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Guest Blog: ELM: The ELCA’s Best Kept Secret

Thursday, October 20th, 2016
2016 Proclaim Gathering. Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia

2016 Proclaim Gathering. Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia



“Share the good news of the ground that ELM is breaking in congregations like yours!”





by Deacon Lauren Morse-Wendt
Proclaim Member and Mission and Ministry Developer, Edina Community Lutheran Church, MN

It’s no secret that Lutherans are passionate about caring for our neighbors, both local and global.  Whether your congregation is engaged in ending hunger, disaster response, sheltering families, or combatting malaria, the story is likely told, as it should be, from the pulpit, in the newsletter, and during coffee time banter.  At our congregation, Edina Community Lutheran Church, we’re sharing another powerful story: the life-giving ministry of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
In 2016, there are:
♦  239 Proclaim members
♦  139 Proclaim members serving congregations and faith settings across nearly every synod
♦  68 Proclaims being accompanied as they go through Candidacy and await first call
Expanding the Party
We have so much to celebrate as LGBTQ ministry continues to grow in our Church — it’s time to invite all members of all ELCA congregations to the party!  As friends and supporters of ELM, I’d like us to commit together to unleashing what I’m calling the ELCA’s Best Kept Secret . . . and share the good news of the ground that ELM is breaking in congregations just like yours.   How can we expand the party? Here’s a few ideas:
♦  Invite a Proclaim member or ELM staffer to share their story during a worship temple talk, adult forum, or with a high school youth group
♦  Meet with your Outreach Committee or Church Council to discuss annual congregational financial support for ELM
♦  Share why you are passionate about ELM & LGBTQ ministry during a worship temple talk or congregational meeting
♦  Write an article or share an ELM blog post in your congregation’s newsletter or community bulletin board
Celebrate the Blessing of LGBTQ Rostered Leadership
We in the ELCA have so much to celebrate as more and more congregations are blessed by the ministry of LGBTQ rostered leaders — and I’d love to see each one of our congregations touched by the ministry of ELM celebrating that ministry during worship or education time and making a financial gift.  Join me in 2016 and invite your entire congregation to join in the party.  Because, really, we all know ELM knows how to throw a good party . . . and, there’s always room for more!

Lauren Morse-Wendt is a Diaconal Minister who serves Edina Community Lutheran Church. She’s excited for Halloween, when her wife will take their 4 year old Spiderman trick-or-treating because Lauren feels too guilty to leave trick-or-treaters at their house empty handed!

What do you bring to the Table?

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

Keynote speakers at Why Christian? Photo credit: #WX2016


“I heard God in the words of people who did not look like me and were not from my denomination and whose stories were very different from mine. I need their stories to understand my own.”




by Asher O’Callaghan
ELM Program Director

Why Christian? In the midst of everything that might be wrong with the church, why do you still call yourself a Christian?
About a week ago, I gathered at the Why Christian? Conference with about 1,100 people to pray, sing, and hear one another’s testimonies. Because ultimately, as Christians, we believe that our stories are all bound up in one another’s. My faith can’t survive in a vacuum of individual spirituality. We need each other. As Nadia Bolz-Weber put it, “faith is a team sport, not an individual competition.”
Reconciliation, conviction, and fire
And sometimes, especially in church, that means that there has to be a whole lot of reconciliation and forgiveness. Anna Keating confessed, “Going to church is hard because it is an act of self-accusation.” I needed to be reminded by Rachel Held Evans of  “God’s annoying habit of using people and methods we don’t approve of” as she recalled how a conservative youth minister showed her the love of Christ and encouraged her leadership in a congregation where women weren’t really supposed to lead.
I needed to be convicted. To hear Onleilove Alston testify to the Hebrew and African roots of her faith as she told us, “I am a Christian because God is not a white man and the white man is not God.” I needed to hear the voice of Neichelle Guidry as she talked about how Jesus got her through a divorce, how he told her to “Go on! Don’t stop here in a broken place. Go! There’s more to your story than this.” I needed to hear Jeff Chu contrast toxic masculinity with vulnerability showing us that, “The devil’s nastiest lie is that we should choose our pain and shame over God.”
I needed some fire from the Spirit. I needed to hear Jenny McBride‘s story of doing prison theology courses with death-row inmate Kelly Gissendaner who was executed while singing “Amazing Grace”. How in the midst of the spirit of fear, death, and oppression that cages people, “hope is protest.” And I needed to be reminded by Sandra J. Valdes-Lopez that, “our story of faith does not begin or end in the pain or violence of the crucifixion.” I needed to hear Rachel Kurtz sing with all the soul that’s it’s possible for a voice to carry. And I needed to be sent out with a challenge from Rozella Haydée White to work for repentance and change in a church that has been awfully late to speak up, notice and name the racism that is behind the violence against people of color in our country.
Christ is in our differences
The whole conference was a reminder to me of what church is all about. Church is what happens when we gather. When each of us shows up in the fullness of who we are. When we bring all of who we are to the Table, the God we hold in common shows up in all we have to learn from one another’s differences.
I heard God in the words of people who did not look like me and were not from my denomination and whose stories were very different from mine. I need their stories to understand my own.
The whole Church is blessed by our differences. Difference, for me, is where Christ most often shows up. Not in comfortable conformity. Difference is why I can’t be a Christian all by myself. My family and friends share far too much in common with me for our own common good. I need Christ, I need the Church, to keep turning me outwards. Something is missing if everyone at the Table is the same age, or cultural background, or race as me.
For those of us who are LGBTQ, it also means that our stories and voices are needed. Our sexualities and gender identities are part of what we bring to the Table. And when we bring all of who we are to the Table, others are freed to do the same.
So bring it all.

asher-with-borderAsher is a Christian because of you all. Your faithful fabulousness inspires his. He was a speaker at Why Christian? and while in Chicago also got to do lots of other fun things like: Hang out with Proclaim member and Director for Worship Formation and Liturgical Resources at Churchwide, Rev. Kevin Strickland; Meet Christephor Gilbert (ELM’s Communications & Development Coordinator) in-person for the first time ever; And attend his first ever ELCA Conference of Bishops. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton complimented his shoes! Twice!


About that “clergy gap…”

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director

I saw a Facebook post last week related to what some are calling a “clergy gap.”

The post was in response to a recent article in the Living Lutheran magazine examining a growing number of open ELCA calls
Proclaim leaders ready to serve.

Proclaim leaders ready to serve.

I couldn’t help but comment, “What clergy gap? What decreasing seminary enrollment?”

It is true that overall, far fewer people are entering the ministry than in the past.

But from the viewpoint of the LGBTQ community, it’s a much different story.

There are currently 68 members of the Proclaim community who are enrolled in seminary, preparing to be Lutheran pastors and deacons.

Overall, there are about 735 people enrolled in ELCA seminarians, according to the most recent statistics.

That means at least 9% of all current ELCA seminarians publicly identify as LGBTQ.

There are 16 Proclaim members seeking a call. I couldn’t locate statistics about how many people overall are seeking calls right now – or how many calls are open. But I do know too many stories about congregations who have said no to talented candidates, simply because they are LGBTQ.

This isn’t just about diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. The report also shows that since 2012, enrollment of persons of color and those whose language is other than English is about 7%. These candidates and pastors face similar challenges (and even more so for those who are LGBTQ persons of color). 

We have an “imagination gap.”

Since 2009, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has been urging ELCA bishops, synod staff, candidacy committees, and congregations to open their imaginations to consider who God might be calling to serve as ministry leaders. After a few years of accepting that some “just aren’t ready” for LGBTQ leaders, we’ve realized it’s time to say, “Let us help you get ready.”

Diverse leaders are ready to serve. In fact, one of the growing congregations mentioned in the Living Lutheran article is led by Proclaim member Rev. Steve Renner. 

It can take some work to “get ready.” It’s not enough to merely tolerate increasingly diverse leaders. Rather, we are living in a time of great possibility to be a church where difference is seen as a gift, where variety is a virtue, where a plethora of perspectives is encouraged. While this may be challenging at first, the possibility of transformation makes it well worth the effort.

LGBTQ people aren’t going to seminary only because the rules now allow it. We are going because our experiences as LGBTQ people lead us to want to serve God and the church. We are going because we want to proclaim the Gospel now in a world that needs it.

Some see a church in decline. Others of us see a church in hopeful transformation.

And maybe it won’t be so hard once we start. As the late, wondrous Gene Wilder sang in the song “Pure Imagination,”

If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world?
There’s nothing to it.

Amalia Vagts

photo by Emily A. Garcia

Amalia Vagts spent parts of the past five days with a former Lutheran who kinda wants to take his kids to church, an atheist who likes how Nadia Bolz-Weber thinks, a bunch of Evanston, IL Lutherans who performed cabaret songs for each other to raise money for homeless youth, the ELCA Conference of Bishops, and the fabulously queer and brilliant “full-time friends” (i.e. staff) of ELM. Incidentally, she has many scenes from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory memorized, and had a pretty big crush on Gene Wilder during high school.

Guest Blog: Coming Full Circle

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

by Rev. Sara Cogsil
Proclaim member and Associate Pastor, University Lutheran Church, East Lansing, MI


Sara Cogsil and Laura Kuntz

Laura and I have been married 7 years. We got married on August 22, 2009. As we made the drive from our home in Columbus to our wedding destination, we received word that the long awaited, much anticipated Churchwide decision* was made. We knew this decision would directly impact our immediate future because just a week after we were married we entered an academic year at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. Standing on the shoulders of the many who went before us, we began that year full of joy and a lot of uncertainty.

Trinity is where we spent the first four years of our marriage. We traveled the journey to ordained ministry side by side and were supported by our seminary community along the way. We experienced welcome and support for who we are and for what we have been called to be and do. It was always clear that our sexuality did not define or hinder our life within the community. Trinity was and is a safe space for us. We were deeply moved when we learned of the board vote to officially become a Reconciling in Christ Seminary. We applauded the hard work of the students and of the unanimous support of the faculty. For us, this official status declares the welcome, love, and acceptance we experienced firsthand and for that we are grateful.


Proclaim members gathered at Trinity Seminary’s Reconciling in Christ celebration.

Our gratitude was only expanded when Laura and I were invited to be part of the official celebration recognizing Trinity’s Reconciling in Christ status. Wednesday, September 14 was that day of celebration. Laura preached and I presided. Four additional Proclaim members, Justin Ferko, Laura Ferree, David Young Romero, and Jeffery Ogonoski helped to lead worship and an additional Proclaim colleague, Rev. Brian Whitton was in attendance.

“So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” -Luke 15:3-6

Being invited back to Trinity for this celebration was one full of rejoicing. As Laura proclaimed, “Rejoice with me, for Christ is filled with joy when God’s people are reconciled together. Rejoice because the Holy Spirit has brought us to this place. Rejoice with me because in a world where we are taught that we are not like the other, Christ tells us that we are not to fear. Rejoice because Christ will never cease to search for all who are apart from God’s people. Rejoice because it is Christ who carries the weight of this reality and will continue to do so until all of God’s people are united as one.”

We know that we live in a world where this message needs to be proclaimed! We live in a world where people are desperately yearning to hear that they matter, that they have worth, that they are loved! Laura and I give thanks for the message of love that Trinity proclaimed to us during our time there and we give thanks for the statement they have made in taking this step.

We know the work isn’t done and we are thankful that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, Reconciling Works and Trinity Lutheran Seminary are continuing the hard conversations and advocacy. There was a time, not all that long ago, when it would have been impossible to serve in the ELCA, but now an entire worship service can be led by pastors and seminarians who publicly identify as LGBTQ. For this, we rejoice!

*In 2009 at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the social statement Human Sexuality:  Gift and Trust was adopted by the assembly.  Along with the social statement, ELCA polity was revised so that LGBTQ persons in relationships may now serve as rostered leaders in the ELCA (previously, LGBTQ rostered leaders were required to be celibate).



Photo by Emily Ann Garcia

Rev. Sara Cogsil lives in East Lansing, MI with her wife Rev. Laura Kuntz. Together they balance work between their respective churches and time at home with their dog Toby. It’s always a joy when they can share in ministry together.

Guest Blog: Decolonizing Lutheranism – A Gift or a Task?

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

A number of members of the Proclaim community are getting involved with a movement called #decolonizeLutheranism. Today we invited the Rev. Tita Valeriano, Proclaim member and one of the organizers of the inaugural gathering, #decolonize16, to share part of her story and connection to the movement. 

philippines-mapIt was a bittersweet journey for me when I arrived here in the United States in 1994 from the Philippines. I was reunited with my parents and some of my siblings, but as I arrived I imagined a life with my loved ones in a country that has colonized us. I had just finished my church music school studies in an ecumenical school that had been established to reclaim our identity as Filipino Christians through decolonization and contextualization of worship, liturgy and music in the church and society.

Can you imagine what I experienced learning that I had moved to another colonized world here in the United States? I escaped the freed Philippines which continually suffers from various new forms of colonization to a country built through the power of colonization, hiding its cruel effects and flourishing in power and wealth at the expense of those oppressed, most especially the indigenous people of this country. And the church is not innocent in this. I breathe being a queer immigrant woman of color everyday of my life here and most of the time it is painful. I would like to live as a liberated child of God, not only for myself but for all. This is what I signed up for when I was baptized and followed Jesus Christ. This is Christ’s gift I received, and this is what I was called to be and do.

There are many more stories of colonization, individually and collectively, that all of us have heard and witnessed both in the church and society. They are painful, but also could be liberating and empowering – only if we can transform the oppressive system we live in. You can imagine it perhaps – but can we do it together? I believe that to transform our colonized world is both a gift and a task. We should do it together. We should do it now.

decolonize-lutheranism-logoSo, I invite you to a grassroots initiative that started in sharing stories and critiquing and exposing the colonization we still experience and live within our society and particularly in our church. A group of seminarians and clergy have started to network, share their stories and challenge themselves in the process of decolonizing themselves. Now we would like to be in solidarity with others in order to widen our reach and impact, for the sake of the gospel of Christ and the church we love. The Decolonizing Lutheranism Gathering, we hope, is to be a platform to challenge and transform the system that continues to be an oppressive power.

As a church, we cannot hide behind our programs and social statements when we continue to experience and live in this system we “inherited,” where some benefit and others suffer, where some are free and some are not. We cannot raise this issue in isolated times, whenever there is a crisis or a big conference, but we want to be responsible to this process and journey of decolonization.  This journey penetrates and permeates the core of our identity, both being and living, as Lutheran Christians in the United States. The #decolonizeLutheranism page will give you more information about who we are and our hopes about who to become. It is not complete; it is evolving.  We hope to do it with you!

#decolonize16, the first conference of the #decolonizeLutheranism movement, will be held Saturday, October 22, 2016 at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (1100 E 55th ST, Chicago, 60615).  Click here for more information about the conference and to register.


Photo credit: St. Mark’s Lutheran Church Website

Rev. Tita Valeriano was born and raised in the Philippines, a third-generation Lutheran. The youngest of twelve children and a graduate from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, she has served in various ministries of the church, as parish pastor, campus ministry pastor, mission development explorer, and the Lutheran World Federation’s Youth/Young Adult Executive Secretary and Regional Officer for North America. Her ministry has focused on nurturing multicultural, missional church that invites and includes youth and young adults, people of color, and those at the margins of the society. Aside from music, liturgy and advocacy, her other passions that inspire and gives her joy her are traveling and meeting people from various cultures, photography, and practicing her international cooking with gathered friends in her home with her spouse, Jennifer and Taal, their toddler son.

Proclaiming at Seminary

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

by Asher O’Callaghan
ELM Program Director

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isa 55:10-11


white-ceramic-coffee-cup-in-the-foreground-which-was-placed-in-front-of-a-stack-of-books-725x451As the seasons are changing from summer to fall, so the schedules for many Proclaim seminarians are changing. They’re back on campus (or on-line in their virtual campus!) from their Clinical Pastoral Education settings, from summer jobs, and from internship placements. And many have come from wherever they called home to their seminary campuses and are beginning to settle into their first year of courses. At most campuses, orientation is over and the fall semester is officially underway.

Recently I had the joy of meeting with the ELM Seminarian Outreach Team for this school year. The team is convened by Ben Hogue, a 3rd year student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, and is made up of one or two seminarian representatives from each of the schools where Proclaimers are attending. We meet once a month to compare notes about what’s happening on each campus and share ideas and brainstorm on work to do within their campus communities.

Each of the representatives on the call was going to be involved in their seminary’s orientation for new students. We discussed ways that people were getting the word out about the Proclaim community and the work of ELM. It was great to hear about the work being done on campuses across the country. And it was a great reminder of importance of the whole scope of ELM’s work:img_1035

The Proclaim community gives seminarians who might be figuring out what it means to be out as an LGBTQ person and a public leader in the church a whole network of colleagues to walk on the journey with. The Accompaniment program provides resources and support as people move through the candidacy process and into first call. And Ministry Engagement works with synods and congregations to help create healthy call opportunities for these future leaders.

Even so, going through seminary is not without its challenges. The future feels like it’s up in the air. Finances are tight. It’s stressful figuring out how to be out on campus and as a public leader. And of course there’s all the reading assignments, deadlines, and papers to attend to.

thanksgiving-tableSo to all of you who are supporting our Proclaim seminarians: THANK YOU!

To our seminarians themselves: THANK YOU! For saying “yes” to God’s call. For taking on the expenses and sacrifices that have followed. For offering up your gifts to God, the church, and the world. For being out and letting your light shine brightly so that others know that they are not alone, that God’s outrageous love is for them. Thank you for what you’re doing and who you are.

If you’re not a seminarian, let’s take a moment and hold our Proclaim seminarians in prayer:

Loving God,

Accomplish in us all the work you have called us to. We pray especially for LGBTQ seminarians as they begin another school year. We give thanks to you for their gifts, for their identities, for their willingness to heed your call and the sacrifices they’ve made to do so. Raise them up as bold, faithful, and fabulous leaders in the church for the sake of your world. Kindle in them the flame. Surround them with colleagues through Proclaim and use this community to support them during times of hardship. Strengthen them in your Spirit – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of God, a Spirit of joy in your presence both now and forever more. In the name of Christ, our head. Amen.

img_6883Asher O’Callaghan is very happy to know such fabulous leaders are in seminary and preparing for rostered ministry in our church. He remembers being grateful for the Proclaim community during seminary and prays that it continues to be a source of support and inspiration for others. Asher is celebrating the changing seasons with pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin beer, pumpkin pie, and an abundance of other pumpkin-flavored baked goods.

Roots and Wings

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director

On Tuesday of this week, I was in Tacoma, Washington as Proclaim member (and former ELM program director) Rev. Jen Rude was installed as University Pastor at Pacific Lutheran University

IMG_4478As we waited for the installation service to start, Rev. Jeff Johnson, also in town for the service, handed me a copy of PLU’s Mast Magazine. There was Jen on the cover with the headline “PLU’s first openly queer Campus Pastor preaches a message of diversity, intersectionality and activism.”

It is fantastic to see your support in action as Jen and other LGBTQ people in ministry lead many different parts of church and society.

It wasn’t long ago (on June 30) that ELM and Grace friends gathered at Grace Lutheran Evanston to say goodbye to Jen and Deb Derylak, Jen’s spouse.

Rev. Daniel Ruen (pastor at Grace) and I co-emceed the IMG_4096evening, which included a blessing from Rev. Gordon Straw (member of Grace and the ELM board), friends from Grace, a group prayer led by Rev. Erik Christensen, a rewrite of the song “Jackson” (“Tacoma,” of course), a few other good-natured jokes at Jen and Deb’s expense, and many heartfelt tributes. The ELM Board sent Jen and Deb off with a care package of future experiences in their new hometown and a great deal of gratitude. ELM Co-Chairs Rev. Elise Brown and Rev. Brad Froslee both attended as a surprise to Jen and Deb. ELM friend Jim Kowalski organized the event, with the help of many volunteers from Grace and ELM.

We ended the evening singing the song “Roots and Wings,” a favorite song of Jen and Deb’s.  “Two feet on the ground / two hands in the sky,” goes the chorus.  “You can have roots and wings, at the same time.”
(L-R): Rev. Jen Rude, Bennett Falk, Nancy Rude, Margaret Moreland, Amalia Vagts, Rev. Tim Feiertag, Deb Derylak, Rev. Jeff R. Johnson

(L-R): Rev. Jen Rude, Bennett Falk, Nancy Rude, Margaret Moreland, Amalia Vagts, Rev. Tim Feiertag, Deb Derylak, Rev. Jeff R. Johnson

This is an important message for Jen and Deb as they soar into their new lives, firmly grounded in the love that embraced them in Chicago and at ELM. It is also a message for all of us called into new ways of being church – together – new ways of loving our history and our future.  You can “know where you’re from,” and “still want to fly.”

As I gathered with members of Jen’s new community at Pacific Lutheran University, I couldn’t help but think about all the ways Jen has left her lasting impact on ELM – and of the incredible ways she will affect the Tacoma community and beyond in her new call.



Amalia Vagts is grateful for a community that is filled with people who are remarkable – and who induce much needed belly laughs. She also thinks her bitmoji (cartoon) may come to life at any moment and take over. 


You Can’t Tell a Book By the Cover

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

by Asher O’Callaghan
ELM Program Director

“Thank you, ma’am!” For years, I cringed every single time I was called “ma’am”. I appreciated the respect that people were trying to show me. It’s just that I hated being reminded that the rest of the world understood me to be someone I wasn’t. It felt awkward and embarrassing and uncomfortable whenever I ordered a cup of coffee, or ate at a restaurant, or checked out at the grocery store. I’ve spent most of my life being perceived as someone I’m not: “young lady”, “sister”, “ma’am”, “her”, “she”, and “hers”.  

Thankfully, these days I tend to be perceived as a guy. I’m transgender, which for me means that I’m not the gender I was assigned to at birth. It’s been several years now since I transitioned into living as a guy, and most of the time I don’t even notice being called “sir”,  “he”, “him”, or “brother” anymore. I have the privilege of taking it for granted. But I’m reminded every time I see a friend get misgendered in public. And I’ll always remember how affirming and freeing it felt the first time someone asked me if I’d like them to start using he/him/his for me. It felt like – “Finally!! Someone is seeing and recognizing me for who I am.” It’s amazing what a difference words can make.

The moral of the story? You can’t tell a book by the cover. Even though we’re used to operating on assumptions about how people identify based on how they look, our assumptions often turn out to be inaccurate. And giving people the opportunity to ask for how they’d like to be referred to can make a big difference in helping someone feel welcomed, seen, and affirmed.


Have you noticed that ELM has some community practices regarding personal pronouns? Personal pronouns are the words that we use to refer to someone without using their actual name. Words like: she, her, hers, they, them, theirs, he, him, and his. All of ELM’s staff members include pronouns in our email signatures and we ask all new Proclaim Members about what personal pronouns they use. At every meeting of the Board of Directors and every Proclaim Gathering we include personal pronouns in our introductions. We ask everyone so that everyone has an opportunity to self-identify with whatever they feel most comfortable with.

A heads-up on they/them/theirs pronouns: You might be used to seeing the words they/them/theirs being used to indicate the plural – that there is more than one person being referred to. But these can also be used to indicate a singular person. For many people, gender simply doesn’t work as an either/or. And so a number of transgender or gender non-conforming people use the personal pronouns they/them/theirs. These pronouns are used in sentences the same way you might use he/him/his or she/her/hers. For example: Bob prefers they/them/theirs pronouns – Their family was proud to see them receive their seminary diploma.
Quick tips for allies: (want to learn more? click here!)
+ Pay attention to the ways you use highly gendered phrases like “sir”, “ma’am”, “ladies and gentlemen”, “brothers and sisters”. If you’re not actually sure of how the people you’re talking to identify, it’s better not to use these types of phrases.
+ If you don’t know what pronouns someone uses, feel free to ask: let them know what pronouns you prefer and ask them what they prefer.
+ If it doesn’t seem like an appropriate or safe space to ask someone what pronouns they prefer directly, you can always just substitute a person’s actual name or title until you have a chance to ask them. 


Asher & JackAsher O’Callaghan has gotten into the practice of asking others what pronouns they prefer because ELM was the first organization that asked him what pronouns he prefers. It felt awesome to be asked, so he has gotten into the practice of asking others. Asher is transgender and bisexual but is not an expert on all things LGBTQ+. He’s still learning and hopes you’re not intimidated when learning about new language in our community or new ways to be an ally –  It’s a process and we’re all learning together! In his spare time, Asher serves as a loyal staff member to Jack, his cat.

ELM Friend Tom Jacobson’s new play about LGBTQ clergy

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

by Christephor Gilbert
Communications & Development Coordinator

What happens when a closeted LGBTQ seminarian is called to fill in at the pulpit for their sCaptain_of_the_bible_quiz_teamick father, and in the process learns the secret truth of the congregation’s desire to leave the ELCA over the 2009 statement on human sexuality? 

This is the central theme of Tom Jacobson’s new play, Captain of the Bible Quiz Team.  Not only is the subject matter of this script timely for a denomination still wrestling with LGBTQ visibility, it is also a story that was formed by Jacobson’s connection to openly LGBTQ Lutherans.  In addition to being a prolific and noted playwright, Tom is a friend and faithful supporter of ELM. We hope this play takes off so ELM supporters can see it in their own community!

I caught up with Tom as the production was entering its preview weekend, to ask him more about the genesis of the play, the relationship between justice and art, and his hope for the future of the production.

Alaska 004

Playwright Tom Jacobson

Christephor Gilbert:  Tell me about your background and how you found your way in to playwriting.

Tom Jacobson:  I liked writing skits in junior high then started acting in high school.  I also had a terrific high school English teacher.  When I got to college at Northwestern, I wanted to be an actor but discovered I was much better at playwriting. So I got an MFA in Playwriting at UCLA and then slowly became a part of the wonderful theatre community of Los Angeles.

CG:  Did you grow up in the Lutheran church?

TJ:  My dad was raised Lutheran in Minnesota, so we were raised ELCA in Pennsylvania, Florida and Oklahoma (where Lutheran was definitely a minority religion).  I still go to church every Sunday and enjoy the Lutheran liturgy and traditions.

CG:  From looking at your website, you have several plays that have religious themes or people at their center (Apocrypha, The Beloved Disciple, Diet of Worms). How did you, as a playwright, come to settle within this niche of subject material?  How does it relate (if it does) to your own spirituality/religious experience?

TJ:  During church services I tend to get ideas for plays (sometimes from the sermon, sometimes from inattention).  I find the conflict between tradition and today an exciting way to approach drama, and religion is always struggling with relevance in the modern world.  Reinterpretation of historic religious situations (the relationship between Jesus and the beloved disciple John, the reaction of German nuns to “heresy” of Martin Luther) gives me an opportunity to comment on modern social conflict.

CG:  What has your knowledge of or involvement with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries been? Do you know out LGBTQ Lutheran pastors or other clergy (deacons, diaconal ministers)?

TJ:  I made some friends in Lutherans Concerned in Los Angeles about 30 years ago and have kept up with inclusivity efforts ever since.  I attended the extra ordinem ordination of Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart in 1990 (along with a Mapplethorpe exhibition in Berkeley, back when he was also controversial), which I found very moving.  I have a vivid memory of Joel Workin’s sermon at St. Francis Lutheran the next morning, when he referred to the bishop as “that fox,” very strong words for anyone with a Biblical background.  My own church, Lutheran Church of the Master in Los Angeles, has been Reconciling in Christ for more than a decade.  I’ve met a number of LGBTQ clergy over the years (mostly Lutheran).

CG:  What was the impetus for your telling this particular story?

TJ:  Joel Bergeland’s internship at St. Paul’s in Santa Monica was partly sponsored by my church, so he came to preach one Sunday.  His sermon was the inspiration for my play.  Small, dying Lutheran churches like my family church in central Minnesota need the energy, enthusiasm and intelligence I’ve found in many LGBTQ clergy, including Joel, but small rural churches don’t want “extraordinary” ministers.  The conflict between hidebound ideology and modern ideas is always interesting to me, and the idea of Joel being called to a conservative rural church sounded like the perfect set-up for a play fraught with tension.

CG:  Captain of the Bible Quiz Team unfolds narratively as a series of sermons, and the performance is staged in an actual church.  Can you tell me about how you came to see the story unfold in this way?

TJ:  My church hosted a production of my Chekhov adaptation, The Orange Grove, in 2004 and in 2015 Diet of Worms was performed in the Episcopal cathedral in LA, so I have some experience with site-specific plays in churches.  I love using the church–an inherently theatrical space designed for ritual performance–as a church.  I like the audience becoming a congregation and taking the role of the antagonist in a play with one actor (the protagonist).  Some interesting audience interaction is built into the play, which functions as a form of hyper-realism that has deeply engaged audiences in our workshop productions.  I’ve noticed when the audience knows they have a role, they pay attention and stay on their toes (thanks to anxiety as well as excitement).  I enjoy audience culpability, and that’s central to this play.

CG:  I also see that the upcoming performance has four different actors sharing the role of Pastor Landry Sorenson.  Is that something indicated in the script, or something that was realized by the director?  Tell me more about how this casting devise relates to the theme/intention of the script.

TJ:  From the very beginning I intended the role to be played by a variety of actors of different genders, ages, and backgrounds.  By changing the physicality of the actor from male to female, for instance, the character is changed and so is the story–without changing a word of the dialogue.  I’m intrigued by the inherent variability of live performance, and I tend to write in ways that emphasize how every performance (or production) is unique.  That excitement of variability is one of the reasons theatre has survived the competition with TV and film–being in the room with a live actor is a thrill, especially if a different actor is playing the role each night.  I hope people will see it with all four of our outstanding actors so they can experience the play differently.

CG:  In conversation with Amalia, she told me that your research for this play involved conducting one-on-one interviews with LGBTQ pastors.  What surprises did you discover?  Realities you had confirmed?  Did the interviews take the story in an unexpected direction from the initial idea for the show?

TJ:  I expected to learn sad stories of oppression, of anger, of discouragement.  The surprise for me was that every minister I interviewed persevered in the face of terrible rejection, loving the church that told them they were not worthy (until 2009).  Their passion for God and the church was impressive.  Equally impressive were some of the surprisingly happy endings to their stories (even before 2009).  One of those amazing stories became the miracle at the end of the play.

CG:  How do you see your art as an instrument for justice?

TJ:  I like lying in service of the truth, telling fictional tales that reveal reality.  I try to both point out problems and offer possible solutions, while reminding audiences of the humanity of the characters.  I hope the audience will sometimes feel culpable and leave the theatre resolute about taking action or at least being a better person.

CG:  How can theatre affect change that other media can’t?

TJ:  Theatre is immediate, happening in the moment, not at a remove.  It’s also much cheaper to mount a play than film a movie or TV show, so plays can respond more quickly to contemporary issues.

CG:  What is your hope for this particular script?  Do you have a vision for its performance in other sites/cities?

TJ:  If the show is well received in its first three venues, our hope is that the producer, Rogue Machine Theatre, will find other churches in Southern California willing to host this production.  Good reviews and audiences might lead to productions in other churches in other cities.  With only one actor performing and the set provided by the church, it’s a pretty inexpensive show to mount.  I hope that portability will lead to productions in churches (not just Lutheran) all over the country.

About the Play
Rogue Machine Theatre presents the world premiere of Captain of the Bible Quiz Team by Tom Jacobson, Saturday August 27th through Monday October 3rd.  The production is directed by Michael Michetti and is produced by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz and Anna Nicholas.  The performance features Amielynn Abellera, Wayne Tyrone Carr, Mark Jacobson, and Deborah Puette in rotation as Pastor Landry Sorenson.  Tickets are $34.99 and can be reserved by calling 855-585-5185.  For more information, please visit the production website,

To learn more about Tom Jacobson visit

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Christephor at home with Sylvia.

Christephor Gilbert just finished Clinical Pastoral Education and is about to enter his Middler year at Lutheran School of Theology, where he isn’t captain of the Bible quiz team, but does serve as co-leader of Thesis 96, LSTC’s LGBTQ affinity group.  You can find Christephor any day of the week reading poetry (Federico Garcia Lorca, Mary Oliver, and Audre Lorde are favorites), thinking about finishing those socks he has been knitting for two years, or watching The Devil Wears Prada for the um-teenth time, with his partner Donald and their three unusual cats.


Hello from Asher!

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Rev. Asher O’Callaghan began as the Program Director for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries this past Monday. Welcome, Asher! 

by the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan
Program Director

Fearful and excited—this is how I remember feeling as I stepped into the opening worship at my first ever Proclaim Gathering. I was excited, living out the joy that comes when we’re following our sense of call. But I was also nervous, maybe even downright afraid of the future…

Asher O'Callaghan

Asher O’Callaghan from his home office.

What if I after all the student loans, and years of seminary, and CPE, and all the candidacy essays and interviews, what if after all of that, there would never be a congregation on the other side that would be ready to call me? Was I stupid to be taking these risks? Was my hope just a pipe dream? Was God’s call going to be enough to get me through to the other side of candidacy and into a first call?

That Gathering was my first encounter with ELM and it was just the fresh breath of Spirit I needed for the road ahead. In the years since then, getting involved in the work of ELM has gotten me to where I am today. It was really as a member of Proclaim, a volunteer with Candidacy Accompaniment, and member of ELM’s Board of Directors that I began to develop a sense of my own voice and gifts for ministry.

I’ve come to experience how LGBTQ+ identities are not hurdles to ministry but a doorway: A doorway inviting us to connect with people who are on the margins, who are being oppressed, who have been hurt or disenfranchised by the church. A doorway to witnessing the power and freedom that comes from living as whole and integrated children of God. A doorway out of fearing our differences as a threat to unity. A doorway into embracing our differences as gifts for our work together as Christ’s Body.

I’m so grateful as I look back at the way ELM’s work has transformed me and continues to do so. It fires me up to imagine how our work together can continue to transform our church. I’m convinced that our church needs ELM’s message as much today as I needed it years ago as a seminarian wondering whether my sexuality and gender identity were going to be insurmountable hurdles to ministry.

And so it has been with that same sense of joyous excitement that I had years ago at my first Proclaim Gathering that I’ve begun my work here as ELM’s new Program Director this week. But this time, it’s with a bold sense of fabulousness rather than a timid sense the fearfulness.

This week I’ve been diving into the work and getting oriented with things: We’ve had our first full-staff meeting across 3 states and 2 time zones, I joined in on a Proclaim Team Meeting, and am contacting each of our 3 Program Conveners to touch-base and set up times to meet. Would love to hear from you too! To get in touch with me, feel free to friend me and message me on Facebook or email me at

ELM staff

The ELM staff!

Asher O’Callaghan is enjoying the ocean breeze through the window of his apartment in Long Beach, California. He looks forward to meeting those of you who he hasn’t yet. His favorite color is green because he likes things that grow. When he’s not working or writing about himself in the third person, he enjoys things like open-water swimming, hiking, eating good food, and struggling to learn how to surf. He hopes that you’re having a fabulous day.