By Rev. Rachel Knoke, Proclaim Member
From ELM: October is LGBTQIA+ History Month and Reformation Month! October is also the final month of ELM’s #Proclaim300 campaign, celebrating reaching 300 members of Proclaim, ELM’s professional community for publicly identified LGBTQIA+ ministers & candidates. In October, ELM is running a blog series on “Radical Reformation”: ministries led by Proclaim members doing prophetic work that is out of the ordinary! Read on from Pr. Rachel Knoke:
I like to say that Trinity Lutheran is the largest church you can drive right by and miss completely. Thanks to the movement of history, what used to be the front of the church (you know, the “pretty” side) is now the back and the back (the flat “ugly” side) is now the front. Which means, our building is really easy to drive right by without even noticing.
And as funny, and sometimes frustrating, as that is, it’s also a pretty appropriate image for our church. Our “pretty” side isn’t always what people see first. At first glance, we look an awful lot like every other nondescript, Midwest Lutheran congregation. We’re really white, getting older every day, and we’ll just say that vibrant, lively worship is not our greatest spiritual gift.
But this same community is still the first (and one of only two at the time of this writing) Reconciling in Christ congregation in our synod. And with zero hesitation, this same church opened up the doors to house a new group for Somali immigrants and an after-school program for neighborhood kids. For years we have run a food pantry out of our basement and we have a hand in a dozen or so other places of need around town. Our building may not be pretty, but it is a building with open doors.
When I was invited to contribute to this blog series highlighting, “churches led by Proclaim members that are doing prophetic justice work out of the ordinary,” my first thought was, “That’s not us.” I wouldn’t call this community exceptionally progressive or cutting edge. We’re not really on the forefront of anything. In fact, I think we secretly kind of like flying under the radar. But this is a church that is trying to follow Jesus. This is a church that is trying to throw the doors open for others in the same way God has thrown the doors open for us. For all of us.
When they called me as their pastor, not only was I their first gay pastor, I was their first female pastor. From the get-go, I expected to have to prove myself and my gifts, prove my right to exist and to thrive as a member of this community and a child of God. As it turns out, my expectations were wrong.
I’d like to think I’ve brought something good to this community, but more than anything, I know that this church has brought something good to me. This church has helped to bind up my own broken heart and shown me, once again, how much grace abounds in imperfection. And how much life grows when you give it away.
Like so many Lutheran churches, our future is questionable. But what I do believe is that if and when we die, we’ll die giving ourselves away for the sake of the world. And rumor has it, that’s not such a bad way to go. How’s that for a radical reformation hope?
Rachel Knoke (she/her/hers) is a first call pastor among the “frozen chosen” in Green Bay, WI. A Midwesterner by birth and recent resident of the Pacific Northwest, Rachel has enjoyed moving back to an area with four distinct seasons – “Packers season”, “post-season let down”, “June”, and “Packers pre-season”. She currently lives with her wife, Erin, their 3-legged monster/dog, and a spunky teenage daughter. Go, Pack, Go!
From ELM: National Coming out Day is today October 11, 2018! This day holds different weight for different people: it can be a day of pride and celebration, and also a day of complicated emotions, memories, and pressure. As an ELM community, we commit to boldly proclaiming our identity as LGBTQIA+ ministers and candidates, and we know that comes with both challenges and triumphs.
As a way to honor and highlight this process, and offer a resource to the broader queer community and church community, ELM has Proclaimer coming-out stories and reflections to share publicly alongside other ELM resources.
TODAY View live videos, images, and further stories on social media: CLICK
These stories are part of our 3-month #Proclaim300 campaign, celebrating Proclaim (ELM’s professional community of out LGBTQIA+ ministers & candidates) reaching 300 members, with a goal of raising 300 gifts of $300 by Reformation Day: October 31, 2018. Honor a Proclaim member or other change-maker through ELM’s #NCOD Fundraiser online or at www.elm.org/donate-now.
Proclaimer Coming Out Stories
My name is: Emily Ewing
Reflecting on coming out: One of the things that I love about my coming out story is that it is entangled (in the quantum physics sense) with my call story. There is no way for me to separate the two. My coming out impacted my call and my call impacted my coming out. This continues today. The way I live into my vocation–how God is calling me into the world–is because of my queerness. God called me queer and queerly called me into ministry. My coming out and my queerness are not only a gift for me, but a gift for ministry and a gift for the world.
My name is: Drew Stever
My pronouns are: he/they
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? Every day I’m coming out. As trans, as queer, as a seminarian, as a Christian, as alcoholic. It’s a constant rising to the challenge of honesty, being with with that brief fear of “OMG what if they hate me afterward?” and then being completely blown away by the commonality the other person and I share afterward. Coming out and the love I am met with is a conversion experience to me. I am continually being brought back to and shown God.
Reflecting on Coming Out: “Transitioning” is an everyday thing, especially for folks who are transgender. For me, physically and mentally going through a hormonal and bodily transition allowed me to realize that “transition” happens for all people at all times and in all places. We are never not transitioning.
My name is: Dawn Bennett
My pronouns are: she/her/hers
Reflecting on coming out: Being out is complex. Being in is complex. But standing shoulder to shoulder with chosen family is the best feeling of support.
My name is: Austin Newberry
My pronouns are: he/him/his
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you?I am Like many of us, my coming out was gradual and somewhat piecemeal. The trouble with that, of course, is that it becomes more and more difficult to remember who knows what. Life is complicated enough without trying to maintain varying accounts of your life depending on who you are with. My sense of integrity was compromised and my spiritual life suffered as a result. Something had to change.
So, about 10 years ago I decided to observe National Coming Out Day in a big way. There was a sense of possibility in the air. It felt that we were on the cusp of change but I could not have predicted the dramatic changes that would come to the church and to our country over the next few years. I was convinced, however, that whatever positive change would come would be in part because people like me chose to be public about who we are and demand our rights. And so I did the most public thing I could think of (that I could also afford) and wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper asking that it be published on National Coming Out Day explaining why I thought it was important for me, especially as a Christian, to be “”out and proud”. It was published.
I have no idea what if any influence that letter had on the people who read it. I wish I could say that I never again found myself being “vague” about my personal life. I can say for sure, however, that I don’t think I could have made it through the long and painful process of becoming an out gay pastor without having first observed National Coming Out Day in such a public fashion.
My name is: Noah Herren
My pronouns are: he/him/his
If you could go back in time, would you come out the same way or differently, and why? This may sound a little ridiculous, but I think I would have prepared a script. This would have kept my messaging consistent whenever I came out to a new person. Even though sorting out my gender identity made sense to me in my mind, language often falls short with new and different concepts. A couple of people told me I needed to be able to explain myself better. I wanted to shout, “You try to explain this to people!” Ultimately, being able to articulate myself better would have communicated confidence and certainty.
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? It doesn’t mean much to me personally. Although, now, I can say that I’ve “put myself out there” on National Coming Out Day! I have friends who have found it as a helpful platform to share their stories. One of the scariest things about revealing a marginal identity, that may not be obvious, is feeling like you’re alone in the struggle. The community aspect of National Coming Out Day seems like it could help dispel this myth.
Reflecting on coming out: I feel like I’ve been through multiple coming out processes. Each time it seems to get progressively easier, at least I have some experience to ground myself. I also tend to get a little angrier each time too, though. Like, when will my identity journey end?! And why does it always seems like such a big deal?! First, I came out as a lesbian (10 years into a marriage with two kids). Then, I came out as one-who-is-called-to-ministry (which was a big deal to my family and required moving out-of-state). My most recent experience, which I address here, is coming out as transgender (female-to-male, or FTM). I transitioned during seminary and in the middle of the candidacy process. By the summer after 2nd year, social and medical transition were imminent, and I needed to come out to my candidacy committee. I scheduled lunch with my committee representative, and I was less than hopeful about the meeting. When I told him, he responded, “Oh, thank God!” As you can imagine, this is not the response I expected! He was relieved that this disclosure wasn’t going to result in a stack of paperwork, assured me that it wouldn’t affect my candidacy, and told me we would work through it together. There are a lot of other stories I could share here if I had the time, like accidentally coming out to my grandmother due to a technological glitch, or how my mother’s death facilitated coming out to everyone I’ve ever known. There’s no getting around the fact that coming out is terrifying, at a gut, instinctual level. I took it slowly. First talking one-on-one with those closest to me. Then making more concrete social cues like pronoun and name changes. Eventually, I wrote a blog post communicating my story to a wider audience. The only reason I’ve kept moving forward on this journey is that the next step in front of me usually seems like the only option…and the Spirit keeps gently guiding and sometimes giving a strong shove. My advice, if anyone is asking, is (1) be grounded in who you are and people will adjust, (2) find your people who will be supportive regardless, (3) be patient with yourself, the process, and other people, and (4) read Psalm 139 often.
My name is: Sara Cogsil
Who was the first person you told and why? Janet, a member of my home congregation, was the first person I told. I told her because I knew she would understand. I knew from her own life story, that she would be safe. I also knew that I couldn’t keep this inside me. I wanted to be known. I wanted to share this deepest part of myself with another. So as I sat in her home library, trying desperately to find the words, she spoke them for me. The door was opened and I walked through feeling so visible and so loved.
What was the hardest thing about coming out? What was the best thing?The hardest thing about coming out was the uncertainty within the church. I was in seminary at the time and I was aware that my identity and my love might cost me my vocation. The best thing was the honesty. For a long time, I felt like people didn’t really know me. Coming out aloud me to be more open and vulnerable about all of my life which allowed me to be a better friend, theologian, and person.
If you could go back in time, would you come out the same way or differently, and why?I wish I didn’t wait as long as I did. My sexuality was hidden for several years and looking back, I wish I would have had the courage to be honest earlier.
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? National Coming Out Day, for me, is a day to claim who we are and whose we are. It is important for me to name this part of my identity and to work to ensure that all LGBTQIA+ people feel safe and valued and loved for who they are. Being known is a valuable tool in helping advance the cause.
My name is: Michael Oakley
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? It is an opportunity to tell my fellow old white men and everyone, that it is never too late to be who you are. God loves you and wants you to be who you are. After practicing my story at PFLAG, I came out to my adult children and their spouses. It was wonderful and remains so. Then God really played a joke on me: Dave and I met and fell in love! Two old men in love! What a miracle the last two years have been.
Reflecting on coming out: Dave and I lived a four hour drive apart. We both made that four hour drive too many times. Even so, Dave came to know my congregation and they him, as my good friend. In order to be together, I had to move, because Dave could not. This meant leaving the congregation I had served for fourteen years. After telling the bishop my plans, I announced my resignation and retirement one Sunday and then came out to the congregation the next Sunday. The outpouring of love for both Dave and me was certainly of the Spirit.
My name is: Bill Beyer
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? I came out to my wife and children just two weeks after Coming Out Day 2013. Knowing that others had taken that step just days before gave me the courage to take the steps I took to be whole and authentic.
Reflecting on coming out: The reason it took me so long to come out was because of the evil known as Conversion (or Reparative) Therapy. It has taken me a long time to release the people who held my life hostage for almost 25 years. But, that darkness has been turned to light…no, not light…a rainbow!
My name is: Lenny Duncan
What was the hardest thing about coming out? What was the best thing? The hardest thing was accepting this part of me that I knew. Had experienced. Had frankly loved. I came out because I’m writing a book and I talk about it really clearly. But as a black man in ministry with a lot of brokenness in my past I didn’t want another hurdle in my ministry.
If you could go back in time, would you come out the same way or differently, and why? I would have came out years ago.
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? The first time I’m participating. So it feels brave, foolish, holy.
Reflecting on coming out: For me coming out has meant one more front that I have wage liberation and peace on in the battle for the soul of America. It feels like a responsibility and I find joy in holy responsibility. I find wholeness in integrating all of me.
My name is: Mary “JJ” Simpson-Keelan
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? A reminder that I am able to be who I am, love the person I love, and to be an example to others. As someone who is discerning a call to ministry, it is also an opportunity to proclaim that I am a beloved child of God. It reminds me that I am accepted not for who I will become, but for who I am right now. I am grounded in a relationship with an infinite God who loves all people – period.
Reflecting on coming out: We suffer and struggle most when we our angst is experienced in isolation. Being in community is an opportunity to be embraced for who you are.
My name is: Miranda Joebgen
What was the hardest thing about coming out? What was the best thing? For a long time, I was hesitant to come out to more than just a few close friends. I told myself that it was because I didn’t think I had to “come out.” If straight people don’t have to go through that process, then why should I? However, as I learned more about myself and my identity, I realized that my hesitance had more to do with my fear and anxiety than societal norms. While I grew up with a supportive family and had friends who were open and accepting, I knew that by coming out the way I was perceived by others would change. I knew that some people would make assumptions about me purely based on this one aspect of my identity, and that thought scared me. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this part of myself to be open for public consumption.
However, the best thing about coming out has been being able to live an open, authentic, wholehearted existence. By taking a risk and being open about my identity, I have been blessed with communities of beautiful Queer people who understand the joys and struggle about being out in the church and in the world. I am able to bring the fullness of my identity to my relationships, my work, and my theological studies, which I have found allows me to more fully live into and embrace my vocational calling to pastoral ministry.
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? National Coming Out Day for me is both a celebration of my identity as well as a reminder of my privilege. While it is by no means easy to be an out lesbian pursuing ordained ministry in the ELCA, I know that it is a huge privilege to feel safe in being open about my identity. National Coming Out Day reminds me that there are so many people who have to live in the closet for a variety of reasons. This is why I feel called to be open and honest about my identity, in hopes that one day our church will be a place in which no one will have to fear the process of “coming out.”
My name is: Steve Hoffard
Who was the first person you told and why? The first person I told was another pastor. He was an out gay pastor who shared his coming out story with me. During that very sharing and vulnerable conversation, a light went off, I saw in him someone who found freedom in being his whole self. Until that moment I had no idea that I yearned for that same freedom and surprisingly found myself saying, “I want you to know that I am gay too.” It was the beginning of my journey into wholeness.
My name is: Amalia Vagts
What was the hardest thing about coming out? What was the best thing? It was actually hardest for me to come out because I had been a very public “ally” at my college. This was my own issue – I didn’t want the community to think it had been a struggle for me or that I had resisted it. But it had taken me some time to come to an understanding about my bisexual orientation. I was also very in love with my boyfriend at the time and so coming out was complicated – asking myself – what is the reason for coming out if I’m with someone? But this actually helped me understand something significant early on – sexual orientation is about who I am, not who I am with. The very best part about coming out and being out is being true to who I am.
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? This day holds many great memories for me! It’s a good day for any who need a little push to finally come out and start telling others the truth of our lives. Coming out is also a lifelong process – especially for those of us whose sexual orientation may be less obvious (for example, my partner is a man and it would be easy for most to assume I’m straight). National Coming Out Day gives a chance to tell and celebrate our stories and to invite others to share their own.
My name is: Jon Rundquist
Reflecting on coming out: The story of my coming out is intimately tied to the question of my future in ministry. I have felt off – let’s call it queer – since I was young. I was always a little more effeminate than my male classmates in school, and in a small rural town, was made fun of for it. But it wasn’t until junior high when that femininity tried to break through the masculine. It’s always something I’ve wanted to hide away.
After the divorce of my parents, moving across the country and back, and living into my individual identity as an adult, it wasn’t until I started at Lutheran Campus Ministry when the call for ordained public ministry came to fruition. I wanted to be pastor for all of diverse backgrounds and identities, and that required seminary.
I married my wife of more than seven years, we had our first of two children, I graduated from undergrad and we moved to seminary to continue the path for my calling. In my second year, I was in chaplaincy when the femininity that I had tried to hide away came rushing back.
But if I were more feminine than masculine – if I were *transgender* – what would that mean for my career in ordained public ministry? What would coming out mean for my identity as a seminarian, as a husband, as a father? Would I ever be able to serve my own identity as a trans child of God, AND as a person seeking a call into ordained public ministry, AND a parent and spouse?
I stayed in the closet during my third year of seminary on my internship. It was a rural site, and I wanted to maintain my educational and vocational goals. But as the year of internship went on, it became increasingly hard to keep that closet door between me and the rest of the world.
But always in the back of my mind, it was the question of – what will coming out mean for my future in ministry? If I had figured out the rest of the complicated stuff – what would my coming out mean for my call?
I left it up to God. I came out in September of my final year of seminary, joined Proclaim and started a hormonal regimen in November. This November will be two years since I started that regimen. Informing the synod of that decision, I wanted to be clear of my intentions and transparency. After all, I was a trans parent.
In the end, candidacy fell through, and ever since I came out – the question of – will I ever be able to serve as an ordained public leader in the ELCA – remains unanswered. At this moment, it may take a few more years.
My name is: Joe Larson
Who was the first person you told and why? My therapist, because it was not safe to tell anyone else.
What was the hardest thing about coming out? What was the best thing? The most difficult thing was facing that I could not get ordained. The best thing was being able to finally be myself.
If you could go back in time, would you come out the same way or differently, and why? Back then (over 30 years ago), there weren’t a lot of choices. Most people were closeted.
My name is: Stephen Boyhont
My pronouns are: he/him/his
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? It is a day to celebrate; this is a form of rebirth. You are now beginning to live into the true you, even if it means you just came out to yourself. It carries a sense of freedom to be who God called you to be.
It is also a day of remembrance; a day to stand up and be proud of who you are when your siblings remain in the closet for whatever reason. Many of our siblings do not have that same freedom for fear of loss of safety or loss of relationships.
Coming out is an ongoing process. One does not come out and never have to come out again. Every new situation can call for coming out depending on the circumstances. This is a day to honor that process with celebration.
Reflecting on coming out: My story falls into that ugly trope where I came out as bisexual because I thought it would be easier for the people around me. Bisexual people face erasure everyday and I always regret that part of my story. My family told me that no one would ever love me because no one would ever trust me. It had taken me a long time to get to that stage of coming out because I thought by denying my same-gender attraction that I was doing what God wanted and I was living a good life.
After a year of slowly coming out to my new friends during my freshmen year at college I realized through the halfway year that I was gay. It felt so freeing. Like I was no longer pretending to be who I wasn’t and I reveled in my new identity like a beautiful new garment. I came back to my parents that summer and told them of my new discovery within myself and I was met with shouting and crying. They were mourning a son they thought existed and I was his less than ideal replacement.
I distanced myself from my family and my Lutheran upbringing. I ended up at an ELCA church camp which I now attribute to the Holy Spirit, but back then I called it luck. I was in my first relationship with another guy but I was still troubled by how I thought the God I no longer believed in would judge me for my orientation. I took a walk around camp and ended up at one of our outdoor worships spots, a stone altar in the middle of the forest. I fell to my knees, crying and praying. After several minutes I heard a sound coming back from the main camp. Sound carries very well from the assembly hall and someone was playing the piano. I could pick out the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and I felt an immense calm around me.
Coming out cannot be reduced to one day or one moment. It is continuous process and the hope is that I come to give myself grace and love everyday to live into the gift of queerness.
My name is: Adam Moreno
What was the hardest thing about coming out? What was the best thing? The hardest was thinking I needed to be effeminate if I was gay. That’s just not who I am. The best thing was being able to talk to friends about cute guys…so much fun not having to keep my crushes a secret!
If you could go back in time, would you come out the same way or differently, and why? Oh, I would come out much sooner. My fears of rejection were not founded, and I ended up being fully embraced…if I came out younger, I think the reaction would have been the same and I could have lived my truth sooner.
What does National Coming Out Day mean to you? Coming Out Day is an opportunity to proclaim who God created me to be…and proclaim to others that God loves them just the way they have been created!
My name is: Heather Yerion-Keck
If you could go back in time, would you come out the same way or differently, and why? I was very causal and non-nonchalant about telling a lot of people and pushed to tell the world even though I knew that some of them weren’t ready or able to hear it/receive it. I would be tempted tone down my joyous exuberance and find less confrontational ways to tell those individuals
Reflecting on coming out: I am not sure that I would want to go back and do this again. I think the thing I would want to go back and do again is to get involved in community. To have a support system of like minded people. This is still something that I am working on bit it would have been helpful during those early years that felt very lonely
My name is: Susan Salamone
My pronouns are: she/they
Reflecting on coming out: Coming out was hard because of my faith. I went to personal counseling for six months prior to coming out to my religious parents. This was the hardest because I didn’t want to be condemned by my faith. As it turns out, my folks are just awesome! My dad even offered to fund a trip to Canada for us to get married before NY made it legal. My mom just out and out tells folks at her church that her oldest daughter is married to a women and that we have 4 kids. I’m blessed for sure.
By: Kari Lipke, Proclaim Member
From ELM: October is LGBTQIA+ History Month and Reformation Month! October is also the final month of ELM’s #Proclaim300 campaign, celebrating reaching 300 members of Proclaim, ELM’s professional community for publicly identified LGBTQIA+ ministers & candidates. For the next 4 weeks, ELM will run a blog series on “Radical Reformation”: ministries led by Proclaim members doing prophetic work that is out of the ordinary! Read on, from Pr. Kari Lipke:
Right before worship on Palm Sunday 2017, Gethsemane Lutheran in Seattle, WA voted to become a Sanctuary Congregation. For us, it was a necessary response to the months of anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions kindled by the administration in Washington, DC and burning in communities across the nation. Liturgically, Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem on a donkey amidst crowds yearning for a different way to be community together—a way opposed to the xenophobic and dominating empire embodied by Herod and his flashy entourage—made sense as a moment for us to also oppose the xenophobic powers of our time and put our yearning for a more inclusive, respectful, and loving community into practice once again.
There are many ways to participate in the New Sanctuary Movement, but our congregation decided that our way would be to host in our building an individual or family under threat of deportation. Places of worship, you see, are on Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s very short list of “sensitive locations” and so ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) typically leaves undocumented immigrants alone when they take refuge within a church, synagogue, or mosque.
To prepare for our eventual guest or guests, Gethsemane worked with the Church Council of Greater Seattle, a nearly 100-year-old now-interfaith organization that connects faith communities in our area around our common work for justice. As part of their “For Such a Time as This” campaign, the CCGS offered orientations about the New Sanctuary Movement, organizing meetings to connect with other like-minded faith communities in our neighborhoods, and training sessions such as Cultural Humility, Know Your Rights, to Rapid Response in the event of a local immigration raid.
In June of 2018, as the nation roiled in anger over children in cages and family separation, Gethsemane’s Pastor Engquist received a phone call from partners at the CCGS: Jose Robles, a married father of three in Lakewood, WA, had been denied a U Visa Certification by the Lakewood Police Department and City Attorney. Without that certification he could not apply for a U Visa—a special visa for victims of violent crimes who cooperate with local law enforcement. Jose was scheduled to self-deport by boarding an airplane for Mexico on a Thursday morning. Instead, he came to Gethsemane Lutheran Church.
Jose is the 45th person to take Sanctuary in the United States in our current climate. You can Google his name + Gethsemane if you want to learn more from the media. But what I want people in the ELM community to know is this: As a queer person of faith, I’m heartened by the outpouring of love for Jose and his family shown by people in many Seattle-area faith communities. It resonates for me because I remember quite viscerally what it felt like to find people of faith willing to stick up for me, embrace me, and work for my equality throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s. Those people were hope, embodied, for me. And now we, together, are for Jose, and for the many who likewise live under the threat of deportation.
Even though it’s really hard to witness the unnecessary suffering that inhumane immigration policies and enforcement inflict on people, I can’t help but to also be inspired by our collective insistence as a Sanctuary Network that we will live our values: We will continue to love our neighbors and defend their dignity. We will continue to provide what antidotes we can to the abuses that some in our nation insist on visiting upon immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.
I would like Jose to be home with his family, to be working at his job, to be living life uninterrupted by the threat of deportation. At the same time, I’m grateful that I get to know this man and his family. I’m thankful for the trust placed in me and others in the Sanctuary Network. I marvel at the courage this family shows—that at this vulnerable time in their lives they are willing to build new friendships and share laughter and meals, fears and hopes. They are changing me. I’ve never been one to keep my distance from working for justice, but now I am drawn even more strongly to that work. It’s inconceivable that I would not do all in my power to bring relief to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. I hope you who read this blog will see that if a small congregation in the “none-zone” can offer sanctuary as we have, so can your faith community wherever you are.
[Photo Above: Jose Robles addresses the congregation at an interfaith service organized to demonstrate solidarity and support. Pastor Joanne Engquist looks on and Michael Ramos of the Church Council of Greater Seattle interprets.]
To support Proclaim members like Pr. Kari or honor someone who builds a better world, consider a gift to the #Proclaim300 campaign, which aims to raise up Proclaimers, raise awareness about ELM, and raise 300 gifts of $300 by Reformation Day, October 31, 2018. www.elm.org/donate-now (indicate #Proclaim300)
Bio: Pastor Kari Lipke (she/her/hers) is originally from a farm in rural Minnesota and currently lives and serves in Seattle, WA, with her spouse Pastor Joanne Engquist. They share life with two dear cats and a delightful dog, and are “grandpastors” to several kids and pups in the congregation.
By: Katy Miles-Wallace, Proclaim Member
I’ve never been “conventionally attractive.” For me, that would have meant being a good slender southern girl in flannel, riding boots and a puffer vest, monogram on my chest just below my long sleek hair. No, I was never quite that way.
While I do wear flannel and puffer vests, I’m more suited for boots and snapbacks or flat caps, preferring the butch over the femme. Unfortunately, that has meant that much of my life has been plagued by self-comparison to those conventionally attractive femme bodies that I would never look like (and that, for a while, I tried and failed to look like). The trying and failing and self-comparison have left a mark. This mark persists despite the fact that I feel more myself than ever, despite the fact that I’ve found comfort in wearing men’s clothing, in having a short haircut, in being referred to as handsome, a husbawife, a nonbinary person.
And so, it was quite a shocking moment when, at the beginning of the #Proclaim300 initiative, I saw that it was my face starting back at me from my phone and my laptop. That mark started to creep up again, to remind me that I’m not what people once wished me to be, that I’m not necessarily what one might call pretty. And then…and then the #Proclaim300 donations started. Donations totalling more than $5,000, across many fundraisers, in e-mails, Facebook campaigns, and mailed donations. My own Facebook fundraiser started to bring in gifts of various amounts, and from givers I hadn’t imagined!
At first, I was just excited for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries- excited that the fundraising of 3oo gifts of $300 (one for each Proclaimer, now that we’ve reached 300 members!) seemed to be going well. And then I realized: those notices and calls for donation had carried my face, my unconventionally pretty, butch, expressively eyebrowed, imperfect toothed, glasses wearing, heavyset, short-hair framed face. And those donations weren’t out of sympathy; they weren’t to fix all those things about me or about any of the rest of the Proclaimers that look vaguely like me, but to support me and others, to advocate for more unconventionally beautiful people in the pulpit, behind the table, and in service to the body of Christ.
So, what is it like to participate in these fundraisers and to be the face of the #Proclaim300 campaign? It is a realization of how Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and the Proclaim community, and all their supporters are here and ready to lift up a world which is different, which is more loving, which appreciates that which is unconventional, and unique, and new, and that which has previously been ridiculed. It is seeing all of that love and support in real time, a wave of the Kin-dom of God breaking into the world.
It is feeling whole and finished, just the way that I am. Thank you, to all of those who gave and who brought this sense of wholeness to me and I’m sure to others whose fundraisers you participated in. You gave much more than just money.
To support Proclaim members like Katy or honor someone who builds a better world, consider a gift to the #Proclaim300 campaign, which aims to raise up Proclaimers, raise awareness about ELM, and raise 300 gifts of $300 by Reformation Day, October 31, 2018. www.elm.org/donate-now (indicate #Proclaim300)
Bio: Katy Miles-Wallace (they/them & she/her) is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, currently residing in the Southern Ohio Synod while awaiting call. Katy is originally from Seguin, Texas and enjoys time with their dog, Molly, and wife, Jessica. Katy is also an artist, specializing in semi-orthodox representations of queer saints.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries
Associate Director of Development and Communications
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 20, 2018
“Proclaim” Community for LGBTQIA+ Lutheran Ministers & Candidates Celebrates 300 Members
CHICAGO, IL: Proclaim, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ (ELM) professional community for publicly identified gender and sexual minority ministers and candidates, has reached 300 members. To celebrate, ELM has launched the #Proclaim300 campaign to raise support, awareness, and funds. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of gender and sexual minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.
On September 20, 2018, Proclaim celebrated reaching 300 members when Sergio Rodriguez (he/him/his), a seminarian at Wartburg Theological Seminary, joined the community.
The son of immigrants, Rodriguez says a mentor at a church in San Antonio “…reaffirmed my dignity as a gay Mexican Lutheran and made me aware that God calls people to ministry regardless of where they are in their lives, their gender, their sexuality, and their race.”
Rodriguez recalls, “When a classmate of mine encouraged me to join Proclaim, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was God gathering me to a community of fellow believers and leaders to join them in proclaiming the Gospel…that all may know the all-inclusive love of God.”
Says ELM Executive Director Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson, “We rejoice in the growth of Proclaim! This is an enormous milestone for our organization and for the church – this means there are 300 publicly-out LGBTQIA+ leaders who are dedicating their lives to calls of public ministry! This means that LGTBQIA+ folks are feeling more and more free and able to say ‘yes’ to God’s call – even in a church that for so long said ‘no’ to their leadership.”
ELM was founded in 2007 as a merger between Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (LLGM) and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP), which for years ordained LGBTQIA+ ministers “extraordinarily,” outside the bounds of the ELCA’s official doctrine, which did not allow it.
In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America changed their policy to allow gender and sexual minorities to serve the church as out and partnered ministers. Even still, congregations can refuse to consider ministry candidates because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and LGBTQIA+ ministry candidates continue to face barriers and prejudice.
ELCA Bishop Kirby Unti of the Northwest Washington Synod reflects on the gifts of Proclaim members: “The church has entered a time when what we need are effective adaptive leaders. Our LGBTQIA+ ministers tend to be some of our best adaptive leaders. Their lives have relied upon adaptive sensibilities in order to thrive.”
Says ELCA Bishop William Gohl, “From Appalachia to the inner city, in suburbia and specialized ministries, Proclaim rostered ministers are blessing our Delaware-Maryland Synod with gifts that cultivate the more-inclusive and diverse communities for which this church prays and aspires to. I am grateful for the partnership of #Proclaim300 colleagues who are serving, that all the world may know the redeeming love of God in Christ, for all – without exceptions.”
To meet the needs of a growing Proclaim community – increased by 50% in the past 3 years – ELM’s #Proclaim300 campaign aims to raise 300 gifts of $300 by October 31, 2018 (Reformation Day), totalling $90,000.
“ELM’s goal is to continue to support Proclaimers at all stages of ministry,” says Gerken-Nelson. “A gift at any level is a blessing. We are grateful for the many who make these ministries possible!”
In addition to facilitating the Proclaim professional community, ELM’s Accompaniment program provides individualized guidance, mentorship, and resources for publicly identified Lutheran LGBTQIA+ ministers and candidates. ELM’s Ministry Engagement program advocates for these leaders by advising on church policy and equipping churchwide leadership, seminaries, congregations, allied nonprofits, and other organizations to employ and embrace Proclaim members.
Follow #Proclaim300 on social media September 17-23, 2018 to see and hear stories about the gifts of LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, plus) ministers through videos, images, personalized fundraisers, and testimonials.
For more information: www.elm.org
Follow #Proclaim300 Week Sept 17-23, 2018: www.FB.com/extraordinarylutheranministries
Contribute to the #Proclaim300 Campaign: www.elm.org/donate-now
Images for use:
“Sergio Rodriguez” (courtesy of Rodriguez)
“Proclaim300” (courtesy of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries)
“1 of 300” (courtesy of Emily Ann Garcia Photography, for ELM)
By: Sergio Rodriguez, Proclaim’s 300th member
From ELM: We did it! Proclaim (ELM’s professional community of publicly identified LGBTQIA+ ministers and candidates) just hit 300! Join us in a bold welcome to Sergio Rodriguez, Proclaim’s 300th member.
I must from the outset thank and praise our Triune God for the grace which brought us all here together for ministry in our world today. This message of the grace of God in Christ Jesus continues to shape and mold our communities from which God calls us and will call others like us to ministry.
Growing up the gay son of two Mexican immigrants, the notion that God would call anyone outside the sexual and gender norms of our Mexican-American society seemed contrary to God’s will. Though I loved Jesus, his mother Mary, and the church, I found myself at odds with the wider Roman Catholic institution because of my sexuality. While this effectively made me leave the church during my high school years, I found myself returning to the Roman Catholic church as I studied at Baylor University.
At Baylor University, I felt God called me to serve the capacity as a minister of the church and to test this out. I became the chaplain of two music organizations; the Baylor University Marching Band and Kappa Kappa Psi.
Despite serving in this capacity, I still resented my sexuality and found myself hungering for a God who would simply accept me for who I was and who I wanted to be.
During my senior year of college, God showed me the message of radical and inclusive grace for all through my studies of Dr. Luther’s works, conversation, and conversion to Lutheranism.
At that time, I felt that I needed to wait before I dived right into word and sacrament ministry. From the end of college up to this present day, I managed to complete a Master’s of the Arts in Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary, switch from the LC-MS to the ELCA, and move to San Antonio where I briefly studied Marriage and Family Therapy.
About two years ago, the weight of these changes finally took their spiritual toll on me as I contemplated giving up the idea of being a rostered word and sacrament leader in the ELCA.
I felt that I was unable to find an affirming congregation that would also attend to my identity as a Latinx Lutheran. Precisely at that moment, God made me aware of Gethsemane Lutheran Church and Jesus Maestro church in San Antonio where I met my future pastoral supervisor and Spiritual Father who awakened in me that call I felt so many years ago in college.
Moreso, he reaffirmed my dignity as a gay Mexican Lutheran and made me aware that God calls people to ministry regardless of where they are in their lives, their gender, their sexuality, and their race.
So when a classmate of mine encouraged me to join Proclaim, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was God gathering me to a community of fellow believers and leaders to join them in proclaiming the Gospel of our Crucified and Risen Lord that all may know the all-inclusive love of God!
Bio: Sergio Rodriguez (he/him/his) Growing up in the Texas borderlands in an immigrant household, my parents raised me to be aware of how the border defined our identities, culture, and lives as children of God. While my formative years were spent growing up in socially conservative Mexican household in McAllen, TX, I found affirmation, mercy, and unconditional love amongst my fellow musicians, religion majors, and friends at Baylor University.
Though I continued to struggle to integrate my Latinx identity with my faith, I felt God calling me in the midst of an emotionally difficult time of my life during my senior year of college to a position of leadership knowing full well the lucha that people of color face in the church.
Unbeknownst to me as I navigated through the institution of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, God needed me to mature, develop, grow and learn further about what radical grace means for all people today.
Rather than be disingenuous to my God-given identity as a Latinx believer, I left the Missouri Synod while I finished a Master’s in Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary because God showed me the depth, the breath and the height of the love of Christ for all people with no exception to gender, race, sexuality, age, creed, capacity or the like
After taking a year off following graduation and moving to San Antonio, God kindled in me the passion, the confidence and knowledge for being a leader in the church for the sake of the world and moved me to start the candidacy process for rostered word and sacrament ministry. As I progress through my studies at Wartburg Theological seminary and candidacy process, God has continued to assure me there is no more certain calling for me than to proclaim Christ crucified for the sake of the world in word, sacrament, and deed.
By: Pastor Gus Barnes, Jr., Proclaim Member
The call began in the mid- sixties. Our family relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city that was healing from racial riots (and still has issues even in 2018). We rented a third story flat owned at the time by a LCA (Lutheran Church of America) pastor who was African American.
Upon an invitation to Lutheran Church of the Epiphany, now called All People’s, my brother Mark and I found ourselves playing church! Of course back then I was the presiding minister because I remembered all of the parts and I could sing! This church’s invitation welcomed me into the Lutheran fellowship, because I was baptized Baptist.
This church groomed me to serve God’s people even though it was healing from the darkness of the racial riots. I served in many capacities in those years including becoming the first person of color to hold the office of Council President.
As attendance and membership declined, we collectively decided to give the building away so that a new congregation could begin. Epiphany offered me a full scholarship to Wartburg College and to Wartburg Seminary. As excited as I was about the offer, I turned it down… I felt the church was not ready for a man of color who also discovered he was gay.
The call continued as I attempted to identify my identity within a Black community that did not accept “homosexuality,” so my few relationships were with white men who “did not see color.” This acceptance was very difficult for my father, who blamed it on my mother’s side of the family: my uncle was gay and we did not talk about it.
After Church of the Epiphany closed, I journeyed to find where my sexuality and faith was welcomed. In 2000, I sang for a wedding at Reformation Lutheran in Milwaukee. After the service, Pastor Mick Roschke informed me that they were welcoming new members the following Sunday. My response was, “Ok! Ok what!?
I told him that I was waiting for a church to ask me to join! This, friends, holds true today: people are waiting to be asked and invited back to church!
I served this congregation faithfully for ten years until a change in leadership in 2010 assured that two of us would be let go. Sadly, I was one. The other was Director of Music, also gay. I served the Greater Milwaukee Synod since we became the ELCA, serving at three Church-wide gatherings- 2009, 2011, and 2013.
The sense of call became stronger and when my mother’s life ended in the spring of 2012. I enrolled at Wartburg Seminary with the assistance of a church who supported me. Year one was difficult due to a seminarian who wanted to “pray the gay away.” Thanks be to God, I finished in five years!
The call continues! I married my spouse Steve in 2017, graduated in May of 2018, accepted a call at Luther Memorial in Delevan, Wisconsin, with Ordination coming on September 15, 2018. Luther Memorial is a Reconciling in Christ congregation. I cherish the name Gus because I am one of G.od’s U.nique, S.ervants. Thanks be to God!
Bio: Gus Barnes, Jr. (He/Him/His) I will be ordained on September 15, 2018 by Bishop Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld, the ELCA’s second-ever African American woman pastor elected as Bishop. I will be her first ordained as an African American man who is openly gay, in an interracial marriage.
By Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson, ELM Executive Director
Two weeks ago I had the joy of traveling to the Bay Area of California to meet friends and supporters of ELM. Some of these folks I had met before while I was a student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) in Berkeley, and many were long-time supporters and old friends of ELM who are becoming new friends of mine!
As we sat around kitchen tables, I could barely contain my excitement to tell them that Proclaim anticipates welcoming its 300th member this fall!
“I just can’t believe it.” “Well isn’t that just amazing!”
These were just a few of the reactions to the news.
You see, many of these supporters have been a part of our movement since day one. Many of them attended the first Extraordinary Ordinations of Jeff, Ruth, and Phyllis in San Francisco in 1990; many of them served on the Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries Board, the grants committee, and even the West Coast candidacy committee for the Extraordinary Candidacy Project; many of them were present the multiple times our Churchwide body took up the conversation of LGBTQIA+ welcome and some were even arrested for their public, peaceful resistance. Piqued your interest? You can learn more here: www.elm.org/history/
For many of them, 300 members of Proclaim (meaning 300 publicly-out LGBTQIA+ seminarians, pastors, and deacons who have made a commitment to public leadership in our church) was only a dream!
We celebrated this momentous occasion, and we also took time to reflect on the process of how we’ve gotten to this point. I was quick to remind them that we got here because of them! Because of you!
Because of people who have believed in and adored LGBTQIA+ pastors with their whole hearts for years and have supported ELM and our ministry to support and advocate for gender and sexual minorities in our church!
As ELM celebrates #Proclaim300 and gears up to mark the milestone with #Proclaim300 Week Sept 17-23, I am so grateful to all of our supporters who have gotten us to this point and made this occasion possible!
While in California, I was also able to meet with communities who had helped to form me while I was a student at PLTS. And, it was my pleasure to share with them the story of Proclaim and ELM, and our joy at our accomplishments.
Thanks for ALL the ways you are joining us in this celebration! Will you forward this e-mail to help others support #Proclaim300? Could you make an ask to help us get to our goal of 300 gifts of $300, or consider a special gift yourself at www.elm.org/donate-now?
#Proclaim300 is a time to celebrate and thank those early movers and shakers and donors in our movement who paved the way for our 300th member to join our community.
#Proclaim300 is a time to go wild with joy for the community Proclaim is nurturing.
#Proclaim300 is a time to tell the story of how important ministries like Proclaim are for LGBTQIA+ leaders and for our church as a whole.
Bio: Amanda Gerken-Nelson (she/her/hers) got married this summer – that’s why her name has changed! Surrounded by those they love, Amanda and Tasha committed their lives and love to each on a small farm in Maine. Now they are planning a honeymoon to Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia – if you have recommendations, they’d love to hear them!
Pictured: St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco made a special cake for Amanda’s visit & preaching, and gave a #Proclaim300 gift to honor the occasion!
By Allison Bengfort, Proclaim Member
What is the Proclaim Gathering? ELM’s annual Proclaim Gathering was held August 5-8, 2018 at Pearlstone Retreat Center outside Baltimore, MD. The Gathering brings together members of Proclaim (ELM’s professional community for publicly identified LGBTQIA+ Lutheran rostered ministers and candidates) and their families, for a time of renewal, community building, and professional development as publicly identified leaders.
I am new to Proclaim – just joined in April. As a seminary student at LSTC, I was aware of Proclaim’s presence and had heard good things, but it wasn’t until I entered the first call process that my need to join became apparent. In the midst of ignorant comments in interviews and losing call opportunities because of my orientation, I needed a community. Apart from initial welcome emails, this year’s Gathering was my introduction to the community. I am pleased to say that I went away from the experience excited about new friendships, inspired by the idea of queerness as central to Christianity, and heartened by the potential of this group of leaders. The Gathering exceeded my expectations, but more importantly, it offered something I hadn’t expected.
In the world of clinical social work, which is my background, we talk about something called “unconditional positive regard.” Unconditional positive regard is an intentional, emotional posture that the best therapists extend to their clients. As its name implies, unconditional positive regard assumes the best in the client. It assumes that the client is inherently good, worthy, and worthwhile. It is able to separate misguided choices and challenging behaviors from who the person is deep down. It is essentially a clinical description of love and grace.
While I had experienced unconditional positive regard from outstanding therapists, until the Gathering, I had never experienced this posture from an entire community of people, all at once. I felt it extended to me in conversations about my difficulties in the call process, in theological discussions about problematic aspects of Lutheran theology, and in conversations about bisexuality and being “queer enough.” I witnessed it being extended to others in sessions on polyamory that challenged more traditional views, in worship services that intentionally included expansive language, and in day-to-day interactions in which both friends and strangers were deeply seen and accepted. Experiencing this openness and radical acceptance made me want to participate in it – want to reciprocate and extend this attitude to others. It made it so much easier to turn to my neighbor and offer them the same attention and acceptance.
Ideally, this experience of communal unconditional positive regard would be the mark of the church. Can you imagine congregation members feeling this way every Sunday morning or at every church event?! Talk about changing the world. Of course, this is not the case at many churches, and it is also important to recognize that my experience of the Proclaim Gathering was likely not universal. That being said, I truly believe that this community of leaders has something powerful to offer. Our experience as queer people has taught us the importance unconditional positive regard, and God has empowered us to offer it to others. Thank you all for extending this unexpected gift to me.
Bio: Allison Bengfort (she/her/hers) is an approved candidate for ordination, currently assigned to the Metro Chicago Synod. Born and raised in the Midwest, Allison moved to Seattle in 2016 for a final-year internship and loved the area so much, she decided to stay while she awaits call. Allison holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College, a Master of Social Work from the University of Chicago, and a Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. As a bisexual woman, Allison is passionate about dismantling systems of oppression in the church and the larger world. While awaiting her first call as a pastor, Allison stays busy teaching violin lessons, working at a church preschool, and playing lots of Ultimate Frisbee.
Photos by Emily Ann Garcia
By: Br. Matta Ghaly, CSJC, ELM Board Member, Justice & Recruitment Convener
ELM is responding to the Holy Spirit’s call by growing into an intersectional organization and a beloved community that is shaped by diverse experiences. I have known Rev. Shannon to be a gifted pastor, wise teacher and vocal supporter of LGBTQIA+ ministers. Her voice and experience will enrich our witness to the gospel and justice-making labor in God’s kin-dom. Read on to learn more:
The Rev. Angela Lynn Shannon grew up in a law enforcement family in Gary, Indiana. Pastoral ministry is her second career but first love and calling. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology/criminal justice from Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana. Rev. Shannon graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in June 1996 and was ordained January 12, 1997, the feast day of the baptism of our Lord at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Gary, IN. She has served congregations in Indiana, Ohio and Texas. She has served as Dean of Student Life of Luther Seminary, St Paul, MN.
Rev. Shannon is the national Vice-President for the African Descent Lutheran Association. For over twenty years she has been involved in ecumenical and interfaith conversation at home and abroad. A self-described, church “blerd,” she loves liturgy and theology.
However, her driving passion is the ministry of reconciliation. As such, she is trained in conflict transformation. Says Rev. Shannon: “My deepest hope is that we will deepen our empathy for one another in these very odd times and restore hope. To engage a sustainable reconciliation, we must take a middle step towards each other.”
Rev. Shannon is a tireless bridge-builder whose vision invites us into multi-issue and collaborative work with other associations and communities. Along with the rest of the ELM Board, please join me in welcoming Rev. Angela Shannon!
Bio: Br. Matta Ghaly, CSJC. (all pronouns) is a candidate for the ministry of Word and sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and currently serves as vicar at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN. Along with a passion for congregational ministry, Matta feels a deep call to the@logical education and serves as adjunct faculty for Islamic and Quranic Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, CA. In the midst of laboring, Matta is spiritually replenished through religious life as a Brother of the Community of Saint John Cassian (CSJC), a vowed apostolic community under the Episcopal Church. Matta is married to Rev. Sonny Graves (United Church of Christ), and finds a lot of joy in travelling, writing and teaching, composing multi-religious music, exploring unfamiliar food scenes and brewing delicious coffee.