A reminder of grace

By Michael Price Nelson
Guest Blog

In this post, Michael Price Nelson reflects on his friend and colleague, Joel Workin, and on this year’s Workin Scholar Christephor Gilbert’s essay on grace.

Workin-cover-3Grace.  As Lutherans, we talk about it, read about it, and some even preach about it.  It’s such a part of our theology that I wonder if we really pay attention to it the way we ought to.

Thirty years ago this week, I first met Joel Workin at a Lutherans Concerned meeting at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood.  While many of the faces there were new to me, Joel stood out – not least of all because of his 6’4” frame. Joel was immersed in his internship at a church in LA, and like most seminarians I’ve known, he radiated with an eagerness and joy about being something greater than himself, about living into his “call” of Christ in his life.

Less than 18 months later, however, after being certified for call by Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, two church officials summoned him to Los Angeles, along with Jim Lancaster and Jeff Johnson.  In that meeting, the three were presented with a  document outlining how they were to behave as openly gay candidates.  Jim had prepared a list of specific questions: “Are we allowed to touch? Can we hold hands? What about kissing?”  At this point, he was stopped by his inquisitors and told, “Look, we don’t know how to define it. We just know we don’t want you to do it.”

“Don’t you call unclean what I call clean.”  

This was a favorite passage of Joel’s from the story of Cornelius. I can remember him preaching on this as he struggled with his own sense of call in the face of the ELCA’s “no” to God’s “yes” in his life. In the end, Joel was never ordained.   Instead, he made a loving home with his husband Paul Jenkins and channeled his own sense of ministry into service for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, helping to establish the country’s first free standing AIDS hospice.  He also served as newsletter editor for the local Lutherans Concerned chapter and wrote many essays about LGBTQ people in the church, which are the basis for his posthumous book “Dear God, I’m Gay. Thank You!”

In the years since he passed away, I’ve often struggled with how to make sense of all that happened to Joel. With his friends, I helped establish the Workin Scholarship in the hopes that would make sense. But on a deeper personal level, I’ve still wondered how anyone could go on once a calling is stolen from you because of who God made you to be. How do you go on? How does anyone go on after being rejected by family and friends for being LGBT?  How does anyone go on after losing a job because of sexual identity? And why, why would you even want to?

Then I read this line, written by this year’s Workin Scholar, Chistephor Gilbert, in his beautifully crafted essay on grace: “And in the dark falling, in the everlasting emptiness, the grace is there saying, Get up and follow me.”

Even though I’m an every-Sunday-Lutheran, I need to be reminded of this, to have grace presented to me in new images, to re-engage me with its true nature. Christephor Gilbert’s essay has done that for me.  He challenges me – and I hope all of you – to look anew at what Joel called “grace unbounded.”

You can read Christephor Gilbert’s essay here – 2016 Workin Scholar Essay. And you can learn more about Joel and the Workin Scholar program here.

Michael Price NelsonMichael Price Nelson serves as chair of the Joel R. Workin Scholarship Committee. He was a colleague and friend of Joel’s and was the editor of both editions of “Dear God I’m Gay. Thank you!” Michael and his husband, Dale von Seggern, are members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, CA.  



What’s on your summer reading list?

Perfect reading spot. Photo: Rachel Vagts.
Perfect reading spot. Photo: Rachel Vagts.

What’s on your summer reading list? We’ve got a few suggestions for you!

You may not realize all the resources that already exist to help LGBTQ people considering and following a call to ministry.  ELM  knows it’s good to be in  community, rather than work it out by ourselves. So we put our best minds together and wrote this wisdom down.

All of the following resources have been created by teams of grassroots volunteers, led by ELM staff. We’ve gathered wisdom from pastors, candidates, bishops, candidacy committees, call committees, synod staff, allies, lay leaders, and all kinds of folks!

Please check them out and share them widely – all can be downloaded free from the ELM website. Limited printed copies of some resources are available thanks to a special grant from the Philip N. Knutson Endowment. Contact us for more information: info@elm.org.


Enrich and Transform – Welcoming LGBTQ Candidates into the Call Process (Booklet & Video)

enrich and transform coverIs your congregation ready to talk about how to welcome LGBTQ people in your pastoral call process? It’s never too early to start this conversation – in fact, the sooner the bettter, and especially BEFORE you start a call process! This six-minute video and 10-page booklet are a ready made discussion and planning document for your congregation. You’ll learn how the extraordinary gifts of LGBTQ pastors can enrich and transform YOUR congregation and community – and find detailed information about how to get ready to consider or welcome and LGBTQ pastor.

Enrich & Transform – the Movie! Check out this 6-minute story about what happened in one congregation when they called a gay pastor.

Internship and LGBTQ Interns – A Guide for Supervisors and Committees – is your congregation considering hosting an LGBTQ intern? Would you like to? Are you right now and running into unexpected questions? Please check out this resource for detailed information about making this a positive and healthy experience for all of you.


Mysteries of the Ages (“A handy guide for people exploring or preparing for rostered ministry in the ELCA”) is a detailed, candid collection of stories and step-by-step instruction on how to navigate the candidacy process. LGBTQ people considering or following a call to ministry will want to read it, share it with your candidacy or internship committees, give it to your family and friends who don’t quite “get it” and then pass along a copy to your non-LGBTQ friends because they are also going to be THRILLED that such an amazing resource exists.


Candidacy and LGBTQ Individuals – An Offered Resource for ELCA Candidacy Committees. This guide is already being used by a number of candidacy committees throughout the ELCA. Are you a friend looking to help? Check with your synod office to find out if they know about the resource, and if not, give them a copy! One volunteer attended a candidacy committee meeting prepared to share it, and unbeknownst to her, the Bishop already had prepared a 15 minute presentation about how the resource can help improve conversations with LGBTQ candidates!


treasure coverTreasure in Clay Jars – Stories of LGBTQ Leaders in the Lutheran Church, which is chock-full of stories and photos of our faithful and fabulous members and their stories of coming out, first-calls, candidacy and generally serving the church with humor and integrity.

Joel R. Workin’s very important work Dear God, I am Gay – Thank You! is also available. Joel was one of the first four seminarians who came out to their candidacy committees in 1988. Joel’s voice is alive and well in the church today!


We have created each of these resources because we believe the extraordinary gifts of LGBTQ people in ministry enrich and transform our church and communities. And we know that it’s not easy to be faithful and fabulous all the time. ELM helps overcome barriers to ministry so LGBTQ people can fully live out their call to ministry.

We’re able to create and share these all of this thanks to the generous and wonderful friends who support ELM. Thank you to those who give to ELM!

If you have not made your gift this year, we invite you to donate now to help us share these resources and develop others.

And then, settle back into your hammock and start reading…ahhhhhh, summer!

Joint Message from ReconcilingWorks & ELM Regarding Thrivent

A Joint Message to supporters of ReconcilingWorks and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries:

Thrivent members recently received an appeal to designate Thrivent Choice Dollars in response to the mass shooting in Orlando. This came as a jolt for those who know that Thrivent executives decided in 2014 to ban funds to a handful of organizations, including Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and ReconcilingWorks, deeming our work in support of LGBTQ individuals as “divisive.”

It is hypocritical and futile for Thrivent to offer support for the effects of homophobia while banning funds to those working to remove the cause of it.

We give thanks for Thrivent staff who are LGBTQ or allies of our community, many who are working hard to end this discriminatory and dangerous policy of intolerance.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and ReconcilingWorks will continue to affirm and support the LGBTQ community, who are beloved, and to work against injustice, hatred, homophobia, and discrimination.


We encourage Thrivent members to contact Thrivent with a message that they must end this practice. You are welcome to use the language below as a boiler plate (shared with permission by Proclaim member Miriam Samuelson-Roberts).

“Dear Thrivent,

Thank you for the opportunity to direct my Choice Dollars to help the victims of the horrific shooting in Orlando. This e-mail stings a bit, though, because of Thrivent’s policy to not allow Choice Dollars to be directed toward organizations that support the thriving and safety of LGBTQ people. In light of the shooting, I ask you to reconsider this stance, and to consider that the message Thrivent puts forth through that policy–that those in the LGBTQ community are to be “othered” and seen as a “divisive issue” instead of fully equal children of God–is the same underlying message at the core of the violence that we saw last weekend.”

In peace,
Amalia Vagts, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries
Aubrey Thonvold, ReconcilingWorks

Joel Workin (left) and Paul Jenkins

Christephor Gilbert Named 2016 Joel R. Workin Scholar

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is delighted to announce that Christephor Gilbert has been named the 2016 Joel Raydon Workin Scholar. The selection committee was thrilled by the number of excellent applications and is thankful to all who applied.

Photo of Christephor
Christephor Gilbert

Christephor (he/him/his) 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.  Prior to seminary, Christephor worked as the Program Manager for the Kentucky Center Governor’s School for the Arts in Louisville, KY, following his first career as a dancer, dance educator, and choreographer (MFA Dance, University of Hawaii, 1993).  Christephor lives in Hyde Park with his partner Donald and their three cats.  Christephor currently works one day a week as operations coordinator for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Christephor’s home congregation is Third Lutheran Church in Louisville, KY (where fellow Proclaim member, Rev. Steven Renner, is pastor).

Each year ELM names a Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholar  to honor the life and ministry of Joel Workin. Joel was one of the three gay seminarians who were refused ordination in 1989 after “coming out” to their candidacy committees. Upon his death, Joel’s parents, Ray and Betty, and other family and friends created the scholarship fund in his name to keep his prophetic voice part of the movement.

Joel Workin (left) and Paul Jenkins
Joel Workin (left) and Paul Jenkins

You can read more of Joel’s writing in the collection, “Dear God, I am gay – thank you!” The announcement is made in connection with Joel Workin’s birthday, which was May 29.

Workin Selection Committee Chair Michael Nelson wrote to Christephor,

“Your comparison of the grace of a dancer to God’s grace was captivating from the very first paragraph… I think what most moved us as a committee was your expansive language in describing God’s grace: that like the dancer, God’s grace is there for us when “gravity gets the best of you … a potential that was hovering just under the surface … And in the dark falling, in the everlasting emptiness, the grace is there.” …As Lutherans who recognize grace as key component of our theology, you opened our eyes to seeing grace in an entirely different light.”

Upon learning that he had been selected, Christephor replied,

“The passion, pain, hope, anger, and joy that Joel put to words in his work gives voice to a truth that is already writ large and deep on my spiritual center, a truth that ripples out beyond his experience and mine.  Each moment in the life of a queer Christian is set, remembered, and re-lived with each passing generation.  Change happens, sometimes at light-speed and sometimes so slowly you can barely tell that anything is different.  But then God’s grace is always breaking through.  And sometimes that grace shows us where more change must take place.

But we are in this together, a community of souls and a cloud of witnesses.  As Joel says, our greatest grace is to be ourselves—and to live without reservation into our place in the church.  Mary Oliver speaks to this community in her poem “Wild Geese.”  The final haunting lines remind me that the stories of others who have gone before, people like Joel Workin, tell me I belong—and encourage me to continue telling the stories:  ‘Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your place in the family of things.’

I like to think that when we each feel as though we are the only one, all it takes is the honk of another to remind us that the flock is just overhead.

It is an honor and a delight to be the 2016 Joel Raydon Workin Scholar, and I am deeply thankful to the selection committee, the staff and board of ELM, and Joel’s parents who carry on his legacy.”

The award comes with a $2,500 scholarship for academic or spiritual study and is available for members of Proclaim who are studying to be rostered leaders in the Lutheran church.

The Workin Selection Committee includes three personal friends of Joel’s – Michael Price Nelson; the Rev. Jeff R. Johnson; Greg A. Egertson; and former Workin Scholar, the Rev. Rebecca Seely. ELM Executive Director Amalia Vagts did not serve on the committee this year as one of the applicants was an ELM staff member.

Opportunity: ELM Seeks Program Manager

elm_logo-acronymExtraordinary Lutheran Ministries is seeking a full-time program manager. Interested candidates should email their cover letter and resume to Amalia Vagts, Executive Director, director@elm.org, with PROGRAM MANAGER in the subject heading. Initial deadline for applications is June 21, position open until filled.

About the position:
Grounded in the belief that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identifying (LGBTQ+) people have extraordinary gifts for ministry, the program manager builds and supports community through the Proclaim program; walks with and equips leaders through the Accompaniment program; and connects with and uplifts congregations through the Ministry Engagement program. The program manager equips and labors alongside volunteer program conveners and works in partnership with the executive director and operations coordinator on strategic work and communications for these programs. Location flexible/telecommuter position.

Full job description and guiding qualifications: Program Manager Job Description

Group photo

Welcoming LGBTQ People to the Pews & the Pulpit

By Amalia Vagts, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries
& Leo Bancroft, ReconcilingWorks

“Our son came out of the closet,” he began, “and we went into one.”

Leo leads the ReconcilingWorks workshop.
Leo leads the ReconcilingWorks workshop.

Rick Nelson was speaking in a workshop led by ReconcilingWorks. His shared story drew the whole room into the deep truth of many families in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Mary Ann Nelson shared how their transgender child had been embraced and cared for by his Episcopalian church following a hospitalization. She shared how his church family cared for him in a way that his first church family had not. She looked out at the worship attendees gathered around the tables in front of her. “This could be our church.”

Her words hung in the air. They were a sentence. A charge. An invitation.

ReconcilingWorks and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries had been invited by the Southwestern Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America to be part of regional one-day educational events. Our companion workshops were about welcoming LGBTQ into the pews and pulpits of the Lutheran church.

In the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries workshop we talked through the way many of us tend to minimize differences in order to avoid talking about them. One participant said, “It’s pretty comfortable being in a place of minimization – it seems like a lot of work to get out of it!”

We all knew what he meant. It is hard work. In our conversation, we focused on all the benefits and liberation awaiting our congregations if we do this hard work.

The ReconcilingWorks workshop reminded us of how high the stakes are if we don’t. Many people who have been welcomed into the pews are feeling that welcome comes with limits. Others feel silenced, unable to share even the joys of a granddaughter’s prom date or the pain of a son-in-law’s recent job loss.

“These are life-saving conversations,” Mary Ann shared. She said she was on a listserve with other mothers of transgender children. The night before our workshop, another mother wrote to say her child had committed suicide, because she had been unable to find a space of welcome and belonging.

“Too many of my friends in the LGBTQIA community believe there is no place for them in the church,” says Leo. “Too many of my friends have had heart-breaking experiences of rejection in faith communities. The church is not a safe space for many. The painful stories they tell me inspire me to give up my weekends traveling to various church settings to train congregations how to be more welcoming.”

Group photo
Leo, Bp. Richard Jaech, Jesus, Amalia, Rev. Jen Rude, Mary Ann & Rick Nelson.

The room where the ReconcilingWorks workshop was held had a statue of Jesus, with his arms spread open in embrace. Between the outspread arms of Jesus, Leo placed a flip chart page which read, “Welcoming LGBT Members into your pews: Reconciling Works – Welcome, Inclusion, Celebration of LGBTQ people in the Lutheran church.”

A few of the people stood up to take a picture of this moment, of Jesus embracing the work of welcome for the LGBTQ community. It was a poignant moment, illustrative of the hunger in our community for an acknowledgement of the love and hospitality of God, and the embrace of all people, no matter what.

The painful experiences that many have had in the church do not have to be the norm. We are touching lives and helping churches live into God’s welcome, even one training and one story at a time. There is hope, and there is grace.

We’ve come a long way. We’ve so much further to go. We do our work with joy in the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, and as a movement of people and organizations working together for the new day we all know awaits.

Leo Bancroft
photo by Emily Ann Garcia

Leo Channing Bancroft (he/him) has a passion for advocacy for both the HIV and LGBTQ communities. When he is not working a tech job or hanging from a trapeze, he is a member of the Board of Directors for Cascade AIDS Project and ReconcilingWorks. Leo serves as a volunteer Regional Coordinator for ReconcilingWorks, is a member of the Proclaim Community, and a candidate for ministry in the ELCA. He enjoys training, preaching, and sharing his story as a bisexual trans man to help make the church a safe and welcoming space.

Amalia Vagts
photo by Emily Ann Garcia

Amalia Vagts (she/her) has spent time in four cities in the last 7 days thankful to be working as Executive Director for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. She’s especially glad for the chance to have joined Leo and Mary Ann & Rick Nelson (longtime advocates for LGBTQ justice) this past Saturday for their workshop.

*Names and stories used with permission.

Jen Rude

Jen Rude Called as University Pastor to Pacific Lutheran University!


Jen Rude
Rev. Jen Rude. Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.

Rev. Jen Rude, who has served as ELM’s program director since 2013, has received and accepted a new call.

As announced today by Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, Jen will begin serving as University Pastor in early August. Jen’s last day as program director at ELM will be June 30th.

We celebrate with Jen, who has been a significant part of this movement for the last decade. Jen was an extraordinary candidate, ordinand and pastor; the first Joel R. Workin Scholar; a key member of the Extraordinary Roster and Proclaim community, an ELM Board Member – who helped create, launch – and name – Proclaim; a volunteer Proclaim Convener, and has served as Program Director since the fall of 2013. She will continue her involvement as a member of the Proclaim Community and as a supporter of ELM.

We give abundant thanks for the work Jen has done with ELM, especially as our first program director. Jen has worked in creative and deeply thoughtful ways to expand ELM’s three programs into thriving and growing work. These programs have experienced tremendous growth under Jen’s leadership. She has been a passionate and faithful leader, and a pastoral presence for the Proclaim community, staff and ELM board. She has been an exceptional colleague who has led with purpose and unparalleled integrity. She will be deeply missed by all of us who worked with her, and a tremendous gift to her new community at Pacific Lutheran University.

In Jen’s own words:

“ELM has played a critical role in my growth and formation as a pastor and as a person. It has been an honor, a gift, and a JOY to be in partnership with you and this community. I have loved my work at ELM with the board, program teams, the Proclaim community, and with all our communities and supporters. I am also incredibly grateful to Amalia, an extraordinary supervisor, mentor, and colleague. Her grace-filled, visionary, and faithful leadership is infused into the fabric of ELM.

I was not looking for a new call, but when this opportunity came up the Spirit kept stirring in me and I felt like I needed to at least explore it. This new call is a great fit for me and my gifts, and it comes with the great sadness of leaving my position with ELM. I will continue in my role as a Proclaim member, ELM supporter, and cheerleader for the awesome work of this organization and movement. I take this next step with a heart full of gratitude, confident that ELM will move into this next phase of its work as it has always done – with boldness, grace, humor, passion, faithfulness, and an overflowing cup of fabulousness.”

We’re thankful for a healthy organization with wonderful and passionate supporters, and a strong and committed board who will help guide the organization as we move into the new possibilities that will emerge from this unexpected change.We are putting together the next steps in our plan; beginning with reviewing the position and working on both short-term staffing and long-term hiring plans. We will keep our community informed as we move forward.

Confident in the Spirit who has led us through many changes, we will faithfully and joyfully move forward together in a way that strengthens our vision and mission.

We are thankful for the Chicago Metro Synod who affirmed Jen’s specialized call to ministry with ELM and we join the community of Pacific Lutheran University in celebrating this most fabulous new call for Jen!

Our long held vision embodied

(Editor’s note – many in the LGBTQ+ faith movement are starting to collect and document stories. As I shared in an earlier post – there is no “ELM Story,” rather there are many – and the stories are not just those of ELM or our predecessor organizations, Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project. Our stories are linked to those of denomination partners like ReconcilingWorks (formerly Lutherans Concerned/North America) and others – even to stories being shared today by friends in the United Methodist Church. Enjoy reading Mari’s story! – Amalia)

 by Mari Griffiths Irvin
Guest Blogger

As I write this, it’s been a month since I was with the Proclaim community in San Juan Bautista, California. I was one of the seven people invited by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) to participate in what was dubbed an “Instigators Gathering.” We were among those whose work led to the forming of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (LLGM) and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP) – both predecessors of ELM. Our time together, among the instigators and later with the entire Proclaim community was an experience that remains with me each day.  

The "Instigators." Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.
The “Instigators.” Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.

The weekend was a mix of old and new. In the early days of the movement toward full inclusion of LGBTQ people into the ministry of the ELCA, we were regularly meeting in one another’s living rooms. We arrived the day before the Proclaim Gathering to review some of the early organizational documents, newsletters, and records. What a reminder of those early debates and grand visions!  The materials will be archived at the Center for Gay & Lesbian Studies in Religion (located at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA). We loved reading those letters aloud, sparking many stories from that time.

We also needed to prepare for the large-group plenary at the Proclaim gathering. Not an easy task as each of us could have talked for hours about the significance of this mission and its effect in our lives!  Proclaim members had submitted questions like “What were the gifts and burdens of helping birth this movement?” and “What are you ‘known’ for and what would you like to be known for?”  Our responses were videotaped and will be archived for future generations to learn about the beginnings of our movement.

Proclaim member Marvin shares reflections. Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.
Proclaim member Marvin shares reflections. Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.

Following our comments, each of the Proclaim members responded with one or two words about their experience of hearing from the instigators.  In those moments, I saw in the Proclaim community the collective embodiment of the vision that guided our work for so many years. 

With great passion – and in the abstract – we had created a way to ministry for those whose calls were being ignored, refused, or discarded by the ELCA because they were LGBT persons who wanted the option to have a partner and family. At that time, the ELCA required LGBT clergy to be celibate. We stood witness to the testimony shown in each life of each candidate for extraordinary ordination and call to active ministry. 

As I listened and looked into the eyes of each Proclaim speaker, our long held vision came into sharp focus, embodied in each person.  In those moments I more fully felt the Power of God, shown in the future ministries of these dedicated followers of Jesus.  What is now will be continued. Their ministries and that of those who join them will truly proclaim the Gospel in ways we cannot yet imagine.

The vision that had guided me and many others for so long was now gloriously visible in the flesh before us.  I see and celebrate that picture in my mind’s eye each day. 

 Thanks be to God!

Jeannine and Mari
Mari (on right) with her spouse, Jeannine Janson.

Mari Griffiths Irvin’s long-dormant faith was rekindled by the extraordinary ordinations of Jeff, Phyllis, and Ruth in 1990 and her subsequent membership at St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco.  Her retirement in 2000 as professor emerita from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA allowed her more time to work passionately as a Lutheran LGBTQ activist. More recently, Mari reinvented herself as a bookstore owner in Yachats, Oregon where she, her spouse (Jeannine Janson), and her sister (Mary Wiltse) work as partners in selling “previously enjoyed and gently used books.”

The Stories Have Been, Are, and Will Be

By Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director

As you read in last week’s blog past, our recent Proclaim Gathering for LGBTQ leaders focused on stories. The theme was “Queer stories/Sacred Witness.” One of the “a-ha” moments for me is that there is no “story” of this movement.  No story is alike, no two people have had the same journey. There are countless individual stories – told together, these stories create a tapestry of a movement and an organization.

Comments from the Proclaim Community
Comments from the Proclaim Community.

At the end of our time together, we spent some time in group conversation and reflection. We hung three sheets of paper on the walls, asking individuals to share their responses to the following prompts; “The queer stories/sacred witness of ELM was/is/will be…”

Words and phrases leap off these three pages – “holy & prophetic,” “life-saving,” “truth-telling,” and “expansive.”

One person wrote this on the “Will Be…” sheet:

“Something we don’t have words for yet.”

As we move deeper into the process of identifying the next strategic steps for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and the Proclaim Community, our individual stories must be realized, shared, and heard.

As one person wrote, we are called to “remember the past, live in the present, and proclaim the future.”

I invite your stories – for you, what have been the stories and witness of ELM? What are they? What will they be? I welcome your response at director@elm.org.

AJV Signature NEW0001




Amalia and John BrettAmalia Vagts has served with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries since 2006. Part of her story includes meeting John Brett at a Reconciling in Christ training in Portland, OR in 2005, and having her life changed as he shared some of his own story.  Pictured together at the recent Proclaim Gathering (John Brett, part of the Proclaim Community and a seminarian who serves with the San Francisco Night Ministry is currently on street retreat with the Faithful Fools in San Francisco).


Andrew Steele

Ubuntu – I am because we are

By Andrew Steele
Guest Blogger

Andrew SteeleGrowing up the son of two Lutheran pastors was quite an experience. I definitely saw church differently.

I hung out in a lot of church basements. I found interesting ways to play hide and seek in big church buildings. And when there was a portable communion kit in the backseat of the mini-van and I was hungry, communion wafers did the trick. (I know, this is sacrilegious but I was a young kid who had a craving for some tasteless snacks!)  

Needless to say, I kind of went through the motions of being a rambunctious, trouble-making pastor’s kid.  Church was part of weekly and daily life, and the people in our church community were as well.  That’s what I knew and that’s how it was for most of my childhood and young adulthood.

But over the years, I have grown in ways that I never quite anticipated.  

After college, I served as an ELCA Young Adult in Global Mission volunteer in South Africa where I was challenged in many ways.  I was challenged by the cultural differences. I was challenged by my own privilege. And I was challenged by the radical hospitality bestowed upon me by my host community.  I began living into what it means to be community, and I quickly adopted the South African way of life known as Ubuntu, or ‘I am because we are.’ This continued as I moved to Chicago after my time in South Africa to start working for United Way. I began attending St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Logan Square, where Pastor Erik Christensen serves as pastor. I quickly learned about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and Erik’s incredible journey to where is called today. Knowing what Erik’s leadership has meant not just to the Logan Square community but also to me has cemented my passion and belief in ELM’s mission.

So today I attempt to continue living out Ubuntu in a variety of ways.  One of those ways is being an ally and advocate for LGBTQ folks in church and society.  However, I really don’t see the term ‘ally’ being one that best describes how I wish to live this out. My hosts in South Africa taught me a lot about family. They taught me that being a child of God is all that matters, no matter the color of your skin, language you speak, etc. And so I will continue being the brother in Christ that I already am with my LGBTQ family members, more than an ally.

The body of Christ is all of us. We are all one body. And some of the body has cancer. Some of the body is HIV positive. Some of the body is LGBTQ.  The body of Christ cannot be full while some are missing.

As the struggle continues for equality and recognition in the church for our LGBTQ family, (and increasingly in society,) it’s important to remember that South African word, Ubuntu, that we are only who we are because of the people in our lives. That we are all children of a loving God whose love for us is unconditional, and that each member of this family belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:1-8.)

Andrew SteeleAndrew Steele, Director of Global Church Sponsorship for the ELCA, writes most of his reflections on one of his devices while awaiting a flight. He has become quite the expert in airport codes and expedited security lines.