Love in Action: Melissa May

A New Body

by Melissa May
As a pastor on leave from call, I am a heart in search of a body.
Divorced from a called context, I’m waiting like an organ on ice to be transplanted into a new community. 
As a bisexual person, I fear rejection after the transplant to a new call. I could “pass” as straight, and I can walk through spaces of privilege without fear because I’m white and a citizen in the US. But we know this pain:  open your mouth to speak your truth, to support your allies, and rejection and abuse often happens.
But I’m actively working as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and in a six-month Synodically Authorized Worshiping Community Exploration, basically a pre-SAWC, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia,  a peninsular sliver of the state that often gets forgotten. Both jobs actively involve walking with people from many cultures, various language abilities, and highly different social and legal statuses. 
The major differences between the settings? In the language-learning program, I can creatively teach and laugh and play, but I do not know if I can be open about my own “status”; in the pre-congregational Exploration, I can be fully myself under the banner of “radical inclusion,” but there are no programs yet to implement active engagement in the community.
I dream of the day when I can be in a called situation where I can be my creative, God-made, queer self among the peoples of a community, employed in both language work with diverse populations of residents/refugees and congregation-building with worship leadership and Bible study. At this point, I am engaged in the two, but they have barely been introduced to each other, so I am not sure they will marry.
Till my heart may be sewn up into a body not likely to reject me for my full identity, I live a vibrant life of work and play. I leave class and can say habibti (Arabic for “Good-bye, my dear”) to the women, and tell all the students that I hope they get a good grade on the quiz, inshallah (God willing). I play racing tic-tac-toe with young Afghan refugees, and play volleyball with Spanish, Arabic, and French exclamations.  And in a different setting 300 miles away,  I witness God building a new community of future worshipers who are aware of community needs–they see the rampant residue of segregation and the ten active migrant farm-worker camps– but are not sure how to address them. 
I must trust that somewhere I belong in a place where I can be pastor and teacher, Bible-study-guide and community empowerment leader. And I choose to trust that somewhere, somehow, my full unique self will not be rejected in the Body of Christ.

Image Description: Photo of stained glass with the words: I dream of the day when I can be in a called situation where I can be my creative, God-made, queer self among the peoples of a community... - Melissa May

Melissa May (she/her) is a pastor reaching the end of co-leading “Phase 1” of the Virginia Eastern Shore Exploration, a Synodically Authorized Worshiping Community Exploration in the Virginia Synod. She also teaches four English classes at the Intensive English Program at Eastern Mennonite University and one English class with Afghan refugees through Church World Service in Harrisonburg, VA. Her previous two calls were as a congregational pastor in Nome, AK and as a diaconal minister in Yellowknife, Canada.

Love in Action: Vica Steel

Defiant Call

By: Vica Etta Steel


Let me tell you a story of Call and Coming Out. Let me tell you a story of Love through pain.


I came out three years ago: Woman. Queer. Transgender.

I began my journey into faith leadership just over one year ago.

Until four  months ago, I couldn’t pray.

Until four  months ago, I couldn’t say the name Jesus. Or God. Not easily.

And yet I heard the call to faith leadership. I’d heard the call my entire life.


And  just as I knew my Call young, I also always knew I was a girl. But I learned, by kindergarten, that I needed to hide my truth. 

One moment in time: 

Laughing with friends, playing dress up. 

A mom’s heels too big on our small feet. 

Blouses became dresses. 

So much laughter.



An older brother, laughing, cutting at the heart of me.

Only one moment in time. 

One, of too many.


God did not err with me. Humans erred again and again. 

But this story, this story is a story of love.

Love overwhelming. Love, defiant. 


I have met hate. And fear. I hear prayer used as a weapon, beseeching God that I cease to exist, in my fullness. They say I am a sin. 


My Call story was not permitted by churches – so God gave me a different path. My faith formation came at the hands of atheists, agnostics and spiritual people. I learned of their deep belief in love, in community, in radical welcome of the outcast – values that should have been Christian values, but too often weren’t.  

Too often aren’t. 


And now I find a home also in faith. I have a path renewed, opened for me by the so many Queer faith leaders who fought, extraordinarily, for places in faith. I know so much of love overwhelming. 

I can never thank my elders (even those younger than me) enough.


And I know love, unexpected.

I am welcomed in my local church. Truly.

I am embraced in my seminary. The president, faculty, and the so many colleague students listen, hear, and uplift my Truth and our Queer stories.

In my synod, leadership works with me to begin creating a syond-wide Queer and ally youth led worship/gathering space.

Is that all? Not even my Loves. I feel every bit of hope toward futures that know 

only Love.


And so I can begin. 

My call story, coming out. 


But a beginning is far from an end.  

I begin to speak toward truth. 

I am not a sin, 

but I am a sinner. 

I have sinned the sin of silence in the face of oppression. I have sinned the sin of accepting the world as it is. I have sinned the sin of ignoring my broader family of those marginalized. For too long I turned my head from what my Black friends and family told me, that racism still rages. 

And I say, no longer. Not for me.

But I know I will fail too. How long, Oh Lord?


Grace lifts me up. 


And I learn to pray. 


I pray for guidance to work the joyous work of facing sin directly.

And I learn to speak the divine names of Jesus: 

Love. Welcome. Uplift. Radical resistance to the world as it is. 

But I also learn to speak the name of Jesus, 

fully human. 


And I am called, defiantly.

Vica Etta Steel (she/her) is a woman, queer, transgender, and unexpectedly a faith leader! She attends Wartburg Theological Seminary. She preaches and does outreach at St. John’s Lutheran in Madison, WI. She keeps a ministry on TikTok (@vicasteel) where she speaks of the voice of God, never silent and always present in the world around us. 

Vica is married to her powerful wife, Stella (36 years come March!). They live with their little dog, Arabella Longbody, their leopard gecko, Snowflake, and many other creatures and plants!

Love in Action: Reflections on “Coming Out” with your Congregation – Margarette Ouji

More Than Enough

by Margarette Ouji


None of us are “one thing”. At any given moment we can embody so many different identities, and oftentimes, those identities will bump up against one another. If we find ourselves with our family of origin, we are one person. When we are with our chosen family, we are another. In ministry, we can often be a reflection of all of those identities, and still, feel like we cannot be all that we are. This reality of identity hopscotch can be tiresome and unforgiving. 

God calls us to be our whole selves and calls us into a loving relationship with those we serve. Sometimes that can be scary and unsettling – especially when so many of us have been told that who we are is not enough or is wrong. 


Who you are is more than enough. 

You are beloved. 

Yet, it can still be scary when we have been told we have to “come out” in order to have this one fabulous aspect of our identity be validated. Have we not spent so much energy hoping and praying and looking for that validation?

In seminary, I took a course on Queer Liberation Theology, and in that course, I learned about the antithesis of “coming out” and it’s called “inviting in”. It’s this idea that instead of sharing your identity with the world, you invite people in to know and love you. I invite you into my home, to share in each other’s lives, to laugh, to eat, etc. (as long as you leave before 8 pm so I can go to bed on time). 

It reminded me of how in many Iranian families when you bring someone to your family’s home, you’re welcomed in. I walk into my ameh’s (the word for aunt in Farsi) home, take off my shoes, I’m offered food, I’m guaranteed laughter, tears, and love.

Many of us cannot “come out” for reasons that do not need justification. By inviting people in, by inviting our congregations in, we are acting from a place of love. We are sharing our worlds and all of the identities that we embody. 

Recently, I was reflecting on Isaiah 43: 18-19:

“Forget the events of the past, ignore the things of long ago! Look, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth—can’t you see it? I’m making a road in the desert and setting rivers to flow in the wasteland.” 

God is doing something new in the ways that we are inviting one another into our lives, our hearts, our congregations. Newness can be scary. It is also so very queer and so very sacred. 

Image Description: Photo of field of flowers with the words: Pause. Who you are is more than enough. You are beloved. – Margarette Ouji


Margarette (she/her/hers) is the pastor at First Lutheran Church of Montclair, NJ. She enjoys powerlifting, crocheting, and spending time with family. Margarette currently serves as co-chairperson of the Board of ELM and is passionate about the difficult, necessary, and holy work ELM is doing. 


2022 Joel Workin Scholarship Announcement

Thank you for being a public witness to God’s extraordinary love for our world!

We invite you to apply for a scholarship for publicly-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer+ Lutheran candidates for rostered ministry. The eligible applicant must be an LGBTQIA candidate for rostered ministry who is a member of Proclaim, the professional community of publicly-identified LGBTQIA Lutheran rostered ministers and candidates. Proclaim is a program of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. All application materials are due no later than February 3, 2022.

This honor is given in the name of Joel Raydon Workin, one of our movement’s saints. Joel was one of the three seminarians who came out about their sexual orientation to their Lutheran candidacy committees in 1989 (and were subsequently refused ordination). This act of faithfulness was the spark that ignited our movement of resistance and affirmation of LGBTQIA people called to rostered ministry in the Lutheran church. Joel passed away from AIDS on November 29, 1995. Upon Joel’s death, friends and family established a fund to honor his memory. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is the custodian of the fund and scholarship. Each year, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries names a Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholar.

Due to events related to the pandemic of 2021, no scholarship was awarded. In 2022, however, The Workin Committee will award two scholarships in the amount of $7,400 for qualified educational or candidacy expenses to two LGBTQIA candidate for rostered ministry. In addition, the 2022 Scholars will be invited throughout the year to be involved with various ELM activities. We request that all funds be used prior to December 1, 2022 and if possible, that all funds be used for a single event or activity.

Previous Workin Scholars include:

  • Reed Fowler
  • Cassie Hartnett
  • Leon LaCross
  • Benjamin Hogue
  • Christephor Gilbert
  • Justin Ferko
  • Amy Christine Hanson
  • Gretchen Colby Rode
  • Rebecca Seely
  • Asher O’Callaghan
  • Emily Ewing
  • Laura Kuntz
  • Julie Boleyn
  • Matthew James
  • Jen Rude

The Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholar is someone whose character and abilities are consistent with Joel’s legacy. Among these are: academic excellence, personal and professional integrity, courage in response to the church’s discriminatory policies, a passion for social justice, faithfulness to Jesus Christ and potential to become an effective leader in church and society.


Application Materials

The scholarship application includes the following components:

  • Essay
    •  Attached is a PDF of Joel’s essay, “Overflowing.” Joel’s writing is a gift and we hope you find his essays useful throughout your ministry. Joel was a brilliant writer and your essay is one of the most important parts of your application. This year’s writing includes a brief paragraph response and a 1,000 – 1,500 word essay on the attached Workin essay.
  • A copy of your current resume.
    • Please note any Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries/Proclaim activities.
  • A professional recommendation from someone (professor, pastor or other rostered professional) who can testify to your qualifications specific to this honor and award.
    • The recommendation letter should be on official letterhead.
  • Copy of your transcript from seminary or divinity school (unofficial is fine).


All materials are due no later than Thursday, February 3, 2022.

All application materials must be submitted electronically in PDF to Please put “Joel R. Workin Scholarship Application” in the subject line. You may submit your letter of reference with other materials, or your reference letter writer may email it directly.

The scholarship committee will notify applicants of its decision on or before Feb 7, 2022.

On behalf of the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, Joel’s family and friends, and the members of Proclaim, we commend this opportunity to you and invite your application. We hope that you will consider honoring Joel’s memory in this way.

If you have any questions, please email


The Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholarship Committee:

Michael Price Nelson (chair)  

Greg A. Egertson

Rev. Jeff R. Johnson

Rev. Becca Seely

Rev. Matt James

Rev. Kelsey Brown


2022 Joel R. Workin Essay

Joel Workin was known for his prophetic and expansive voice. His friends refer to his “humor, incisive mind, and deep, caring spirit.” Even now, decades after these essays were written, Joel’s words are fresh and relevant. We bring Joel’s voice to life each year as we invite Workin Scholar applicants to read and respond to Joel’s writing in new ways. Each year, we seek to find Joel’s voice in new ways through new voices.

Please submit the following two pieces of writing.


  1. Please write a paragraph or two in response to the following question: What is the prophetic word that LGBTQIA people can bring to the church today?
  2. Please read Joel’s essay entitled “Overflowing” (linked here) and write a 1,000 – 1,500 word reflection on the passage below:
    • As an LGBTQIA person, where have you heard and spoken “Yes, period” and “No, period” on your journey of call thus far? In this challenging and uncertain time of pandemic and polarization, do you see the church being called to move more fully into God’s “Yes, period” and what particular gifts do you think LGBTQIA people bring to God’s people?

ELM Advent Haiku -Noah Herren



Image Description: Photo of a sparks & ambers from a fire with the words: salt and light converge, the Spark beckons from afar, Come! See! A New Thing… Noah Oliver Herren


Rev. Noah Oliver Herren (he/him/his) is the Pastor of St. Luke Lutheran Church in Atlanta, GA. Noah attributes his passion for ministry and spirituality to a journey of reconciling multiple theologies and his experience as a transgender man raised in the deep South. In his downtime you will find him amassing books he may read one day, forest bathing, binging Netflix, falling down virtual rabbit holes, creating things, and spending time with friends and family. 

ELM Advent Haiku: Caleb Crainer


Image Description: Photo of a manger on a hay covered floor with the the words A small beginning, A medium long lived life, A large unfurling by Caleb Crainer

Caleb Crainer (he/him/his) serves as pastor at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Los Angeles, California and Dean of the LA Metro Conference in the Southwest California Synod. He serves as the First-Call Accompaniment Coaching Convener in Proclaim. His favorite parts of ministry are getting to read whatever he wants and meandering into grace every day.  

ELM Advent Haiku: Carla Christopher-Wilson


Article Image
Image Description: photo of a starry night and church with the words, Held breath beneath stars, searching for one to way point. The Guide is within. By Carla Christopher Wilson.



The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson (she/her/hers) is Assistant to the Bishop in Charge of Justice Ministries for Lower Susquehanna Synod and Associate Pastor of Faith Formation and Outreach for Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  CarlaChristopher.Com and @RevCarlaChristopher on Facebook or @Rev.CarlaChristopher on Instagram.

Queer Scripture Reflections – Rev. Kevin O’Hara


Image Description: photo of the book of Genesis and the ELM logo with the title: Queer Scripture Reflections. 

 But [King Rehoboam] disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. He said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” The young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us’; thus you should say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”


– 1 Kings 12:8-11



This past June, I celebrated 10 years of ordination, and I must say, I know less now than I did when I first started in this ministry.  After taking seminary classes where I heard that people are rational and that slow, deliberate changes can align a church within a few years (or at least, that’s what I think I heard), I have learned that on this side of the pandemic and political aftershocks, rationality is not always a gift people possess (even at times in my own life, if I am to confess truthfully).

King Rehoboam was around 40 years of age when he started to reign and his tenure lasted almost 20 years.  If his leadership is credited with one thing, it’s that the dis-united kingdom of Israel fractured even more during his time.  No politician wants to be remembered for the fragmentation of society or the great civil war that could cause great risk economically and, familiarly, defensively.

So, I’m always surprised by Rehoboam, especially given his age, that as people cried out against the burden of inequality and inequity, he acquired separate advice from the elder leadership and from his friends.  The elder leadership cautioned slow but assured measures towards the labor union’s concerns; his friends sided with a dictatorial relationship: ramp up the oppression.  In fact, the friends were so flippant that they were willing to be debase themselves with a derogatory comment; “tell them,” they coaxed Rehoboam, “that your pinky finger is thicker than my father’s… [insert colorful description here].”  This argument borders a Levitical law about not uncovering your father’s nakedness [see Levicitus 18:6-7 and Genesis 9:20-27].  This vulgarity is just an example of how rash our world is today to dismiss voices we don’t want to hear.

Which brings me to my point: I know less now than what I did, and I’m afraid that I’ll know even less as the years go on.  Dear fearless(?) leader, remember King Rehoboam.  Challenge the voices that exclude or want to make lives harder out there for those who are already working more than their fair share and not getting farther in their equality and equity.  Don’t forget that progress means we’re always fluctuating between conversations and holding the tensions of many voices.  And when you want to go harder (as will happen), remember that the severance of God’s word and world are at stake.


Rev. Kevin O’Hara (he/him) is the pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church in Pleasantville, New York.  He has served as conference dean, chair of a local campus ministry, and on various synod committees.  He enjoys reading, gardening, and playing with his cats and turtles (yes, turtles play!).

Queer Scripture Reflections – Bridget Gautieri



Image Description: photo of the book of Genesis and the ELM logo with the title: Queer Scripture Reflections.

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17:22-23

It is not easy being a foreigner. I have been living in Leipzig, Germany for a year now, and it’s honestly been the most difficult year of my life. I moved to a new country in the middle of the Covid lockdown, applied for jobs and a visa, searched for an apartment, and experienced the very tragic deaths of friends and family members. One of the hardest parts of being here has been the lack of a local church community.

Leipzig is in former East Germany, which is, as a whole, not very religious. The churches that are here skew conservative, and it is very apparent to me that welcoming LGBTQIA+ people is something that is simply not talked about. I’ve yet to see any LGBTQIA+-affirming statements on any church website, there are no rainbow flags flying from the front of church buildings, and I’ve not yet been to a church here where I felt fully comfortable and accepted as a queer person. Whereas in the US, both in my seminary community and in organizations such as ELM, it’s been relatively easy to unite my queer and Christian identities, in Germany, this is a lot more challenging.

While I haven’t found a church community in Leipzig, I have found the most loving and accepting queer community here. They have become my church.

For many of us LGBTQIA+ people, we have experienced Christ’s unfailing love in queer community more often than in Christian community. I yearn for the day when the two shall become one, not just in a few places but in all places. I want my queer community to receive love, support, and grace from the church, and I want my church community to experience the love, comradery, and deep understanding I have received and given in the queer community.

Finding a church that celebrates LGBTQIA+ people isn’t yet possible everywhere, but there’s more than one way to be church. My queer community in Leipzig has grieved with me, laughed and cried with me, accompanied me to doctor’s appointments, and even worshipped with me. God shows us time and time again that community like this is holy, no matter where you find it.  

I leave this blessing for you: May God bless you and help you find a community that loves you and uplifts you for who you are. May God bring you love and peace on your way. May God unite what has been divided, and may God help us to create communities where all are loved, included, and celebrated.


Bridget Gautieri (she/her) graduated with her Master of Divinity from United Lutheran Seminary in May 2020. She has since relocated to Leipzig, Germany where she teaches English to adults and children alike. She will return to the USA in a couple of years to start her first call, and is thankful for this time of doing something different in a new country.

Queer Scripture Reflections – Drew Stever


We are all being transfigured.


Image Description: photo of the book of Genesis and the ELM logo with the title: Queer Scripture Reflections.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

— Matthew 17: 1-8

There was a 3×4 mirror on the wall across from me as I sat on the doctor’s examination bed while they unwrapped the bandages and took out the drains. 

It had been about a week and a half of recovery from top surgery. A week and a half of being bandaged, sore, and out of it. I wasn’t totally aware of the world (but I was somehow acutely aware of the fact that I had watched every single episode of The Great British Bakeoff.) 

I sat there and watched as she gingerly exposed my bare chest – you could see the wrinkles from the slight tightness of the bandages, a little bit of dried blood from the drains, and the quickly healing scars on my chest. 

I sat there silently while she inspected the incision sites, my (removed than re-applied) nipples, and the holes where the drains were in. I sat there and became totally unaware of her presence and became hyper aware of my body. Not me – my body. 

I both didn’t recognize myself, and also fully recognized myself at the same time. I didn’t recognize this new shape that was sitting across from me in the mirror. Yet, I did recognize this new shape because it felt like an old shape at the same time. An old home. A place that I had visited before, but couldn’t exactly recollect the exact time or date. A dream place that was now fully materialized before me. 


Suddenly I felt the presence of those who had blazed the trail in order for me and many others – Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Riviera, and Lucy Hicks Anderson. Michael Dillon, Alan L. Hart, and Willmer Broadnax. I could feel their pride, joy, compassion, and their hope. I could hear them deliver the message, “This is my Son, with him I am well pleased.”

I left that appointment believing one thing: that our current selves, that Jesus’ self, that the disciples selves, are only one evolution of who we are soon to become, who God dreamt us of being. If we find ourselves feeling burdened by the ways in which we currently find ourselves, wait. Have faith. Do not be afraid. Look. Notice your community (be it ancestral, or earthly.) The transfiguration will come.

Rev. Drew Stever (he/they) serves as Lead Pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Hollywood, CA. He believes the world needs more laughter, so you’ll probably hear and see him and his family doing a lot of things that are just plain ridiculous and hilarious. They call it “Holy Hilarity.”