“God Made All This”

By: Deacon Ross Murray

My husband and I imposed a strict routine during quarantine. Some might say that we went monastic, with a rhythm of activity and rest.  We were so concerned about COVID-19, the only way we’d meet up with friends was in the park. We’d lay out a blanket, and sit in the shade, talking, eating and drinking. We scheduled three daily walks in our neighborhood, visiting the two closest parks on a daily basis, with the occasional further walks to other parks in our area.

During our daily walks through the parks near our home, we closely observed the life of the plants in the park. In the spring (two springs now), we eagerly awaited the appearance of crocuses, then daffodils, then tulips. Before we knew it, we were seeing the full bloom of purple, pink, yellow, before everything eventually settled into a luscious green for the summer. We watched the process reverse in the fall, seeing leaves start to turn the golden yellows, oranges, and browns, before noticing that the trees were bare for the winter again. And during winter, we watched the positioning of the sun, looking for hints that spring might be returning again.

Had I been rushing to work, there is no way I could have noticed the tiny hints that told me that the seasons were progressing, instead only noticing macro changes well after they were underway. Our continued return to the park, coupled with a hope for what was coming, made my eyes observant. 

Now that our world is opening back up a little more, I am worried that I’ll return to my old routine of rushing places without ever observing what is happening around me. I think of that for all of us. How can we keep a faithful recognition of the beauty of God’s creation all around us? How do we recognize the hints and signs that God is constantly doing a new thing in the world around us…and in our lives? 

One way that I’ve done that is through The Naming Project, an LGBTQ-youth ministry and summer camp. Church camps have easily incorporated God’s creation into their communities and programming. At The Naming Project, campers walk among the trees, play on the grass, get bitten by the bugs, and swim in the lake. Even when the focus isn’t on nature, it’s infused into what the program is about. 

The message we are trying to send to the young LGBTQIA+ people is to challenge them to look around and see what God is doing around them. We try to convey, “God made all this,” along with the message, “God made you too.”

Image Description: a smiling child*, Lewis Eggleston, on an airplane ride with the words-LGBTQIA+ youth are a part of God’s creation, just as much as the lakes, trees, and rocks, and they need to be reminded of that reality. God’s creation isn’t just “out there” but also inside each one of us. -Ross Murray *We have permission to use this image.

LGBTQIA+ youth are a part of God’s creation, just as much as the lakes, trees, and rocks, and they need to be reminded of that reality. God’s creation isn’t just “out there” but also inside each one of us. These two realities cannot be separated from each other, even though humankind has often favored one over the other.

Just as I observed the changing of the leaves, I get the joy to witness young people grow into who God made them to be, maturing and changing over time. I think this is just as awesome as the sight of the first crocuses in the spring. I write in Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry that with some careful observance, and some nurturing, we all can see how young people are sending forth tentative shoots that will give us glimpse of who they are becoming. 

Creation is both the natural world around us and the people God has placed in our lives. Let’s tend to God’s creation, making intentional choices that demonstrate we think about a future for God’s creation. And let’s take time to stop and notice the hints about what God is about to do next in the world. 

Deacon Ross Murray is the Senior Director of Education & Training at The GLAAD Media Institute. Ross is also a founder and director of The Naming Project, a faith-based camp for LGBTQ youth and their allies. Ross contributed to two books focused on LGBTQ Christian youth: Queerfully and Wonderfully Made and Welcoming and Affirming. His forthcoming book, Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry comes out in April 2021. Finally, Ross is a producer for the “Yass, Jesus!” podcast, a faith and sexuality affirming podcast that believes you don’t have to pick between gay and God.  He lives in New York City with his husband, Richard Garnett. 

Holy Fools: Insufficiency and A Resurrection Story

By John M. Brett


Image Description: photo of Proclaimers washing feet- with the words-I have discovered that when I am called in fellowship to show up, I do, and that’s something I have in common with the women in my family. I don’t feel foolish about it. -John

I believed the women in my family thought Christianity meant serving cookies. My grandmother and my mother were quick to show up when they were called to do so by the church’s Fellowship Team. For one month each year, for four or even five Sundays, they dutifully and enthusiastically provided sugary treats in between our congregation’s two services. They delighted to pour coffee and fruit punch with a smile and a side of small talk, along with morning pastries. Then Grandma and Mom disappeared for the rest of the year, unless called upon again to serve as greeters. All in all, they did their part, and attended as a family for Christmas and for Easter. They showed up to church when asked. It was their way. Nevertheless, I, so quick to judge, thought them foolish. I thought their brand of Christianity insufficient.

Eager, earnest, as I grew up I sought religious and spiritual meaning, though it mostly escaped me, as the ineffable tends to do. Just like many other eager, earnest, and seemingly able-bodied, tall young men, elder members of my congregation encouraged me to go to seminary. It was an invitation I considered, and even felt called to accept, though I demurred. However self-delusional I may have been, I also knew I was gay, and even a little bit queer. My church had no gumption to support such a candidate for ministry, and I knew it. I was not so foolish as to accept their entreaties. The church’s brand of Christianity I suspected insufficient.

Yet, somewhere in the laughter of my heart, which beats with its own kind of power, I listened to another way. After years and years of a journey’s seeking, I did finally go to seminary. The walk has been and continues to be halting, laborious. It is my own faith I too often find faulty. Only fools rush in, I’ve told myself, as I have wondered if I am trustworthy for the call. Thanks to the church, and the teachings from which the church itself now begins to heal, I’m prone to judge my own queer self insufficient.

The sociable smiles of my grandmother and mother perhaps offered more trustworthy instruction, and more clearly so, than the church once did. When people expressed a need, my family’s women showed up. Women of perseverance who, like all of us, faced hardships, alcoholism and the death of children amongst them, I imagine they needed a bigger God than the church was ready to provide. They found God elsewhere most of the time, and found a way to smile anyway while serving cookies. We each needed a church not so small-minded as to judge anyone insufficient.

I lament on this Holy Week, this April Fools, that I was once the foolish one. What the church taught, I believed. I judged others; I judged myself. I left no judgment to God alone. Thankfully, I now embrace another foolishness entirely, and so does my church. As 2021 began, my baptismal congregation, Grace Lutheran–Wenatchee, WA, became a Reconciling-In-Christ congregation, affirming the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people. Easter came early this year, for it was a long awaited resurrection. My heart now laughs with a powerful delight that tastes like fellowship, with cookies at the ready.

As I prepare to lay my grandmother to rest on Holy Saturday, to say my goodbyes, my mother’s death waits not long behind. When the pallbearers carry my grandmother to her interment, I will read a poem of my crafting in her honor, an exploration of her faith life that had little to do with the church’s liturgies. I will bless her brand of spiritual witness, as I continue to envision and live out my pastoral work with the queer community of San Francisco. I have discovered that when I am called in fellowship to show up, I do, and that’s something I have in common with the women in my family. I don’t feel foolish about it.

“and everyone calls me

an old name

as i follow out

laughing like God’s fool

behind this Jesus”

from “the calling of the disciples” by lucille clifton

John (he/hym/hys) grew up on a wheat farm in North Central Washington State, far from his current home in metropolitan San Francisco. He’s a seminarian and works as LGBTQIA+ Program Director and as a chaplain with San Francisco Night Ministry <https://sfnightministry.org> alongside the city’s unhoused folk, and the street and LGBTQIA+ communities. He’s also a proud oblate with The Companions of Dorothy the Worker. <https://www.companionsofdorothy.org>  Prior to seminary, John completed his BA in Spanish and Performance Studies at Dartmouth College and served as the Executive Director of a regional legal aid program in Washington State. His favorite ministry experience to date involves offering spiritual care while in drag at a taco truck. Watch for the launch of Drag Church–San Francisco and the National Drag Church Network later this year.


By: Rev. Laura Kuntz

Hosanna! Within this word exists many possibilities. We hear this word shouted from the crowds as Jesus rides into Jerusalem. Within this word we hear the cries of the people who needed Jesus to save them. We also hear it as a word of praise as people place their trust in where Jesus is headed. Within our worship reflect these means within this one word alongside thousands of other words used to express our heart to God. 

We debate about what words we use very strongly. Words are important, but the meaning behind them and the actions behind them make them real. We can and should embrace the words we need to use to describe our experience. We can claim the word queer as part of our identity even though it was once used against us. We can use a person’s correct pronouns and validate their whole selves. We can name the sins of homophobia, white supremacy, and patriarchy. 

This year on Palm Sunday as I say Hosanna, I’m praying for God to save us. To save our world from the racism that keeps all people from experiencing the kin-dom of God. To save us from this pandemic that has disrupted the lives of many and harmed the most vulnerable. To save us from feeling hopeless when we aren’t optimistic about the future. I’ll also seek comfort in that same word and use it to praise God because I believe God is working on our world. When we feel defeated by what is going on in our lives and in the world we know God is there. God is listening. 

God hears our cries and knows our struggles. Despite the ways we seem to habitually mess things up, God believes that the whole world is worthy of love. God came to earth because of this love. To preach, teach, and heal because we are God’s beloved. We can call out to God in whatever way we need and God is there. We can remind each other of this love when we don’t feel it ourselves. It has been with us in past struggles and will be present into the unknown of the future.


Hosanna in the highest,

We cry to you for help with such a great list of needs. Can you handle them all? Is there an end in sight to a pandemic, and all the injustice in our world? 

Hear our cries, our questions, our concerns. 

Help us to remember your promise to be with us. 

We ask that we could feel your presence in our world. 

Save us from both ourselves and the injustices of this world. Help us to see your kin-dom. 


The Rev. Laura Kuntz (she/her/hers) is serving as interim pastor and lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her wife and two dogs. Something that brings her joy is being a part of the Buy Nothing Project in her neighborhood, where people give to their neighbors out of their abundance. Her favorite items she has received were a small Ikea greenhouse and a box of old trophies she used to make a hat hanger for a friend. She loves to give away plants and anything that someone has a need for.

Disobediently Devoted

By: Melissa May

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way/ To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey…

When I hear people gleefully singing this hymn, I know I’m theologically not in for a great time.

It’s not that I don’t delight in God’s counsel or in being carried by the wind of the Holy Spirit—far from it! But associating obedience with my relationship with God gets me cringing. It feels like you can’t question authority or dialogue with the divine. And that’s inauthentic to my experience.

When God has called upon me to trust in the divine, it seems to be when I’m most broken down: hiding behind a seminary chapel in grief over interpersonal turmoil; questioning the label of my sexuality; dejectedly wondering how long I would have to hold my tongue around homophobic leaders; having an emotional breakdown in a GMC Yukon in the Arctic hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, after the local teens tell me during our icebreaker-youth-group game how many illegal drugs they have tried. 

The Spirit is there in my stubbornness and anguish, in my impatience and self-sabotage. Being “happy in Jesus,” as the song says, is about experiencing the freedom of abiding in Christ’s way, in the law of God’s love.

The writer of Jeremiah proclaims the new covenant which the LORD will make with the house of Israel, and God will put God’s law within us and “will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33).  

We’ve been unchained from sin, and unfettered from the power of the Law, and that’s the Gospel truth.  And yet paradoxically, with divine law etched within us, we can freely sing to God with the psalmist: “‘With my whole heart I seek you” (Psalm 119:10) and “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (119:16).

My obedience looks a lot like sullen protest and ugly crying, especially at first. But as I recognize the presence of God—who did not abandon me behind the chapel, in toxic heteronormativity, or on the lonely tundra—that trust becomes more like the grace of peace in the pain. And for me, “there’s no other way.”

Melissa May (she/her) is the daughter of a pastor and a youth director, and grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She attended Susquehanna University and Gettysburg (United) Seminary, where she earned an M.Div. but confused everyone by going into diaconal ministry. For four years, Melissa served as a curriculum writer, volunteer coordinator, and Bible Camp teacher with On Eagle’s Wings Ecumenical Ministries in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in Canada. Discerning a call to change to congregational-based ministry, she became ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament and served at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Nome, Alaska. Melissa is on leave from call, but celebrates new developments: she recently joined the Proclaim Community, and this is her first public declaration of being a queer child of God!


Getting Back to “Normal”

by Rev. Carla Christopher-Wilson

The story in Numbers that this week’s John passage references in passing is actually a striking one. The Israelites are struggling along a meandering desert path, riddled with anxiety. There are venomous snakes all around, called up by the Israelites in their agitation over the discomfort of their journey. The desert wanderers are being bitten, some are writhing in pain. God could shorten their journey, bring the Israelites to a snake-free land of milk and honey. God could just get rid of all the snakes. That would solve the problem as well. Instead, God calls Moses to make a bronze serpent that those who look upon it will be healed. 

Why does this matter? Because there is a lesson in being forced to look upon the thing that we caused, that we called up, that we wildly underestimated in our short-sighted and selfish vision. We must confront our demons and look them in the eyes before we can truly see where we went wrong and start to make it right. Whew. Uncomfortable. Harsh even, for a God of endless love and mercy. In looking our viper in the eye, though, we can find the difference between avoidance and the possibility of true healing.

Vaccines are beginning to roll out. Infection rates are finally starting to go down in many states. Warmer weather  is coming. A new president and many local politicians are in office who are flying rainbow flags and issuing executive orders against discrimination. How tempting, how easy it would be to say “let’s get back to ‘normal'”. “Normal” here in Pennsylvania was the ability to be fired from my job or evicted from my housing because of my sexual orientation. It was medical care and civic offices and school districts and yes, churches, visiting inexcusable ignorance or active harm upon LGBTQIA+ people as well as Black and brown and disabled people. It was relentless productivity and chronic exhaustion. Like the slavery in Egypt, it was nothing to go back to just because recent times have been excessively difficult.

If you are tempted in this season, exhausted by months of racial conflict, LGBTQIA+ assault, the oppression of immigrants, and the exploitation of the poor, to simply stop looking, I beg you to reconsider. A desire to forget did not serve our Israelite siblings. They could not be healed until they looked into the face of their communal sin. Practice self-care. Steep yourself in that which strengthens your spirit. Rest for a time. Then get back up and continue this necessary and restorative journey toward justice. Those who cannot see the broken and marginalized body of Christ, who cannot bear to look upon it, are lost. Those who refuse to look away are healed…and able to see that body resurrected. Easter is coming, beloveds. Keep striving with me so that we don’t miss it.

Jesus of fierce advocacy born of endless compassion, give us courage to stand alongside our siblings in times of need and not turn away from the ugliness of oppression for the sake of comfort. Inspire us and sustain us that we may survive this wilderness and root out our own bias and internalized pain, so that we can look upon you and experience all the love you embody. In your holy name we pray, Amen.

The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson (she/her) serves as Associate Pastor of Faith Formation and Outreach for Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Lancaster, PA and Assistant to the Bishop in Charge of Justice Ministries for Lower Susquehanna Synod. A former Poet Laureate who still moonlights with a funk fusion band, Carla lives to spread the artist-activist gospel of cultural competency.

Ministry in My Veins

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


Crossing into Technicolor

by Rev. Caleb Crainer
Proclaim member and Pastor of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Los Angeles, California

“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

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.


Mystic Sexuality as Resistance

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

The Journey to a Call

L to R: Caleb Cranier and Javen Swanson at a Proclaim Gathering. Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.

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.

Photo by Emily Ann Garcia

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.