ELM is all over the place. Did you see us?
One core program of ELM, along with Proclaim and Accompaniment, is Ministry Engagement. This means we show up for you: around decision-making tables, at synod and churchwide assemblies, on campuses, and in your congregations. Through Ministry Engagement, ELM seeks and partners with organizations and congregations open to the transformative ministry of LGBTQIA+ leaders.
We know that representation matters, so we strive to make room at the table where it may not have been open in the past. This year, ELM had a goal of hosting information tables at 12 synod assemblies (up from 10 in 2017) and blasted through that goal, hosting a tables and making room at a record 18 assemblies. A few of the new synods we expanded to this year include: West Virginia/Western Maryland, Virginia, Southeastern, Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast, and Indiana/Kentucky. These synods match with one of ELM’s growing edges we’re working to address – expanding our presence and work in the South.
How did we do it?
We’re a small yet mighty professional staff, but could never have shown up in all these spaces if it weren’t for dedicated volunteers representing ELM at tables. Hear from Kari Louwagie, seminarian and member of Proclaim, currently in a summer internship at Messiah Lutheran in Mountain Iron, MN, on their experience at the Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly:
“Back in early May, I tabled for ELM at the Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly. Our assigned display table was right next to ReconcilingWorks, creating a lovely little rainbow corner where folks could learn about both how to support LGBTQ+ community members as well as candidates and pastors. Not as many people stopped by the table as I would have hoped, but the few conversations I did have were fruitful and life giving.
One of the highlights of my synod assembly tabling experience was being able to bear witness to the good and holy work this organization does through sharing both provided resources and pieces of my own story as a Queer candidate for ministry. It was such a joy to represent and advocate for an organization that advocates for myself and so many other LGBTQ+ candidates and pastors.
I must confess that I’m still getting used to being “out” in the church world, but the support I’ve received from ELM has helped give me the extra boost of courage needed to bring my whole self into my work.”
As Kari reflects, our connection with ReconcilingWorks has been intentional, as creating welcome in the pews of the church is often a first step to creating welcome within the pulpit, encouraging congregations to consider opening up call processes to LGBTQIA+ rostered ministers .
We’ll see you around the table!
ELM reps near you:
Proclaim Seminarian Team – LGBTQIA+ student reps at seminaries and divinity schools
ELM Seminary Advocates – faculty or staff members who serve as a liaison between ELM and their campus and as an ally and advocate for LGBTQIA+ students
Kari Louwagie (they/them)
Kari Louwagie grew up on their family dairy farm near Cottonwood, Minnesota. They graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 2016 with a degree in Religion. From there, Kari went on to teach English in Madagascar for a year through Young Adults in Global Mission. Currently, Kari is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Apart from school, their hobbies include playing the trumpet, singing, crocheting, and spending time outside. Good coffee, cows, Biblical Hebrew, and general weirdness bring Kari great joy!
Each year, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries names a Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholar to honor the life and ministry of Joel Workin. Joel was one of the three gay seminarians who were refused ordination in 1989 after “coming out” to their candidacy committees. Our world can sometimes feel like an unwelcoming place, where hope and inspiration seem on short supply. But prophetic voices like Joel’s, and all those who applied for this scholarship, continue to highlight that publicly identified LGBTQ+ ministers and seminarians can be beacons of courage and powerful models of justice in action.Thanks to a generous endowment started by Joel’s friends and family, and other ongoing contributions, this award comes with a $6,000 scholarship for academic or spiritual study and is available for members of ELM’s Proclaim group who are studying to be rostered leaders in the Lutheran church.
We are thrilled to announce that this year’s Workin Scholar is S. Leon LaCross, seminarian at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Read on for Leon’s announcement letter and bio.
Congratulations Leon, and thank you for your prophetic voice!
To read Leon’s powerful scholarship essays, click HERE.
I am writing to inform you of your selection as this year’s Workin Scholar. It was the scholarship committee’s conclusion that your outstanding essay (reflecting on “The Cost” by the late Joel Workin), not only embodied the cost of coming out, but also paralleled a moral courage that Joel exhibited throughout his life. It was clear to us that you understood the cost of the closet as you explained your own coming out story, especially as you moved toward candidacy and reached a deeper understanding of yourself, as this paragraph demonstrates:
“I came out to the psychiatrist as queer during my psychological evaluation as part of the entrance process to candidacy. I received a blank stare for a moment before he asked me what that meant. I suppose I had a choice to take the easy way out and use the tangible category of “gay”, but it wouldn’t have been authentic to myself. Perhaps I was courageous, or foolish, or demonic in doing so, but I had to tactfully explain that I do in fact desire men sexually and romantically, but that also doesn’t exclude other genders from the equation. Additionally, I had to explain to him that in terms of my gender, I’m comfortable with my body parts and presenting as a man, but that does not tell my whole story as a non-binary person.”
Borne from your own self-insight, this was just one of the moving “coming out” reflections you shared which, to be honest, was matched by many of this year’s applicants. But your essay radically departed from others with your own “coming out” as a survivor of sexual abuse. Your eloquent description of the pain in recapturing that childhood memory, the consequences it had on your development and your theological reflection on it was nothing short of breath-taking:
“Recovering that excruciating memory was a baptism of sorts: a baptism of blood and tears. It was a closet baptism into a community of victims and survivors that no one wants to be a part of. A communion of saints and martyrs that instead of rejoicing when another member is added weeps, gnashes teeth and rends clothing. Jesus wept when I was baptized in my own blood and tears. God cradles me in the expanse of Their hand – perhaps too large for me to recognize that God is in this pain with me. This shadow communion, this bloody baptism: this is why I have stayed in the sexual assault closet for so long.”
On behalf of the committee, I congratulate you on becoming this year’s Workin Scholar. May God bless you and continue to heal you, Leon, throughout the coming years and into all the years of your ministry. On behalf of the committee, I congratulate you.
Michael Price Nelson, Chair
Workin committee members: Greg Egertson, Rev. Matt James, Rev. Jeff Johnson, Michael Price Nelson, Rev. Becca Seely, Rev. Amanda Nelson
S. Leon LaCross (he/him/his/any)
Leon is a seminarian at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary pursuing a masters in Divinity with hopes to be ordained. His specific academic interests revolve around sex, sexuality, and gender in the context of the church. He is originally from Gaithersburg, Maryland, but has been in Berkeley, California, since commencing his MDiv. He grew up in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod until receiving his call to ministry in 2012 when he transferred into the ELCA. When not doing church work (if there is such a thing…) he enjoys baking, crafting and spending time with friends and family. Additionally he is a connoisseur of tea with an ever-expanding tea library and tea pot collection.
My first “official” call was to the bishop’s office. I had arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, in the evening, August 30, 2000. The next morning, I arrived at my first church office (yay!) and called Charles Maahs, bishop of the Central States Synod. When I told the administrative assistant who I was, there was a pause. Then she connected me with Bishop Maahs, and I apologized.
My apology was clear: I wasn’t apologizing for being a lesbian, or for accepting the call Abiding Peace Lutheran Church extended me in his synod. I apologized for the extra work my acceptance would create for him and his staff. Even after spending over half of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was still Midwestern enough to apologize for something that wasn’t exactly my fault. As I told the bishop that day, there was no other way to answer God’s call to ministry and maintain my own integrity than to do so via the extraordinary candidacy process.
A team from Abiding Peace met with the bishop and members of his staff regularly for months. In the end, Bishop Maahs censured us, but didn’t recommend the removal of the congregation from the ELCA, as had been the case with the last congregations to call openly gay or lesbian pastors. We were barred from serving on synod committees (a sort of Br’er Rabbit briar patch of a punishment). And for ten years, I attended the synod assembly as the “Visitor” serving as pastor of Abiding Peace.
During that ten years, things changed. Other people—really good people and really great pastors—were ordained by the Extraordinary Candidacy Project. In 2009, the rules changed, and eventually most of those folks were received to the ELCA roster.
I knew that change was afoot earlier, though. In 2004, I was leaving morning prayer at the fall Bishop’s Convocation to grab a cup of tea and go to the plenary room, when a colleague from rural Kansas approached me, looking very serious.
“I want to talk to you,” he said.
“Oh good,” I thought.
He pulled me into the now empty worship space and said these immortal words: “I’m on the other side of ‘the issue’ from you. But you’ve been coming around here for a few years now, and we’ve gotten used to you. You’re kind of like an old shoe. So I guess what I’m saying is you should keep coming around.”
All these years later, and I remember his words precisely. Don’t have a clue what I said, though. Probably something brilliant like, “Um, okay.” When I tell that story to other people, they are generally appalled. But for me it was a signal that seeing us in ministry changes things. The change is slow. It’s one person at a time. But it happens…and the next thing you know, you’re working in that synod office you called with an apology all those years ago.
Rev. Donna Simon serves as pastor of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church and as one of two Directors for Evangelical Mission of the Central States Synod of the ELCA. In both capacities, she focuses on mission, service, and justice for all persons. She was ordained extraordinem in Kansas City on October 28, 2000. Donna lives in the parish she serves with her wife, Colleen, and several cats and dogs.
Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer, Associate Director of Development & Communications
Anna (she/her/hers) joins us with a background in outdoor ministry, social justice education, and nonprofit development, with past roles founding new initiatives at Holden Village and St. Norbert College’s Cassandra Voss Center. Anna lives & works from Seattle. Say welcome: email@example.com
Hannah Dorn, Program & Administrative Assistant
Hannah (she/her/hers) joins us with a background in business, management, and nonprofits, with past roles at Services for Independent Living, and current role managing a rock climbing gym. Hannah lives & works from Chicago. Say welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org
“No Pulpit, No Pews, Just Pastors.”
Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer, ELM Associate Director of Development and Communications
Last Sunday morning, I went to church. There was no pulpit, no pews, no organ or hymnal. But there were pastors. Lots of them.
And also lots of glitter.
I marched in the Seattle Pride Parade with Open Door Ministries (an LGBTQIA+ inclusive ministry of the ELCA’s Northwest Washington Synod) and dozens of Lutherans from several churches in the area.
I marched, holding my sign next to a pastor as she waved, blew kisses, and curled her fingers into a heart gesture extended towards parade onlookers in the stands.
I watched the faces of these onlookers, and what I saw there was beauty, relief, joy, bittersweetness, and disbelief in recognition. Those attending the parade surveyed our group, led by a giant PVC pipe rainbow cross and a pastor in a straw hat perched atop a Jeep. They saw our signs, proclaiming God’s radical love and full inclusion of all people. They’d pause, then seeing the clerical collar, would shriek and leap with joy, as their faces morphed from confusion to elation in recognition: the Church is for them. God is for them. This pastor, sharing love from the march, is for them. Onlookers would literally reach out to try to touch us, clapping their hands and shouting “thank you.”
Later that day, lugging around my rainbow sign, a young queer person from the crowd approached me and asked where they might attend an inclusive church, and I was so proud to recommend my own ELCA congregation to them, pastored by members of Proclaim.
I came out in a Christian outdoor ministry setting, surrounded by other queer women of faith, knowing several queer pastors. But I often frequent circles where most people don’t have a pastor. In these spaces, it’s almost a bigger deal to come out as Christian than it is to come out as queer.
In many of my queer circles, folks have been so hurt by their faith of origin that they have left the Church, and sometimes their natal families. In many of my activist, academic, and social justice circles, there can be a certain tenor of suspicion related to religion, given the history of oppression in the Church; its collusion with racism, sexism, homophobia; and the outspoken voice of exclusionary-yet-loud fire and brimstone Christians who think they get to decide who and how God loves.
In my years of work doing outdoor ministry, nonprofit development, and social justice education, I’ve needed my faith and the leadership of pastors, often queer pastors and seminarians, to accompany me in ongoing struggle and discernment. I joined the ELM team to make sure there are more of these pastors in the world, and that they (you) are supported and freed from the confines of limiting paradigms and closed minds- freed to proclaim the good news, and freed to publicly proclaim the fullness of their identities. I’m thrilled and honored to join ELM.
Anna at a Glance:
I’m Excited to work with ELM because: of ELM’s unapologetic radical history of being on the cutting edge of creative justice and advocacy work in the Church, and its bold vision of inclusion and public witness for the future of a thriving and changing body of Christ.
I’m inspired by: the bravery and creative generativity of trailblazers, the first to do things in an environment not only oppositional, but seemingly devoid of solutions or joy. Prison abolitionist Angela Davis, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and those who came out early in the Church and followed their call to be extraordinarily ordained. Wow.
These three things bring me joy: sitting in a coffee shop writing for hours on something I care about; thrifting at Goodwill outlet and being active on my neighborhood’s “freecycling” website; singing and song-leading, including clapping along and harmonizing in church.
When I’m not working, you can find me: at a thrift store, eating popcorn or at a potluck with my friends or loved ones, doing activism or marching, walking the neighborhood checking out Little Free Libraries.
“Not Business as Usual”
Hannah Dorn, ELM Program & Administrative Assistant
During college, I worked at a small nonprofit called Services for Independent Living (SIL) in Columbia, MO. As a business student, I struggled to fit into the corporate mold that the University of Missouri seemed to be grooming me for. When it came time to procure an internship, nothing within the norm felt right. So I prayed. I prayed for God to show me my path. The next day I woke up to an email with the subject line: “Interested in nonprofits and need an Internship?” Following up on that email led me to one of the greatest experiences of my life. SIL provides resources to help disabled persons and low income elderly in the community live independently. At SIL, I learned the importance of appreciating one another for all that we are and that God was deliberate in the creation of each and every one of us.
Fast forward to my first adult job after graduating: I am sitting at a desk working a nondescript customer service position thinking Is this really it? This can’t be it. So I prayed. I prayed that God would, once again, show me the path. A month or so later I was presented with the opportunity to take over managing the small climbing gym where I am a member. I leapt at the opportunity to leave the desk behind and combine one of my greatest passions with my work. I knew it wasn’t quite enough to make a living, but I had faith that things would pan out.
That faith led me here, announcing my new position as the Program and Administrative Assistant for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. I am so excited to see where this new part of my journey leads and to have the opportunity to continue combining my passions with my work.
Hannah at a Glance:
I’m Excited to work with ELM because: I’ve seen in past jobs how key the background work within an organization is to keeping that organization running and fulfilling its mission. Knowing that I have even a small hand in ELM growing and providing support to more and more people gives me great joy. God has shown me that I don’t have to keep my passions and my career separate. I am so excited to continue combining my skills with the things I love to create a positive impact within ELM and my community.
I’m inspired by: my mom who, despite being a single mother, raised me to be strong, confident and unwavering in my love for Christ. She taught me to choose kindness in all things I do.
These three things bring me joy: when I give advice that I can see is genuinely needed and well received; when I get to teach people how to rock climb and help them train to be stronger climbers; when my 11-month-old nephew recognizes me and gets a huge grin on his face.
When I’m not working, you can find me: climbing at my gym, hiking with my boyfriend Matt, babysitting my nephew Franklin, trying a new beer at the tap room near my apartment, or hanging out with my wonderful cats Pablo and Lana del Kitty.
“Family in Christ– we are gathered this morning as children of a God that invites us into community to #JustBe. In this service we pause to worship and commune…to pray for our world and for our LGBTQIA+ siblings throughout God’s creation (we pray especially for our brothers Ronald, Shariff and Nathan in Uganda) and then we go out to join the masses in hip shaking and change making.”
– Vicar Kelsey Brown, LA Pride Sermon, 2018
I’ve been doing this Pride thing for a pretty long time, in fact my very first pride parade was over 10 years ago in New York City…little did I know, eleven years later I would take my spot on the streets of West Hollywood to be the street preacher at a Street Eucharist in LA Pride?!?
Pride is a marvelous thing! (FULL STOP) but as I said in my sermon Sunday morning on the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Blvd, Pride is something we hide behind. We all dust off our rainbow flags and throw on some Diana Ross’ “I’m coming out” the morning of June 1st but our people, in our pews and in the world need to know God’s delight in their identities 365 days a year.
11 years ago my favorite thing about the Pride parade was dancing in the street, carefree; this year however my favorite thing quickly became being the face of the “Church” for the people of Southern California.
In a world that tries to silence us, scare us and blame us – we were able to go out and change hearts and minds simply by being present. We got to hand out buttons and put temporary tattoos on people and we got to have a lot of fun, but most importantly we got to look them in the eye, like Christ would have.
I, as intern of both St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica and SoCalLutherans.com was able to wear my collar and hold my girlfriend’s hand as we marched. I couldn’t help but tear up as I passed people who looked at us with temporary confusion as they clocked my clerical collar but I kept on marching anyway because I couldn’t help feeling like maybe somewhere in the crowd stood a little girl like me who’d been told by her Church or by the world that she’s deviant or broken. I prayed our presence would reassure her that God hasn’t placed rules on who she can love.
That’s what pride means to me: it’s shining God’s delight for ALL God’s created.
Churches who march and attend pride events help bring that delight to the people who might need it the most – our very being there shakes up the notion of a God who hates who they’ve created, it peels back the curtain and it lets God’s rainbow light of love shine through.
Kelsey Brown (she/her/hers) is a 3rd year student at United Lutheran Seminary, Philadelphia Campus. She is currently serving as Vicar of St.Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California but is a native New Yorker. She likes dancing around the kitchen, advocating for racial justice and the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community and watching Netflix stand up comedy.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is seeking candidates to serve as ELM’s Program Director.
Interested candidates should email their cover letter and resume to ELM’s Executive Director, Amanda Nelson at email@example.com by July 10th, 2018.
About the position:
The program director builds and supports community through the Proclaim program; journeys alongside and equips candidates through the Accompaniment program; works to expand call opportunities at all levels of the church through the Ministry Engagement program; recruits, develops, and equips volunteer leaders for each program; and works collaboratively with the executive director, associate director, and the program & administrative assistant on strategic work and communications for these programs. The program director supervises one (part-time) staff person.
Applications will be accepted until July 10th, 2018. Position will be filled by August 15th.
Full job description and guiding qualifications: Program Director Position Description.
Questions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
ELM is committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all qualified individuals and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, marital status, veteran status, parental status, or any other basis prohibited by applicable law.
During the peak of the HIV/AIDS crisis in San Francisco, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zilhart began using this as a post-communion blessing at St. Francis Lutheran Church where they served as pastors:
“Live forgiven. Claim your wholeness. Go in peace.”
Phyllis and Ruth’s calls were extraordinary ones – literally “outside of the ordinary” process of the ELCA which did not allow the ordination of publicly identifying LGBTQIA+ people until 2009. In principled non-compliance with the ELCA’s policy, St. Francis Lutheran Church decided to call them and as a result was expelled from the denomination.
Nevertheless, week after week, Phyllis and Ruth persisted in presiding over and serving communion to those gathered for worship, many of whom were living with HIV/AIDS. Week after week, they served communion to family members, spouses, and friends caring for loved ones who were nearing the ends of their lives. And week after week, the body and blood of Christ was given to people who had lost loved ones to this disease, to which so much unnecessary social stigma has been attached. Their ministry was as extraordinary as their call.
We take pride in this history of persistence that our community has shown in the face of prejudice, the way gender and sexual minorities have thrived and done ministry that has transformed the church and enriched the world. This part of our community’s history has inspired our Proclaim Gathering theme for this year: “Claim Your Wholeness”.
The challenges and stigmas that LGBTQIA+ people face in our society and our church have shifted over the past 25 years. The landscape has changed, but the struggle continues.
What does it mean in our present context today for gender and sexual minorities to boldly claim our wholeness as rostered ministers and candidates in the church?
Here’s what a few of our Proclaimers had to say:
“It means standing up straight even as someone tries to kick you down. It means being 100% yourself even when it’s taboo to do so. I think of Wholeness as our entire being – even the broken bits or the pieces we’d rather hide away. Accepting love and grace from God and one another not despite our failings, but because of them. I think of being a queer POC in the whitest denomination in the United States… so when people ask me why I’m in this Church, why I’m a Lutheran? I answer because I’ve been a Lutheran my whole life, even if the Church struggles to find a “place” for me – God has already prepared a place for me at God’s side.”
-Kelsey Brown, co-chair of Worship Team planning this year’s Gathering
“I heard of a UCC preacher named Traci Blackmon say that she wasn’t giving up any of her boxes because each one of them gave her part of her strength. She refused to be Christian or gay or black or country or political or… she was each and every one of those things all at the same time, and the way they interacted was greater than the sum of her parts.”
-Carla Christopher, seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary
“God gives us this mustard-seed-sized glimpse of ourselves that isn’t fully realized until we claim ourselves and our wholeness and grow to be all that God imagined we could be in all our rainbow glory.”
-Katy Miles-Wallace, intern, serves as part of the Proclaim Welcome Duo which orients new members to Proclaim
What does it mean for you to Claim Your Wholeness? If you’re a Proclaim member, or would like to sign up to become one, we’d love for you to join us as we explore what it means for us in the church today.
The Gathering will be held at the Pearlstone Center just outside of Baltimore, MD from August 5-8 this year. Registration closes July 6th, and there are currently 23 remaining registration discounts left. So don’t wait, register here today! Scholarships are available for those who are retired, seminarians, or others without a full-time call as well as those experiencing financial need. Apply here for scholarship.
All Proclaim members and their families are welcome to attend the Gathering which is an annual in-person time for learning, community building, and renewal. You can read a bit more about the line-up for the Gathering this year here.
Asher O’Callaghan (he/him/his) serves as Program Director for ELM. He gets to lead the teams that organize and plan for the Gathering as part of his job. He hopes he’ll see you there this year!
June marks the start of Pride month across our country. From small towns to large cities, the LGBTQIA+ community and their friends and families will come together to celebrate identity, organize for empowerment, and remember those who have gone before us as extraordinary saints of our movement. During the month of June, ELM’s blog will reflect stories of Pride – the feeling, the event, the movement.
This week, ELM’s staff reflect on the theme: “Serving with Pride!”
Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, Program Director
10 years ago,
I never would have dreamed,
not even in my wildest of nightmares,
that I would end up here.
Happy, healthy, proud.
10 years ago,
I thought I was condemned to be
unhappy, unhealthy, ashamed.
I thought that love was beyond me.
I thought that God’s love was contingent
on me renouncing love,
on me never being me.
Life is surprising.
I didn’t know God as well as I thought.
I didn’t know myself as well I thought.
Being dead wrong saved my life.
Love is how we know God.
So when I cut myself off from love,
I cut myself off from God.
We can’t know God without love.
Because love is what God does.
It’s who God is.
Love makes all things new,
Love gave me a new name, a new identity, a new community.
Love made me transgender and bisexual.
Love gives us all a new calling.
It gives us the fire, the energy, to do things we never thought we could.
You can’t receive love without wanting to go share it.
Love has made me proud.
Proud of what God is doing.
Proud of who I am becoming,
The unimaginable person I’ll be in another 10 years.
Proud of the community surrounding me,
that loves people into being.
Proud of those who went before me,
the shoulders I’m standing on.
Proud of this work of love that God is still calling us to.
I am PROUD of what God’s love has done.
It is indeed right, our duty and our joy,
that we should at all times and in all places
on the streets in Pride Parades
and in the sanctuary every Sunday.
Hannah Dorn, Program and Administrative Assistant
Though I grew up in an ELCA church regularly attending services, I didn’t always feel a connection to my faith. It was like there was some kind of “Christianity Box” that I didn’t quite fit into. A square peg and a round hole. I believed I couldn’t be my true self within the church. It drove me away from my church, clouded my relationship with God, and ultimately caused me to feel unworthy of Christ’s love.
In January of 2015, I came across a booth in my college’s student center for a Christian Sorority. Though this was most certainly not my typical scene, I realized that God was presenting me with an opportunity for change and I joined up. It was within this organization that I first realized how different one Christian could be from another and that this was certainly not a bad thing.
It was here that I realized that my uniqueness was exactly what made me so perfectly equipped to share God’s love and that the sharing of His love and light is our greatest duty to God. It was here that I realized I was most definitely worthy of Christ’s love and I needed to spread that sense of worth to those around me.
The light and the love and the image of God are all boundaryless. Thus, we who are born into that light, cherished in that love, and created in that image cannot be placed in a single box.
To work for an organization that lifts up the uniqueness of God’s children and recognizes difference as strength rather than weakness brings me great pride and joy. I am so grateful to be given the opportunity to further understand the trials that face God’s children, especially within the LGBTQIA+ community. Through deeper understanding, we strengthen our ability to love in the way God loves every one of us no matter our shape: circle, square, star, rainbow.
Rev. Amanda Nelson, Executive Director
I didn’t go to seminary to be a gay pastor – in fact, I didn’t even mention my orientation in my entrance paperwork for the ELCA candidacy process. I didn’t yet see a connection between my identity as a queer woman and my calling to serve the church.
But when it came time for my approval essay, I couldn’t separate my faith, my calling, and my queer identity.
I didn’t intentionally pick to do my field education at First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco – one of the congregations that defied ELCA policy in 1990 by calling and ordaining the Rev. Jeff Johnson. I simply wanted to have a ministry site in a context unfamiliar to me (a suburbanite) and this site was in the city.
But in their midst, and in the context of the Bay Area, I was introduced to a history that had shaped my present and was shaping my future.
The Holy Spirit is sneaky that way: pushing us, engaging us, calling us into a holy narrative of liberating love and divine pride – and, sometimes, it takes a while for us to put the pieces together to see the bigger picture.
Today, I actually don’t mind being a gay pastor (though, I know this is not every LGBTQIA+ person’s call). And, I’m thrilled to be called to a ministry that not only celebrates my identity but sees it as an asset to the work that I do.
The ELM Board has never asked me to “tone down” my queer identity. I’ve never been asked by an ELM donor not to tell them about my fiancee, Tasha, because “they’re okay with LGBTQIA+ people as long as they don’t have to see it.” My colleagues encourage me to wear rainbow buttons and stoles at events so that I can be identified as an LGBTQIA+ leader in our church. I’m invited to preach on “gay things” in congregations across the country all the time.
I recognize that I serve a unique call, but I believe this liberation is possible in our congregations and in our Church. This glimpse into the kin-dom inspires me daily to do the work that I do – and I do it with such deep pride.
Happy Pride, beloveds!
The staff of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries work to support ELM’s programs and to spread the joy of LGBTQIA+ leadership to the Lutheran church and the wider world. ELM’s staff span the country – Asher in Denver, CO, Hannah in Chicago, IL, and Amanda in Portland, ME – and, take great pride in the work they do together.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is remembering an Extraordinary Saint in our movement this week: John Eric Rolfstad.
John Eric served on the Board of Directors for Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries – a predecessor body to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries – and was an avid supporter of Lutherans Concerned/North America, which became ReconcilingWorks.
“John Eric was a kind and gentle man,” writes ELM Board Member, the Rev. Jeff Johnson (San Francisco). “He was an early supporter of LLGM and the movement within the church to abolish the policies of discrimination against queer people.”
Jeff remembers that John Eric “was one of the lead organizers of an annual week at Holden Village for LGBTQIA+ people that countered the shame so many face in the church with affirmation, warmth, and unconditional loving kindness.”
It was there that Amalia Vagts, former Executive Director of ELM, first met John Eric: “I met him at Holden Village years ago before I began working with ELM. He was hosting a happy hour and had brought in an elegant selection of cheese and wine to share.”
Amalia shared recently that “John Eric was a wonderfully warm and kind presence. He lived generously and traveled when he could to be at extraordinary ordinations or special events and always seemed thrilled to connect with the ELM & LC/NA communities. He was always such a joyful, warm, kind, person.”
John Eric will be remembered for many things tomorrow (6/2) at his memorial service at Seattle’s First Baptist Church (1111 Harvard Avenue, at 1:00 pm with a reception to follow). To ELM, he will be remembered for his kindness, his hospitality, his belief in the gifts and beauty of the LGBTQIA+ community, and his hearty laugh.
For more personal information about John Eric, you may read his obituary here.
Rest eternal grant him, O God. And may light perpetual shine upon him. Amen.
Photo above from obituary.
My “coming out story” has the threads of our story as an LGBTQIA+ community yet it is my own story as well. It starts with my older sister coming out at age 19 in 1972. My parents sent her to a psychiatrist who concluded, they had a “nice daughter.” The timing was significant because 1972 was the first year that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used by psychiatrists, no longer listed homosexuality as a mental illness. I have always assumed this empowered the psychiatrist to say she wasn’t mentally ill and was perfectly fine to be a lesbian. This was a blessing for our family.
About 4 years later, my younger brother came out as gay. At that time, I did not yet identify as bisexual, because I was really into guys. So, I donned the identity as the straight child in the family. This was an identity I had to overcome when I came out as bisexual.
During my marriage to my son’s father, I met a woman and was bowled over by feelings that were entirely unexpected. I wasn’t even sure what these feelings meant and did not pursue them. This experience was the first of several that led me to identify as bisexual. It was a surprise that moved me into uncertainty – similar to the surprise of being called to Word and Sacrament ministry when I was very settled in a nursing career.
My time in seminary was pivotal. I started as a sister advocating for her LGBTQIA+ siblings and finished by realizing I was advocating for myself. At the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC), I worked with others to bring conversations and presentations to the seminary community during the late 90’s. I take pride in being present when the name “Thesis 96” emerged at the Chicago Gay Pride Parade in 1999. Still today, Thesis 96 continues to be the name of the LGBTQIA+ advocacy group at LSTC.
For internship, I requested to be in the San Francisco Bay Area to be near my brother who was affected by AIDs. My request was granted, with the gift of an internship at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Oakland where Pastor Ross Merkel had been “defrocked” by the ELCA in 1994 after he publicly came out. St. Paul Lutheran kept him as their pastor despite church policy. It was an incredible experience to see faith in the midst of pain as people continued to remain in relationship with the ELCA and work for change. This was where I learned about the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP) and Lutheran Lesbian Gay Ministries (LLGM) – the predecessor bodies to ELM.
My time at St. Paul Lutheran in Oakland was another step into understanding my sexual identity more fully. It wasn’t until several years after seminary, however, that I fully and publicly claimed my sexual orientation as bisexual, shifting into the ECP Process.
I was the 7th person to be ordained extra ordinem in 2002 by four congregations in Oakland and Alameda, California to a large nursing home ministry. I was the first extraordinarily ordained person to identify as bisexual. It is an honor to be part of this historic roster and be with all faithful Lutheran identified Christians who worked to change ELCA policy.
However far we have come, we still have a lot of work today. I recently received negative feedback from a congregation who was given my name to be their interim pastor. I was not treated with respect. Yet, I believe it was their loss.
They lost an experienced pastor with the wide berth of skills a congregational pastor needs today. They lost the energy, the knowledge, and strategy that I and many LGBTQIA+ pastors have to make space for the Spirit, transforming our old dying ways with new life-giving ways of collaboration, justice, and prophetic imagination.
We have so much to offer the church today. We know we can get through the trials and tribulations of today by remaining faithful in the tension of our own pain and the anxiety of our communities.
As Saint Paul writes in Romans, “But we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5.3-5).
Sharon Stalkfleet (she/her/hers) served as a registered nurse for 16 years prior to receiving a Master’s of Divinity from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, She was ordained extra ordenim by four congregations in Oakland and Alameda, CA in 2002. In 2010, she was received into the ELCA along with 7 other LGBTQ pastors in San Francisco Bay Area. She has served as pastor to Lutheran Ministry to Nursing Homes, as a hospice chaplain and most recently serves as an Intentional Interim Pastor. She is a member of the Candidacy Committee and Sanctuary Task Force. She lives with her dog Greta in Berkeley and is very partial to her two grandchildren.