks created it for LGBTQ people and allies at co-led events throughout the week. We met for daily prayer – five of these led by openly LGBTQ ministry leaders, and one by an ally bishop. The gathered group ranged from 30 – 75 each day. It was amazing to have that space with our people and our allies. I’m grateful especially to our allies for their commitment. Some people commented about how they had to “figure out where the LGBTQ people were.” At future assemblies, we hope to see more publicity about LGBTQ-led opportunities in order bring more awareness to those not yet familiar with the many ELCA people working in support of a church that celebrates diverse sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions.
Midway through the week, we co-hosted a reception and working conversation at a hotel across the street from the Convention Center.
Nearly 100 people (including four ELCA bishops) gathered for community and socializing. After the reception, about half the group stayed for conversation in small groups. We invited conversation about what LGBTQ people and friends need as we look ahead to 2019. That year will be the 10th anniversary of the policy change that began to recognize same-sex relationships and welcome partnered LGBTQ people to serve as rostered leaders. We asked people to share a word to describe the current state of LGBTQ people in the ELCA, to consider what LGBTQ people in the ELCA still need and to reflect on why they stay in the struggle.
There were two consistent themes in these conversations – invisibility and possibility.
Many LGBTQ people and allies felt invisible this past week. As we see the beautiful changes coming from a deepened understanding of what the church receives when we welcome, affirm, and include diverse voices, faces, languages and cultures – we long for our LGBTQ identities to become part of that richness. Those who are LGBTQ and know others in the community felt comforted to see familiar LGBTQ faces in worship and to see LGBTQ people and allies as leaders and voting members throughout the week. Yet others newer to our church had no idea that they were among friends. You can’t see we’re LGBTQ by looking at us. LGBTQ people need to claim our own identities, and our allies must name us in order for our diversity to be known. We lament the invisibility of LGBTQ people among those explicitly celebrated in the hall and in worship. It is our sincere hope and prayer that future assemblies will visibly celebrate the gifts of LGBTQ people and worship leaders.
Many LGBTQ people and allies saw the possibility of how our church can move forward in great ways this past week. We have hope for the possibility of a richer kingdom when LGBTQ voices and faces are celebrated. We align with others who feel invisible and filled with possibility – and we are filled with resolve to help our church continue to move forward to that great day.
We have begun to experience how good the church can be when we break from a narrow understanding of church dominated by white Northern European culture. We are all connected in this journey – especially those of us seeking to lead from the margins. What joy awaits this church as we continue to break open the racism, patriarchy, heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia, ableism, classism and sexism which continue to confine us.
As we do the hard work, we more clearly see the possibility of becoming a church transformed by the named and celebrated gifts of all people.
Amalia Vagts (pictured here on the assembly floor with Proclaim member Rev. Emily E. Ewing) was on the floor “legally” for the first time this year (was also there as a peaceful protester in 2005). This year, she especially enjoyed seeing young people at the microphones, conversations about race from a fantastic variety of perspectives, would love to hear Leymah Gbowee speak every single day, and appreciated hallway conversations during this churchwide assembly – with those committed to our work, those who’ve never heard of us, and those who need our work but can’t yet be public about it.
The ELCA Churchwide Assembly begins this coming Monday in New Orleans, Louisiana. ELM will be there!
We’re partnering with ReconcilingWorks during this year’s Assembly to raise visibility about the presence and involvement of LGBTQ people throughout the life and work of the church. Join in daily activities (even by phone if you aren’t attending in person!) to support the lives of LGBTQ people and our allies, friends, and families.
We decided on these plans in response to the tragedy in Orlando, as well as other backlashes against LGBTQ people and their families, and continued discrimination in our church and communities. While the pews and pulpits of the ELCA are open to LGBTQ people, many in our community do not feel a sense of belonging and safety in the Lutheran church.
What is next for the work for LGBTQ people in the Lutheran Church? We have come a long way, yet the journey continues. We’ve created a joint online website to invite your direct feedback about what you hope to see in the future of the church.Please go to lgbtqlutheran.org to share.
ELCA Churchwide Activities
Daily Morning Prayer: Join with others to create a space where LGBTQ people and allies will lead prayer in thanks and affirmation for the gifts marginalized communities bring to the ELCA. Join us in the hallway in front of Plenary Room (Hall C) on first floor. Monday: 12:30 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30 am. As part of this prayer time, we’ll also be creating a prayer banner using words shared through the online surveyand from those attending in person.
Daily Conference Calls: Join executive directors Amalia Vagts and Aubrey Thonvold (ReconcilingWorks) at 6:15pm CST daily for a 15 minute call, starting Tuesday, for daily updates about the Assembly. Phone number 641-715-3660, Participant Access Code 186983. (We got the idea of a conference call from the African Descent Lutheran Association – they’re doing daily prayer leading up to Churchwide – check out their Facebook page to learn more. We say thank you for a great idea about connecting those who can’t attend in person!).
Midweek Meetup: If you are looking for information about ReconcilingWorks, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, memorials, and elections please stop by the Foyer in the New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center on Wednesday August 10th from 10am – 7pm.
Wednesday Reception & Working Gathering: Attend the reception from 7-8:30pm in the Ballroom of the New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center for a time of networking and community. All are welcome!
Stay for the Working Gathering to discuss “What do LGBTQ people still need from their church?” as we look to the 10th anniversary of policy change at the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. Be a part of the conversation that will help guide our plans for the work ahead.
And now a word about our sponsors…Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries was able to say YES to joining in this work in thanks to a special gift we received this year from Grace Lutheran Church in Evanston, IL. The gift came as part of their Courage Campaign. We will say more about Grace and their Courage Campaign in a future post, but for now we say THANK YOU people of Grace for making it possible for us to do something extra this year when the need arose.
With great joy and gratitude, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries announces that the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan (he/him/his) is our new Program Director!
Additionally, Christephor Gilbert (he/him/his) has been promoted to Development & Communications Coordinator. We are thankful for these outstanding leaders!
As Program Director for ELM, Asher will build and support community through the Proclaim program, walk with and equip leaders through the Accompaniment program, and connect with and uplift congregations through the Ministry Engagement program. Asher will work alongside volunteer program conveners and in partnership with other ELM staff on strategic work and communication for these programs. Asher begins on August 15 and will work from his home in Long Beach, CA.
“Getting involved in the work of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has gotten me to where I am today. I’ve come to find that my gender identity and sexuality are gifts for ministry rather than burdens because ELM helped me find my voice as an LGBTQ candidate. ELM gave me the boldness to be fabulous. The network of colleagues that Proclaim helped me develop has been a constant source of joy and inspiration. The Accompaniment Program was a steady support throughout the turbulence of candidacy. And the work of Ministry Engagement is preparing more congregations to call LGBTQ pastors like myself. As ELM’s Program Director, I’m excited to help others get involved and experience this same fabulousness.“
Before becoming a Lutheran pastor, Asher fancied himself spiritual but not religious. He thought he was done with organized religion after growing up transgender and bisexual in a fundamentalist church. But then he stumbled into a church called House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado where God messed up all his plans. There he heard an invitation he couldn’t help but share. From Christ’s open table he heard: “Behold who you are. Become what you receive.” Becoming what he’s received has led him to earn a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary, to pastor a small mountain congregation called Zion Lutheran Church in Idaho Springs, Colorado, and now to serve as ELM’s Program Director. Asher is a member of Proclaim and served on the ELM Board of Directors until March of this year.
Development & Communications Coordinator: Christephor Gilbert
We also announce the promotion of Christephor Gilbert to the newly created position of Development & Communications Coordinator. Christephor has served as Operations Coordinator for ELM since February this year. The position contains Christephor’s current role and has been expanded to include communications and development responsibilities. Christephor will work two days a week at our Chicago home office at Resurrection Lutheran Church.
Christephor is a member of Proclaim, a student in the Master of Divinity program at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and is in candidacy with the ELCA toward Word and Sacrament ministry.
We’re thankful to you, our wonderful supporters, who make it possible for ELM to invest in strong leaders who can guide and direct ELM’s ministry. ELM believes that the extraordinary gifts of LGBTQ ministry leaders enrich and transform our church. Your support allows us to live out that belief through Proclaim, Accompaniment and Ministry Engagement. Thank you!