- We respond boldly to God’s love and call to justice in these ways:
- We listen deeply.
- We publicly claim our identities.
- We work collaboratively.
- We act transparently.
- We ask, “Who is not here?”
- We speak truthfully, even when it’s hard.
- We laugh together.
- What would ELM look like in five years if we lived into these edges?
- What could we do, starting now, to help us get there?
- Continuing the journey of being an anti-oppression organization;
- Providing fabulous opportunities for continuing education and professional development that speak to our community;
- Supporting Proclaimers who are called to Mission Development/Redevelopment;
- Continuing to reimagine what it means to be the community of Proclaim and how we might support those in myriad ministries in and around the church; and
- Continuing to walk through the challenge of supporting the great work and ministry of ELM through fundraising and other resources.
Bio: Emily Ann Garcia and the Rev. Matthew James are the Co-Chairs of the ELM Board of Directors. Emily resides in Vancouver, British Columbia and is a Proclaim SPICE (spouse of a Proclaim member). The Rev. Matthew James lives in Chicago, IL and is the Director of Admissions at LSTC. He and his husband, John Weit, are both Proclaim members.
From ELM: Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) believes the public witness of gender and sexual minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.
It is ELM’s practice to boldly confront the barriers experienced by LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, plus) ministers and candidates. We confess with lament and righteous anger that both our Church and our World are built on systems that do not honor and protect the full humanity of gender and sexual minorities. In many cases, these systems seek to harm, shame, erase, and even kill LGBTQIA+ people, especially trans, intersex, and gender-expansive people, interlocking with racism and white supremacy, classism, ableism, sexism, and other modes of domination and exclusion.
We boldly proclaim: NO!
This is NOT God’s vision of the Kin-dom as modeled in the prophetic justice of Jesus Christ. As news circulates that the current U.S. administration seeks to erase trans, gender-expansive, and intersex identities through defining people (and the legal protections they receive) in a false binary of either male or female, many are echoing with us:
NO! Our intersex, gender-expansive, and trans siblings in Christ #WontBeErased!
It is our collective call to:
–Center & amplify the stories and platforms of trans, gender-expansive, and intersex communities.
–Issue clear action directives to cisgender and straight allies, and see them through in solidarity.
–Utilize our unique faith-enriched ministry tools and practices toward radical reframing and healing.
Over the past week, members of our community have been speaking out in powerful ways. We have been in dialogue with ten collaborators: pastors, vicars, and lay leaders across the gender spectrum striving for relationship, conversation, and solidarity. In the next several blogs, contributors will address the above calls. We begin by hearing directly from those in the trans/ gender-expansive/ intersex community.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries
NOTE: While we encourage giving financial gifts to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, we especially lift up the missions of several excellent organizations specifically serving trans, gender-expansive, and intersex communities with both emergency response and sustained projects. We recommend Out Magazine’s “7 Action Items to Protect Trans and GNC People” for a list of organizations.
It is our collective call to center & amplify the stories and platforms of trans, gender-expansive, and intersex people. Below, find writing from within the trans/ gender-expansive/ intersex community.
God is Still Creating You
“In the beginning, God created day and night. But have you ever seen a sunset!?!? Well trans and non-binary people are kind of like that. Gorgeous. Full of a hundred shades of color you can’t see in plain daylight or during the night.
In the beginning God created land and sea. But have you ever seen a beach?!?! Well trans and non-binary people are kind of like that. Beautiful. A balanced oasis that’s not quite like the ocean, nor quite like the land.
In the beginning God created birds of the air and fish of the sea. But have you ever seen a flying fish, or a duck or a puffin that swims and flies, spending lots of time in the water and on the land!?!? Well trans and non-binary people are kind of like that. Full of life. A creative combination of characteristics that blows people’s minds.
In the beginning God also created male and female, in God’s own image, God created them. So in the same way that God created realities in between, outside of, and beyond night and day, land and sea, or fish and birds, so God also created people with genders beyond male and female. Trans and non-binary and agender and intersex, God created us. All different sorts of people for all different sorts of relationships. Created from love to love and be loved. In God’s image we live.”
God is still creating you. You are no less beautiful and wild than a sunset or a beach or a puffin. You are loved. You have a place here.”
-Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, Proclaim Member
Coming Out Forever
“The hardest part about coming out as non-binary is that I feel like I have been coming out forever– like there is no end to coming out and I am sick of being required or expected to come out to everyone in my life. Because part of the way I live into my non-binary identity is by using they/them pronouns, I constantly have to navigate to whom and in which contexts it is safe to be out and then who and where it is safe to correct when someone messes up. Particularly as a pastor, it is difficult to dance between pastoral care, self care, financial sustainability, and the justice at the heart of bringing my whole self to ministry contexts.
The best thing is that there are people in my life who celebrate with me the constant exploration and revelation that is my identity, who journey with me, who question with me, who invite me into deeper discernment around my own individual identity and communal identity. It has also been a joy to more openly live into the fullness of my queerness and celebrate and affirm the ways that it informs my theology and my vocation.”
-Anonymous Pastor, Proclaim member
My Joy #WontBeErased
“It’s so hard to not shut down, not turn off, not run away. Because that’s what oppressors want to have happen. “If we get them numb enough, they won’t fight back.” I feel sorry for the oppressors that hate us because there is so, so much fear that’s being felt and not being addressed in healthy ways. And fear is what separates us. Fear is used to control. Fear is the work of the devil.
The kingdom of God is all joy, all love, all the time. Joy is the place where I choose to dwell. My fight against oppressors is joyfully being my truest transgender self. And that isn’t always easy. The most visible joy I’ve been practicing is glamorously sunbathing shirtless, showing scars from my recent gender-affirming surgery. Joy is how I resist oppression. Joy is where I am in relationship. My joy #WontBeErased.”
-Vicar Drew Stever, Proclaim Member
From ELM: National Coming out Day is today October 11, 2018! This day holds different weight for different people: it can be a day of pride and celebration, and also a day of complicated emotions, memories, and pressure. As an ELM community, we commit to boldly proclaiming our identity as LGBTQIA+ ministers and candidates, and we know that comes with both challenges and triumphs.
As a way to honor and highlight this process, and offer a resource to the broader queer community and church community, ELM has Proclaimer coming-out stories and reflections to share publicly alongside other ELM resources.
TODAY View live videos, images, and further stories on social media: CLICK
These stories are part of our 3-month #Proclaim300 campaign, celebrating Proclaim (ELM’s professional community of out LGBTQIA+ ministers & candidates) reaching 300 members, with a goal of raising 300 gifts of $300 by Reformation Day: October 31, 2018. Honor a Proclaim member or other change-maker through ELM’s #NCOD Fundraiser online or at www.elm.org/donate-now.
Proclaimer Coming Out Stories
My name is: Emily Ewing
Reflecting on coming out: One of the things that I love about my coming out story is that it is entangled (in the quantum physics sense) with my call story. There is no way for me to separate the two. My coming out impacted my call and my call impacted my coming out. This continues today. The way I live into my vocation–how God is calling me into the world–is because of my queerness. God called me queer and queerly called me into ministry. My coming out and my queerness are not only a gift for me, but a gift for ministry and a gift for the world.
My name is: Drew Stever
My pronouns are: he/they
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? Every day I’m coming out. As trans, as queer, as a seminarian, as a Christian, as alcoholic. It’s a constant rising to the challenge of honesty, being with with that brief fear of “OMG what if they hate me afterward?” and then being completely blown away by the commonality the other person and I share afterward. Coming out and the love I am met with is a conversion experience to me. I am continually being brought back to and shown God.
Reflecting on Coming Out: “Transitioning” is an everyday thing, especially for folks who are transgender. For me, physically and mentally going through a hormonal and bodily transition allowed me to realize that “transition” happens for all people at all times and in all places. We are never not transitioning.
My name is: Dawn Bennett
My pronouns are: she/her/hers
Reflecting on coming out: Being out is complex. Being in is complex. But standing shoulder to shoulder with chosen family is the best feeling of support.
My name is: Austin Newberry
My pronouns are: he/him/his
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you?I am Like many of us, my coming out was gradual and somewhat piecemeal. The trouble with that, of course, is that it becomes more and more difficult to remember who knows what. Life is complicated enough without trying to maintain varying accounts of your life depending on who you are with. My sense of integrity was compromised and my spiritual life suffered as a result. Something had to change.
So, about 10 years ago I decided to observe National Coming Out Day in a big way. There was a sense of possibility in the air. It felt that we were on the cusp of change but I could not have predicted the dramatic changes that would come to the church and to our country over the next few years. I was convinced, however, that whatever positive change would come would be in part because people like me chose to be public about who we are and demand our rights. And so I did the most public thing I could think of (that I could also afford) and wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper asking that it be published on National Coming Out Day explaining why I thought it was important for me, especially as a Christian, to be “”out and proud”. It was published.
I have no idea what if any influence that letter had on the people who read it. I wish I could say that I never again found myself being “vague” about my personal life. I can say for sure, however, that I don’t think I could have made it through the long and painful process of becoming an out gay pastor without having first observed National Coming Out Day in such a public fashion.
My name is: Noah Herren
My pronouns are: he/him/his
If you could go back in time, would you come out the same way or differently, and why? This may sound a little ridiculous, but I think I would have prepared a script. This would have kept my messaging consistent whenever I came out to a new person. Even though sorting out my gender identity made sense to me in my mind, language often falls short with new and different concepts. A couple of people told me I needed to be able to explain myself better. I wanted to shout, “You try to explain this to people!” Ultimately, being able to articulate myself better would have communicated confidence and certainty.
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? It doesn’t mean much to me personally. Although, now, I can say that I’ve “put myself out there” on National Coming Out Day! I have friends who have found it as a helpful platform to share their stories. One of the scariest things about revealing a marginal identity, that may not be obvious, is feeling like you’re alone in the struggle. The community aspect of National Coming Out Day seems like it could help dispel this myth.
Reflecting on coming out: I feel like I’ve been through multiple coming out processes. Each time it seems to get progressively easier, at least I have some experience to ground myself. I also tend to get a little angrier each time too, though. Like, when will my identity journey end?! And why does it always seems like such a big deal?! First, I came out as a lesbian (10 years into a marriage with two kids). Then, I came out as one-who-is-called-to-ministry (which was a big deal to my family and required moving out-of-state). My most recent experience, which I address here, is coming out as transgender (female-to-male, or FTM). I transitioned during seminary and in the middle of the candidacy process. By the summer after 2nd year, social and medical transition were imminent, and I needed to come out to my candidacy committee. I scheduled lunch with my committee representative, and I was less than hopeful about the meeting. When I told him, he responded, “Oh, thank God!” As you can imagine, this is not the response I expected! He was relieved that this disclosure wasn’t going to result in a stack of paperwork, assured me that it wouldn’t affect my candidacy, and told me we would work through it together. There are a lot of other stories I could share here if I had the time, like accidentally coming out to my grandmother due to a technological glitch, or how my mother’s death facilitated coming out to everyone I’ve ever known. There’s no getting around the fact that coming out is terrifying, at a gut, instinctual level. I took it slowly. First talking one-on-one with those closest to me. Then making more concrete social cues like pronoun and name changes. Eventually, I wrote a blog post communicating my story to a wider audience. The only reason I’ve kept moving forward on this journey is that the next step in front of me usually seems like the only option…and the Spirit keeps gently guiding and sometimes giving a strong shove. My advice, if anyone is asking, is (1) be grounded in who you are and people will adjust, (2) find your people who will be supportive regardless, (3) be patient with yourself, the process, and other people, and (4) read Psalm 139 often.
My name is: Sara Cogsil
Who was the first person you told and why? Janet, a member of my home congregation, was the first person I told. I told her because I knew she would understand. I knew from her own life story, that she would be safe. I also knew that I couldn’t keep this inside me. I wanted to be known. I wanted to share this deepest part of myself with another. So as I sat in her home library, trying desperately to find the words, she spoke them for me. The door was opened and I walked through feeling so visible and so loved.
What was the hardest thing about coming out? What was the best thing?The hardest thing about coming out was the uncertainty within the church. I was in seminary at the time and I was aware that my identity and my love might cost me my vocation. The best thing was the honesty. For a long time, I felt like people didn’t really know me. Coming out aloud me to be more open and vulnerable about all of my life which allowed me to be a better friend, theologian, and person.
If you could go back in time, would you come out the same way or differently, and why?I wish I didn’t wait as long as I did. My sexuality was hidden for several years and looking back, I wish I would have had the courage to be honest earlier.
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? National Coming Out Day, for me, is a day to claim who we are and whose we are. It is important for me to name this part of my identity and to work to ensure that all LGBTQIA+ people feel safe and valued and loved for who they are. Being known is a valuable tool in helping advance the cause.
My name is: Michael Oakley
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? It is an opportunity to tell my fellow old white men and everyone, that it is never too late to be who you are. God loves you and wants you to be who you are. After practicing my story at PFLAG, I came out to my adult children and their spouses. It was wonderful and remains so. Then God really played a joke on me: Dave and I met and fell in love! Two old men in love! What a miracle the last two years have been.
Reflecting on coming out: Dave and I lived a four hour drive apart. We both made that four hour drive too many times. Even so, Dave came to know my congregation and they him, as my good friend. In order to be together, I had to move, because Dave could not. This meant leaving the congregation I had served for fourteen years. After telling the bishop my plans, I announced my resignation and retirement one Sunday and then came out to the congregation the next Sunday. The outpouring of love for both Dave and me was certainly of the Spirit.
My name is: Bill Beyer
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? I came out to my wife and children just two weeks after Coming Out Day 2013. Knowing that others had taken that step just days before gave me the courage to take the steps I took to be whole and authentic.
Reflecting on coming out: The reason it took me so long to come out was because of the evil known as Conversion (or Reparative) Therapy. It has taken me a long time to release the people who held my life hostage for almost 25 years. But, that darkness has been turned to light…no, not light…a rainbow!
My name is: Lenny Duncan
What was the hardest thing about coming out? What was the best thing? The hardest thing was accepting this part of me that I knew. Had experienced. Had frankly loved. I came out because I’m writing a book and I talk about it really clearly. But as a black man in ministry with a lot of brokenness in my past I didn’t want another hurdle in my ministry.
If you could go back in time, would you come out the same way or differently, and why? I would have came out years ago.
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? The first time I’m participating. So it feels brave, foolish, holy.
Reflecting on coming out: For me coming out has meant one more front that I have wage liberation and peace on in the battle for the soul of America. It feels like a responsibility and I find joy in holy responsibility. I find wholeness in integrating all of me.
My name is: Mary “JJ” Simpson-Keelan
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? A reminder that I am able to be who I am, love the person I love, and to be an example to others. As someone who is discerning a call to ministry, it is also an opportunity to proclaim that I am a beloved child of God. It reminds me that I am accepted not for who I will become, but for who I am right now. I am grounded in a relationship with an infinite God who loves all people – period.
Reflecting on coming out: We suffer and struggle most when we our angst is experienced in isolation. Being in community is an opportunity to be embraced for who you are.
My name is: Miranda Joebgen
What was the hardest thing about coming out? What was the best thing? For a long time, I was hesitant to come out to more than just a few close friends. I told myself that it was because I didn’t think I had to “come out.” If straight people don’t have to go through that process, then why should I? However, as I learned more about myself and my identity, I realized that my hesitance had more to do with my fear and anxiety than societal norms. While I grew up with a supportive family and had friends who were open and accepting, I knew that by coming out the way I was perceived by others would change. I knew that some people would make assumptions about me purely based on this one aspect of my identity, and that thought scared me. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this part of myself to be open for public consumption.
However, the best thing about coming out has been being able to live an open, authentic, wholehearted existence. By taking a risk and being open about my identity, I have been blessed with communities of beautiful Queer people who understand the joys and struggle about being out in the church and in the world. I am able to bring the fullness of my identity to my relationships, my work, and my theological studies, which I have found allows me to more fully live into and embrace my vocational calling to pastoral ministry.
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? National Coming Out Day for me is both a celebration of my identity as well as a reminder of my privilege. While it is by no means easy to be an out lesbian pursuing ordained ministry in the ELCA, I know that it is a huge privilege to feel safe in being open about my identity. National Coming Out Day reminds me that there are so many people who have to live in the closet for a variety of reasons. This is why I feel called to be open and honest about my identity, in hopes that one day our church will be a place in which no one will have to fear the process of “coming out.”
My name is: Steve Hoffard
Who was the first person you told and why? The first person I told was another pastor. He was an out gay pastor who shared his coming out story with me. During that very sharing and vulnerable conversation, a light went off, I saw in him someone who found freedom in being his whole self. Until that moment I had no idea that I yearned for that same freedom and surprisingly found myself saying, “I want you to know that I am gay too.” It was the beginning of my journey into wholeness.
My name is: Amalia Vagts
What was the hardest thing about coming out? What was the best thing? It was actually hardest for me to come out because I had been a very public “ally” at my college. This was my own issue – I didn’t want the community to think it had been a struggle for me or that I had resisted it. But it had taken me some time to come to an understanding about my bisexual orientation. I was also very in love with my boyfriend at the time and so coming out was complicated – asking myself – what is the reason for coming out if I’m with someone? But this actually helped me understand something significant early on – sexual orientation is about who I am, not who I am with. The very best part about coming out and being out is being true to who I am.
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? This day holds many great memories for me! It’s a good day for any who need a little push to finally come out and start telling others the truth of our lives. Coming out is also a lifelong process – especially for those of us whose sexual orientation may be less obvious (for example, my partner is a man and it would be easy for most to assume I’m straight). National Coming Out Day gives a chance to tell and celebrate our stories and to invite others to share their own.
My name is: Jon Rundquist
Reflecting on coming out: The story of my coming out is intimately tied to the question of my future in ministry. I have felt off – let’s call it queer – since I was young. I was always a little more effeminate than my male classmates in school, and in a small rural town, was made fun of for it. But it wasn’t until junior high when that femininity tried to break through the masculine. It’s always something I’ve wanted to hide away.
After the divorce of my parents, moving across the country and back, and living into my individual identity as an adult, it wasn’t until I started at Lutheran Campus Ministry when the call for ordained public ministry came to fruition. I wanted to be pastor for all of diverse backgrounds and identities, and that required seminary.
I married my wife of more than seven years, we had our first of two children, I graduated from undergrad and we moved to seminary to continue the path for my calling. In my second year, I was in chaplaincy when the femininity that I had tried to hide away came rushing back.
But if I were more feminine than masculine – if I were *transgender* – what would that mean for my career in ordained public ministry? What would coming out mean for my identity as a seminarian, as a husband, as a father? Would I ever be able to serve my own identity as a trans child of God, AND as a person seeking a call into ordained public ministry, AND a parent and spouse?
I stayed in the closet during my third year of seminary on my internship. It was a rural site, and I wanted to maintain my educational and vocational goals. But as the year of internship went on, it became increasingly hard to keep that closet door between me and the rest of the world.
But always in the back of my mind, it was the question of – what will coming out mean for my future in ministry? If I had figured out the rest of the complicated stuff – what would my coming out mean for my call?
I left it up to God. I came out in September of my final year of seminary, joined Proclaim and started a hormonal regimen in November. This November will be two years since I started that regimen. Informing the synod of that decision, I wanted to be clear of my intentions and transparency. After all, I was a trans parent.
In the end, candidacy fell through, and ever since I came out – the question of – will I ever be able to serve as an ordained public leader in the ELCA – remains unanswered. At this moment, it may take a few more years.
My name is: Joe Larson
Who was the first person you told and why? My therapist, because it was not safe to tell anyone else.
What was the hardest thing about coming out? What was the best thing? The most difficult thing was facing that I could not get ordained. The best thing was being able to finally be myself.
If you could go back in time, would you come out the same way or differently, and why? Back then (over 30 years ago), there weren’t a lot of choices. Most people were closeted.
My name is: Stephen Boyhont
My pronouns are: he/him/his
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? It is a day to celebrate; this is a form of rebirth. You are now beginning to live into the true you, even if it means you just came out to yourself. It carries a sense of freedom to be who God called you to be.
It is also a day of remembrance; a day to stand up and be proud of who you are when your siblings remain in the closet for whatever reason. Many of our siblings do not have that same freedom for fear of loss of safety or loss of relationships.
Coming out is an ongoing process. One does not come out and never have to come out again. Every new situation can call for coming out depending on the circumstances. This is a day to honor that process with celebration.
Reflecting on coming out: My story falls into that ugly trope where I came out as bisexual because I thought it would be easier for the people around me. Bisexual people face erasure everyday and I always regret that part of my story. My family told me that no one would ever love me because no one would ever trust me. It had taken me a long time to get to that stage of coming out because I thought by denying my same-gender attraction that I was doing what God wanted and I was living a good life.
After a year of slowly coming out to my new friends during my freshmen year at college I realized through the halfway year that I was gay. It felt so freeing. Like I was no longer pretending to be who I wasn’t and I reveled in my new identity like a beautiful new garment. I came back to my parents that summer and told them of my new discovery within myself and I was met with shouting and crying. They were mourning a son they thought existed and I was his less than ideal replacement.
I distanced myself from my family and my Lutheran upbringing. I ended up at an ELCA church camp which I now attribute to the Holy Spirit, but back then I called it luck. I was in my first relationship with another guy but I was still troubled by how I thought the God I no longer believed in would judge me for my orientation. I took a walk around camp and ended up at one of our outdoor worships spots, a stone altar in the middle of the forest. I fell to my knees, crying and praying. After several minutes I heard a sound coming back from the main camp. Sound carries very well from the assembly hall and someone was playing the piano. I could pick out the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and I felt an immense calm around me.
Coming out cannot be reduced to one day or one moment. It is continuous process and the hope is that I come to give myself grace and love everyday to live into the gift of queerness.
My name is: Adam Moreno
What was the hardest thing about coming out? What was the best thing? The hardest was thinking I needed to be effeminate if I was gay. That’s just not who I am. The best thing was being able to talk to friends about cute guys…so much fun not having to keep my crushes a secret!
If you could go back in time, would you come out the same way or differently, and why? Oh, I would come out much sooner. My fears of rejection were not founded, and I ended up being fully embraced…if I came out younger, I think the reaction would have been the same and I could have lived my truth sooner.
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? Coming Out Day is an opportunity to proclaim who God created me to be…and proclaim to others that God loves them just the way they have been created!
My name is: Heather Yerion-Keck
If you could go back in time, would you come out the same way or differently, and why? I was very causal and non-nonchalant about telling a lot of people and pushed to tell the world even though I knew that some of them weren’t ready or able to hear it/receive it. I would be tempted tone down my joyous exuberance and find less confrontational ways to tell those individuals
Reflecting on coming out: I am not sure that I would want to go back and do this again. I think the thing I would want to go back and do again is to get involved in community. To have a support system of like minded people. This is still something that I am working on bit it would have been helpful during those early years that felt very lonely
My name is: Susan Salamone
My pronouns are: she/they
Reflecting on coming out: Coming out was hard because of my faith. I went to personal counseling for six months prior to coming out to my religious parents. This was the hardest because I didn’t want to be condemned by my faith. As it turns out, my folks are just awesome! My dad even offered to fund a trip to Canada for us to get married before NY made it legal. My mom just out and out tells folks at her church that her oldest daughter is married to a women and that we have 4 kids. I’m blessed for sure.
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.
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.
“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 SoCalLutherans.com 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.
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.”
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.