by the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan
Proclaim member and
Program Director of ELM
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 coming month.
There’s something inherently queer about the mystics. Take some of the first Christian mystics, for example, called the Desert Mothers and Desert Fathers. They had a distinctive “lifestyle”. They defiantly rejected their society’s standards of respectability – trouncing gender norms, refusing to get married, and sometimes redefining family as they lived together in communities of solitude. Their unconventional sense of style included garments made of goat’s hair, and in the case of some of the Desert Mothers, shaved heads and men’s clothing.
According to Merriam-Webster, mysticism can be defined as, “the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience…” While our embodiement of mysticism usually doesn’t exaclty match that of the Desert Mothers and Fathers, we as queer people have become mystics in the way we value subjective experience.
We have had to learn to embrace our own experiences of how God is moving in our lives. We have listened to our lives and learned from the desires of our hearts, trusting that God dwells there. In order to survive, much more to thrive, we have had to learn to measure any interpretation, any doctrine, any teaching against our own experiences and the experiences of people who are on the margins. When church tradition has attempted to separate out our soul from our bodies and God’s will from our experiences, our response has been a mystical one. We have boldly embraced the mystical union of God’s will for us and the deepest desire of our hearts – fullness of life embodied in the flesh and blood of our love.
And as we’ve wandered through this spiritual wilderness, we have never been alone. We have a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, preparing the way. Whether in the saints of our movement in the Lutheran church, or in the witnesses salted throughout our Scripture who dared to express a mystical intimate relationship with God. From Joel R. Workin, to Blanche Grube. From Elijah to John the Baptist. From Hannah to the prophet Anna.
During my own times in the wilderness, I’ve found great comfort in the Psalms. In particular Psalm 139 has always been a favorite. In a mystical reflection one afternoon as I was in the process of coming to embrace my transgender identity, I wrote the following adaptation of Psalm 139. I wrote it as a prayer and blessing for the journey of life ahead of me. I offer it here as blessing for your own journey—you beautiful mystic you!—whatever season of life you may find yourself in:
Learn to live and love
accordingly attuned to
the compass with which
your Maker has endowed you—
Imago Dei irreplacably displayed
within your own heart.
May you courageously trust
that sacred thread
by which you are tenderly
knit together with infinite
wisdom, intention, and affection
carefully hemmed in each and every stitch—
back inside your mother’s womb
and every single moment
The Rev. Asher O’Callaghan (he/him/his) serves as Program Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. He works from his apartment in Denver, Colorado. These are a few of his favorite things: his cat Jack, his neices and nephews, poetry slams, brewery tours, and writing bios in the third person.
Photo at top: Public commons
Bio Photo: Emily Ann Garcia
by Ben Winkler
Proclaim member and first year seminarian at Luther Seminary
There is something about the experience of making music which brings me closer to God than almost anything else. This has been true for as long as I can remember. I use music to express emotions in a healthy and constructive way that lets me process life. For me, this usually takes the form of opera. I am obsessed with opera (actually, literally obsessed). This also means that some of my happiest and saddest moments are connected to the music that I make.
I do a lot of composing and arranging as a hobby. It has been an incredible study break for me as a first year seminarian. Most of the music that I am proudest of composing is my vocal music. When I was approached to write this blog, it was in regards to a specific song that I composed for men’s choir based on the classic wedding text “Arise my love” (click here to listen to it). But the time when I started writing this piece made all the difference in how this song looks… here’s where I was at that moment:
I started writing it hours after coming out as gay the first time to the first person. That night, September 13th, 2016, I went to the open rehearsal of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus- because saying that I was gay out loud was too hard for me. I found what I needed- the first proudly LGBTQIA+ community that I had ever known, and they didn’t look like the stereotypes that the world had taught me to expect- they looked like people. I needed an outlet to express what this experience meant to me- what my hopes were for a future that I could hardly imagine for myself- what I wanted to become through them, and so I opened up my music notation software and started to write in 8 part TTBB harmony. What I wrote is a love song dedicated “to my beloved, whoever he may be”.
Music has given me an outlet to say what I cannot, to be strong when I am not, to give me a community who understands me better than I understand myself. I hope someday to go back into that score and delete “whoever he may be” and replace it with a name. For now, I know that this world is often scary and intimidating, but God has called us all to preach a Gospel of radical love in the face of exclusionism- We seek a world where the next generations will have the courage to name their truth in the confidence of love and acceptance.
I have written some music for church choirs and have intentions to do more of it. I am also working on a new sung/spoken liturgy setting for the uplifting of the LGBTQIA+ community. I am happy to share my resources with you and your congregations. While most of my music is not released to the public domain, I will never charge an RIC congregation or a Proclaim pastor for the use of my church music or liturgical materials- I consider this a part of the ministry that I can bring to the ELCA and to the glory of God.
Ben Winkler (he/him/his) is a first year student at Luther Seminary. Ben’s identity is deeply tied to his Lutheran roots, and he enjoys debating theological questions as often as possible. A life-long student of music, Ben is active in the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus and their Chamber Choir and Opera on Tap: Twin Cities. Ben has sung with some amazing musicians, and does not deserve (yet has) a resume which includes being a section leader for Weston Noble, sharing a stage with Samuel Ramey, and multiple featured roles in professional operatic productions. Ben is an over-thinker, and thus it took him far too long to write this paragraph.
Photo at top: Public commons
Bio Photo: Provided by Ben Winkler
by Kyle Johnson
Seminarian studying at
the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
“Kyle, what are you thinking!?”
In early 2014, I started seriously considering a call to ordination. Never one to plunge head-first into anything, I shared this news slowly, one person at a time, to close friends, colleagues, and pastors from my past. I distinctly remember a common response:
“Kyle, what are you thinking!?”
Their astonishment was understandable, I suppose. I was serving as a chapel musician, university organist, and music lecturer at the time. My professional life to that point had included earning three degrees in music, several years of college teaching work, and 20+ years of church music experience. Now I wanted to become one of “them?”
“Kyle, what are you thinking!?”
It was like coming out all over again. But “coming out” implies motion, movement from one self-understanding to another. And my movement from the organ console to the pulpit, though frustratingly slow at times, has felt rather natural thus far.
I think this may be because I have many fantastic role models who understand the potential of the music-ministry intersection. My current pastor and fellow Proclaim member, James Boline, was the first pastor I called in my vocational “coming out.” Jim is a trained musician, and shared with me his own process of discernment: “I had to decide whether I was a pastoral musician, or a musical pastor.”
Then there was a call to Phyllis Garrett, my childhood pastor from First United Methodist Church in Eureka, Kansas, who is now over 90 years old and still an active pastor. She graduated from the same ELCA college I did (Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas…GO SWEDES!) and taught music for several years before going to seminary. Phyllis gave me my first informal organ lessons when I was a young teenager. When I “came out” to her about my new call, she chuckled dismissively:
“Oh, I’m not surprised.”
Finally, I had the opportunity last year to do some interim cantor work under pastor and Proclaim member Keith Fry. I could see that his professional experience as a church musician allowed him to thoughtfully discern where his congregation was musically. He was equipped to articulate his musical vision for his congregation, and trusted me to take the first baby steps in nudging the congregation towards that vision.
Jim, Phyllis, and Keith understand the amazing potential that arises from the intersection of music and ordained ministry. Through them, I have witnessed first-hand how that understanding has translated into vibrant, boundary-expanding worship that is exploratory yet strives for excellence. The calls I feel to be both a professional musician and a minister of Word and Sacrament are not mutually exclusive; rather they combine to become an invitation to explore a (frustratingly yet-to-be-well-defined) vocation filled with rich potential for unique service.
At least, that’s what I’m thinking.
Kyle Johnson is a second-year M.Div. student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in organ performance from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, where he studied with John Ditto. He also holds music degrees from Bethany College and Indiana University, studying organ with Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra and Larry Smith, respectively. In recent years he has found a great deal of artistic satisfaction in composing sacred choral and organ works, and has titles published through Augsburg Fortress, Colla Voce Music, MorningStar Music Publishers, Santa Barbara Music Publishers, and World Library Publications. His website is: www.kylejohnsonmusic.com.
by the Rev. Bryan Penman
Proclaim member and pastor,
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Conshohocken, Pennsylvania
I think the season of Epiphany provides a wonderful backdrop to reflect on our work together as ELM. For many of us the themes of Epiphany resonate with our story of call – of searching, of bringing gifts to the church, and showing the way to Christ in our world through an expansive and inclusive church. For we are a people who have “observed a star at its rising” as we witness the ELCA become a more welcoming church for our LBGTQIA+ siblings.
As ELM continues to work towards this manifestation of the church, some of the work I have been helping to do is with our Ministry Engagement team. Like a guiding star in the sky, our team seeks to be a resource to guide conversations with congregations who are looking to call a new pastor. Part of that work has been to advocate and partner with Synod staffs who serve as the front lines of guiding these conversations with call committees and transition teams. Often our work with congregations is overshadowed by larger more fearful forces. Like Herod’s attempt to oust the Christ child from his midst, we often help congregations get from “I don’t think we are ready,” with a “let’s help you get ready!” (For more, check out this little video ELM put together about my call story).
Helping congregations take a step out in faith to find Christ is what the Ministry Engagement team is all about – helping to serve as a guide and resource to shape conversations at a congregational level for LGBTQIA+ candidates. Congregations often need the help of a guiding star to help them see the gifts we bring to the church as faithful and fabulous pastors, deacons, and other rostered leaders. ELM has prepared a resource called “Enrich and Transform: Welcoming LGBTQ Candidates into the Call Process” for Call Committees and Transition teams to equip them through the call process. In this resource you will find things like: factors to consider when creating a Mission Site Profile, resources to talk about with the congregation on why a congregation should consider calling an LGBTQIA+ candidate, information about why a First Call candidate adds value to a congregation, how not to offend the candidate in the interview process, and how to welcome and engage their new pastor.
The diversity of gifts that we bring to Christ in our church is what makes the work of our team so wonderful. We now have over 162 pastors and deacons serving in calls throughout the U.S. and Canada! But with several still awaiting calls and 89 seminarians in the candidacy process, we know that we have more work to do to prepare synods and congregations to affirm these leaders of the church across all of our 65 Synods. The star is rising, let us continue to search and seek to build an inclusive and expansively diverse church for the sake of the gospel and on behalf of the world.
Stay fabulous friends.
Rev. Bryan Penman is a dynamic pastor in the Philadelphia suburb of Conshohocken, PA where he actively engages in community outreach and regularly speaks on the topic of human sexuality in a Lutheran context believing that Jesus Christ calls our church to be just a tad more fabulous. In preaching and teaching, he frequently refers to the unconditional love of God; how we are all wonderfully made. In loving God we love each other, or as it is written in the gospel according to RuPaul, “Honey, if you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else!?!?”
by the Rev. Emily E. Ewing
Proclaim Program Convener
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.
What a year! Throughout this year, we have been celebrating and commemorating the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. We have talked a lot about what pushed Martin Luther, Katharina Schütz Zell, Argula von Grumbach, Marie Dentière, and other early reformers to Proclaim Boldly the Good News of God’s grace, which prompted and sustained the Reformation.
Not only that, but this year’s Reformation Day marked 10 years since the merger of ELM’s predecessor bodies to form Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. There is a lot to look back on as we recognize that the Reformation never ended, and yet we are looking ahead to more great upheavals–many of us with excitement (and maybe a little trepidation).
Proclaim makes me excited for the new church to be born. This year Proclaim has continued to grow, with 5 of the 43 new Proclaimers so far this year identifying within the trans umbrella (as transgender, nonbinary, agender, and gender nonconforming to name a few options). We have 11 people awaiting their first call, we’ve had 7 ordinations, and 10% of seminarians at ELCA seminaries are in Proclaim! What joy and celebration there is at the people who are excited and willing to serve God and follow Jesus as deacons and pastors in the ELCA!!
Our annual Proclaim Gathering in Chicago this year dug deep into the violence that we continue to witness and experience, with profound worship opportunities, presentations, and workshops to name the violence and move towards healing and wholeness for ourselves, our communities, and for the whole world.
We also gathered throughout the year regionally, thanks to funding from ELM, which created space both for those of us in more isolated contexts and for those of us who couldn’t make it to the Proclaim Gathering to spend time in queer community. These regional gatherings continue to grow and give life to our community and our work together in ministry.
Proclaim has also been more active online! Not only have we been publicly sharing some of our stories on this blog (check out the blog posts throughout this fall for stories of internships, specialized calls, and reformation connections), but we’ve also been diving deep together in our private Facebook group–seeking and receiving support, prayers, advice, and ridiculous eye-rolling stories. This has been in large part thanks to our amazing chaplains, who seek out and share prayer requests, quotes, images, and inspiration.
As we grow larger and more diverse, our language has also been growing. As gender and sexual minorities, we know the importance of language–what we say and how we say it–and so we as a community continue to grow in what it means to name our own and each other’s experiences. Our community continues creating space to learn about more letters in our queer alphabet soup. This is one of the many ever-changing aspects of our Proclaim community and of ELM’s prophetic ministry that I cherish. There is certainly more I could gush about, but for now, I am dwelling in this space and, as one of many ongoing reformers, Dag Hammarskjöld, put it, “For all that has been – thanks. For all that will be – yes!”
Rev. Emily E Ewing (they/them/theirs) is the Proclaim Program Convener for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. They recently moved to Des Moines, Iowa and are enjoying the diversity of food and people and being closer to their best friend. Emily is excited to get to know the area and get to know congregations through doing pulpit supply!
Photo Credits: Emily Ann Garcia
(photo credit Paul Nixdorf)
Guest blog by Chris Wogaman
On March 11, 2007, I was assigned to the Metropolitan New York Synod for first call. After 5 years of classes, part- and full-time ministry experience, CPE, and ELCA candidacy, I was ready to begin my life as an ordained minister of Word and sacrament.
However, a powerful ELCA official told me that I would have to “go under the radar” in order to receive a first call. If I insisted on being out as a gay man, she said, I would not receive a first call. Nevertheless, I persisted. “The bishop told you to go under the radar if you want to receive a call. But you insisted on leading with your sexual orientation. We can’t find you a call if you persist in leading with your sexual orientation.”
“Leading” with one’s sexual orientation meant, in 2007, that even the slightest mention of your sexual orientation immediately took over your entire vocational path with an anxiety and resistance that met its partial resolution in the 2009 Churchwide vote to allow open and partnered LGBTQ pastors and seminarians.
The years went on. One year without a call. Nevertheless, I persisted. Two years without a call. “Maybe it’s not God’s will for you to be a minister,” I was told. “Maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to tell you to find another path.” Nevertheless, I persisted.
After nearly five years, I finally had my first interview with a call committee. They turned me down, not because of sexual orientation. It was a heartbreak, but we were not a good match. Nevertheless, I persisted.
Nearly 30 call processes later, and after having become “perhaps the most approved candidate for ordination in the ELCA” (as was stated on my behavioral interview for Mission Developer/Redeveloper—finally the ELCA took note!), I came to one of the hardest interviews, on Wednesday, November 9, 2016. I was devastated by the results of the elections; I couldn’t wrap my head around even having this interview. I was close to receiving a call vote at a congregation that would not have been a good match, but I had the interview anyway. Nevertheless, I persisted.
That interview went well. The people on the call committee were also reeling from the elections’ results the night before. Very soon, they had me down for an in-person meeting, and soon I was approved for a congregational vote unanimously by the church council. I passed the congregational vote unanimously on January 15, 2017, nearly 10 years after first waiting in earnest for first call as a pastor. It seems like I have been called for times such as these. On April 1st, at 3:30 in the afternoon, at SpringHouse Ministry Center in Minneapolis, MN, I will be ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament.
Thankfully, I persisted.
(Joel pictured with his husband Paul Jenkins)
Guest blog by Michael Nelson
We demonstrate the gracious power and glory that is ours when we come out and take the step, saying, “We are here. We are Gay and Lesbian and Bisexual and Transgender. We are friends of Lesbians and Gays and Bisexuals and Transgender people. We are God’s. We are the kingdom.” The most precious grace God gives us is the grace to be ourselves. And now, it is time to let grace abound. – Joel R. Workin
Applications for the Joel R. Workin Scholarship will be made available in early March, and we encourage all Proclaim seminarians to review them and prayerfully consider a submission. While you consider this, I invite you to read Dear God, I’m Gay – Thank You!. This book is a collection of essays written by Joel Workin and it will be important for applicants to familiarize themselves with his essays, one of which will be chosen for this year’s applicants to reflect upon. (Whether you apply or not, I think you’ll find them theologically marvelous and thought-provoking.)
Now for the exciting news! After years of faithfully tending and nurturing the fund from which the scholarship is awarded, ELM is pleased to announce that the fund’s principal has reached $100,000! As a result, the Workin Scholarship committee will be able to award one of the largest grants yet to the selected Workin Scholar in 2017.
For those of you who may not yet know Joel, he was one of the “Berkeley Three” (himself, Jeff Johnson and Jim Lancaster). As seminarians, they had been certified for call by PLTS as openly gay candidates, but when word of this got out, the ELCA “de-certified” them and instituted a requirement that LGBT candidates for ministry maintain celibacy – even though there was no such requirement for straight candidates. That policy remained in effect until the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis and the rest, as they say, is history.
A lot of people in Joel’s shoes might have given up. But Joel’s calling was part of who he was. Despite his pain, he went faithfully onward, serving as Assistant Director of Chris Brownlie Hospice in Los Angeles, the first free standing hospice in the country dedicated to serving people with AIDS. He continued to write theological reflections for Lutherans Concerned/Los Angeles, serving as editor of their newsletter. He was an active member of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, and was an ardent supporter of Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries. He and his husband, Paul Jenkins, bought a home together in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles and while they enjoyed many happy years together, they both continued to shake things up through ACTUP/LA demanding better drug regimens for people with AIDS and advocating early for marriage equality. The living out of his calling, though rejected by the Church, still continues to be an inspiration. In his memory, his friends eagerly established the Joel R. Workin Fund (after his death in 1995) to help other deserving LGBTQ seminarians.
Previous Workin Scholars include the Rev. Jen Rude, the Rev. Matthew James, the Rev. Julie Boleyn, the Rev. Laura Kuntz, the Rev. Emily Ewing, the Rev. Rebecca Seely, the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, the Rev. Gretchen Colby Rode, the Rev. Amy Kumm-Hanson, Justin Ferko, and Christephor Gilbert.
Please watch for the scholarship materials in early March.
Let grace abound!
Michael Nelson is the chair of the Joel R. Workin Scholarship Committee. In addition to him, the committee includes Greg Egertson, Rev. Jeff Johnson, Rev. Rebecca Seely, and ELM Executive Director Amalia Vagts.
It was a stimulating mixture of people to have in one room at the same time: from Rev. Tuhina Rasche, one of the conspirators of #decolonizelutheranism (and a co-curator of #RendtheHeavens, a Twitter Advent devotional), to Rev. Dr. Robin Steinke, the President of Luther Seminary. There were about 40 of us gathered from several different fields of ministry to discuss the future of Lutheran theological education at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Arizona.
This annual gathering called the Western Mission Network Conference, was formatted as a series of short 12-minute talks—like TED talks. The topic for these talks, however, was experiments and partnerships in theological education. And when we used the term “Lutheran theological education”, we weren’t only talking about seminary. We were talking about the vast range of ways that we learn and grow in the faith: from campus ministry, to interreligious dialogue, to outdoor camps, to youth ministry, to lay leaders learning to preach, to synod staffs equipping call committees as they search for their next pastor. We got to share with one another stories of how new experiments and partnerships are transforming theological education… the church… and ultimately the world. After all, the church exists not for its own sake, but for the sake of the whole world.
In Scripture, we experience a God whose extraordinary love brought all things into being. In the account of creation in Genesis, we experience a God who has an imagination and a knack for creativity. Our God delights in the wildest possible array of diversity from flowers to jellyfish, from whales to humans. So the question for us becomes: When we look at our congregations, when we listen to the perspectives of our candidates for ministry, when we think about theological education, do we experience that same kind of rich and vibrant diversity? When you experience church, do you experience a God who delights in difference? If you don’t, how does that diminish your witness to this God?
Diversity in all its forms is a gift. Diversity reflects God’s extraordinary love in a way that homogeneity just can’t. We need leaders in the church who reflect this reality. So where do we begin?
I shared with the group that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes that the public ministry of LGBTQ+ people transforms church and community, proclaiming God’s love for all. I introduced them to our programs and several of our resources for synod staffs, call committees, and candidates. It was a joy to get to talk to so many people who were new to our work and to hear about all the innovations going on in everyone else’s settings. (Shout out to Proclaim member and Associate Professor of Homiletics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Shauna Hannan, who presented on preaching as a ministry of the whole congregation!)
We closed our time with worship. Rev. Gordon Straw, who has served on the ELM Board of Directors and is a member of the Brothertown Indian Nation preached. In the passage for the day, he translated the word that anglos like myself typically translate as “righteousness” to “right relations” instead. He proclaimed Christ as the one who came to fulfill all right relations, in his Baptism, his living, his dying, and rising. May we the church learn from Christ’s extraordinary love how to live in right relation with God, one another, and all of creation. Amen.
Asher O’Callaghan is the Program Director of ELM and he got to preside at the closing worship. He is grateful for the theological education he’s received over the years: from his parents, Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, camp counselors, pastors, transgender people of faith, anti-oppression trainers, Proclaim colleagues, spiritual directors, professors, mentors, and all the congregations he’s been a part of. His education is on-going. There’s just so much to learn.