“Family in Christ– we are gathered this morning as children of a God that invites us into community to #JustBe. In this service we pause to worship and commune…to pray for our world and for our LGBTQIA+ siblings throughout God’s creation (we pray especially for our brothers Ronald, Shariff and Nathan in Uganda) and then we go out to join the masses in hip shaking and change making.”
– Vicar Kelsey Brown, LA Pride Sermon, 2018
I’ve been doing this Pride thing for a pretty long time, in fact my very first pride parade was over 10 years ago in New York City…little did I know, eleven years later I would take my spot on the streets of West Hollywood to be the street preacher at a Street Eucharist in LA Pride?!?
Pride is a marvelous thing! (FULL STOP) but as I said in my sermon Sunday morning on the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Blvd, Pride is something we hide behind. We all dust off our rainbow flags and throw on some Diana Ross’ “I’m coming out” the morning of June 1st but our people, in our pews and in the world need to know God’s delight in their identities 365 days a year.
11 years ago my favorite thing about the Pride parade was dancing in the street, carefree; this year however my favorite thing quickly became being the face of the “Church” for the people of Southern California.
In a world that tries to silence us, scare us and blame us – we were able to go out and change hearts and minds simply by being present. We got to hand out buttons and put temporary tattoos on people and we got to have a lot of fun, but most importantly we got to look them in the eye, like Christ would have.
I, as intern of both St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica and SoCalLutherans.com was able to wear my collar and hold my girlfriend’s hand as we marched. I couldn’t help but tear up as I passed people who looked at us with temporary confusion as they clocked my clerical collar but I kept on marching anyway because I couldn’t help feeling like maybe somewhere in the crowd stood a little girl like me who’d been told by her Church or by the world that she’s deviant or broken. I prayed our presence would reassure her that God hasn’t placed rules on who she can love.
That’s what pride means to me: it’s shining God’s delight for ALL God’s created.
Churches who march and attend pride events help bring that delight to the people who might need it the most – our very being there shakes up the notion of a God who hates who they’ve created, it peels back the curtain and it lets God’s rainbow light of love shine through.
Kelsey Brown (she/her/hers) is a 3rd year student at United Lutheran Seminary, Philadelphia Campus. She is currently serving as Vicar of St.Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California but is a native New Yorker. She likes dancing around the kitchen, advocating for racial justice and the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community and watching Netflix stand up comedy.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is seeking candidates to serve as ELM’s Program Director.
Interested candidates should email their cover letter and resume to ELM’s Executive Director, Amanda Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org by July 10th, 2018.
About the position:
The program director builds and supports community through the Proclaim program; journeys alongside and equips candidates through the Accompaniment program; works to expand call opportunities at all levels of the church through the Ministry Engagement program; recruits, develops, and equips volunteer leaders for each program; and works collaboratively with the executive director, associate director, and the program & administrative assistant on strategic work and communications for these programs. The program director supervises one (part-time) staff person.
Applications will be accepted until July 10th, 2018. Position will be filled by August 15th.
Full job description and guiding qualifications: Program Director Position Description.
Questions may be sent to email@example.com
ELM is committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all qualified individuals and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, marital status, veteran status, parental status, or any other basis prohibited by applicable law.
During the peak of the HIV/AIDS crisis in San Francisco, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zilhart began using this as a post-communion blessing at St. Francis Lutheran Church where they served as pastors:
“Live forgiven. Claim your wholeness. Go in peace.”
Phyllis and Ruth’s calls were extraordinary ones – literally “outside of the ordinary” process of the ELCA which did not allow the ordination of publicly identifying LGBTQIA+ people until 2009. In principled non-compliance with the ELCA’s policy, St. Francis Lutheran Church decided to call them and as a result was expelled from the denomination.
Nevertheless, week after week, Phyllis and Ruth persisted in presiding over and serving communion to those gathered for worship, many of whom were living with HIV/AIDS. Week after week, they served communion to family members, spouses, and friends caring for loved ones who were nearing the ends of their lives. And week after week, the body and blood of Christ was given to people who had lost loved ones to this disease, to which so much unnecessary social stigma has been attached. Their ministry was as extraordinary as their call.
We take pride in this history of persistence that our community has shown in the face of prejudice, the way gender and sexual minorities have thrived and done ministry that has transformed the church and enriched the world. This part of our community’s history has inspired our Proclaim Gathering theme for this year: “Claim Your Wholeness”.
The challenges and stigmas that LGBTQIA+ people face in our society and our church have shifted over the past 25 years. The landscape has changed, but the struggle continues.
What does it mean in our present context today for gender and sexual minorities to boldly claim our wholeness as rostered ministers and candidates in the church?
Here’s what a few of our Proclaimers had to say:
“It means standing up straight even as someone tries to kick you down. It means being 100% yourself even when it’s taboo to do so. I think of Wholeness as our entire being – even the broken bits or the pieces we’d rather hide away. Accepting love and grace from God and one another not despite our failings, but because of them. I think of being a queer POC in the whitest denomination in the United States… so when people ask me why I’m in this Church, why I’m a Lutheran? I answer because I’ve been a Lutheran my whole life, even if the Church struggles to find a “place” for me – God has already prepared a place for me at God’s side.”
-Kelsey Brown, co-chair of Worship Team planning this year’s Gathering
“I heard of a UCC preacher named Traci Blackmon say that she wasn’t giving up any of her boxes because each one of them gave her part of her strength. She refused to be Christian or gay or black or country or political or… she was each and every one of those things all at the same time, and the way they interacted was greater than the sum of her parts.”
-Carla Christopher, seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary
“God gives us this mustard-seed-sized glimpse of ourselves that isn’t fully realized until we claim ourselves and our wholeness and grow to be all that God imagined we could be in all our rainbow glory.”
-Katy Miles-Wallace, intern, serves as part of the Proclaim Welcome Duo which orients new members to Proclaim
What does it mean for you to Claim Your Wholeness? If you’re a Proclaim member, or would like to sign up to become one, we’d love for you to join us as we explore what it means for us in the church today.
The Gathering will be held at the Pearlstone Center just outside of Baltimore, MD from August 5-8 this year. Registration closes July 6th, and there are currently 23 remaining registration discounts left. So don’t wait, register here today! Scholarships are available for those who are retired, seminarians, or others without a full-time call as well as those experiencing financial need. Apply here for scholarship.
All Proclaim members and their families are welcome to attend the Gathering which is an annual in-person time for learning, community building, and renewal. You can read a bit more about the line-up for the Gathering this year here.
Asher O’Callaghan (he/him/his) serves as Program Director for ELM. He gets to lead the teams that organize and plan for the Gathering as part of his job. He hopes he’ll see you there this year!
June marks the start of Pride month across our country. From small towns to large cities, the LGBTQIA+ community and their friends and families will come together to celebrate identity, organize for empowerment, and remember those who have gone before us as extraordinary saints of our movement. During the month of June, ELM’s blog will reflect stories of Pride – the feeling, the event, the movement.
This week, ELM’s staff reflect on the theme: “Serving with Pride!”
Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, Program Director
10 years ago,
I never would have dreamed,
not even in my wildest of nightmares,
that I would end up here.
Happy, healthy, proud.
10 years ago,
I thought I was condemned to be
unhappy, unhealthy, ashamed.
I thought that love was beyond me.
I thought that God’s love was contingent
on me renouncing love,
on me never being me.
Life is surprising.
I didn’t know God as well as I thought.
I didn’t know myself as well I thought.
Being dead wrong saved my life.
Love is how we know God.
So when I cut myself off from love,
I cut myself off from God.
We can’t know God without love.
Because love is what God does.
It’s who God is.
Love makes all things new,
Love gave me a new name, a new identity, a new community.
Love made me transgender and bisexual.
Love gives us all a new calling.
It gives us the fire, the energy, to do things we never thought we could.
You can’t receive love without wanting to go share it.
Love has made me proud.
Proud of what God is doing.
Proud of who I am becoming,
The unimaginable person I’ll be in another 10 years.
Proud of the community surrounding me,
that loves people into being.
Proud of those who went before me,
the shoulders I’m standing on.
Proud of this work of love that God is still calling us to.
I am PROUD of what God’s love has done.
It is indeed right, our duty and our joy,
that we should at all times and in all places
on the streets in Pride Parades
and in the sanctuary every Sunday.
Hannah Dorn, Program and Administrative Assistant
Though I grew up in an ELCA church regularly attending services, I didn’t always feel a connection to my faith. It was like there was some kind of “Christianity Box” that I didn’t quite fit into. A square peg and a round hole. I believed I couldn’t be my true self within the church. It drove me away from my church, clouded my relationship with God, and ultimately caused me to feel unworthy of Christ’s love.
In January of 2015, I came across a booth in my college’s student center for a Christian Sorority. Though this was most certainly not my typical scene, I realized that God was presenting me with an opportunity for change and I joined up. It was within this organization that I first realized how different one Christian could be from another and that this was certainly not a bad thing.
It was here that I realized that my uniqueness was exactly what made me so perfectly equipped to share God’s love and that the sharing of His love and light is our greatest duty to God. It was here that I realized I was most definitely worthy of Christ’s love and I needed to spread that sense of worth to those around me.
The light and the love and the image of God are all boundaryless. Thus, we who are born into that light, cherished in that love, and created in that image cannot be placed in a single box.
To work for an organization that lifts up the uniqueness of God’s children and recognizes difference as strength rather than weakness brings me great pride and joy. I am so grateful to be given the opportunity to further understand the trials that face God’s children, especially within the LGBTQIA+ community. Through deeper understanding, we strengthen our ability to love in the way God loves every one of us no matter our shape: circle, square, star, rainbow.
Rev. Amanda Nelson, Executive Director
I didn’t go to seminary to be a gay pastor – in fact, I didn’t even mention my orientation in my entrance paperwork for the ELCA candidacy process. I didn’t yet see a connection between my identity as a queer woman and my calling to serve the church.
But when it came time for my approval essay, I couldn’t separate my faith, my calling, and my queer identity.
I didn’t intentionally pick to do my field education at First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco – one of the congregations that defied ELCA policy in 1990 by calling and ordaining the Rev. Jeff Johnson. I simply wanted to have a ministry site in a context unfamiliar to me (a suburbanite) and this site was in the city.
But in their midst, and in the context of the Bay Area, I was introduced to a history that had shaped my present and was shaping my future.
The Holy Spirit is sneaky that way: pushing us, engaging us, calling us into a holy narrative of liberating love and divine pride – and, sometimes, it takes a while for us to put the pieces together to see the bigger picture.
Today, I actually don’t mind being a gay pastor (though, I know this is not every LGBTQIA+ person’s call). And, I’m thrilled to be called to a ministry that not only celebrates my identity but sees it as an asset to the work that I do.
The ELM Board has never asked me to “tone down” my queer identity. I’ve never been asked by an ELM donor not to tell them about my fiancee, Tasha, because “they’re okay with LGBTQIA+ people as long as they don’t have to see it.” My colleagues encourage me to wear rainbow buttons and stoles at events so that I can be identified as an LGBTQIA+ leader in our church. I’m invited to preach on “gay things” in congregations across the country all the time.
I recognize that I serve a unique call, but I believe this liberation is possible in our congregations and in our Church. This glimpse into the kin-dom inspires me daily to do the work that I do – and I do it with such deep pride.
Happy Pride, beloveds!
The staff of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries work to support ELM’s programs and to spread the joy of LGBTQIA+ leadership to the Lutheran church and the wider world. ELM’s staff span the country – Asher in Denver, CO, Hannah in Chicago, IL, and Amanda in Portland, ME – and, take great pride in the work they do together.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is remembering an Extraordinary Saint in our movement this week: John Eric Rolfstad.
John Eric served on the Board of Directors for Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries – a predecessor body to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries – and was an avid supporter of Lutherans Concerned/North America, which became ReconcilingWorks.
“John Eric was a kind and gentle man,” writes ELM Board Member, the Rev. Jeff Johnson (San Francisco). “He was an early supporter of LLGM and the movement within the church to abolish the policies of discrimination against queer people.”
Jeff remembers that John Eric “was one of the lead organizers of an annual week at Holden Village for LGBTQIA+ people that countered the shame so many face in the church with affirmation, warmth, and unconditional loving kindness.”
It was there that Amalia Vagts, former Executive Director of ELM, first met John Eric: “I met him at Holden Village years ago before I began working with ELM. He was hosting a happy hour and had brought in an elegant selection of cheese and wine to share.”
Amalia shared recently that “John Eric was a wonderfully warm and kind presence. He lived generously and traveled when he could to be at extraordinary ordinations or special events and always seemed thrilled to connect with the ELM & LC/NA communities. He was always such a joyful, warm, kind, person.”
John Eric will be remembered for many things tomorrow (6/2) at his memorial service at Seattle’s First Baptist Church (1111 Harvard Avenue, at 1:00 pm with a reception to follow). To ELM, he will be remembered for his kindness, his hospitality, his belief in the gifts and beauty of the LGBTQIA+ community, and his hearty laugh.
For more personal information about John Eric, you may read his obituary here.
Rest eternal grant him, O God. And may light perpetual shine upon him. Amen.
Photo above from obituary.
My “coming out story” has the threads of our story as an LGBTQIA+ community yet it is my own story as well. It starts with my older sister coming out at age 19 in 1972. My parents sent her to a psychiatrist who concluded, they had a “nice daughter.” The timing was significant because 1972 was the first year that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used by psychiatrists, no longer listed homosexuality as a mental illness. I have always assumed this empowered the psychiatrist to say she wasn’t mentally ill and was perfectly fine to be a lesbian. This was a blessing for our family.
About 4 years later, my younger brother came out as gay. At that time, I did not yet identify as bisexual, because I was really into guys. So, I donned the identity as the straight child in the family. This was an identity I had to overcome when I came out as bisexual.
During my marriage to my son’s father, I met a woman and was bowled over by feelings that were entirely unexpected. I wasn’t even sure what these feelings meant and did not pursue them. This experience was the first of several that led me to identify as bisexual. It was a surprise that moved me into uncertainty – similar to the surprise of being called to Word and Sacrament ministry when I was very settled in a nursing career.
My time in seminary was pivotal. I started as a sister advocating for her LGBTQIA+ siblings and finished by realizing I was advocating for myself. At the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC), I worked with others to bring conversations and presentations to the seminary community during the late 90’s. I take pride in being present when the name “Thesis 96” emerged at the Chicago Gay Pride Parade in 1999. Still today, Thesis 96 continues to be the name of the LGBTQIA+ advocacy group at LSTC.
For internship, I requested to be in the San Francisco Bay Area to be near my brother who was affected by AIDs. My request was granted, with the gift of an internship at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Oakland where Pastor Ross Merkel had been “defrocked” by the ELCA in 1994 after he publicly came out. St. Paul Lutheran kept him as their pastor despite church policy. It was an incredible experience to see faith in the midst of pain as people continued to remain in relationship with the ELCA and work for change. This was where I learned about the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP) and Lutheran Lesbian Gay Ministries (LLGM) – the predecessor bodies to ELM.
My time at St. Paul Lutheran in Oakland was another step into understanding my sexual identity more fully. It wasn’t until several years after seminary, however, that I fully and publicly claimed my sexual orientation as bisexual, shifting into the ECP Process.
I was the 7th person to be ordained extra ordinem in 2002 by four congregations in Oakland and Alameda, California to a large nursing home ministry. I was the first extraordinarily ordained person to identify as bisexual. It is an honor to be part of this historic roster and be with all faithful Lutheran identified Christians who worked to change ELCA policy.
However far we have come, we still have a lot of work today. I recently received negative feedback from a congregation who was given my name to be their interim pastor. I was not treated with respect. Yet, I believe it was their loss.
They lost an experienced pastor with the wide berth of skills a congregational pastor needs today. They lost the energy, the knowledge, and strategy that I and many LGBTQIA+ pastors have to make space for the Spirit, transforming our old dying ways with new life-giving ways of collaboration, justice, and prophetic imagination.
We have so much to offer the church today. We know we can get through the trials and tribulations of today by remaining faithful in the tension of our own pain and the anxiety of our communities.
As Saint Paul writes in Romans, “But we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5.3-5).
Sharon Stalkfleet (she/her/hers) served as a registered nurse for 16 years prior to receiving a Master’s of Divinity from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, She was ordained extra ordenim by four congregations in Oakland and Alameda, CA in 2002. In 2010, she was received into the ELCA along with 7 other LGBTQ pastors in San Francisco Bay Area. She has served as pastor to Lutheran Ministry to Nursing Homes, as a hospice chaplain and most recently serves as an Intentional Interim Pastor. She is a member of the Candidacy Committee and Sanctuary Task Force. She lives with her dog Greta in Berkeley and is very partial to her two grandchildren.
My life has felt like a series of “coming outs.” I came out as queer in high school and to my disappointment, no one was surprised. It felt like the longest crescendo and I was finally going to share my truth! Come to find out, my gender expression and sexual orientation had about as much volume as Uncle Jesse’s hair on Full House. I attended Concordia College in Bronxville, NY, and it was there that I was given the space and freedom to figure out what my sexuality meant to me and how I was going to move through the world as a queer Iranian-American woman; very a-la Felicity.
For as long as I remember I could feel a call towards serving others but didn’t know how to reconcile that internal call with the rules of the church. It was like I was Moana on the Island of the LCMS.
In 2007 when I changed my major from Liberal Studies to Social Work, I flourished. I had found the answer in a world where I couldn’t be a pastor let alone be “out” and also serve the church. I received my Masters degree in Social Work, volunteered at a camp for children with congenital heart defects, and landed what I thought was my “dream job” working with chronically and terminally ill children. I was the Leslie Knope of pediatric palliative care!
Still, I continued to feel a nagging toward ministry – it felt like the sound of Janice’s voice when she sees Chandler Bing, except all of the time. I remember typing into my search engine, “LGBTQIA+ female pastors in the Lutheran church.” After a few clicks around I found Proclaim and a wave of relief came over me. There was a community that could support me and recognize the gifts I had to offer the church! I reached out and started on a path of discernment that has lead me to sharing this story with you.
I was raised Agnostic with Catholic and Muslim grandparents and while I found sanctuary in my observations of their faithfulness, this made my being called to Word and Sacrament in the Lutheran church delicate to navigate. This second coming out gave me the reaction I was looking for in my FIRST coming out! My family was initially, and continue to be, shocked and confused. I heard questions like, “I didn’t know you were religious.” “Why Lutheran?” “Can you be a gay woman and a pastor? How?” “Why do you use the word queer?”; I have answered more questions around my call to ministry than when I came out as queer.
Looking back, it was the the Holy Spirit that continued to pull me back to church and back to God’s word. She continues to give me strength to use my voice to proclaim the gospel. Her light shines on my gifts for the church and She’s showing me how to use them in service to others. She’s persistent, that Holy Spirit.
Margarette Ouji is a 1st year MDiv student at PLTS. She lives with her wife Abby and their adopted Shih Tzu, Luther (named for the BBC detective). When Margarette isn’t studying, you can either find her at home, crocheting and cheering on the Green Bay Packers or attempting to learn Farsi with her grandmother in Sacramento.
Ministry in My Veins
by Rev. Nathan Gruel
Proclaim member and Pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Ocala, FL
I’m told this should be a “coming out” story. I’m not a big fan of the closet analogy, so I’m not sure I want to talk about “coming out.” Perhaps “coming over” works better. Or “coming on?” Even better, how about “coming up?”
In any case it was 1979, and I was in a Missouri Synod parish in Logansport, Indiana, where I figured out who I was and told my Board of Elders (it was Missouri Synod, remember) that I was going to resign my role as their pastor. I wasn’t ready for complete honesty, so I kept the reason for the resignation to myself.
Soon thereafter I made the same announcement to my District President (it was Missouri Synod, remember), and I didn’t offer him any explanation either. Why bother? My removal from the LCMS roster was predictable and inevitable, since he already knew I was on the wrong (from his view) side of the controversy that was raging in Missouri (Synod) at that time.
So, now what? I knew I needed some time to collect my thoughts, but I also knew professional ministry was in my blood. Thus began an extraordinary – and seemingly endless – journey of discernment. In 1979, deep in the Midwest, there was no context for me to have the slightest hope that I would ever again be allowed to serve as pastor to a community of God’s people.
What an unexpected and grace-filled surprise it was when, some 20 years later I became aware of a small group of similarly disenfranchised siblings who also had professional ministry in their blood, and they weren’t giving up. I was approved to the Extraordinary Candidacy Project roster on November 11, 2002. These siblings inspired and encouraged me to “come up.” In other words, hope was born. Just as we do now, we gathered in retreat yearly back then, and connecting with these folks was professional dialysis.
The years that followed were a time of hope and waiting – sort of a multi-year advent season. Twenty-three years had passed since I walked away from my call to parish ministry. I was now 56 years young. While the word “never” no longer seemed applicable, I was convinced that a change of policy in the ELCA was still years away – certainly beyond my dream.
An especially fond and prominent memory for me during this time of waiting is participating in the protest stand-in that was led by the ECP roster at the 2005 Churchwide in Orlando. It was a proud personal moment in our collective history.
The churchwide actions of 2009 were a complete surprise. Things continued to move slowly, but hope was gradually being fulfilled as one by one the members of the ECP roster moved into the ELCA roster, always celebrating the church’s long-overdue affirmation of our call to ministry. With only a handful of persons left on the ECP roster, I was beginning to feel “left behind” until, on March 14, 2011, I was approved to the ELCA roster in the Florida-Bahamas Synod.
Four years later, I received a call from that synod to serve as interim for Our Saviour Lutheran Church, in Ocala, and 1½ years later I was installed as their pastor in a half-time call. I was now 71. 43 years had passed since I was ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. It had been 36 years since I left my call in Indiana, and I had been living hopefully on the ECP roster for 13 years.
Comparatively speaking, my time back in professional ministry has been really short. It comes out to just over 2 years and 11 months. It sounds more impressive in days. That’s a total of 1074. Renewed ministry flowing in my veins every single one of them. Soli Deo gloria – with a little help from my friends.
Rev. Nate Gruel (he/him/his) moved to Ocala, FL, in early March to be near his beloved church community. He pastors at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Ocala, initially as interim, but then in a part-time call. Yes, interim-to-pastor is a no-no even in the deep south, but towing the line of church regulations has never been his strong suit. Singular commitment to grace-filled ministry is so much more fun!
Photo at top: A picture taken on the day of Nate’s ordination, June 19, 1972, at St. John Lutheran Church, Algonquin, Ilinois
Photo at bottom: The gathering of the members of the ECP roster at St. Dorothy’s Rest, CA
Bio Photo: Emily Ann Garcia
“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Growing up in Kansas, I knew this line (and all the others) from The Wizard of Oz by heart.
It wasn’t until much later when I was figuring out my own sexual orientation that this song took on a new meaning.
Dorothy’s world was just turned upside down and she finds herself in a strange bright place where everything is new. In this song from the beginning of her journey, Glinda brings everyone out into the open so they can offer her their enthusiastic support.
Coming out can be really scary, but one of the spiritual blessings of Proclaim is that it is a community of folks who have already chosen to fully live the lives God gave us.
I was at the initial Proclaim gathering back in 2011, and served on the leadership team as the community came together. It felt like crossing into technicolor. Each week we welcomed new seminarians, ordained clergy, or other rostered leaders into our fold warmly, with enthusiastic support.
Those involved with ELM before us had shown us the way, and now we were making it safer to come out. While our journey had begun, we knew others were still waiting; many of our fellow religious leaders were stuck in the monochrome closet. Could our new community help them? How could we be like Glinda?
ELM has seemed like the wonderful colorful land of Oz where the impossible becomes possible. From time to time clergy reach out to us asking for advice and support. They have been choosing to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity from their faith communities. We’ve tried to meet these requests as they come, but so far we haven’t produced a comprehensive resource that could help folks navigate their own coming out journey. There really isn’t any other written resource out there specifically for closeted religious leaders.
I have an activity I’ve done with some of my Adult Education groups, where together we take rolls of masking tape and we transform whatever table we’re sitting around into a giant maze.
At one end is “the closet” and the other end is “coming out”. I ask them to try to come up with as many different reasons as they can about why someone would stay in the closet and we would write them on the walls of the maze.
Soon the maze is full of barriers and obstacles, dead ends, and wrong turns labeled with things like “Anti-Gay Family,” “Already in a heterosexual marriage,” and “No role models.” Coming out can be difficult and each person’s journey has unique twists and turns.
We read the story from Genesis, chapter 20, where Abraham and Sarah travel in a strange place and choose to disguise their relationship out of fear, but then are protected when the truth finally emerges.
When I did this activity with my own congregation, I recognized parts of my journey and parts from others in Proclaim. We had been learning so much from each other this whole time! I wondered how the Holy Spirit could use ELM to make this journey a bit easier for our closeted colleagues.
In 2016 Proclaim decided to gather our collective experience and generate a document that could help closeted religious leaders finally cross into technicolor of truth. We gathered stories and quotes, interviewed each other, and shared scriptures we had found meaningful. All of us knew some colleagues who would benefit from something like this, and we wrote with them in mind.
God loves people still in the closet. We’ve been praying for them. We’ve been encouraging them. Now we have something to share with them. This resource is the first step toward this side of the rainbow. Hopefully it will be reworked and revised over time.
Coming out is one of the most significant things queer leaders can do to improve their lives and the lives of others. It’s not just a one-time experience, we are coming out all the time. We hope you’ll share this resource and help us improve it for the future. Our journey together is just beginning!
Rev. Caleb Crainer (he/him/his) serves St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in colorful Los Angeles, California. He enjoys attending science lectures, trying new foods, and playing in an all-gay kickball league. ELM, and specifically the Proclaim community, has been a major part of his vocational path toward ordained ministry in the ELCA. Pastor Caleb encourages us to bring our whole lives to church, because God loves us for who we actually are.
Photo at top: Provided by author
Bio Photo: Proclaim Gathering photo
Freed to Abundant Life
by Rev. Steve Hoffard
Proclaim member and Pastor of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church–Kingston, ON
One of the strangest things that happens to me as a pastor is that, occasionally, I am hit hard by the truth of the gospel right in the middle of preaching.
I can wrestle with a text and finding the right words for a whole week, going over it again and again. I even practice preaching it from the pulpit a number of times as part of my homiletic practice, and nothing particularly moving or spectacular happens.
Then wham! It does. Suddenly the Holy Spirit illuminates something for me right in the middle of proclaiming the gospel.
This is what happened to me two summers ago. A secret I had held tightly for fifty years, one that I had only whispered to one other person a few weeks earlier, confronted me in the middle of a sermon.
I was preaching on the Lutheran World Federation theme “Liberated by God’s Grace: Humanity Not for Sale”. In particular, I was speaking about the grace Jesus spoke of in John’s gospel saying, “I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” In that moment, I suddenly understood that not living my truth had affected someone else besides me.
By keeping my secret, my wife of twenty-two years was not able to experience the abundant life she deserved. It was in that moment that I knew what I had to do. It was the beginning of sharing my truth with my family, friends and congregation that I am and have always been gay.
I spent months coming out to family, friends and those closest to me. Then one day, I found myself standing in the same pulpit, trembling as I shared with the congregation how grace had called me forth in my full identity.
I told them about my orientation and how I no longer desired to change it. Most importantly, I told them that I was good with who God created me to be.
I recognized it as a gift that made me more sensitive to the struggle of others and therefore a better pastor. I had been freed to the abundant life that God intended for me and for all of us.
Now when I climb into the pulpit, I don’t expect something revelatory to happen. But I never know where the Holy Spirit will take me next!
Rev. Steve Hoffard (he/him/his) is pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Kingston, Ontario. He continues to blunder into God’s grace unexpectedly while exploring who God created him to be.