Ministry in My Veins
by Rev. Nathan Gruel
Proclaim member and Pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Ocala, FL
I’m told this should be a “coming out” story. I’m not a big fan of the closet analogy, so I’m not sure I want to talk about “coming out.” Perhaps “coming over” works better. Or “coming on?” Even better, how about “coming up?”
In any case it was 1979, and I was in a Missouri Synod parish in Logansport, Indiana, where I figured out who I was and told my Board of Elders (it was Missouri Synod, remember) that I was going to resign my role as their pastor. I wasn’t ready for complete honesty, so I kept the reason for the resignation to myself.
Soon thereafter I made the same announcement to my District President (it was Missouri Synod, remember), and I didn’t offer him any explanation either. Why bother? My removal from the LCMS roster was predictable and inevitable, since he already knew I was on the wrong (from his view) side of the controversy that was raging in Missouri (Synod) at that time.
So, now what? I knew I needed some time to collect my thoughts, but I also knew professional ministry was in my blood. Thus began an extraordinary – and seemingly endless – journey of discernment. In 1979, deep in the Midwest, there was no context for me to have the slightest hope that I would ever again be allowed to serve as pastor to a community of God’s people.
What an unexpected and grace-filled surprise it was when, some 20 years later I became aware of a small group of similarly disenfranchised siblings who also had professional ministry in their blood, and they weren’t giving up. I was approved to the Extraordinary Candidacy Project roster on November 11, 2002. These siblings inspired and encouraged me to “come up.” In other words, hope was born. Just as we do now, we gathered in retreat yearly back then, and connecting with these folks was professional dialysis.
The years that followed were a time of hope and waiting – sort of a multi-year advent season. Twenty-three years had passed since I walked away from my call to parish ministry. I was now 56 years young. While the word “never” no longer seemed applicable, I was convinced that a change of policy in the ELCA was still years away – certainly beyond my dream.
An especially fond and prominent memory for me during this time of waiting is participating in the protest stand-in that was led by the ECP roster at the 2005 Churchwide in Orlando. It was a proud personal moment in our collective history.
The churchwide actions of 2009 were a complete surprise. Things continued to move slowly, but hope was gradually being fulfilled as one by one the members of the ECP roster moved into the ELCA roster, always celebrating the church’s long-overdue affirmation of our call to ministry. With only a handful of persons left on the ECP roster, I was beginning to feel “left behind” until, on March 14, 2011, I was approved to the ELCA roster in the Florida-Bahamas Synod.
Four years later, I received a call from that synod to serve as interim for Our Saviour Lutheran Church, in Ocala, and 1½ years later I was installed as their pastor in a half-time call. I was now 71. 43 years had passed since I was ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. It had been 36 years since I left my call in Indiana, and I had been living hopefully on the ECP roster for 13 years.
Comparatively speaking, my time back in professional ministry has been really short. It comes out to just over 2 years and 11 months. It sounds more impressive in days. That’s a total of 1074. Renewed ministry flowing in my veins every single one of them. Soli Deo gloria – with a little help from my friends.
Rev. Nate Gruel (he/him/his) moved to Ocala, FL, in early March to be near his beloved church community. He pastors at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Ocala, initially as interim, but then in a part-time call. Yes, interim-to-pastor is a no-no even in the deep south, but towing the line of church regulations has never been his strong suit. Singular commitment to grace-filled ministry is so much more fun!
Photo at top: A picture taken on the day of Nate’s ordination, June 19, 1972, at St. John Lutheran Church, Algonquin, Ilinois
Photo at bottom: The gathering of the members of the ECP roster at St. Dorothy’s Rest, CA
Bio Photo: Emily Ann Garcia
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Growing up in Kansas, I knew this line (and all the others) from The Wizard of Oz by heart.
It wasn’t until much later when I was figuring out my own sexual orientation that this song took on a new meaning.
Dorothy’s world was just turned upside down and she finds herself in a strange bright place where everything is new. In this song from the beginning of her journey, Glinda brings everyone out into the open so they can offer her their enthusiastic support.
Coming out can be really scary, but one of the spiritual blessings of Proclaim is that it is a community of folks who have already chosen to fully live the lives God gave us.
I was at the initial Proclaim gathering back in 2011, and served on the leadership team as the community came together. It felt like crossing into technicolor. Each week we welcomed new seminarians, ordained clergy, or other rostered leaders into our fold warmly, with enthusiastic support.
Those involved with ELM before us had shown us the way, and now we were making it safer to come out. While our journey had begun, we knew others were still waiting; many of our fellow religious leaders were stuck in the monochrome closet. Could our new community help them? How could we be like Glinda?
ELM has seemed like the wonderful colorful land of Oz where the impossible becomes possible. From time to time clergy reach out to us asking for advice and support. They have been choosing to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity from their faith communities. We’ve tried to meet these requests as they come, but so far we haven’t produced a comprehensive resource that could help folks navigate their own coming out journey. There really isn’t any other written resource out there specifically for closeted religious leaders.
I have an activity I’ve done with some of my Adult Education groups, where together we take rolls of masking tape and we transform whatever table we’re sitting around into a giant maze.
At one end is “the closet” and the other end is “coming out”. I ask them to try to come up with as many different reasons as they can about why someone would stay in the closet and we would write them on the walls of the maze.
Soon the maze is full of barriers and obstacles, dead ends, and wrong turns labeled with things like “Anti-Gay Family,” “Already in a heterosexual marriage,” and “No role models.” Coming out can be difficult and each person’s journey has unique twists and turns.
We read the story from Genesis, chapter 20, where Abraham and Sarah travel in a strange place and choose to disguise their relationship out of fear, but then are protected when the truth finally emerges.
When I did this activity with my own congregation, I recognized parts of my journey and parts from others in Proclaim. We had been learning so much from each other this whole time! I wondered how the Holy Spirit could use ELM to make this journey a bit easier for our closeted colleagues.
In 2016 Proclaim decided to gather our collective experience and generate a document that could help closeted religious leaders finally cross into technicolor of truth. We gathered stories and quotes, interviewed each other, and shared scriptures we had found meaningful. All of us knew some colleagues who would benefit from something like this, and we wrote with them in mind.
God loves people still in the closet. We’ve been praying for them. We’ve been encouraging them. Now we have something to share with them. This resource is the first step toward this side of the rainbow. Hopefully it will be reworked and revised over time.
Coming out is one of the most significant things queer leaders can do to improve their lives and the lives of others. It’s not just a one-time experience, we are coming out all the time. We hope you’ll share this resource and help us improve it for the future. Our journey together is just beginning!
Rev. Caleb Crainer (he/him/his) serves St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in colorful Los Angeles, California. He enjoys attending science lectures, trying new foods, and playing in an all-gay kickball league. ELM, and specifically the Proclaim community, has been a major part of his vocational path toward ordained ministry in the ELCA. Pastor Caleb encourages us to bring our whole lives to church, because God loves us for who we actually are.
Photo at top: Provided by author
Bio Photo: Proclaim Gathering photo
Freed to Abundant Life
by Rev. Steve Hoffard
Proclaim member and Pastor of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church–Kingston, ON
One of the strangest things that happens to me as a pastor is that, occasionally, I am hit hard by the truth of the gospel right in the middle of preaching.
I can wrestle with a text and finding the right words for a whole week, going over it again and again. I even practice preaching it from the pulpit a number of times as part of my homiletic practice, and nothing particularly moving or spectacular happens.
Then wham! It does. Suddenly the Holy Spirit illuminates something for me right in the middle of proclaiming the gospel.
This is what happened to me two summers ago. A secret I had held tightly for fifty years, one that I had only whispered to one other person a few weeks earlier, confronted me in the middle of a sermon.
I was preaching on the Lutheran World Federation theme “Liberated by God’s Grace: Humanity Not for Sale”. In particular, I was speaking about the grace Jesus spoke of in John’s gospel saying, “I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” In that moment, I suddenly understood that not living my truth had affected someone else besides me.
By keeping my secret, my wife of twenty-two years was not able to experience the abundant life she deserved. It was in that moment that I knew what I had to do. It was the beginning of sharing my truth with my family, friends and congregation that I am and have always been gay.
I spent months coming out to family, friends and those closest to me. Then one day, I found myself standing in the same pulpit, trembling as I shared with the congregation how grace had called me forth in my full identity.
I told them about my orientation and how I no longer desired to change it. Most importantly, I told them that I was good with who God created me to be.
I recognized it as a gift that made me more sensitive to the struggle of others and therefore a better pastor. I had been freed to the abundant life that God intended for me and for all of us.
Now when I climb into the pulpit, I don’t expect something revelatory to happen. But I never know where the Holy Spirit will take me next!
Rev. Steve Hoffard (he/him/his) is pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Kingston, Ontario. He continues to blunder into God’s grace unexpectedly while exploring who God created him to be.
by Elle Dowd
Proclaim member and
MDiv student at LSTC
In this time of Lent as we follow the call to journey into the wilderness, we also remember our ancestors in faith who went before us. To help us in doing that, several Proclaim members will be reflecting upon the mystics in their blog posts here during the month of March.
Each time I read the works of one of my favorite historical mystics, a part of me is transported back to a 13 year old version of myself – lounging on my comforter, kicking up my legs behind me, pouring over the words breathlessly, devouring it as if it were a Judy Blume book. Reading the mystics, I feel that same eager, hungry response bubbling up in my body and in my spirit.
In all honesty, a lot of these mystical writings would be just as likely to get banned today as my beloved teenage fiction stories, should people actually be paying attention. Moralists might call these writings blasphemous, improper, even pornagraphic. And in the time these pieces were written, their authors were threatened by the authorities with sanctions or silencing bans. Many of the historical mystics in our Christian tradition were too honest, too scandalous, too sexy for the powers that be.
One of my favorite mystics is Mechthild of Madgeburg, who wrote The Flowing Light of Divinity as a German tween in the 1200s. Her visions read like romance novels, describing the relationship between the Trinity and the Soul as that of two lovers, and their prayers like sweet pillowtalk.
“Prayer is naught else but a yearning of soul … it draws down the great God into the little heart; it drives the hungry soul up to the plenitude of God; it brings together these two lovers, God and the Soul, in a wondrous place where they speak much of love.”
Church dignitaries of her time called for her writings to be burned.
Yes, there is something dangerous about mystics.
Something inherently political.
Something outside the status quo, something queer.
The ways that mystics refuse to let soul be separated from body, the way that mystics receive so intimately the love of God, the way that they release that love so ecstatically…it is all a little too threatening to people whose power is intrinsically tied to the repression of bodies and the silencing of expression.
Queer theologians today, many of us mystics, face these same sanctions when we dare to talk about the ways that we encounter God. We are too outside the lines of acceptable respectability. In the hubris of going the places where God has led us, we are already outside of our “place,” but we’re too intoxicated with the taste of divine kisses to care. We are caught up in the whirlwind of a romance with a wild and untamed God, a force of love so strong that in its wake, it turns over tables, dethrones kings, and topples empires.
Thanks be to God.
Elle Dowd (she/her/hers) is a bi-furious #pastorschool student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a candidate for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Elle has pieces of her heart in Sierra Leone, where her two children were born, and in St. Louis where she learned from the radical, queer, Black leadership during the Ferguson Uprising. She currently works as a community organizer with #DecolonizeLutheranism and on weekends tours the city of Chicago in search of the best Bloody Mary.
Photo at top: WorkingArts
Bio Photo: Provided by author
by the Rev. Javen Swanson
Proclaim member and pastor,
Gloria-Dei Lutheran, St. Paul, Minnesota
It was August 2011 and I had just been approved for call. Because my husband Oby was then serving as pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation in the Twin Cities suburbs, I requested a restriction to the St. Paul Area Synod. My request was denied. I quickly learned that there are more candidates (both ordained and first-call) seeking calls in the Twin Cities than there are calls to be received.
Meeting with the synod staff to discuss my next steps, I was told that the fact that my request for restriction wasn’t accepted did not mean I couldn’t be considered for a call in the synod. They said the synod staff regularly reviews the names of candidates who are awaiting call and restricted to the Twin Cities. Perhaps a call would become available sometime in the future that could be a good fit.
But, they told me, I would also need to be my own advocate: keep an eye on the synod website for open calls; call the synod office monthly to discuss any new possibilities with the assistant to the bishop; get involved in the synod and network with other pastors in the area. I came away from that conversation with a clear sense that I would need to fend for myself.
Two and a half years later, I was feeling hopeless and all alone. When a call finally did come in the summer of 2014, it came not because the synod had passed my name onto a congregation, but because a fellow Proclaim member advocated for me and put my name in front of a call committee.
Seeking a first call can be a nerve-racking process for any newly-approved candidate, but it is often an especially difficult process for LGBTQIA+ candidates who, almost 10 years after the 2009 vote, still encounter roadblocks getting interviews and finding a call.
Two years ago, ELM’s Accompaniment Program launched a First Call Coaching Team. Twice a year, as recently-graduated Proclaim seminarians complete the approval process and receive their synod assignments, we offer to match them with a coach whose task is to walk with them through the process of seeking a first call. The coaches are all Proclaim members, most of whom have learned from their own challenging experiences how best to navigate the process and negotiate the obstacles LGBTQIA+ candidates encounter along the way.
The First Call Coaching Team has collected some of the best practices for LGBTQIA+ candidates awaiting first call, and coaches connect monthly with first-call candidates to offer support. Perhaps most importantly, coaches provide a listening ear, sharing in both the frustrations of awaiting first call and the joys of a successful call process.
If you ask me, synods should offer coaches to every candidate awaiting first call. Until then, ELM’s first call coaches will do the work of walking with LGBTQIA+ candidates as they seek a first call and supporting them through all the ups and downs of that journey.
Javen Swanson is Associate Pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota (one of TWO Proclaim pastors on the pastoral staff!) where he has served since 2014. He makes a home with several Old Testament characters: his husband Obadiah, dog Ruthie, and cats Amos and Hosea.
by the Rev. Mark Erson
Proclaim member and pastor, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Manhattan
It has been a total pleasure to serve on the Proclaim Team these last few years. It has given me the opportunity to witness the growth of this essential group of colleagues and to work with some pretty awesome folks as we strive to build and strengthen this community and its witness.
I know we have just started 2018, but I am already so excited for 2019. As one who loves to make the most of anniversaries and historic remembrances, 2019 offers us two amazing anniversaries to celebrate and to create a lot of hoopla over.
First of all, June of 2019 will mark Stonewall 50. Yup, fifty years since the uprisings at the Stonewall Inn (really a bar) here in the West Village of New York City. While some of us have been alive for all fifty years, we have all been affected by the movement that grew out of those initial events. As LGBTQIA+ people it is part of our legacy. New York will be World Pride City in 2019. Please, consider coming to NYC for the celebration. As a church that sits right on the Pride March route, I’m hoping to have 50 pastors cheering on the march from our steps.
But more importantly to the work of the Proclaim team, 2019 is also the tenth anniversary of the passing of the resolutions at Church Wide Assembly (CWA) that brought about policy changes regarding ordained LGBTQIA+ people. There will be another CWA in 2019 and the Proclaim Team is making it a priority to publicly celebrate this milestone.
We want to tell stories of ministry that has happened and is happening because of those policy changes. We want to proclaim the good news of radical welcome that the ELCA embraced in 2009 and continues to work at growing into. We want to challenge the church to be honest and see that there is still work to be done.
It is a tall order. There is a lot to do and say. Over the next 18 months there will be a variety of ways to have input into this project and this proclamation. Please keep watching, for opportunities to participate, vision, brainstorm and collaborate.
Due to the great divide in the 2009 vote, those of us who were rejoicing were asked to keep a lid on it so that those who were still struggling would not become angered. Well, this party has been ten years in waiting. Together we can make the most of it. In the words of a not too distant Advent season – Keep Awake, Keep Watch.
Mark Erson (he/him/his) is pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Manhattan, NY, on Christopher Street and wonderfully close to the Stonewall National Monument. As a theatre artist, he engages the performing arts every chance he gets at St. John’s for the sake of the gospel. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Scott Jordan, and is entertained continuously by their dog Brooklyn.
by the Rev. Amanda Nelson
ELM Executive Director
Happy New Year!
In this second week of Christmas, after leftovers from holiday meals have been eaten, and the noisemakers and champagne flutes from Sunday night are put away for another year, it is exciting to look back over the moments and milestones we have experienced, together, as a community.
We were off and on the move right from the start of 2017! Asher (Program Director) represented ELM at two national conferences, the Western Mission Network Conference on Lutheran Theological Education at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Arizona (where Proclaimer Rev. Richard Andersen is the Executive Director), and the Extravaganza! Gathering (an annual event for adults who work with youth in ELCA congregations). Then in February, Christephor (Communications and Development Coordinator) attended the annual ALDE Conference for development professionals in Lutheran contexts.
By the end of March, we celebrated three significant milestones. Long time Proclaim member Chris Wogaman – after a ten year wait – was called to Trinity Lutheran Church in Park Forest, Illinois. The Joel Workin Endowment (which supports our annual Joel Workin Scholar) reached $100,000. And, in bittersweet news, ten-year executive director Amalia Vagts announced her departure to pursue a new call toward ordained ministry with the ELCA.
In April, the Rev. Matthew James (Proclaim member and Director of Admissions at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago) joined the ELM Board of Directors, and Proclaimer and seminarian Laura Ferree shared the joyful experience of meeting other Proclaimers in the Holy Land. The end of the month was shadowed by the passing of long time ELM supporter Joe McMahon. This year was doubly hard as we also lost Blanche Grube in November, and important ally for ELM, both before and after the landmark ELCA Churchwide decision in 2009.
Moving into the summer, we were celebrating again as Asher was installed as the Program Director, and we ushered in a new strategic vision for the organization, further focusing goals for the upcoming years and fine-tuning our belief statement: Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of LGBTQIA+ ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.
June brought our presence at ten ELCA Synod Assemblies nationwide, Ben Houge (from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and currently on internship at Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, D.C.) was named the 2017 Joel Workin Scholar, and I was elated to accept the role as ELM’s new Executive Director.
July focused on the 2017 Proclaim Gathering: Healing the Violence, as 71 Proclaim members and their signifigant others came together for fellowship, discernment, worship, and ongoing learning.
The summer came to a close and we were “back to school.” Proclaimer seminarians shared their stories of internship: both lessons learned (from Proclaimer Josh Evans who concluded his internship at Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska), and eager anticipation of the unknown (from five seminarians about to embark on their journey: Laura Ferree, Dan Gutman, JoN Rundquist, Thomas Voelp, and Katy Wallace).
What makes the work we do together Extraordinary is the way in which we can support the people doing ministry in the world: our exceptional Proclaimers and their outstanding gifts. This ministry takes many forms, both in the pulpit and outside in different settings. In September we learned about the ministry Proclaimers are doing out of the pulpit. People like the Rev. Becca Seely, who serves as director of a campus ministry in New York; the Rev. Leslie Welton who just took a call as Assistant to the Bishop for Faith Formation and Candidacy in the Rocky Mountain Synod; and the Rev. Susan Halvor, a long-time chaplain who now is the Spiritual Care Director for Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.
And the year would not be complete without our own reflections on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation! We featured two months of guest-blog posts considering the event from an LGBTQIA+ point of view. We got the queer theology perspective from the Rev. Brenda Bos, an intersectional perspective from new Proclaimer Philipos Ghaly, re-formation of the body by trans Proclaimer JoN Rundquist, and what reformation looks like as an ally – the reflections of Bp. Thomas Aitken of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod.
As we shared in our 2017 highlight video, this past year saw big changes and big celebrations for us at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries; and, as we look to this new year, we’re excited to see what will unfold!
Whatever transpires, we know it will be extraordinary if we do it together!
Cheers to you, our supporters and friends, and to all the opportunities to love and support gender and sexual minority Rostered Leaders in the New Year!
by the Rev. Amanda Nelson
ELM Executive Director
To all of our friends and supporters – thank you for a fabulous 2017!
Please click on the image above to watch a short highlight video from all of us at ELM.
For those unable to watch the video – the text from the video is below.
Happy New Year!
2017 has been a year of big changes and big celebrations for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
Our programs continue to grow:
This year we gained 44 new members of Proclaim from Atlanta, Georgia to Regina, Saskatchewan.
33 of our new members are Seminarians.
4 are pastors, 2 deacons, and 5 are either retired or awaiting call
Overall our membership has reached 283 people – that’s 283 LGBTQIA+ leaders of our church publicly witnessing to the the transformational love of God and boldly proclaiming the good news of the gospels to communities across our country.
Over 85 volunteers, many of them Proclaim members themselves, help to strengthen our programs by serving as first-call coaches, local contacts, and synod assembly table hosts, to name just a few of the capacities in which they serve.
This year, we said farewell and thank you to Amalia Vagts for her years of dedicated and creative leadership – and welcome to Rev. Amanda Nelson who serves as our new Executive Director
Over 40 individuals and families have joined the ranks of those who support ELM financially – providing gifts annually or monthly to strengthen our ministries and lend their support to gender and sexual minority leaders of the Lutheran Church
Through it all, the gifts you have made of time and finances have been a blessing for many: You’ve connected new seminarians into the community of Proclaim. You’ve equipped call committees to open their processes to Gender and Sexual Minorities. You made the 2017 Proclaim Gathering possible and meaningful for the 70 Proclaim members who attended. You’ve helped to make ELM who we are today – and give us hope for who we can be in the future.
To all of you who have supported ELM this year, we say “Thank you”
Thank you for your gifts of time.
Thank you for your financial gifts.
Thank you for believing in LGBTQIA+ leaders.
Thank you for being Extraordinary!
Amanda is deeply grateful to all who have made her first five months as Executive Director so meaningful! She looks forward to meeting more friends and supporters of ELM in the New Year – so invite her to your congregation!
Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere!
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born!
It seems that from the very beginning, followers of the faith have been asked to publicly proclaim and boldly witness to the good news that grace has come on earth in the form of a vulnerable, non-conforming person named Jesus.
While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light
As my family and I get ready to stand on the mountain tops again this Christmas to joyfully proclaim Christ’s birth, I am thinking about all of the Proclaim members who will lead their congregations in these celebrations this year!
Pastors who have helped to make sure that every detail of the Christmas Eve service – or, in many cases services – reflects the awe and wonder of that first nativity.
Deacons who labor to prepare holiday meals for the homeless, rehearse choirs and special music for their congregations, and corral the children in their pageant costumes (pictures of which will haunt them for years to come!).
Interns who have offered their own pieces of flare to their congregations’ celebration of the season while learning what it means to have to “work” the holidays and spend the time away from home and loved ones.
Seminarians and those who are awaiting and in between calls who dream of the ways they will contribute to a congregation’s experience of these holy days while resting in the hope and anticipation of Advent.
Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere!
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born!
I am in awe of these public proclaimers who take heed the calling of this hymn and the Holy Spirit to boldly witness to the joy of that grace come to earth in Jesus; and, who do so in witness to the fullness and holiness of their gender and sexual identities.
The shepherds feared and trembled
When lo above the earth
Rang out the angel chorus
That hailed our saviour’s birth
Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere!
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born!
From all of us at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries – we wish you a very, merry Christmas!
Amanda loves Christmas and especially Christmas music. During this season you will find her sitting by her Christmas tree, drinking glogg, and snuggling with her partner and dog watching Christmas movies.
by Analyse Triolo
All throughout these months
as the shadows
this blessing has been
It has practiced
walking in the dark,
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.
This time last year I was on internship at Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan, in New York City, preparing my very first “Service of the Longest Night” and writing a post for this very blog joining my experiences with that of other Proclaim members as we awaited the Advent of the longest night of the year. We each prepared for that night with a service for people who, like many of us, feel the sting of loss more acutely at this time of year. For me this became therapeutic as I grieved the recent loss of my mother, Diane, who had passed four months earlier.
So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.
You will know
the moment of its
by your release
of the breath
you have held
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
in the company
of a friend.
I couldn’t have known at the time just how impactful my experiences leading a “Service of the Longest Night” would be. After our service concluded with Jan Richardson’s “Blessing for the Longest Night,” I spoke with a member who shared with me their experience of profound loss, and how they felt disconnected from the joy of the Christmas season even years after losing their loved one. I was so scared of leading a service like this because I didn’t think I’d be able to control my own emotions while holding worshipers in their own grief. What I learned is that I didn’t need to be strong enough. As we each named our saints and placed a white rose on the altar for each, all we needed to do was walk that hidden road together, in the company of one another.
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.
This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you will be walking
toward the dawn.
Within days of that service we lost my paternal grandfather, and several months later my grandmother as well. As I led each of their funerals, some of the longest nights of the year for my family, I kept coming back to Jan Richardson’s words in this blessing and others from A Cure For Sorrow. In these words, we found solace in the knowledge that we aren’t alone in our grieving. Nor is any of us as we traverse this road together, trusting that it is always darkest before the dawn.
Poem “Blessing for the Longest Night” from A Cure for Sorrow by Jan Richardson. Emphasis added.
Analyse Triolo (she/her/hers) has found herself in the long, drawn-out Advent otherwise known as Awaiting First Call. Struggling to be patient, she accepted a job as a Math and Science teacher at a local Elementary School. (Who says Science and Religion can’t coexist?!) She holds a Master of Divinity from the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, a Masters of Arts in Ministry from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and is told she’s a Master Crafter too! Her new favorite hashtag is #CallMeMaybe.