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Guest Blog: Coming Full Circle

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

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

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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.

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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).

 

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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, captainofthebiblequizteam.com.

To learn more about Tom Jacobson visit www.tomjacobsonplaywright.com.

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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 programdirector@elm.org.

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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.

Invisibility and Possibility: Reflections from the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

Monday, August 15th, 2016

by Amalia Vagts, Executive Director
with gratitude for input from others in the LGBTQ community

French Quarter

French Quarter in New Orleans.

I’ve just returned from the 14th ELCA Churchwide Assembly and inaugural Grace Gathering in New Orleans, attending in my capacity as executive director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. For me, the week was a combination of joy, sadness, growth, challenge, gratitude, disappointment, and a deepened commitment to proclaim the good news. Hey, sounds like church!

I was reminded of what called me to engage in this ministry in the first place.  My fire has been lit with resolve. We’ve got work to do.

Seven years and three assemblies after changing church policy to affirm the calls and relationships of LGBTQ people, our community was largely invisible in the programming throughout the week. I’m thankful for all the thought and hard work that went into an increasingly wonderfully diverse and multi-perspective assembly. I’m thankful for the provoking and energizing conversations about racism, racial equality, and white privilege. It was fantastic to see how much is changing! Our church could have also delighted this past week in celebrating LGBTQ folks as we rightfully celebrate the growing, gorgeous and long overdue overall diversity of our denomination. There are now 659 Reconciling in Christ ministry settings, with another 430 on the journey. There are 230 openly LGBTQ pastors, deacons, and candidates for ministry. There are congregations that have formed or grown because of the ELCA’s deepening welcome of LGBTQ people. All cause for great joy – yet, our church leaders missed many opportunities to celebrate this good news and the gifts of LGBTQ people.  

LGBTQ events

LGBTQ events. Photo by Zac Baker.

Because there was no formal space for LGBTQ people at this assembly, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and ReconcilingWorks  created it for LGBTQ people and allies at co-led events throughout the week. We met for daily prayer – five of these led by openly LGBTQ ministry leaders, and one by an ally bishop. The gathered group ranged from 30 – 75 each day. It was amazing to have that space with our people and our allies. I’m grateful especially to our allies for their commitment. Some people commented about how they had to “figure out where the LGBTQ people were.” At future assemblies, we hope to see more publicity about LGBTQ-led opportunities in order bring more awareness to those not yet familiar with the many ELCA people working in support of a church that celebrates diverse sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions.

Conversation Groups

Gathering for conversation.

Midway through the week, we co-hosted a reception and working conversation at a hotel across the street from the Convention Center.

Nearly 100 people (including four ELCA bishops) gathered for community and socializing. After the reception, about half the group stayed for conversation in small groups. We invited conversation about what LGBTQ people and friends need as we look ahead to 2019.  That year will be the 10th anniversary of the policy change that began to recognize same-sex relationships and welcome partnered LGBTQ people to serve as rostered leaders. We asked people to share a word to describe the current state of LGBTQ people in the ELCA, to consider what LGBTQ people in the ELCA still need and to reflect on why they stay in the struggle. 

There were two consistent themes in these conversations – invisibility and possibility.

 Many LGBTQ people and allies felt invisible this past week. As we see the beautiful changes coming from a deepened understanding of what the church receives when we welcome, affirm, and include diverse voices, faces, languages and cultures – we long for our LGBTQ identities to become part of that richness. Those who are LGBTQ and know others in the community felt comforted to see familiar LGBTQ faces in worship and to see LGBTQ people and allies as leaders and voting members throughout the week. Yet others newer to our church had no idea that they were among friends. You can’t see we’re LGBTQ by looking at us. LGBTQ people need to claim our own identities, and our allies must name us in order for our diversity to be known. We lament the invisibility of LGBTQ people among those explicitly celebrated in the hall and in worship. It is our sincere hope and prayer that future assemblies will visibly celebrate the gifts of LGBTQ people and worship leaders.

Many LGBTQ people and allies saw the possibility of how our church can move forward in great ways this past week. We have hope for the possibility of a richer kingdom when LGBTQ voices and faces are celebrated. We align with others who feel invisible and filled with possibility – and we are filled with resolve to help our church continue to move forward to that great day.  

LGBTQ people and allies. Photo by Rev. Megan Rohrer.

LGBTQ people and allies. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer.

We have begun to experience how good the church can be when we break from a narrow understanding of church dominated by white Northern European culture. We are all connected in this journey – especially those of us seeking to lead from the margins. What joy awaits this church as we continue to break open the racism, patriarchy, heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia, ableism, classism and sexism which continue to confine us.

As we do the hard work, we more clearly see the possibility of becoming a church transformed by the named and celebrated gifts of all people.

 

Amalia & Emily EwingAmalia Vagts (pictured here on the assembly floor with Proclaim member Rev. Emily E. Ewing) was on the floor “legally” for the first time this year (was also there as a peaceful protester in 2005). This year, she especially enjoyed seeing young people at the microphones, conversations about race from a fantastic variety of perspectives, would love to hear Leymah Gbowee speak every single day, and appreciated hallway conversations during this churchwide assembly – with those committed to our work, those who’ve never heard of us, and those who need our work but can’t yet be public about it. 

Joins us in New Orleans (or via the phone or web!)

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

The ELCA Churchwide Assembly begins this coming Monday in New Orleans, Louisiana. ELM will be there!

hope buttonsWe’re partnering with ReconcilingWorks during this year’s Assembly to raise visibility about the presence and involvement of LGBTQ people throughout the life and work of the church. Join in daily activities (even by phone if you aren’t attending in person!) to support the lives of LGBTQ people and our allies, friends, and families.

We decided on these plans in response to the tragedy in Orlando, as well as other backlashes against LGBTQ people and their families, and continued discrimination in our church and communities. While the pews and pulpits of the ELCA are open to LGBTQ people, many in our community do not feel a sense of belonging and safety in the Lutheran church.

What is next for the work for LGBTQ people in the Lutheran Church? We have come a long way, yet the journey continues. We’ve created a joint online website to invite your direct feedback about what you hope to see in the future of the church.Please go to lgbtqlutheran.org to share.

ELCA Churchwide Activities

Daily Morning Prayer:  Join with others to create a space where LGBTQ people and allies will lead prayer in thanks and affirmation for the gifts marginalized communities bring to the ELCA.  Join us in the hallway in front of Plenary Room (Hall C) on first floor.  Monday: 12:30 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30 am. As part of this prayer time, we’ll also be creating a prayer banner using words shared through the online surveyand from those attending in person.

Daily Conference Calls:  Join executive directors Amalia Vagts and Aubrey Thonvold (ReconcilingWorks) at 6:15pm CST daily for a 15 minute call, starting Tuesday, for daily updates about the Assembly.  Phone number 641-715-3660, Participant Access Code 186983.  (We got the idea of a conference call from the African Descent Lutheran Association – they’re doing daily prayer leading up to Churchwide – check out their Facebook page to learn more. We say thank you for a great idea about connecting those who can’t attend in person!).

Midweek Meetup:  If you are looking for information about ReconcilingWorks, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, memorials, and elections please stop by the Foyer in the New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center on Wednesday August 10th from 10am – 7pm.

Wednesday Reception & Working Gathering:  Attend the reception from 7-8:30pm in the Ballroom of the New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center for a time of networking and community.  All are welcome!

Stay for the Working Gathering to discuss “What do LGBTQ people still need from their church?” as we look to the 10th anniversary of policy change at the 2019 Churchwide Assembly.  Be a part of the conversation that will help guide our plans for the work ahead.

And now a word about our sponsors…Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries was able to say YES to joining in this work in thanks to a special gift we received this year from Grace Lutheran Church in Evanston, IL. The gift came as part of their Courage Campaign. We will say more about Grace and their Courage Campaign in a future post, but for now we say THANK YOU people of Grace for making it possible for us to do something extra this year when the need arose.

Joyous Staffing Updates!

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

With great joy and gratitude, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries announces that the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan (he/him/his) is our new Program Director!

Additionally, Christephor Gilbert (he/him/his) has been promoted to Development & Communications Coordinator. We are thankful for these outstanding leaders!

Asher

Rev. Asher O’Callaghan. Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.

As Program Director for ELM, Asher will build and support community through the Proclaim program, walk with and equip leaders through the Accompaniment program, and connect with and uplift congregations through the Ministry Engagement program. Asher will work alongside volunteer program conveners and in partnership with other ELM staff on strategic work and communication for these programs. Asher begins on August 15 and will work from his home in Long Beach, CA.

Asher writes,

“Getting involved in the work of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has gotten me to where I am today. I’ve come to find that my gender identity and sexuality are gifts for ministry rather than burdens because ELM helped me find my voice as an LGBTQ candidate. ELM gave me the boldness to be fabulous. The network of colleagues that Proclaim helped me develop has been a constant source of joy and inspiration. The Accompaniment Program was a steady support throughout the turbulence of candidacy. And the work of Ministry Engagement is preparing more congregations to call LGBTQ pastors like myself. As ELM’s Program Director, I’m excited to help others get involved and experience this same fabulousness.

Before becoming a Lutheran pastor, Asher fancied himself spiritual but not religious. He thought he was done with organized religion after growing up transgender and bisexual in a fundamentalist church. But then he stumbled into a church called House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado where God messed up all his plans. There he heard an invitation he couldn’t help but share. From Christ’s open table he heard: “Behold who you are. Become what you receive.” Becoming what he’s received has led him to earn a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary, to pastor a small mountain congregation called Zion Lutheran Church in Idaho Springs, Colorado, and now to serve as ELM’s Program Director. Asher is a member of Proclaim and served on the ELM Board of Directors until March of this year.

Development & Communications Coordinator: Christephor Gilbert

Christephor Gilbert. Photo by Jason McGovern, LSTC.

Christephor Gilbert. Photo by Jason McGovern, LSTC.

We also announce the promotion of Christephor Gilbert to the newly created position of Development & Communications Coordinator. Christephor has served as Operations Coordinator for ELM since February this year. The position contains Christephor’s current role and has been expanded to include  communications and development responsibilities. Christephor will work two days a week at our Chicago home office at Resurrection Lutheran Church.

Christephor is a member of Proclaim, a student in the Master of Divinity program at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and is in candidacy with the ELCA toward Word and Sacrament ministry. 

We’re thankful to you, our wonderful supporters, who make it possible for ELM to invest in strong leaders who can guide and direct ELM’s ministry. ELM believes that the extraordinary gifts of LGBTQ ministry leaders enrich and transform our church. Your support allows us to live out that belief through Proclaim, Accompaniment and Ministry Engagement. Thank you!