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ELM Friend Tom Jacobson’s new play about LGBTQ clergy

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

by Christephor Gilbert
Communications & Development Coordinator

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

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

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

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Playwright Tom Jacobson

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

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

CG:  Did you grow up in the Lutheran church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christephor at home with Sylvia.

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

 

Hello from Asher!

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

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

by the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan
Program Director

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

Asher O'Callaghan

Asher O’Callaghan from his home office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

ELM staff

The ELM staff!

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

Invisibility and Possibility: Reflections from the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

Monday, August 15th, 2016

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

French Quarter

French Quarter in New Orleans.

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

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

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

LGBTQ events

LGBTQ events. Photo by Zac Baker.

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

Conversation Groups

Gathering for conversation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

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

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

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

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

ELCA Churchwide Activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joyous Staffing Updates!

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

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

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

Asher

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

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

Asher writes,

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

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

Development & Communications Coordinator: Christephor Gilbert

Christephor Gilbert. Photo by Jason McGovern, LSTC.

Christephor Gilbert. Photo by Jason McGovern, LSTC.

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

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

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

A reminder of grace

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

By Michael Price Nelson
Guest Blog

In this post, Michael Price Nelson reflects on his friend and colleague, Joel Workin, and on this year’s Workin Scholar Christephor Gilbert’s essay on grace.

Workin-cover-3Grace.  As Lutherans, we talk about it, read about it, and some even preach about it.  It’s such a part of our theology that I wonder if we really pay attention to it the way we ought to.

Thirty years ago this week, I first met Joel Workin at a Lutherans Concerned meeting at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood.  While many of the faces there were new to me, Joel stood out – not least of all because of his 6’4” frame. Joel was immersed in his internship at a church in LA, and like most seminarians I’ve known, he radiated with an eagerness and joy about being something greater than himself, about living into his “call” of Christ in his life.

Less than 18 months later, however, after being certified for call by Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, two church officials summoned him to Los Angeles, along with Jim Lancaster and Jeff Johnson.  In that meeting, the three were presented with a  document outlining how they were to behave as openly gay candidates.  Jim had prepared a list of specific questions: “Are we allowed to touch? Can we hold hands? What about kissing?”  At this point, he was stopped by his inquisitors and told, “Look, we don’t know how to define it. We just know we don’t want you to do it.”

“Don’t you call unclean what I call clean.”  

This was a favorite passage of Joel’s from the story of Cornelius. I can remember him preaching on this as he struggled with his own sense of call in the face of the ELCA’s “no” to God’s “yes” in his life. In the end, Joel was never ordained.   Instead, he made a loving home with his husband Paul Jenkins and channeled his own sense of ministry into service for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, helping to establish the country’s first free standing AIDS hospice.  He also served as newsletter editor for the local Lutherans Concerned chapter and wrote many essays about LGBTQ people in the church, which are the basis for his posthumous book “Dear God, I’m Gay. Thank You!”

In the years since he passed away, I’ve often struggled with how to make sense of all that happened to Joel. With his friends, I helped establish the Workin Scholarship in the hopes that would make sense. But on a deeper personal level, I’ve still wondered how anyone could go on once a calling is stolen from you because of who God made you to be. How do you go on? How does anyone go on after being rejected by family and friends for being LGBT?  How does anyone go on after losing a job because of sexual identity? And why, why would you even want to?

Then I read this line, written by this year’s Workin Scholar, Chistephor Gilbert, in his beautifully crafted essay on grace: “And in the dark falling, in the everlasting emptiness, the grace is there saying, Get up and follow me.”

Even though I’m an every-Sunday-Lutheran, I need to be reminded of this, to have grace presented to me in new images, to re-engage me with its true nature. Christephor Gilbert’s essay has done that for me.  He challenges me – and I hope all of you – to look anew at what Joel called “grace unbounded.”

You can read Christephor Gilbert’s essay here – 2016 Workin Scholar Essay. And you can learn more about Joel and the Workin Scholar program here.

Michael Price NelsonMichael Price Nelson serves as chair of the Joel R. Workin Scholarship Committee. He was a colleague and friend of Joel’s and was the editor of both editions of “Dear God I’m Gay. Thank you!” Michael and his husband, Dale von Seggern, are members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, CA.  

 

 

What’s on your summer reading list?

Thursday, July 21st, 2016
Perfect reading spot. Photo: Rachel Vagts.

Perfect reading spot. Photo: Rachel Vagts.

What’s on your summer reading list? We’ve got a few suggestions for you!

You may not realize all the resources that already exist to help LGBTQ people considering and following a call to ministry.  ELM  knows it’s good to be in  community, rather than work it out by ourselves. So we put our best minds together and wrote this wisdom down.

All of the following resources have been created by teams of grassroots volunteers, led by ELM staff. We’ve gathered wisdom from pastors, candidates, bishops, candidacy committees, call committees, synod staff, allies, lay leaders, and all kinds of folks!

Please check them out and share them widely – all can be downloaded free from the ELM website. Limited printed copies of some resources are available thanks to a special grant from the Philip N. Knutson Endowment. Contact us for more information: info@elm.org.

FOR CONGREGATIONS:

Enrich and Transform – Welcoming LGBTQ Candidates into the Call Process (Booklet & Video)

enrich and transform coverIs your congregation ready to talk about how to welcome LGBTQ people in your pastoral call process? It’s never too early to start this conversation – in fact, the sooner the bettter, and especially BEFORE you start a call process! This six-minute video and 10-page booklet are a ready made discussion and planning document for your congregation. You’ll learn how the extraordinary gifts of LGBTQ pastors can enrich and transform YOUR congregation and community – and find detailed information about how to get ready to consider or welcome and LGBTQ pastor.

Enrich & Transform – the Movie! Check out this 6-minute story about what happened in one congregation when they called a gay pastor.

Internship and LGBTQ Interns – A Guide for Supervisors and Committees – is your congregation considering hosting an LGBTQ intern? Would you like to? Are you right now and running into unexpected questions? Please check out this resource for detailed information about making this a positive and healthy experience for all of you.

FOR CANDIDATES:

Mysteries of the Ages (“A handy guide for people exploring or preparing for rostered ministry in the ELCA”) is a detailed, candid collection of stories and step-by-step instruction on how to navigate the candidacy process. LGBTQ people considering or following a call to ministry will want to read it, share it with your candidacy or internship committees, give it to your family and friends who don’t quite “get it” and then pass along a copy to your non-LGBTQ friends because they are also going to be THRILLED that such an amazing resource exists.

FOR CANDIDACY COMMITTEES:

Candidacy and LGBTQ Individuals – An Offered Resource for ELCA Candidacy Committees. This guide is already being used by a number of candidacy committees throughout the ELCA. Are you a friend looking to help? Check with your synod office to find out if they know about the resource, and if not, give them a copy! One volunteer attended a candidacy committee meeting prepared to share it, and unbeknownst to her, the Bishop already had prepared a 15 minute presentation about how the resource can help improve conversations with LGBTQ candidates!

FOR EVERYONE:

treasure coverTreasure in Clay Jars – Stories of LGBTQ Leaders in the Lutheran Church, which is chock-full of stories and photos of our faithful and fabulous members and their stories of coming out, first-calls, candidacy and generally serving the church with humor and integrity.

Joel R. Workin’s very important work Dear God, I am Gay – Thank You! is also available. Joel was one of the first four seminarians who came out to their candidacy committees in 1988. Joel’s voice is alive and well in the church today!

WHY WE DO THIS:

We have created each of these resources because we believe the extraordinary gifts of LGBTQ people in ministry enrich and transform our church and communities. And we know that it’s not easy to be faithful and fabulous all the time. ELM helps overcome barriers to ministry so LGBTQ people can fully live out their call to ministry.

We’re able to create and share these all of this thanks to the generous and wonderful friends who support ELM. Thank you to those who give to ELM!

If you have not made your gift this year, we invite you to donate now to help us share these resources and develop others.

And then, settle back into your hammock and start reading…ahhhhhh, summer!

Memoirs of an Assembly Hostess

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Guest blog by Larell Fineren, ELM Synod Assembly Display Coordinator

When Ministry Engagement Convener Margaret Moreland called to ask me about volunteering to coordinate for the Table Display Hosts and Hostesses I imagined a bevy of Vanna Whites seductively pointing to various Tupperware items on kitchen tables across America.  Err…no…She meant hosts and hostesses for those myriad information tables that decorate the way to the Cookie Table at Synod Assemblies.  “Oh, that kind of host,” I said, feeling somewhat deflated.  But being a good queer Lutheran, I quickly said yes and resolved to make it a success.  

Fun at the Sierra Pacific Synod ELM table! Larell Fineren (second from left) with Proclaim members John Brett, Rev. Megan Rohrer, and Rev. Dr. Dawn Roginski

Fun at the Sierra Pacific Synod ELM table! Larell Fineren (second from left) with Proclaim members John Brett, Rev. Megan Rohrer, and Rev. Dr. Dawn Roginski

We managed to surface seven volunteers for the job.  Diane Linden-Johnson at Rocky Mountain, Lois Voss at Minneapolis, Jerry Vagts at St Paul, Terry Krueger at Metro NY, Michael Nelson at Southwest CA, Bob Goldstein at Metro Chicago,  the diversity team in Southeast Michigan, and me, Larell Fineren at Sierra Pacific, all rose to the hosting challenge.  My job also included making sure the supply boxes made it from Assembly to Assembly between our first one on April 28th and the last one on June 11th.  

We all reported good “table exposure” (no closets for us anymore!) which meant many visitors stopped by to talk and get resources.  In general, we felt about 50% of our visitors were well aware of ELM and Proclaim.  The other 50% got an earful when they stopped long enough to chat!  I talked to two young LGBTQ folks who felt called to ministry and wanted to go to seminary.  I was able to talk to them about our Candidacy Accompaniment program, of which they were unaware.  Other hosts also reported talking to potential ministry candidates.  Surprisingly, one host talked to two seminarians who didn’t know about ELM!  That was a shocker to me.  I imagined I was there mainly for the straight folks, to pitch our Ministry Engagement program.  But it made me realize how important it is to continue to get our message out there to EVERYONE—over and over again.  

One funny thing was how our clearly marked “Display copy only” booklets of Treasure in Clay Jars  and Enrich & Transform were slyly taken when we either weren’t at the table, or weren’t looking.  It was a bummer to have our materials disappear before others could see them.  But the Spirit blows where and how She wants–I had to assume they went where they needed to go.  

We all felt that hosting was enjoyable, worthwhile, and something we’d do again.  Would you like to host a table at your Assembly next year?  We’d like to at least double the number of Assemblies we’re represented at next year.  If you’d like to give it a go (and store some treasure in Heaven), please contact ELM Operations Coordinator Christephor (operations@elm.org) and let him know.

larell F

By Larell Fineren. Larell lives in Petaluma CA and attends Elim Lutheran Church.  She’s a member of the Sierra Pacific Synod Council, where she happily provides a queer perspective on issues.

We are marching….

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Guest blog by Proclaim member Rev. Caleb Crainer

caleb pride 1I’m not a morning person, but on the morning of the LA Pride parade, I was in our line-up spot with donuts, t-shirts, buttons, and feather boas promptly by 7:30am. Soon after, the rest of our contingent trickled in and our friends from Hollywood United Methodist Church joined us for our annual Street Eucharist before the parade. Have you ever had the Psalm overshadowed by Jennifer Lopez’ new song? Have you ever had the words of institution covered up by revving motorcycles? It was kind of amusing, kind of annoying, and entirely holy.

 

caleb pride 2Each year our Southern California Reconciling In Christ congregations (socallutherans.com) gather to volunteer at the various LGBTQ Pride events in the area. Originally we just marched in the Pride parade in Los Angeles, but now we also have a presence at parades and festivals in Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura County, and San Diego! It’s easily one of the most visible witnesses for the Lutheran Church in the state. This year we decided to do some Reformation education with our theme “500 years of FABULOUS posting!” Raul, a member at Hollywood Lutheran, totally hammed it up as a mohawk wearing Luther as we strolled down Santa Monica Boulevard lined with thousands of folks.

But Sunday’s celebration wasn’t like the others.

Young Latino Queer folks at Orlando’s Pulse Night Club had been viciously massacred just hours before. We didn’t know details or how many had been killed as we stepped off…but we knew that we would march for them. In the wake of the recent shooting at UCLA, our city was already on alert, but this was a level of evil we didn’t expect. The Police Department contacted the festival and parade organizers and asked them if they should cancel the celebration…their response: “You must not know who we are.” We are a movement born from the violent attacks of bigots, forged in the fire of scorn and ridicule, scarred by neglect and prejudice…and we are STRONG.

We waved our rainbow flags for our family who had been killed the night before, our friends who had died of HIV/AIDS, our neighbors who lived in closets and fear, and for ourselves.

Los Angeles’ Pride Parade was started in 1970, on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The parade became known as “Christopher Street West” after the location of the drag-bar where our trans/drag/queer siblings had had enough with police brutality and oppression. Our west-coast parade, started by local clergy and leaders, was intended to display our pride in the midst of crushing hatred. We would remember, we would persevere.

caleb bio picI kept getting text messages from people all morning wanted to express their sorrow and solidarity and some said “I’m glad you’re safe.”  Little did I know, that the threats we were under were even more real and near than I even imagined.   Later while I was working at the booth one person said, “I’m glad they caught that guy in Santa Monica.”  A young man had been caught that morning with a vehicle full of guns and was reportedly headed for the parade. Who knew we had all been in mortal danger the entire time we’d been frolicking so gayly?

The truth is we never know what’s coming. We can be prepared, but our LGBTQ community is strong and defiant and passionate. We know that in order to find safety, we must risk everything. We dare to love and that is the gospel of Pride. We have strength in our vulnerability and promise in our uncertainty. It’s a gospel that resonates with our Christian tradition and it’s a gospel more people deserve to hear.

I’m so proud of members of Proclaim. I feel like every Sunday is like a mini-pride-parade for us, for God, and for love that brings us through. Happy Pride!

 

Crainer, Caleb (1)

 

Rev. Caleb Crainer serves as pastor of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Los Angeles, California where he enjoys group costumes, passing out buttons, and walking in long lines. Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.

 

More than can be counted: thanksgivings from Jen Rude

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted. Psalm 40:5, NRSV

Rev. Jen Rude.  Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.

Dear ELM Community,

As I move toward my last days on staff at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, I want to share a few reflections and numerous thanksgivings – more than can be counted.

I first got connected to ELM in 2004. I was a seminary student wondering if I was wasting my time as an LGBTQ person in the Lutheran Church when I was introduced to an Extraordinary community.  I met living witnesses of possibility, faithfulness, courage and hope.  This seed of a connection led me to ELM gatherings with LGBTQ pastors and seminarians, receiving the Joel R. Workin Scholarship, being extraordinarily ordained, serving on the ELM board, and in 2013 joining the staff team as program director.  

Serving as program director with ELM has been a great ministry.  It has stretched me, inspired me and grown my faith.  I love the way our work together lives in the queer spaces of tension: challenging and joyful, thoughtful and creative, focused and flexible, prophetic and pastoral, critiquing and imagining, and most of all Spirit-filled.  

I feel honored to have worked with so many incredible people (like you!).  You, dear friends of ELM, are church to me.  You live out the best of who and what God calls us to be with faithfulness, boldness, hard work and joy.  I have learned so much from you.  I cannot imagine doing this work with a more faithful and fabulous group of people.   

More than a decade after I first “met” ELM, I am even more passionate about our work and filled with joyful gratitude as I think about you, the community of people doing this work.  Our work is still important.  Critical.  Life-saving. Challenging.  Holy.

As I move toward my new call as University Pastor at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA, I look forward to my continuing relationship with ELM as an enthusiastic supporter and member of the Proclaim community.  

With a little sadness, much gratitude, and all love,

Jen esig