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Announcing ELM’s 2018 Workin Scholar: S. Leon LaCross!

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

Each year, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries 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. Our world can sometimes feel like an unwelcoming place, where hope and inspiration seem on short supply. But prophetic voices like Joel’s, and all those who applied for this scholarship, continue to highlight that publicly identified LGBTQ+ ministers and seminarians can be beacons of courage and powerful models of justice in action.Thanks to a generous endowment started by Joel’s friends and family, and other ongoing contributions, this award comes with a $6,000 scholarship for academic or spiritual study and is available for members of ELM’s Proclaim group who are studying to be rostered leaders in the Lutheran church.

We are thrilled to announce that this year’s Workin Scholar is S. Leon LaCross, seminarian at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Read on for Leon’s announcement letter and bio.

Congratulations Leon, and thank you for your prophetic voice!

To read Leon’s powerful scholarship essays, click HERE.



Dear Leon,

I am writing to inform you of your selection as this year’s Workin Scholar. It was the scholarship committee’s conclusion that your outstanding essay (reflecting on “The Cost” by the late Joel Workin), not only embodied the cost of coming out, but also paralleled a moral courage that Joel exhibited throughout his life. It was clear to us that you understood the cost of the closet as you explained your own coming out story, especially as you moved toward candidacy and reached a deeper understanding of yourself, as this paragraph demonstrates:

“I came out to the psychiatrist as queer during my psychological evaluation as part of the entrance process to candidacy.  I received a blank stare for a moment before he asked me what that meant. I suppose I had a choice to take the easy way out and use the tangible category of “gay”, but it wouldn’t have been authentic to myself.  Perhaps I was courageous, or foolish, or demonic in doing so, but I had to tactfully explain that I do in fact desire men sexually and romantically, but that also doesn’t exclude other genders from the equation. Additionally, I had to explain to him that in terms of my gender, I’m comfortable with my body parts and presenting as a man, but that does not tell my whole story as a non-binary person.”

Borne from your own self-insight, this was just one of the moving “coming out” reflections you shared which, to be honest, was matched by many of this year’s applicants.  But your essay radically departed from others with your own “coming out” as a survivor of sexual abuse. Your eloquent description of the pain in recapturing that childhood memory, the consequences it had on your development and your theological reflection on it was nothing short of breath-taking:

“Recovering that excruciating memory was a baptism of sorts: a baptism of blood and tears.  It was a closet baptism into a community of victims and survivors that no one wants to be a part of.  A communion of saints and martyrs that instead of rejoicing when another member is added weeps, gnashes teeth and rends clothing.  Jesus wept when I was baptized in my own blood and tears. God cradles me in the expanse of Their hand – perhaps too large for me to recognize that God is in this pain with me.  This shadow communion, this bloody baptism: this is why I have stayed in the sexual assault closet for so long.”

On behalf of the committee, I congratulate you on becoming this year’s Workin Scholar. May God bless you and continue to heal you, Leon, throughout the coming years and into all the years of your ministry.  On behalf of the committee, I congratulate you.


Michael Price Nelson, Chair

Workin committee members: Greg Egertson, Rev. Matt James, Rev. Jeff Johnson, Michael Price Nelson, Rev. Becca Seely, Rev. Amanda Nelson

S. Leon LaCross (he/him/his/any)

Leon is a seminarian at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary pursuing a masters in Divinity with hopes to be ordained. His specific academic interests revolve around sex, sexuality, and gender in the context of the church. He is originally from Gaithersburg, Maryland, but has been in Berkeley, California, since commencing his MDiv. He grew up in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod until receiving his call to ministry in 2012 when he transferred into the ELCA.  When not doing church work (if there is such a thing…) he enjoys baking, crafting and spending time with friends and family. Additionally he is a connoisseur of tea with an ever-expanding tea library and tea pot collection.




God’s Rainbow Light

Thursday, June 21st, 2018

Family in Christ– we are gathered this morning as children of a God that invites us into community to #JustBe. In this service we pause to worship and commune…to pray for our world and for our LGBTQIA+ siblings throughout God’s creation (we pray especially for our brothers Ronald, Shariff and Nathan in Uganda) and then we go out to join the masses in hip shaking and change making.”

Vicar Kelsey Brown, LA Pride Sermon, 2018

I’ve been doing this Pride thing for a pretty long time, in fact my very first pride parade was over 10 years ago in New York City…little did I know, eleven years later I would take my spot on the streets of West Hollywood to be the street preacher at a Street Eucharist in LA Pride?!?

Pride is a marvelous thing! (FULL STOP) but as I said in my sermon Sunday morning on the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Blvd, Pride is something we hide behind. We all dust off our rainbow flags and throw on some Diana Ross’ “I’m coming out” the morning of June 1st but our people, in our pews and in the world need to know God’s delight in their identities 365 days a year.  

11 years ago my favorite thing about the Pride parade was dancing in the street, carefree; this year however my favorite thing quickly became being the face of the “Church” for the people of Southern California.

In a world that tries to silence us, scare us and blame us – we were able to go out and change hearts and minds simply by being present. We got to hand out buttons and put temporary tattoos on people and we got to have a lot of fun, but most importantly we got to look them in the eye, like Christ would have.

I, as intern of both St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica and was able to wear my collar and hold my girlfriend’s hand as we marched.  I couldn’t help but tear up as I passed people who looked at us with temporary confusion as they clocked my clerical collar but I kept on marching anyway because I couldn’t help feeling like maybe somewhere in the crowd stood a little girl like me who’d been told by her Church or by the world that she’s deviant or broken. I prayed our presence would reassure her that God hasn’t placed rules on who she can love.

That’s what pride means to me: it’s shining God’s delight for ALL God’s created.

Churches who march and attend pride events help bring that delight to the people who might need it the most – our very being there shakes up the notion of a God who hates who they’ve created, it peels back the curtain and it lets God’s rainbow light of love shine through.

Kelsey Brown (she/her/hers) is a 3rd year student at United Lutheran Seminary, Philadelphia Campus. She is currently serving as Vicar of St.Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California but is a native New Yorker.  She likes dancing around the kitchen, advocating for racial justice and the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community and watching Netflix stand up comedy.






Claim Your Wholeness

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

During the peak of the HIV/AIDS crisis in San Francisco, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zilhart began using this as a post-communion blessing at St. Francis Lutheran Church where they served as pastors:

“Live forgiven. Claim your wholeness. Go in peace.”Ruth- Phyllis-Jeff

Phyllis and Ruth’s calls were extraordinary ones – literally “outside of the ordinary” process of the ELCA which did not allow the ordination of publicly identifying LGBTQIA+ people until 2009. In principled non-compliance with the ELCA’s policy, St. Francis Lutheran Church decided to call them and as a result was expelled from the denomination.

Nevertheless, week after week, Phyllis and Ruth persisted in presiding over and serving communion to those gathered for worship, many of whom were living with HIV/AIDS. Week after week, they served communion to family members, spouses, and friends caring for loved ones who were nearing the ends of their lives. And week after week, the body and blood of Christ was given to people who had lost loved ones to this disease, to which so much unnecessary social stigma has been attached. Their ministry was as extraordinary as their call.

We take pride in this history of persistence that our community has shown in the face of prejudice, the way gender and sexual minorities have thrived and done ministry that has transformed the church and enriched the world. This part of our community’s history has inspired our Proclaim Gathering theme for this year: “Claim Your Wholeness”.

The challenges and stigmas that LGBTQIA+ people face in our society and our church have shifted over the past 25 years. The landscape has changed, but the struggle continues.

What does it mean in our present context today for gender and sexual minorities to boldly claim our wholeness as rostered ministers and candidates in the church?

Here’s what a few of our Proclaimers had to say:

“It means standing up straight even as someone tries to kick you down. It means being 100% yourself even when it’s taboo to do so. I think of Wholeness as our entire being – even the broken bits or the pieces we’d rather hide away. Accepting love and grace from God and one another not despite our failings, but because of them. I think of being a queer POC in the whitest denomination in the United States… so when people ask me why I’m in this Church, why I’m a Lutheran? I answer because I’ve been a Lutheran my whole life, even if the Church struggles to find a “place” for me – God has already prepared a place for me at God’s side.”
-Kelsey Brown, co-chair of Worship Team planning this year’s Gathering

“I heard of a UCC preacher named Traci Blackmon say that she wasn’t giving up any of her boxes because each one of them gave her part of her strength. She refused to be Christian or gay or black or country or political or… she was each and every one of those things all at the same time, and the way they interacted was greater than the sum of her parts.”
-Carla Christopher, seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary

“God gives us this mustard-seed-sized glimpse of ourselves that isn’t fully realized until we claim ourselves and our wholeness and grow to be all that God imagined we could be in all our rainbow glory.”
-Katy Miles-Wallace, intern, serves as part of the Proclaim Welcome Duo which orients new members to Proclaim

What does it mean for you to Claim Your Wholeness? If you’re a Proclaim member, or would like to sign up to become one, we’d love for you to join us as we explore what it means for us in the church today.

The Gathering will be held at the Pearlstone Center just outside of Baltimore, MD from August 5-8 this year. Registration closes July 6th, and there are currently 23 remaining registration discounts left. So don’t wait, register here today! Scholarships are available for those who are retired, seminarians, or others without a full-time call as well as those experiencing financial need. Apply here for scholarship.

All Proclaim members and their families are welcome to attend the Gathering which is an annual in-person time for learning, community building, and renewal. You can read a bit more about the line-up for the Gathering this year here.

Asher O’Callaghan (he/him/his) serves as Program Director for ELM. He gets to lead the teams that organize and plan for the Gathering as part of his job. He hopes he’ll see you there this year!

Serving with Pride!

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

June marks the start of Pride month across our country. From small towns to large cities, the LGBTQIA+ community and their friends and families will come together to celebrate identity, organize for empowerment, and remember those who have gone before us as extraordinary saints of our movement. During the month of June, ELM’s blog will reflect stories of Pride – the feeling, the event, the movement.

This week, ELM’s staff reflect on the theme: “Serving with Pride!”

Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, Program Director 

10 years ago,
I never would have dreamed,
not even in my wildest of nightmares,
that I would end up here.
Happy, healthy, proud.

10 years ago,
I thought I was condemned to be
unhappy, unhealthy, ashamed.
I thought that love was beyond me.
I thought that God’s love was contingent
on me renouncing love,
on me never being me.

Life is surprising.
I didn’t know God as well as I thought.
I didn’t know myself as well I thought.
Being dead wrong saved my life.

Love is how we know God.
So when I cut myself off from love,
I cut myself off from God.
We can’t know God without love.
Because love is what God does.
It’s who God is.

Love makes all things new,
Love gave me a new name, a new identity, a new community.
Love made me transgender and bisexual.

Love gives us all a new calling.
It gives us the fire, the energy, to do things we never thought we could.
You can’t receive love without wanting to go share it.

Love has made me proud.
Proud of what God is doing.
Proud of who I am becoming,
The unimaginable person I’ll be in another 10 years.
Proud of the community surrounding me,
that loves people into being.
Proud of those who went before me,
the shoulders I’m standing on.
Proud of this work of love that God is still calling us to.

I am PROUD of what God’s love has done.
It is indeed right, our duty and our joy,
that we should at all times and in all places
flaunt it
Proclaim it
on the streets in Pride Parades
and in the sanctuary every Sunday.

Hannah Dorn, Program and Administrative Assistant

Though I grew up in an ELCA church regularly attending services, I didn’t always feel a connection to my faith. It was like there was some kind of “Christianity Box” that I didn’t quite fit into. A square peg and a round hole. I believed I couldn’t be my true self within the church. It drove me away from my church, clouded my relationship with God, and ultimately caused me to feel unworthy of Christ’s love.

In January of 2015, I came across a booth in my college’s student center for a Christian Sorority. Though this was most certainly not my typical scene, I realized that God was presenting me with an opportunity for change and I joined up. It was within this organization that I first realized how different one Christian could be from another and that this was certainly not a bad thing.

It was here that I realized that my uniqueness was exactly what made me so perfectly equipped to share God’s love and that the sharing of His love and light is our greatest duty to God. It was here that I realized I was most definitely worthy of Christ’s love and I needed to spread that sense of worth to those around me.

The light and the love and the image of God are all boundaryless. Thus, we who are born into that light, cherished in that love, and created in that image cannot be placed in a single box.

To work for an organization that lifts up the uniqueness of God’s children and recognizes difference as strength rather than weakness brings me great pride and joy. I am so grateful to be given the opportunity to further understand the trials that face God’s children, especially within the LGBTQIA+ community. Through deeper understanding, we strengthen our ability to love in the way God loves every one of us no matter our shape: circle, square, star, rainbow.

Rev. Amanda Nelson, Executive Director

I didn’t go to seminary to be a gay pastor – in fact, I didn’t even mention my orientation in my entrance paperwork for the ELCA candidacy process. I didn’t yet see a connection between my identity as a queer woman and my calling to serve the church.

But when it came time for my approval essay, I couldn’t separate my faith, my calling, and my queer identity.

I didn’t intentionally pick to do my field education at First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco – one of the congregations that defied ELCA policy in 1990 by calling and ordaining the Rev. Jeff Johnson. I simply wanted to have a ministry site in a context unfamiliar to me (a suburbanite) and this site was in the city.

But in their midst, and in the context of the Bay Area, I was introduced to a history that had shaped my present and was shaping my future.

The Holy Spirit is sneaky that way: pushing us, engaging us, calling us into a holy narrative of liberating love and divine pride – and, sometimes, it takes a while for us to put the pieces together to see the bigger picture.

Today, I actually don’t mind being a gay pastor (though, I know this is not every LGBTQIA+ person’s call). And, I’m thrilled to be called to a ministry that not only celebrates my identity but sees it as an asset to the work that I do.

The ELM Board has never asked me to “tone down” my queer identity. I’ve never been asked by an ELM donor not to tell them about my fiancee, Tasha, because “they’re okay with LGBTQIA+ people as long as they don’t have to see it.” My colleagues encourage me to wear rainbow buttons and stoles at events so that I can be identified as an LGBTQIA+ leader in our church. I’m invited to preach on “gay things” in congregations across the country all the time.

I recognize that I serve a unique call, but I believe this liberation is possible in our congregations and in our Church. This glimpse into the kin-dom inspires me daily to do the work that I do – and I do it with such deep pride.

Happy Pride, beloveds!

The staff of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries work to support ELM’s programs and to spread the joy of LGBTQIA+ leadership to the Lutheran church and the wider world. ELM’s staff span the country – Asher in Denver, CO, Hannah in Chicago, IL, and Amanda in Portland, ME – and, take great pride in the work they do together. 

Faithful Tension

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

My “coming out story” has the threads of our story as an LGBTQIA+ community yet it is my own story as well. It starts with my older sister coming out at age 19 in 1972. My parents sent her to a psychiatrist who concluded, they had a “nice daughter.” The timing was significant because 1972 was the first year that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used by psychiatrists, no longer listed homosexuality as a mental illness. I have always assumed this empowered the psychiatrist to say she wasn’t mentally ill and was perfectly fine to be a lesbian. This was a blessing for our family.

About 4 years later, my younger brother came out as gay. At that time, I did not yet identify as bisexual, because I was really into guys. So, I donned the identity as the straight child in the family. This was an identity I had to overcome when I came out as bisexual.

During my marriage to my son’s father, I met a woman and was bowled over by feelings that were entirely unexpected. I wasn’t even sure what these feelings meant and did not pursue them. This experience was the first of several that led me to identify as bisexual. It was a surprise that moved me into uncertainty – similar to the surprise of being called to Word and Sacrament ministry when I was very settled in a nursing career.

My time in seminary was pivotal. I started as a sister advocating for her LGBTQIA+ siblings and finished by realizing I was advocating for myself. At the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC), I worked with others to bring conversations and presentations to the seminary community during the late 90’s. I take pride in being present when the name “Thesis 96” emerged at the Chicago Gay Pride Parade in 1999. Still today, Thesis 96 continues to be the name of the LGBTQIA+ advocacy group at LSTC.

For internship, I requested to be in the San Francisco Bay Area to be near my brother who was affected by AIDs. My request was granted, with the gift of an internship at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Oakland where Pastor Ross Merkel had been “defrocked” by the ELCA in 1994 after he publicly came out. St. Paul Lutheran kept him as their pastor despite church policy. It was an incredible experience to see faith in the midst of pain as people continued to remain in relationship with the ELCA and work for change. This was where I learned about the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP) and Lutheran Lesbian Gay Ministries (LLGM) – the predecessor bodies to ELM.

My time at St. Paul Lutheran in Oakland was another step into understanding my sexual identity more fully. It wasn’t until several years after seminary, however, that I fully and publicly claimed my sexual orientation as bisexual, shifting into the ECP Process.

I was the 7th person to be ordained extra ordinem in 2002 by four congregations in Oakland and Alameda, California to a large nursing home ministry. I was the first extraordinarily ordained person to identify as bisexual. It is an honor to be part of this historic roster and be with all faithful Lutheran identified Christians who worked to change ELCA policy.

However far we have come, we still have a lot of work today. I recently received negative feedback from a congregation who was given my name to be their interim pastor. I was not treated with respect. Yet, I believe it was their loss.

They lost an experienced pastor with the wide berth of skills a congregational pastor needs today. They lost the energy, the knowledge, and strategy that I and many LGBTQIA+ pastors have to make space for the Spirit, transforming our old dying ways with new life-giving ways of collaboration, justice, and prophetic imagination.

We have so much to offer the church today. We know we can get through the trials and tribulations of today by remaining faithful in the tension of our own pain and the anxiety of our communities.

As Saint Paul writes in Romans, “But we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5.3-5).

Sharon Stalkfleet (she/her/hers) served as a registered nurse for 16 years prior to receiving a Master’s of Divinity from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, She was ordained extra ordenim by four congregations in Oakland and Alameda, CA in 2002. In 2010, she was received into the ELCA along with 7 other LGBTQ pastors in San Francisco Bay Area. She has served as pastor to Lutheran Ministry to Nursing Homes, as a hospice chaplain and most recently serves as an Intentional Interim Pastor. She is a member of the Candidacy Committee and Sanctuary Task Force. She lives with her dog Greta in Berkeley and is very partial to her two grandchildren.

She’s Persistent, that Holy Spirit!

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

My life has felt like a series of “coming outs.”  I came out as queer in high school and to my disappointment, no one was surprised. It felt like the longest crescendo and I was finally going to share my truth! Come to find out, my gender expression and sexual orientation had about as much volume as Uncle Jesse’s hair on Full House. I attended Concordia College in Bronxville, NY, and it was there that I was given the space and freedom to figure out what my sexuality meant to me and how I was going to move through the world as a queer Iranian-American woman; very a-la Felicity.

For as long as I remember I could feel a call towards serving others but didn’t know how to reconcile that internal call with the rules of the church. It was like I was Moana on the Island of the LCMS.

Margarette preaching at Grace Lutheran in Scarsdale, NY.

In 2007 when I changed my major from Liberal Studies to Social Work, I flourished. I had found the answer in a world where I couldn’t be a pastor let alone be “out” and also serve the church. I received my Masters degree in Social Work, volunteered at a camp for children with congenital heart defects, and landed what I thought was my “dream job” working with chronically and terminally ill children. I was the Leslie Knope of pediatric palliative care!

Still, I continued to feel a nagging toward ministry – it felt like the sound of Janice’s voice when she sees Chandler Bing, except all of the time. I remember typing into my search engine, “LGBTQIA+ female pastors in the Lutheran church.” After a few clicks around I found Proclaim and a wave of relief came over me. There was a community that could support me and recognize the gifts I had to offer the church! I reached out and started on a path of discernment that has lead me to sharing this story with you.

I was raised Agnostic with Catholic and Muslim grandparents and while I found sanctuary in my observations of their faithfulness, this made my being called to Word and Sacrament in the Lutheran church delicate to navigate. This second coming out gave me the reaction I was looking for in my FIRST coming out! My family was initially, and continue to be, shocked and confused. I heard questions like,  “I didn’t know you were religious.” “Why Lutheran?” “Can you be a gay woman and a pastor? How?” “Why do you use the word queer?”; I have answered more questions around my call to ministry than when I came out as queer.

Looking back, it was the the Holy Spirit that continued to pull me back to church and back to God’s word. She continues to give me strength to use my voice to proclaim the gospel. Her light shines on my gifts for the church and She’s showing me how to use them in service to others. She’s persistent, that Holy Spirit.

Margarette Ouji is a 1st year MDiv student at PLTS. She lives with her wife Abby and their adopted Shih Tzu, Luther (named for the BBC detective). When Margarette isn’t studying, you can either find her at home, crocheting and cheering on the Green Bay Packers or attempting to learn Farsi with her grandmother in Sacramento.

The Cost

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Each year, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries names a Joel Workin Scholar to honor the life and ministry of Joel R. Workin, one of the “Berkeley Three” (bio below). This scholarship is open to seminarians who are members of Proclaim, ELM’s professional community for Lutheran pastors, rostered lay leaders, and those preparing for rostered leadership who publicly identify as LGBTQIA+. The 2017 Scholar is Ben Hogue. A list of previous years’ scholars can be found on our website.

Each year, seminarians are asked to reflect on one of Joel’s essays or sermons – Joel was a gifted writer and theologian. The following is Joel’s essay “The Cost.” This is the essay the Workin Scholarship Committee has asked seminarians to reflect on in their applications and it speaks powerfully to the issue of “coming out” which has been the theme of our blog posts this past month.

As a note: ALL seminarians who are Proclaim members are qualified to apply for the Workin Scholarship. The deadline to receive applications has been extended to June 15th. If you or someone you know is an LGBTQIA+ seminarian, please encourage them to apply! You can find out more about the scholarship here.

ITEM: The certificate was given to three gay seminarians in appreciation of “the Gifts of Time and Talent in Outstanding Service to the Membership of Lutherans Concerned/North America as a Model of Faith, Courage, and Integrity.” And with the certificate came sustained applause, wave upon wave of admiration, gratitude and respect, as 130 gay Lutherans rose to their feet, giving their version of a group hug.

ITEM: The news was in The Advocate (issue 514, page 20): “A Presbyterian minister who had tested positive for the HIV antibody shot himself to death in Tuscaloosa June 14.” And even if all Christendom were to clap its hands, and even if the Almighty Herself were to get down on Her knees and scrub, still nothing would be able to completely clean the blood-soaked carpet of that closet, whatever the closet — gay, HIV-positive, etc. — where that child of God lay dead, cold and stiff, unhugged and unapplauded.

As one of the “Berkeley Three” it has been an honor and encouragement to receive the support and even the accolades of many persons, particularly my fellow Gay and Lesbian Lutherans. The past months have been a time of kairos, and it seems that  a great part of what angers people is a recognition of the cost, the price of being “out” in the Lutheran church. The toll, both professionally and personally, is indeed very high.

Careers are ended, even before they are begun. Private life vanishes. Families are exposed to public attention. No one can pretend that being out is easy, that to follow the call to honesty and discipleship in this way is without a cross.

Yet, what is the cost of the closet? Over and over again, as people, many of them closeted, express their rage and sympathy over the price that three seminarians and many others have to pay for being out, I want to know — what about the cost of the closet?

How does one tally up the toll of living two lives, one of fear and the other of escape, one real the other false, one of tact the other of hiding, one of deceit the other of full-blooded reveling? How much does it cost? Twice as much?

How much energy does it take to every day, every minute, run from God and God’s grace and God’s gift of gayness, to run from families who wonder why the weather is the only topic of conversation, to run from oneself, which is the most basic thing God has given, and to hide out in well-constructed closets of success, excess, or numbness? How much energy does it take to keep the gospel, the Word, God’s own self, our true “created good” selves, at bay?

What pound of flesh is exacted from our very flesh by the closet? How many ulcers? How many headaches? How many heartaches? How many bodies dead in a pool of blood on the closet floor? How many persons sacrificed at the altar of political indifference or religious bigotry? How much flesh, how many corpses do blood-smeared hands need to stack against the closet door to make sure it will remain shut, even as we bury ourselves inside?

Or, literally, in real life, hard earned, greenback, dollars, bucks. What are the expenses involved in buying or renting two homes and setting up two different households, one for each of the lovers, mailing things in brown paper wrappers, driving far enough away to be somewhat safe, in always being denied the “couples rate”? What is the dollar cost of the closet?

Some people think that the three seminarians were very brave and courageous. (Some people think the three were foolish or demonic, and maybe we were a bit of each, perhaps.) But let no one think that we alone are paying the cost. Let no one think that those who “pass,” those who do not say anything are having an easy time of it. Let no one think that the choice is between paying the price or not paying the price. We do all have a choice, whether or not to come out, but we have no choice about the cross. We shall either take ours up on the way out of the closet or we shall be nailed, slowly and silently, to the one that hangs upon the closet wall. There is no way around it.

I do not know how we each decide which price it is we are willing to pay, which cross it is we are willing to take. In many ways, it seems that coming out is the easiest path.

The Berkeley Three were maybe not so brave after all. They were just too wimpy to face life in the closet. That cross, constructed by the church and the world, was too much for them to bear. And if that is the case, then let me encourage us all to take the easy way out and go to the One whose yoke is easy and burden light. Who knows, you may even get a certificate and a stirring round of applause to go with it.

And if you are still not convinced that the closet has a price, then I pray that God, as She kneels in your closet, trying to get the blood stains out of the carpet, may reach over and scratch your callused hide a time or two, just to make sure you are not dead.

“The Cost” is part  of a larger collection – along with many other inspirational and challenging reflections and sermons from Joel – called Dear God, I’m gay…thank you! Which was edited by Joel’s dear friend, Michael Nelson, and may be requested along with a donation to ELM.


Joel Raydon Workin (1961-1995) was born in Fargo, ND, received his Master of Divinity from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, CA, and served as intern at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Inglewood, CA. In the fall of 1987, Joel came out publicly as a gay candidate for the ordained ministry and was certified for call by the American Lutheran Church (a predecessor body to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Following this courageous and faithful act, Joel’s certification was revoked by the ELCA and his name was never placed on the roster of approved candidates waiting for call. Joel’s ministry continued in Los Angeles, however, at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and as Director of Chris Brownlie Hospice. On December 30, 1988, Joel married Paul Jenkins, whom he loved. Joel was a member of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, North Hollywood. He and Paul were active in Lutherans Concerned/Los Angeles and Dignity/Los Angeles.

In the last weeks of his illness, Joel gave his friends and family permission to sponsor an endowed memorial fund in his name. The Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholarship Fund was thus established upon Joel’s death from AIDS on November 29, 1995. In keeping with Joel’s wishes, awards from the fund are used to provide scholarships to publicly-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer seminary students who proclaim God’s love and seek justice for all. The fund is managed by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, through the InFaith Community Foundation.