by Phillipos Ghaly
Editor’s note: Have you heard it’s the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year (1517-2017)? During the months of October and November, ELM’s blog will feature reflections on how the church continues to re-form and the role of LGBTQ+ leaders.
There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives. – Audre Lorde
On Saturday November 4th, I will join Vicar Kelsey Brown and the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan in crafting a session on LGBTQ Ministry at #decolonize17, the next annual gathering of #deconloizeLutheranism. We will theologically reflect on the intersectionality of our experiences and identities as people who are called to rostered ministry in the ELCA. We will also look at the history of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and Proclaim, and envision the future of a more colorful and queerer Lutheranism.
Almost a year ago, I crossed the threshold from my cradle Orthodox tradition into the Lutheran Church and I will celebrate my first year of grace on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In the ELCA, I have experienced and known deep welcome and warm hospitality, and I give thanks for the ways by which I was raised and lifted up to ministry by ordained clergy and lay people in this denomination. I have been blessed with a supportive synod, and many mentors and colleagues.
However, as a Queer and non-binary Immigrant-of-Color with a call to ordained ministry in the ELCA, I sense that my colorful presence is contested in certain spaces within this Church. I have observed that my mere existence disrupts the false binaries and clean-cut identities that have perpetuated single stories and allowed us to become a single-issue people: a behavior that has subsequently erased many of us who are integral parts of this Body and seeped complacency into this Church’s conscience and character in the face of complexity.
Again and again, I see PoC issues and LGBTQIA+ issues contra-positioned by people who are neither, and presented as somewhat oppositional with a claim that we have to choose one over the other because we can’t afford to tackle both racism and ethno-centrism, and homophobia and transphobia, all in the same breath.
I can’t afford to just be Queer as a brown-skinned, bearded North African living in the midst of racism. I can’t afford to just be Queer while I am waiting on my immigration papers in the midst of changing laws and ICE raids. I can’t afford to just be Queer when I witness implicit or pronounced racial-bias against clergy of color (especially women of color) in call and hiring processes within the ELCA. And I certainly can’t afford to choose between closeting my Queerness, or crawling out of my skin to be a single-issue person who can perpetuate a single story for a single-issue Church.
I am a shape-shifter and a border-bandit, and I inhabit the liminality of in-betweenness and embody multiple mixities in my journey, identities and experiences. I am Queer. I am Brown. I am an Immigrant. I am ethnically Coptic. I am a Lutheran. I am a mix of the above and more.
Empowered by Luther’s Heidelberg Disputations, I choose to turn my focus away from our perceived institutional limitations and bondage to binaries to gaze upon an encompassing cross. It is the sight of a vulnerable and fierce Jesus, naked and crucified, completely exposed without closets or masks, and stretched out by multiple oppressions. His scar-bearing face—the face of the Word made flesh—is at the center of an intersection that encompasses many peoples, identities, issues, oppressions and contradictions. His crucified and naked wounded body exposes injustice, destroys false binaries, either/or identities, and closets of erasure that attempt to veil us, to make invisible and suffocate the Image of God within us.
From creation to redemption, and until the culmination of salvation-history, Christ gathers all our scattered parts, our multiplicities that need to be named because of the scars we bear, and heals and lifts them up in the new creation of the Resurrection. Luther was right that in the cross we see and comprehend God – a theology of the cross pauses our anxieties and expands our conversations as Church on the intersectionality of our communities and their mission.
Our task as LGBTQIA+ PoC Lutherans who are in the business of building up God’s kin-dom is to be grounded in cultivating a resilient and profound theology of the cross that lifts up the dazzling display of our differences and calls out the false glory of sameness and conformity. We are called to prophetically show up and interrupt the complacency of single-issue spaces by applying both a fierce and critical awareness and also generosity with a gentle and powerful softness that affirms and builds up the whole body of Christ.
In re-imagining and living into Beloved Community together, we can dream into a future that envisions the ELCA birthing radically-subversive, counter-oppressive and mindfully-active multi-cultural Christian communities that proclaim the good news of grace-filled intersectionality.
 Latina/mujerista theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz uses Kin-dom of God, to replace the dominating sexist, masculine, patriarchal, imperial and elitist connotations of “Kingdom.” In her work, she offers an eschatological image of an inclusive family of God to which we all can belong as kin, and by which we are responsible to bring justice and liberation to the world. See Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz, En la lucha/In The Struggle: Elaborating a Mujerista Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Philipos Ghaly is a genderqueer intersectional multi-religious theologian living in diaspora from Cairo, Egypt. He holds a BA in Psychology and a BA in Religious and Human Studies, and recently completed his MA in Theology at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA. He is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in preparation for ordained ministry. Philipos is a dervish of the late Sufi Sheikh Dr. Ibrahim Farajeje, former provost of Starr King School for the Ministry and professor of Islamic and Cultural Studies. He is committed to spiritual practice, deep greening, radical queering, and counter-oppressive “scholartivism” and desires to spiritually support and accompany those who labor in Justice organizing. He is passionate about mobilizing faith leaders and building networks for Queer and Trans religious professionals and leaders of color. He speaks Arabic, English and some French, and has academic knowledge of Coptic, Hebrew and Greek. Philipos is married to Rev. Sonny Graves (United Church of Christ) and they are co-conspiriting together against the Empire.
Editor’s note: Have you heard it’s the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year? During the months of October and November, ELM’s blog will feature reflections on how the church continues to re-form and the role of LGBTQ+ ministries and leaders. This week’s post comes from Rev. Maria Anderson-Lippert, founder of the mission start Arise Portland.
A few months ago at a gathering for Mission Developers in the ECLA, I admitted that Arise Portland’s largest growing edge is our ministry is lacking straight cis-men. When I moved to Portland to “facilitate an experimental ministry to gather young adults who don’t find a home in the church,” I never imagined it would become the queer, re-forming ministry it is today. And I couldn’t be more grateful.
It has always been difficult to describe Arise Portland* to others.
Are you a church? No.
Are you religious? Kind of.
Are you Christian? Some of us are.
Once a month as we’re preparing for Holy Potluck on a Saturday morning, people trickle in the front door, brunch-y dish in hand. They then wander up the stairs and find themselves congregating in the kitchen with others, checking out what is on the menu for today. When the doorbell rings, whoever isn’t in the middle of food prep or setting the table runs down the stairs to greet the person at the door. We all do our part to feed and welcome one another. Once everyone has arrived and all is ready for eating, we parade out of the kitchen and into the dining room. Gathered around the table, we preach to one another through our stories, and we share in our holy communion of brunch foods and coffee or tea. After brunch is finished, a few of us linger, washing dishes, wiping down countertops, and sharing our reflections on our time together.
About two-thirds of the people who are integral to and participate in Arise Portland identify as queer. And although I didn’t set out to create a queer ministry, I’m not surprised it has become a place where queer folks have found a spiritual home. What we do together at Arise Portland doesn’t resemble church in very obvious ways – there are no robes, pews, or hymn books. Our liturgy is completely organic. You might even say it’s queer. But what we do together – gather in community, tell stories about the good news of belovedness, share food, and send each other out into our lives refreshed, connected, and renewed – feels an awful lot like liturgy to me.
Stretching the boundaries and creating new definitions of sacred space, our community is continuing to be formed. In the process, we are re-forming the way God’s love is shared in community and in the world. Most importantly, the folks in our community continue to re-form me, and the church, to be able to share God’s love even more honestly.
Our ministry may always lack in straight cis-men. And, although that’s not the goal, it would be okay. What we’re not lacking is genuine connection, fun, and the sacred, holy moments that can only occur when you gather people together.
*Arise Portland is a new, experimental ministry bringing people together to celebrate and foster wholeness in Portland, ME. What does that mean? It means we trust that everyone is already whole, just as they are. We also trust that when we come together in community, we discover even greater wholeness. To learn more about Arise Portland check out our website at www.ariseportland.org or our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ariseportland.
Maria is constantly surprised by the way that poetry connects her to the Divine. This summer, her husband has been encouraging her to get out on her bike more often and she’s learning that she’s more capable of biking up hills than she realized. (But she is not sure she is glad to have learned that.) If you follow her on Instagram, you’ll discover that she really does have the most adorable cats.
Editor’s note: Have you heard it’s the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation this year (1517-2017)? During the months of October and November, ELM’s blog will feature reflections on how the church continues to re-form and the role of LGBTQ+ leaders.
by Rev. Brenda Bos
Proclaim member and pastor, Christ Lutheran Church, San Clemente, California
A few weeks ago Proclaimer and current pastoral intern Katy Wallace posted in the Proclaim Facebook group: “If we had a Queer Christian’s Creed*, what might it say?” I thought it was an interesting question, but I worried I was not queer enough to have anything useful to say.
About a week later, I was all worked up emotionally. A close friend had died, the world was going crazy, I’m sure something frustrating had happened with my son. My heart was broken open. Cruising Facebook to avoid reality, I came across Katy’s call for a Queer Christian Creed again. I thought I’d give it a shot. This creed literally poured out in about three minutes:
I believe in God the Creator,
who designed all good things,
including people of all gender expressions and sexual orientations.
I believe in Jesus Christ,
God’s perfect Child,
who came to earth to live among us.
Jesus was born into a non-conventional family who adored Him even when they did not understand Him.
He confounded authorities and comforted the oppressed.
Because He represented the marginalized, He was crucified, His body mocked by others, died and was buried.
He knew personal Hell.
On the third day God celebrated the wonder of the human body and raised Jesus from the dead.
Jesus ascended into the realm of beauty, continually moving among us, blessing and sustaining us.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
all music, wonder and strength.
I am a member of the Body of Christ.
I cherish the communion of the saints,
live because of the forgiveness of sin,
emulate the resurrection of the Body
and already experience life everlasting. Amen
My favorite two lines were “Jesus was born into a non-conventional family who adored Him even when they did not understand Him” and “He knew personal hell”. Both those sentiments broke my heart. Both felt really queer and really powerful.
I have been slow to acknowledge the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in my congregation because I don’t want to idolize the past. Don’t get me wrong: I am deeply grateful to Martin Luther and his buddy Philip Melanchthon for their teachings, especially about a loving God who does everything to reconcile with us. I also cherish Luther’s insistence that theology be broken down to make sense for everyday people. But I don’t want to lead a church looking backward at some white guys’ work in Western Europe five centuries ago. I want to proclaim new reformations, new liberations, new demands for a better church and a better world.
In 2017, the Reformation continues: The LGBTQ+ perspective on the world, the non-binary, queer, beautiful, troubled, self-realized, passionate perspective of our community is a gift to the whole church. We can break down theology into delectable little bites of truth, flavored with fabulous. Many of us have known personal Hell, and through the amazing love of our creator we have been raised to new beautiful life in our surprising (to some!) bodies. We proclaim resurrection in a unique, reimagined way. We live everlasting life with a booming bass line and a tender embrace. We share looks and sighs and a deep commitment to healing, peace and hope.
Will I be reciting the traditional Apostle’s Creed for the rest of my life? Of course: it’s part of my beloved tradition. Will I also be looking for new ways to profess my faith with new language, describing God and community in fresh ways? Yes! This is how the Reformation continues, now and forever. This is most certainly true.
*Note: This creed is being revised with other Proclaimers for use in our community.
Brenda Bos continues to be amazed she is allowed to sign her name with a “Rev.” in front of it. When the going gets tough, she and her wife Janis grab their two dogs and hit a local hiking trail. That, and a little tiny, barely-notice-it’s-there scoop of coffee ice cream always help.
by Rev. Leslie Welton
Editors Note: Have you wondered where God is calling LGBTQ+ people within the greater church? This is the final in a four-part series on Proclaim leaders who are doing ministry outside of the parish ministry context.
I have been in my current call for three weeks . . . It feels like three days! A month ago, I was saying tearful goodbyes to a congregation I loved very much and moving half-way across the country to a new role in a synod office. Very different ministries, to say the least.
So the past three weeks have been drinking from the firehose of information!
I also find myself asking questions at the rate of an inquisitive toddler: Who are these congregations? Who are these people? What do they expect of me? Can I really do this work? What if I annoy my colleagues? What if I screw up? Did I make the right choice?
That last question is the one that I find myself camping with a bit, and it’s partly due to my new role around candidacy in this synod. As the Assistant to the Bishop for Faith Formation and Candidacy, I get to walk with folks discerning a call to rostered ministry in this church. My own road of discernment in the beginning was a bumpy one; and, as I get to know these candidates, who are asked to be very vulnerable in the process of discerning a vocation, I am reminded that my call here is to pray for these leaders as they are being formed.
These are the new “congregation members” for whom I am called to pray in my ordination vows, and I love that!
One of my favorite lessons in seminary came from a professor who said we should always ask, “Can I honestly say I’m where God is calling me to be today?” I am mindful that LGBTQ+ folks have a rocky road in candidacy, and we get asked a lot of questions. Questions of identity and call can be frustrating when the church around you can’t see what you and those who know you best can see. I’m thankful that I can be a voice in the process and advocate for candidates on a wider level.
The move from a congregation to a specialized ministry was not an easy decision, but three weeks in I can say it was the right decision. I still feel a bit like Joshua standing at the border of Canaan not knowing what was in store, but I also hear that voice from the cloud assuring, “Do not be afraid, I go before you.” (God did have to tell Joshua that about a dozen times before he got it). I grieve the loss of the relationships in the congregation, the stories I was privileged to share, the rhythm of preaching with a congregation, and learning from one another, and the community. But I see where my passions in ministry are such a fit in this call.
Faith formation is what we are about in the church, and it’s all about asking the questions that bring us closer to the God who loves us so much. For that I am grateful and excited to see what the years ahead hold.
Leslie Welton is happiest with a cup of coffee in one hand, a book in the other and one of her cats on her lap. She is a perpetual student of all the instruments she owns but cannot yet play and nurtures an obsession with miniature anything. She will try any food but bologna and sees the hospitality of her own table as integral to understanding the hospitality offered at Christ’s. The recent move from California to Colorado (to serve as Assistant to the Bishop for Faith Formation and Candidacy, Rocky Mountain Synod) has her excited to explore the mountains but a little bit chilly.
by Rev. Susan Halvor
Editors Note: Have you wondered where God is calling LGBTQ+ people within the greater church? This is the second in a four-part series on Proclaim leaders who are doing ministry outside of the parish ministry context.
At a recent staff meeting of hospital chaplains, I asked that we each share about times when we felt welcomed or included, or when we did not – the stories were powerful!
One person shared that after a life of moving from place to place and always feeling like an outsider, finally they were being truly welcomed into a small Alaskan community, so much so that the community rallied to find this person a (rare) winter job.
Another spoke of the process of slowly breaking into the tight-knit Emergency Department culture: first ignored, then referred to as “chaplain,” and finally the moment when the nurses actually knew this chaplain by name.
Or the one who spoke about visiting the back areas of Laboratory Services for the first time and being celebrated as the much-loved chaplain who prays enthusiastically over the intercom in the mornings.
And, one person talked about offering ashes on Ash Wednesday in an administrative section of the hospital, and, after many refusals, came across a woman who wept and said “you have no idea how much I needed you to come by right now.”
As we shared our own stories of vulnerability and welcome, I thought about how vulnerable it feels to be a patient, to be cut off from your “normal” life and activities and community.
And I thought about how each of us on our team has felt “other,” and the ways that has informed our ministries. In our department, we are straight, lesbian, queer and transgender. We are African, Indian, Caucasian, Nicaraguan, Alaska Native, African American and Scottish.
As a queer Lutheran hospital chaplain and pastor, I often feel like I don’t quite fit in many of the spaces I inhabit. The Proclaim community helps me feel a sense of belonging; but I also realize that that sense of “otherness” actually connects me to the people I serve here at the hospital – patients, their loved ones, the hospital staff who care for them and the hospital staff that keep this operation running.
My own experiences of vulnerability, my own wondering, “Will you still love me if you truly know me?” helps me better care for the child who has just been diagnosed with diabetes, the Hmong teenager who has experienced the death of a parent or sibling; the transgender patient whose anxiety increases with every new person who walks through the door; the patient with a traumatic brain injury and their partner, looking ahead to a completely different life; the patient whose opioid addiction and mental illness makes it difficult to develop a safe discharge plan.
It’s the best job in the world – I get to care for patients and their loved ones, hear incredible stories, support staff, and teach about my passions (compassion, cross-cultural communication, resilience, grief education, and more). Every day is different, and it is a gift to follow this call.
After 11 years as a Children’s Hospital Chaplain at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska, Susan Halvor is now the manager of the Spiritual Care Department and has to sneak away to spend the time she loves with patients and their families. When she’s not at work, she’s happiest playing outdoors in Alaska with her dog Jack, wrangling her two cats, line dancing or eating ice cream. Some of these activities have been known to happen at the same time! She also enjoys serving as one of the chaplains to the Proclaim community.
by Rev. Becca Seely
Editors Note: Have you wondered where God is calling LGBTQ+ people within the greater church? This is the first in a four-part series on Proclaim leaders who are doing ministry outside of the parish ministry context.
I wasn’t raised up in church. Growing up, my primary exposure to Christianity was through the voices of the Christian right that seemed to saturate the media in the 1990s. The older I got, the clearer it seemed to me that Christian faith was just a pious mask for moralism and bigotry. By the time I came out as gay in high school, I thought I had Christianity’s number and I was sure as heck not calling it. But like it does for so many, college changed me. The courses I took in the religion department opened my eyes to a faith that was much more complex than I had understood. I was exposed to a multiplicity of voices from the Christian tradition and my assumptions were challenged one by one. I went from a kid who thought she had it all figured out to a young woman realizing how little she knew about faith and God – and how much she actually wanted to know.
Fast forward fifteen years and I am now a campus pastor, walking with young people as they navigate the exciting, challenging, assumption-busting, identity-shaping college years. I serve as director of a campus ministry network in New York City, where I work with an incredible diversity of students. It is a joy to get to accompany young people as they go through their own transformations – as they begin to figure out what they do and don’t believe, who they are and who they feel called to become. It is also a joy to cultivate Christian community that is actively LGBTQ affirming, especially when, even in New York City, the dominant Christian voices on campus are not LGBTQ welcoming. I delight in the fact that many of our students are LGBTQ young people who long to know there is a place at the table for them in the church and that many of our non-LGBTQ students care passionately about setting a table where all are welcome. One queer student told me that she wasn’t sure she could be part of church anymore after some hurtful past experiences but that on her first day at our campus ministry, when we included gender pronouns in our introductions, she finally felt at home. Now she is one of our peer ministers.
I am grateful every day for the opportunity to be an out pastor serving in this context because just by being fully who I am, I am able to bear witness to the wideness of Christ’s love – to embody the reality that everyone who feels like an outsider for whatever reason is unconditionally beloved of God. I feel blessed to be called to a ministry where daily I get to share with stressed, uncertain young adults the good news that they are beloved and they are enough.
Becca Seely (she/her/hers) is Executive Director of Lutheran Ministries in Higher Education of New York City. She enjoys hanging out with her Proclaim member wife, Abby Ferjak, doing elaborate craft projects, speed reading young adult fiction and being the proud caretaker of a professional grade sno cone machine (in case you ever need to borrow one).
By Ashlei Buhrow
Proclaim Member and MDiv student, Luther Seminary
Well, it’s that time of the year! School is starting, new faces are coming onto campus, and there is a feeling of orderly chaos. For the first time in a long time, I actually am looking forward to the start of a school year. Why? Because I’m starting to see the ways in which I can use my gifts at Luther Seminary.
Last year was my first year of seminary, and that came with a lot of changes: turning 21, moving to a new state, living with unfamiliar people, and most life changing—coming out. In October of 2016, I told my friends and family that I was a lesbian, and not unlike many, felt very alone. I knew that there was a group on campus called Emmaus that was an LGBTQIA+ group, but I didn’t have the guts to reach out to them until much later.
Then, this group called Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) kept coming up in my circles, and I was encouraged to get involved! I joined, and immediately got connected with Proclaim. Lucky for me, a position in the Seminary Outreach Team had opened up the following week—and I was invited to be the student representative for Luther Seminary. To be honest, I had no clue what I should or shouldn’t do; honestly, I didn’t even really grasp what it meant to be gay. But I knew I had support and always would be supported.
That brings us to this year at Luther Seminary. Everyone deserves to feel like they can be authentic and true to themselves, and that’s exactly what I hope to help bring to the Luther Seminary campus as part of the Seminary Outreach Team, and leader for Emmaus!Today, we tabled at the Open House hours during First Week orientation—rainbow and trans flags flying, with the addition of some Skittles and Starbursts. These past few years, a lot has changed at Luther Seminary, and so I decided to leave it up to the campus population to help decide what Emmaus and Proclaim will mean to them. Those who were interested placed their names, pronouns, and contact information on a sheet for me to connect with them; the sky is the limit after that! Some ideas currently in place are: working with Decolonize Lutheranism and Naked and Unashamed; learning more about LGBTQ+ rights and their roles in the global church; and facilitating more opportunities on campus for education on trans rights. I look forward to this school year and starting fresh, but even more so I am looking forward to being a person that people know is here for them and connecting them to resources they find helpful.
Ashlei Buhrow is a Master of Divinity middler (second year, for those not in the know!) at Luther Seminary, and in candidacy toward Word and Sacrament ministry in the Northwestern Wisconsin Synod (a surprising turn of events discerned only three days after she finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin)! Currently job hunting for something that feeds her passion for youth ministry and LGBTQ+ engagement, Ashlei enjoys testing out the breweries of Minnesota, spending time with her partner and her dog, and exploring in nature.
By Rev. Amanda Nelson
Executive Director, ELM
It took me a little longer to figure it out than some of my peers; although, I suppose still earlier in life than some people I know. When I think about it, there were signs of it when I was a little girl. My parents had an inkling.
I had good role models when I was a child and again when I was in high school and college, so it’s not like I thought it was a bad thing. But still. I felt nervous when I thought of myself in that way.
It took some time of real listening to my own heart before I was finally able to say: “I want to be a pastor.”
Did you think this was going in a different direction? You’re right, I could’ve said these things about finally being able to say “I’m gay.”
Isn’t that fascinating?
When I was visiting Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) as a prospective student, we spent one evening sharing with each other our call stories: how did you know you were called to be a leader in the church? As we went around sharing, I texted my girlfriend at the time and said, “Wow! This feels an awful lot like sitting with LGBTQ+ friends sharing our coming out stories.”
Deep listening. Feeling a sense of identity and purpose. Fear in telling our friends and family. Risking backlash from our society and culture. Bravely claiming our calling.
Coming out as queer and coming out as a pastor has been a journey intimately intertwined. For me, once I was completely honest with myself and my community about who I am and my sexual orientation, I was then freed and called to be completely honest with myself and my community about my vocation, my calling. I’m one of those people.
As you get to know LGBTQ+ leaders in our church, you’ll hear similar stories to mine. Stories of people for whom the discernment process of listening and struggling to understand who we are and how we are in the world reveals not only our sexual orientation or gender identity, but also reveals to us God’s calling to leadership and ministry. As we come to understand both our calling and our sexual or gender identity, we find both strength and wonder.
This is why it is so important for LGBTQ+ leaders like myself to share our orientation and gender identity publicly as we serve as ministers and leaders in the church: for many of us these identities are symbiotic. They inspire each other and each adds depth to the other.
And yet, this public profession of identity and calling can be risky business. Being LGBTQ+ is still not totally acceptable in our society and in our church. Serving as a pastor in the institution of the Church is not as flashy as working for a start-up or becoming a lawyer. And, still we’re here – with a desire to bring the good news, to share the radical love of God with our hands and voices and hearts.
This is the gift LGBTQ+ ministers bring to our church and our world. This is the dynamic that influences our theology – our understanding of God’s love – and our public ministry – how God’s love can be present in our world. This is why the public witness of LGBTQ+ ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.
And, it is this intimate relationship of identity and calling that sang out to me as I applied to become the next Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. I feel blessed to be in the position to echo back the strength and wonder of that relationship as I take on this role; and, share with others the gifts and joys of LGBTQ+ leaders in our church.
I look forward to singing with you!
Rev. Amanda Nelson is the new Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. She comes to ELM having served as a parish pastor in East Hartford, Connecticut for the past two years and is a member of Proclaim. Amanda lives in Portland, Maine with her dog Cinna (yes, named for the Hunger Games character) where they love to take in the sights and sounds of living in such a beautiful coastal city.
Proclaim Members Off to Internship. Pictured (L-R, Top -Bottom): Jon Rundquist (photo by Emily Ann Garcia), Katy Miles-Wallace (photo by Emily Ann Garcia), Thomas Voelp, Laura Ferree (photo by Emily Ann Garcia).
By Dan Gutman
ELM editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part feature on Proclaim seminarians and internship. Like Moses who set out for the land of Midian (Ex. 2:11-20), a place where his identity was shaped by God and God’s people, so too do our seminarians make a home away from home on internship, God building on their call so they might return to their home – their Egypt – equipped more fully for the work of ministry. Last week we featured a Proclaim seminarian, Josh Evans, reflecting on his year as an intern in Omaha, NE. This week, we feature stories from seminarians who are about to embark on internship this fall with the intention of lifting up a multitude of experiences from across the Proclaim community. In preparation for this week’s post, ELM sent a questionnaire asking soon-to-be-interns to reflect not only on their hopes and apprehensions as LGBTQ+ candidates, but also on the overall process with their synods and their seminaries. What came back was honest and, frankly, hard to hear in light of the overall struggle that LGBTQ+ persons in ministry continue to face. And yet, it was important for us to lift up these experiences as a true reflection of what it means to be called to serve this church at this time. Thanks to Proclaim member, and new intern, Dan Gutman, for contextualizing the experiences of our Proclaim seminarians.
Internship placement is a time rife with excitement and anxiety for seminarians. For LGBTQ+ candidates in particular, fear and apprehension can overwhelm the process and resurrect our deepest insecurities. Depending on relationships the candidate has with the seminary, the synod, and the potential internship sites, the overall process can be a continuous series of revelations that are reminiscent of that initial experience of coming out as LGBTQ+. Candidates find themselves once again in the vulnerable position of being accepted and welcomed as their whole selves.
For some Proclaim interns, we are the first LGBTQ+ person people in the congregations have interacted with. Jon Rundquist is serving Living Waters Lutheran in Sauk Rapids, MN and Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer of Minneapolis. “As an out transfeminine intern…I was one of the first trans folk that many in the congregation had interacted with.” Initially, Jon was concerned whether these congregations would even allow a trans person to serve as intern. However, as Jon settles into their sites, they are hopeful: “the growth that I achieve, the relationships I form, and the progress that is made – make it abundantly clear that God is calling me to lead a congregation in ordained ministry, and that God is at work in both [of my internship] communities, forming positive experiences so the reality is affirmed that a queer leader in the ELCA can serve wherever God is calling them.”
Recently, LGBTQ+ seminarians have run into a shortage of internship sites open to receiving them as interns. “I was essentially…put into a secondary search.” For Katy Miles-Wallace the process was rough. Only three of the available churches listed in the pool of sites offered to her would interview an LGBTQ+ candidate. Of those three, none were a good fit. Katy feels fortunate to have had the support of the Proclaim Accompaniment Team throughout her application process and gives thanks for the people of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Dublin, OH who were willing to open their doors to an LGBTQ+ intern and have been incredibly generous and welcoming!
For many LGBTQ+ interns, internship is another point in the process where sexual identity is conflated with sexual activity and we, once again, feel punished for having healthy understandings of sexuality. For Thomas Voelp at St. Peter’s by the Sea Lutheran Church in San Diego, CA, internship has brought personal relationships into question. Thomas feels supported by his supervisor and many in the congregation. However, when it comes to his desire to date while on internship, Thomas feels restricted by an either/or binary of what relationships look like and the process they take – the expectation that candidates be either single or married. “I want to scream: ‘God does not despise sexuality or dating!’”
For a growing number of our Proclaim interns, the internship placement process is filled with grace and joy. “My hope for the process is that each candidate for internship may have an experience like mine.” Laura Ferree, serving one of the only two RIC congregations represented in this article, Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA, was not without apprehensions in this process but says, “I felt supported throughout the entire process and as if my identity and safety mattered to my school and future internship site.” Laura’s hope for the process is, “that other RIC congregations are willing to step up and create safe internship sites for LGBTQ+ candidates.”
ELM’s Accompaniment program walks alongside and supports candidates throughout their journey to first call. This program works to address many of the issues the seminarians in this article articulated so that more LGBTQ+ seminarians have an experience like Laura’s.
It’s encouraging to see the fruit of our work and the glimpses of hope each Proclaimer carries with them into internship. And yet, there is so much more work to be done until every LGBTQ+ candidate’s whole self is affirmed, supported, and warmly embraced by the whole church.
Dan Gutman (he/him/his) is just beginning his internship at St. John Lutheran Church in Celina, OH. He is a member of Proclaim and is married to Mandy and they have the most adorable children you’ve ever seen, Sam (2 yrs) and Luke (2 mos). Dan loves being outside, playing with his children’s’ toys, and drinking snooty beer (preferably all three at once). Dan’s hopes for internship are to leverage the privilege he is ascribed by being in a heteronormative relationship to move the congregation toward a more affirming place with LGBTQ+ candidates.
Note: To mark the start of the fall semester of the academic year, this is the first of a two-part feature on in-coming and out-going interns from our Proclaim community.
Internship is made up of experiences, many of them firsts: from preaching sermons to leading adult forum, from teaching confirmation to presiding at funerals and weddings, and so much more. And yet: No backdrop from my year spent at Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, is more vivid than that of the Homy Inn.
Just minutes away from Augustana, the Homy, as we call it, is the (un)official watering hole of the congregation I served for the past year. After midweek Lenten services, as the custom goes, the small but faithful crowd shuffles out the doors of the chapel and soon reunites around a table at the Homy. And as the weeks of Lent rolled on, so too our group grew larger.
I am convinced that on those Wednesday nights during Lent our liturgy did not end with the last notes of Holden Evening Prayer but continued in force at the Homy around food, drink, music, and fellowship — all elements familiar within stained glass-lined walls but reminders, too, that “church” happens even in “ordinary” or “secular” places.
For me, it was this sense of community at Augustana, embodied at the Homy, that continued to strike me throughout internship. The same community that intentionally sought out an LGBTQ+ intern and welcomed me with an extravagant welcome was also the community that coalesced in mutual support and celebration during parishioners’ life passages and the community that devoted themselves in service to its neighbors in the city and the world.
I remember that palpable sense of community, too, when I preached and led worship during our annual Reconciling in Christ (RIC) commemoration this past March. That Sunday, I preached my most personal sermon to date, telling my story and expressing my gratitude for a community built around inclusion and the ongoing work of reconciliation. After the service, at which members of the River City Mixed Chorus joined us to enhance our worship with song, I heard comments from our visitors and our regulars alike about how much they appreciated and needed to hear what I had to say. Humbling and inspiring feedback indeed.
Years earlier, in my entrance essay, I wrote about coming out to the pastor of a church I had only visited a couple times before meeting with him. When that pastor welcomed and affirmed me without question or reservation and invited me into deeper leadership, I reflected later how part of my sense of call is rooted in a desire to be in some small way what that pastor was for me in that moment of vulnerability. I suspect I was able to do just that with my RIC Sunday sermon, and maybe even in other less obvious ways, during my internship year. As one friend, who identifies as queer, told me this year: “Even something as simple as seeing someone like me at the front of the church means a lot even after having been out for years.”
Had it not been for the welcome of that pastor and the church I soon called home, I may have never wound up in seminary… I may have never found Proclaim and ELM… I may have never been able to serve and be served by the people of God at Augustana… And yet, with the support of all these communities, here I am, a candidate for Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. Deo gratias!
Josh Evans (he/him/his) has just returned from internship at Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, and is eager to embark on his final year of seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago this fall. He is also a self-admitted bandwagon Cubs fan, probably drinks too much coffee, watches inordinate amounts of Netflix, and (usually) behaves himself for his four-legged children (cats Oliver and Sophia and dog Roscoe). You can follow/stalk Josh online at sermonsetcetera.wordpress.com.