Already Becoming

Rainbow Embroidery Art by StitchesOfAnarchy (Visit the artist’s Etsy Page)

by Chris Schaefer
Proclaim Member

Editor’s note:  Have you heard it’s the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year (1517-2017)? Today’s post is the last of our series of reflections on how the church continues to re-form and the role of LGBTQIA+ leaders.


500 years sounds like a very long time. To an individual alive in 2017, 500 years spans many generations beyond their lived experience.

And yet, in the grand scheme of existence and creation, 500 years is just a drop in the bucket!

As a people and a church, we’ve come a long way since the time of Luther, and there is good reason to commemorate all that has been accomplished for justice and equity in both secular and religious circles.

And yet, as much as humanity and Lutheranism have progressed since the beginning of the Reformation, there is still so much that needs to be done.

I was reminded recently how much this rings particularly true for queer folk.

When I began my seminary journey in 2014, my uncle exclaimed how proud he was to have a nephew who was on “the front lines” of LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the church.  I giggled a little thinking that was somewhat ridiculous as the 2009 decision to allow openly gay and lesbian clergy to be called to congregational ministry was soooo long ago, and I was just a late arrival to the ticker-tape parade celebrating the queer Lutheran liberation army’s victory.

Clouded in the great privilege of being openly loved and accepted by my family, friends, and home church—all the while having long ago accepted that my path to ordination wouldn’t be simple, easy, or straight-forward (pun intended)—I often forget just how recent and hard fought the queer Reformation in the Lutheran Christian Church has been.

I’m allowed to be married to the love of my life and simultaneously answer my discerned call to Word and Sacrament ministry, and that is FABULOUS.  And yet, I must also recognize the fact that openly gay and lesbian folk still have an extremely difficult time being called to many congregations who claim to hold true to the spirit and tenets of the ELCA.  This doesn’t even begin to touch on the hoops and hurdles faced by erased bi and ace* folks, silenced trans and intersex folks, and especially those with intersections as PoC, women, and femmes, just to name a few.

At my synod assembly this summer, Presiding Bishop Eaton was present, and I had an opportunity to ask her about what is happening on the churchwide level to clear paths to ordination and reduce wait time to calls for all those mentioned above. She told me that the Council of Bishops is currently working on addressing the issue of “bound consciences,” but she also confessed that it would probably be slow going and take a lot of work in individual congregations to make any discernible progress.  She was very sorry to have to admit that.

Like any death and resurrection, all Re-formations are complex, messy, and frequently painful. I may want to just jump to the resurrection where all folks are openly loved and welcomed regardless of their identities, but first I must mourn and lament for all who came and battled before me and have allowed me to even be where I’m at.  Hopefully I’ll even get to a place of forgiveness for all those who kept our queer Lutheran ancestors locked in their closets of repression and silence.

I want the butterfly moment, but I must also put in the work of a hungry caterpillar to get there, accepting that our chrysalis moments will be hard and painful.

We’ve come a long way. Let’s keep going.


* “ace” is shorthand for Asexual identities.

Chris Schaefer (he/him/his) is a Senior Seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary living right outside of Washington, D.C. He can usually be found on the road listening to RuPaul’s podcast while commuting to Church Admin classes, connecting with mischievously holy people, and introverting on his couch watching TV with his husband and very vocal cat. He enjoys liberation theology with a touch of medieval mysticism and a glass of whiskey.

#ELMgivesthanks: a Campaign of Gratitude

L-R: Amanda Nelson, Pat Potter, Larre Nelson, Brenda Moulton, Lisa Nelson – enjoying lobster rolls at a shack in Maine.

by the Rev. Amanda Nelson
ELM Executive Director


“Mom, are Pat and Brenda more than friends?”

Pat was the organist at my church from when I was just a little kid to when I was a young adult. She is tiny in stature but mighty in gifts for music and compassion. Pat is ordained in the United Church of Christ (UCC) so she served our church both as an organist as well as an Associate Pastor for visitation.

Pat had a “friend,” Brenda, who would come to church with her from time to time. Brenda was also a pastor, ordained in the American Baptist Church, so she couldn’t be there every Sunday. Brenda was nice, had a wicked sense of humor, and she would sing alto with me when she came to church – so, I liked her a lot!

When I was in middle school, my best friend Jenni and her family started attending our church as well. One time, Jenni and I were talking about church and she talked about “Pat and her partner, Brenda.”

I was confused…Brenda was Pat’s friend! Surely my parents would have told me if Pat and Brenda were more than friends, right?

Wrong – but not because my parents had any issue with Brenda and Pat’s relationship. My parents wanted my siblings and I to love Pat and Brenda for Pat and Brenda and not allow the world’s negativity around gay people to get in the way of our relationship.

Without knowing it, Pat was the first gay pastor I met; and, even after learning the truth about their relationship, Pat and Brenda were the first gay pastors I knew I could turn to when I was learning more about the church’s stance on same-gender relationships and eventually discerning my own orientation and call.

It was Brenda who first gave me a brochure that said “Everything Jesus ever said about homosexuality” on the front – and then, when you opened it, it was blank inside.

Pat has walked with my family through the joys of confirmations and graduations and the sorrows of losing loved ones.

I can still remember the warm hugs they gave me when I told them “I think I’m gay” and the excited looks on their faces when I said “I think I want to be a pastor.”

My family and I remain close to Pat and Brenda and I still find myself seeking their wisdom and basking in their love when we get together.

I am so immensely grateful for their witness in my life. Pat and Brenda, I give thanks for you today!


 “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks for everything – for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18


Friends! Are there LGBTQIA+ pastors or deacons who are part of your past or present faith journey that you’re grateful for? Who are the “Pat and Brenda” of your story?

Proclaimers! Are there individuals or communities that took a leap of faith to support you as an LGBTQIA+ leader in our church that you’d like to thank?

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries invites you over these next few days to publicly express your thanks! Write a letter, pick up the phone, or write a post on social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) with the hashtag #ELMgivesthanks.

We look forward to hearing your stories!

Two turkeys: Amanda Nelson and her mother, Lisa Nelson

Rev. Amanda Nelson is the Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. There is so much that she is grateful for this year – including the privilege to work with and for gender and sexual minority leaders in the Lutheran Church. She and her girlfriend, Tasha, are “hosting” Thanksgiving at Tasha’s parents’ house today (aka making all the food)…pray for them!

The First Year of My Own Re-Formation

by JoN Rundquist
Proclaim Member

Editor’s note: Have you heard it’s the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year (1517-2017)? During the months of October and November, ELM’s blog will feature reflections on how the church continues to re-form and the role of LGBTQ+ leaders.

This week we are re-posting a fantastic blog from one of our Proclaimers – JoN Rundquist. Please visit their blog Grey Matter for more insights from a self proclaimed “Trans Genderqueer Candidate for Ordination in the ELCA”

According to history as we know it, on October 31st, 1517 – Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church at Wittenberg Castle, thereby spurring the Protestant Reformation. Four Hundred and Ninety-nine years and three days later, I started my own physical re-formation in Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). I took the red pill (okay, so they’re pale pinkish) and placed a clear patch on my hip and began to see where this rabbit hole goes.

Today marks 500 years and 3 days after the Protestant Reformation began, and one year since I began my own re-formation. Why am I tying the two events together?

Because when Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses and attached them to the door, he wanted changes to happen to the body of Christ that he knew. There were things wrong with the expression of the body of Christ (the Church, specifically the Roman Catholic Church) that he wanted to change so that the true and authentic expression of the body of Christ could manifest. By making some of these 95 changes, this authentic expression could shine through the boundaries of what the current body of Christ looked like. It was restrictive, and made him feel guilty of all the stuff he thought he had done wrong.

Likewise, there were elements to my body that felt restrictive, obtrusive or out of place. Not how I wanted to express myself. And my mind was constantly curious about the question of gender, and what it would be like to change those elements. I didn’t have 95 things I wanted to change, but a few. Enough to spur my own re-formation.

So I did.

Martin Luther’s efforts to spur change in the Church wreaked havoc on the body of Christ. The Pope and Church called him into question, censored him, burned his writings, and tried to assassinate him. The Church would not go gently into that goodnight.

Luther’s efforts were meant to re-form the body, probably not create a whole other body. Likewise, the journey I started a year ago was meant to re-form my own body. I’ve already helped create two other bodies 🙂

In the end, after those 500 years, the reformed body that Luther helped create is still figuring out what to do with those that re-form their own bodies, mainly their gender identities and expressions. The amount of trans rostered clergy and seminarians in the Lutheran extension of the body of Christ… is steadily growing.

I have steadily growing elements to my body, some less desirable than others. After all, food does taste better with these new reforms 🙂

I’m blessed to be married to my supportive wife, and parent to the two beautiful bodies I helped create. This has been a wild year of its ups and downs. But I’m forever thankful for all of the supportive friends, family members and colleagues. And through it all, I know that God’s got this.

Thanks everyone.

Happy 500th, Protestant Reformation!
Happy Tranniversary!

Photo by Emily Ann Garcia

JoN Rundquist (he/her/theirs) is not used to writing these things. Writing in third person is a great way to showcase preferred pronouns, but he prefers any pronouns, and respects and advocates for those who have them. They are married to a social worker from the land of Paul Bunyan, parent to two clones of their expressions of their non-binary self, and lover of Fantastical SciFi. She looks forward to watching The Last Jedi on opening night, and hopes for a peaceful Turkey Day. JoN’s been a member of Proclaim for a year now, and is thankful for all the love and support they receive from the community. 

On Our Team

by the Reverend Thomas M. Aitken
Bishop, Northeastern Minnesota Synod, ELCA

Editor’s note:  Have you heard it’s the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year (1517-2017)? During the months of October and November, ELM’s blog will feature reflections on how the church continues to re-form and the role of LGBTQ+ leaders.


As I reflect on the future of the church during this season of “Reformation” and “re-formation,” there is no doubt in my mind that this vision of church includes LGBTQIA+ leaders. And, as Bishop of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod, I recognize that I have a role to play in making that possible.

This past January, I began scouting around to find a group of faithful, forward looking people in my Synod to form an LGBTQ TEAM. At the outset, the goal of this team was to come together and learn from our Proclaim and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries  colleagues about the world they live in as they discern a call in this church.  
I wanted a cross section of people on this team: young and old, straight and not, extraverted and introverted.  I even looked for some folks who have been transformed over the years: those who went from one way of looking at LGBTQIA+ folks to a new, gracious, and faithfully open way.  I found them!  There are nine of us from various locales in our Synod – from large towns to small ones.

I am proud of our work together so far!

Since January, we have met four times as a group and talked together about our experiences and our goals. We set the table for what we are doing through devotions; Scripture; and good Lutheran theology that focuses on the goodness of creation, the gifts of the Spirit, and the work of our Lord in redemption, wholeness and healing.
The immediate goal of our Team is to walk alongside Call Committees in our Synod who have not necessarily imagined interviewing an LGBTQIA+ candidate to serve their community as a Deacon or a Pastor.  Two congregations not presently in the call process have volunteered  to serve as a trial interview so that we might learn in a “safe” environment how to better accompany real call committees down the road. We are learning from our mistakes and from what works.  
At one of our meetings in July, I invited Proclaim members Rev. Joel Beregland and Peter Carlson Shattauer to present ELM’s “Light to All in the House” workshop which was well received by our team. I’ve also invited Rev. Amanda Nelson, new Director of ELM, up to Duluth to guide and encourage us.

As I said down at University Lutheran Church of Hope Minneapolis at a welcome event for Amanda as the new ED, I am telling congregations that the clergy “shortage” we have talked about is not as “short” a list as we have imagined.  I ask for your prayers.

The Reverend Thomas M. Aitken is Bishop of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod and a graduate of Luther Seminary with undergraduate studies from Northwestern College and the University of Minnesota.  He is in his third year of his second six-year term and  is Shepherd  to 132 congregations and 200 Rostered Ministers.


Extraordinary Saint: Blanche Grube December 3, 1921 — August 22, 2017

Erik Christensen (right) with his husband, Kerry Jenkins (left) and Blanche Grube (center), at the wedding of Amalia Vagts, 2009.

by the Rev. Erik Christensen
Proclaim Member

I met Blanche Grube in the fall of 2002, as I began my year of internship at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Toms River, New Jersey. Getting that internship hadn’t been easy. It was the spring of my senior year in the M.Div. program at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. As the majority of my classmates were receiving their first parish assignments, I was enduring one humiliating phone call after another with pastors who felt the need to tell me that their congregation wasn’t ready for someone like me.

On the outside, Blanche Grube might have appeared to be the kind of parishioner these pastors were worried about offending. When I met her she was already eighty years old. She’d been born in Brooklyn and was a lifelong Lutheran. She went to nursing school immediately after high school and quickly found work in a Manhattan hospital that had to work to keep fully staffed because of the number of young doctors and nurses heading off to serve in World War Two. Nursing suited her incredibly sharp mind and her stoic work ethic. In her career she went on to teach nursing to generations of students who kept in touch with her for the rest of her life out of love and respect for the way she invested in them.

I can relate. From the outset, Blanche went out of her way to let me know how thrilled she was that I, a gay man, was preparing for ordained ministry. She’d lived an entire life in New York City before I was even born, and there was nothing about my experience in life that shocked or offended her. She once told me, “People around here see a sweet little old lady, and forget that I lived through the war! I used to drink scotch and smoke like everyone else!” In honesty, it was only the cigarettes that she ever gave up.

Blanche took her role as a member of my internship support committee very seriously. Once a month she would take me out for lunch to ask me what I was learning, what I found challenging, and what I needed by way of support. When both my grandmother and my great-grand aunt died during my internship year, Blanche informed me that she would be my grandmother going forward. I took it as the sort of sweet thing that people say when they’re trying to be comforting. To the contrary, Blanche then took it upon herself to build her own relationship with my parents and sister. She attended my “extraordinary” ordination in 2006, my reception onto the roster of the ELCA in 2010, and my wedding to Kerry in 2015. At the end of that wedding weekend she let me know that would be her last trip.

Blanche Grube died on August 22, 2017 at the age of 95. She was an avid supporter of ELM with her money and with her prayers. She once said, “You shouldn’t have to be extraordinary to be a pastor! The church needs perfectly ordinary gay and lesbian pastors too.” If her language didn’t fully reflect the diversity of our community, it was no reflection on her heart, which was always large enough to welcome one more person into its chambers.

Photo by Emily Ann Garcia

After eleven years as the redevelopment pastor with St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square on the north side of Chicago, Erik Christensen recently began a new call to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago as Pastor to the Community & Director of Worship. Around the same time, he and Kerry bought and moved into a new home. He is surrounded by cardboard boxes at every turn.

What Do We Stand For?

Proclaim Gathering 2017. Photo by Emily Ann Garcia

by the Rev. Amanda Nelson
Executive Director, ELM

Editor’s note:  Have you heard it’s the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year (1517-2017)? During the months of October and November, ELM’s blog will feature reflections on how the church continues to re-form and the role of LGBTQ+ leaders.


“This is our confession and that of our people, article by article, as follows”


With these words, Dr. Phillip Melancthon concluded the introduction to the Augsburg Confession: a document composed by Melancthon, Dr. Martin Luther, and their colleagues that to this day stands as the confession of the Lutheran Church.

It was written at the request of Emperor Charles V who invited Luther and the Reformers to present their beliefs at a meeting of religious and political leaders with the purpose of quelling conflict and reuniting the Roman Catholic Church in the region.

You see, thirteen years before the Augsburg Confession was written, Luther had caused quite a stir when he posted 95 theses on the church doors in Wittenberg disputing theologies and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.

Charles’ desire to snuff out this new movement was not to be. A flame had been lit in the hearts of the Reformers that not even the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire could put out. Having found in scripture the love and grace of God, Luther and his cohorts could not turn back and would not back down.

Such is the history of the Lutheran Church: we are a tradition rooted in public witness and bold proclamation. Our forebears spoke truth to power at the risk of their livelihoods and lives so that people may know that it is God’s gift of grace that reconciles all of creation.

This is the torch that we in the Lutheran tradition are asked to pick up and carry in our communities.

“Power” in today’s world may be embodied differently than it was 500 years ago, but, there are still “Emperors” and “the Church” to contend with; and, there are bodies taking on the role of modern day “Reformers.”

It was Church leaders with power who composed the Nashville Statement this past August – a document of explicit hate for gender and sexual minorities. And it was modern day Reformers who spoke truth to power with documents like the Denver Statement and the Connecticut Statement with explicit love and grace for all of God’s creation.

Public witness and bold proclamation still matter.

ELM didn’t write a statement to contend with Nashville; rather, the lives and ministries of our Proclaim members and staff ARE our statement.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries stands firmly in our belief that the public witness of LGBTQIA+ ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.

In the words of a cis het white man whose name our church bears: here we stand, we can do no other!

Photo by Emily Ann Garcia

As a publicly out Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Rev. Amanda Nelson embodies in her ministry the public witness and bold proclamation of LGBTQIA+ leadership and has seen how her queer identity breaks down barriers for those who feel ostracized by the church. As the Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, Amanda endeavors to speak truth to power by sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ pastors and deacons in the ELCA and ELCIC.


Editor’s note:  Have you heard it’s the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year? During the months of October and November, ELM’s blog will feature reflections on how the church continues to re-form and the role of LGBTQ+ ministries and leaders. This week’s post comes from Rev. Maria Anderson-Lippert, founder of the mission start Arise Portland.


A few months ago at a gathering for Mission Developers in the ECLA, I admitted that Arise Portland’s largest growing edge is our ministry is lacking straight cis-men. When I moved to Portland to “facilitate an experimental ministry to gather young adults who don’t find a home in the church,” I never imagined it would become the queer, re-forming ministry it is today. And I couldn’t be more grateful.

It has always been difficult to describe Arise Portland* to others.

Are you a church? No.

Are you religious? Kind of.

Are you Christian? Some of us are.

Once a month as we’re preparing for Holy Potluck on a Saturday morning, people trickle in the front door, brunch-y dish in hand. They then wander up the stairs and find themselves congregating in the kitchen with others, checking out what is on the menu for today. When the doorbell rings, whoever isn’t in the middle of food prep or setting the table runs down the stairs to greet the person at the door. We all do our part to feed and welcome one another. Once everyone has arrived and all is ready for eating, we parade out of the kitchen and into the dining room. Gathered around the table, we preach to one another through our stories, and we share in our holy communion of brunch foods and coffee or tea. After brunch is finished, a few of us linger, washing dishes, wiping down countertops, and sharing our reflections on our time together.

About two-thirds of the people who are integral to and participate in Arise Portland identify as queer. And although I didn’t set out to create a queer ministry, I’m not surprised  it has become a place where queer folks have found a spiritual home. What we do together at Arise Portland doesn’t resemble church in very obvious ways – there are no robes, pews, or hymn books. Our liturgy is completely organic. You might even say it’s queer. But what we do together – gather in community, tell stories about the good news of belovedness, share food, and send each other out into our lives refreshed, connected, and renewed – feels an awful lot like liturgy to me.

Stretching the boundaries and creating new definitions of sacred space, our community is continuing to be formed. In the process, we are re-forming the way God’s love is shared in community and in the world. Most importantly, the folks in our community continue to re-form me, and the church, to be able to share God’s love even more honestly.

Our ministry may always lack in straight cis-men. And, although that’s not the goal, it would be okay. What we’re not lacking is genuine connection, fun, and the sacred, holy moments that can only occur when you gather people together.

*Arise Portland is a new, experimental ministry bringing people together to celebrate and foster wholeness in Portland, ME. What does that mean? It means we trust that everyone is already whole, just as they are. We also trust that when we come together in community, we discover even greater wholeness. To learn more about Arise Portland check out our website at or our Facebook page:



Maria is constantly surprised by the way that poetry connects her to the Divine. This summer, her husband has been encouraging her to get out on her bike more often and she’s learning that she’s more capable of biking up hills than she realized. (But she is not sure she is glad to have learned that.) If you follow her on Instagram, you’ll discover that she really does have the most adorable cats.






This is Most Certainly True: Queer Theology Reforms the Church!

Editor’s note:  Have you heard it’s the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year (1517-2017)? During the months of October and November, ELM’s blog will feature reflections on how the church continues to re-form and the role of LGBTQ+ leaders.


Photo by Kathy Hartl, Christ Lutheran Church.

by Rev. Brenda Bos
Proclaim member and pastor, Christ Lutheran Church, San Clemente, California

A few weeks ago Proclaimer and current pastoral intern Katy Wallace posted in the Proclaim Facebook group: “If we had a Queer Christian’s Creed*, what might it say?” I thought it was an interesting question, but I worried I was not queer enough to have anything useful to say.

About a week later, I was all worked up emotionally. A close friend had died, the world was going crazy, I’m sure something frustrating had happened with my son. My heart was broken open. Cruising Facebook to avoid reality, I came across Katy’s call for a Queer Christian Creed again. I thought I’d give it a shot. This creed literally poured out in about three minutes:

I believe in God the Creator,
who designed all good things,
including people of all gender expressions and sexual orientations.

I believe in Jesus Christ,
God’s perfect Child,
who came to earth to live among us.
Jesus was born into a non-conventional family who adored Him even when they did not understand Him.
He confounded authorities and comforted the oppressed.
Because He represented the marginalized, He was crucified, His body mocked by others, died and was buried.
He knew personal Hell.
On the third day God celebrated the wonder of the human body and raised Jesus from the dead.
Jesus ascended into the realm of beauty, continually moving among us, blessing and sustaining us.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
all music, wonder and strength.
I am a member of the Body of Christ.
I cherish the communion of the saints,
live because of the forgiveness of sin,
emulate the resurrection of the Body
and already experience life everlasting. Amen

My favorite two lines were “Jesus was born into a non-conventional family who adored Him even when they did not understand Him” and “He knew personal hell”. Both those sentiments broke my heart. Both felt really queer and really powerful.

I have been slow to acknowledge the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in my congregation because I don’t want to idolize the past. Don’t get me wrong: I am deeply grateful to Martin Luther and his buddy Philip Melanchthon for their teachings, especially about a loving God who does everything to reconcile with us. I also cherish Luther’s insistence that theology be broken down to make sense for everyday people. But I don’t want to lead a church looking backward at some white guys’ work in Western Europe five centuries ago. I want to proclaim new reformations, new liberations, new demands for a better church and a better world.

In 2017, the Reformation continues: The LGBTQ+  perspective on the world, the non-binary, queer, beautiful, troubled, self-realized, passionate perspective of our community is a gift to the whole church. We can break down theology into delectable little bites of truth, flavored with fabulous. Many of us have known personal Hell, and through the amazing love of our creator we have been raised to new beautiful life in our surprising (to some!) bodies.  We proclaim resurrection in a unique, reimagined way. We live everlasting life with a booming bass line and a tender embrace. We share looks and sighs and a deep commitment to healing, peace and hope.

Will I be reciting the traditional Apostle’s Creed for the rest of my life? Of course: it’s part of my beloved tradition. Will I also be looking for new ways to profess my faith with new language, describing God and community in fresh ways? Yes! This is how the Reformation continues, now and forever. This is most certainly true.

*Note:  This creed is being revised with other Proclaimers for use in our community.

Photo by Emily Ann Garcia

Brenda Bos continues to be amazed she is allowed to sign her name with a “Rev.” in front of it. When the going gets tough, she and her wife Janis grab their two dogs and hit a local hiking trail. That, and a little tiny, barely-notice-it’s-there scoop of coffee ice cream always help.

Always Asking the Question

The Rev. Leslie Welton and Bp. Jim Gonia (Rocky Mountain Synod) serving communion at Welton’s installation as Assistant to the Bishop.

by Rev. Leslie Welton
Proclaim member

Editors Note:  Have you wondered where God is calling LGBTQ+ people within the greater church? This is the final in a four-part series on Proclaim leaders who are doing ministry outside of the parish ministry context.


I have been in my current call for three weeks . . . It feels like three days! A month ago, I was saying tearful goodbyes to a congregation I loved very much and moving half-way across the country to a new role in a synod office. Very different ministries, to say the least.

So the past three weeks have been drinking from the firehose of information!

I also find myself asking questions at the rate of an inquisitive toddler: Who are these congregations? Who are these people? What do they expect of me? Can I really do this work? What if I annoy my colleagues? What if I screw up? Did I make the right choice?

That last question is the one that I find myself camping with a bit, and it’s partly due to my new role around candidacy in this synod. As the Assistant to the Bishop for Faith Formation and Candidacy, I get to walk with folks discerning a call to rostered ministry in this church. My own road of discernment in the beginning was a bumpy one; and, as I get to know these candidates, who are asked to be very vulnerable in the process of discerning a vocation, I am reminded that my call here is to pray for these leaders as they are being formed.

These are the new “congregation members” for whom I am called to pray in my ordination vows, and I love that!

One of my favorite lessons in seminary came from a professor who said we should always ask, “Can I honestly say I’m where God is calling me to be today?” I am mindful that LGBTQ+ folks have a rocky road in candidacy, and we get asked a lot of questions.  Questions of identity and call can be frustrating when the church around you can’t see what you and those who know you best can see. I’m thankful that I can be a voice in the process and advocate for candidates on a wider level.

The move from a congregation to a specialized ministry was not an easy decision, but three weeks in I can say it was the right decision. I still feel a bit like Joshua standing at the border of Canaan not knowing what was in store, but I also hear that voice from the cloud assuring, “Do not be afraid, I go before you.” (God did have to tell Joshua that about a dozen times before he got it). I grieve the loss of the relationships in the congregation, the stories I was privileged to share, the rhythm of preaching with a congregation, and learning from one another, and the community. But I see where my passions in ministry are such a fit in this call.

Faith formation is what we are about in the church, and it’s all about asking the questions that bring us closer to the God who loves us so much. For that I am grateful and excited to see what the years ahead hold.

Leslie Welton is happiest with a cup of coffee in one hand, a book in the other and one of her cats on her lap. She is a perpetual student of all the instruments she owns but cannot yet play and nurtures an obsession with miniature anything. She will try any food but bologna and sees the hospitality of her own table as integral to understanding the hospitality offered at Christ’s. The recent move from California to Colorado (to serve as Assistant to the Bishop for Faith Formation and Candidacy, Rocky Mountain Synod) has her excited to explore the mountains but a little bit chilly.

Five Careers and Counting

View from Ravenscroft Chapel at Spirit in the Desert. Photo by Christephor Gilbert

by Rev. Richard Andersen
Proclaim member

Editors Note:  Have you wondered where God is calling LGBTQ+ people within the greater church? This is the third in a four-part series on Proclaim leaders who are doing ministry outside of the parish ministry context.

I have been the executive director at Spirit in the Desert retreat center since January 2016, and have been thrilled to welcome more than 3,800 people from all over the U.S. and 41 countries as they participated in 151 programs – and the numbers keep growing! We are already seeing 20 percent more people in 2017 so far.

 Our purpose is to offer the opportunity for renewal, reconciliation, healing and transformation for every participant.  We do this with welcoming hospitality, the expertise of program facilitators, and our serene, eight-acre, Sonoran Desert environment that includes open spaces for meditation, prayer and reflection.

 Retreats this fall include “Healing of Memories” for veterans and first responders, “Boundless Compassion” for all those seeking to live and share compassion, mercy and justice, “Leading Well” for clergy and ministry leaders, and “Spiritual Director Training.”  People with LGBTQ+ identity are among the guests who are welcome here. Our mission is to provide the supportive environment and resources for people to freely discover their calling.

 ELM helped me discover my calling.  I graduated from Luther Seminary in 1979.  At that time I joined the ARC Retreat Community instead of seeking a call as an ordained pastor.  In 1986 I was ordained and took a call to a parish in Southwestern Minnesota while remaining in the closet.  Hiding my LGBTQ+ identity did not work and I resigned from my call.  From 1987 until 2008 I sought and found successful alternative careers in restaurant management, financial planning and fundraising.  After the vote in 2009 the St. Paul Area Synod Council called me to specialized ministry with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSSMN).  In 2016, the Grand Canyon Synod called me to my present position at Spirit in the Desert.

 The calling I have received to serve the ELCA as an ordained pastor has brought me great joy.  I waited a long, long time.  However, the experiences I had working at the ARC Retreat Center, managing five restaurants, building a financial planning team and raising funds for LSSMN are the reasons I was qualified to accept the call to Spirit in the Desert.

 In my experience ELM gave me the structure, the support, and the pathway to follow my calling.  I am grateful!

Richard lives in Cave Creek, AZ with Patrick Burns.  They met the first day of college in 1964.