by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has been engaged in a strategic vision process over the last year. Early on in the process, I shared with the board a valuable sailing lesson I’d learned years ago. Many know that when you want to change directions in a sailboat, you “come about.” And most sailors will alert their occupants to “prepare to come about.” One wise sailor friend of mine would always warn us to “prepare to prepare to come about.” While this was always said somewhat in jest, I’ve learned that with vision work, when change comes, things happen very quickly and it’s better to take the time preparing so you are ready when it’s time.
And it’s time! We’re excited to announce our new vision and strategic objectives. This has been an evolutionary process – the church, our communities, and our own organization have been in a period of growth and change. The work we did helps set the course for the incoming executive director and the work they will do with the board and staff to create and implement the next steps for ELM.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of LGBTQ+ ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.
Our belief statement has evolved from focusing on the “extraordinary gifts” of LGBTQ+ ministers to an emphasis on public witness. This is a more active belief statement that describes the real change that is possible and is already happening because of the work of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES (next 1-3 years)
Public witness: Model God’s liberation for all by publicly claiming the value of visible LGBTQ+ led ministry. Public witness is one of the core gifts ELM brings to the church – by being our true selves, we invite others to be their true selves. ELM’s focus on this brings purpose to our work and clarity to the point of Proclaim. This is so central to our identity that we must be clear and committed to it. Unwavering commitment to this value will provide clarity and direction in all of our work.
Boldly proclaim: Boldly address barriers and create space for emerging ideas, leaders, and movements. These times call for boldness. By proclaiming boldly we step into brave space, we engage in holy provocation, and we explore big ideas like funding emerging ministry. If we do not embrace boldness, our work could lead us down the road of safely fitting within the system. If we embrace boldness, this direction resonates with the history and spirit of ELM and meets a need in the church right now for truth-telling and action.
As part of this work, we also discussed and named some basic “explicit practices” that describe how we function as an organization. These simple statements describe our commitments and practices.
We listen deeply, we publicly claim our identities, we work collaboratively, we act transparently, we ask ‘who is not here?’, we speak truthfully, even when it is hard, and we laugh together.
I’m so thankful to the board and staff for their thoughtful and engaged work throughout this process. Thanks also to the wonderful Lisa Negstad and Michael Bischoff who guided us through this process.
We welcome your input and engagement as we move forward!
Last week, I was part of a group of people who gathered on a Sunday afternoon in western Los Angeles to install the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan as program director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
Asher has been serving in this role since last August and in the Lutheran tradition, we most often think of installations as a service a congregation hosts for their new pastor.
So why were we installing Asher?
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recognizes that ministry happens in a variety of places. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has a long history of engaging in street, hospital, nursing home, and community ministry. Together, we celebrated Asher’s synodical call to specialized ministry among the LGBTQ+ community as program director of ELM. It was a glorious and significant day as Bishop Guy Erwin, other leaders from throughout the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA, and friends of ELM gathered to recognize Asher’s call.
We honored the extraordinary nature of the day through expansive language and a variety of tools for ministry for Asher (like a pea plant to recognize the Proclaim, Accompaniment, and Engagement programs of ELM!). The Southwest California Synod has recognized Asher’s work as part of his call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Asher’s ministry is not one of place, but of creating space. It is not a ministry with a building, but rather one that is about building a ministry.
I gave the sermon and had quickly honed in on the phrase “rekindle the gift of God within you” from 2 Timothy. Shortly before the service, lector Jason DeRose (ELM Extraordinary Friend and frequent internship committee member for Proclaim interns at St. Paul Lutheran in Santa Monica) checked in with me to see if I was using anything from that reading. Jason planned on using another translation.
It turns out one of the phrases that was worded differently was the very one I’d chosen as a “refrain” for my sermon. Instead of “rekindle the gift of God within you,” this translation read, “fan the flame of God’s gift.”
The day was made especially beautiful thank you to open-hearted hospitality by the people of Lutheran Church of The Master in Los Angeles, who hosted the service and threw a fabulous reception in honor of Asher’s installation and my upcoming departure from ELM. Lutheran Church of the Master has long supported the work of ELM and Proclaim pastors. We give thanks to interim Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson, the many service participants, and all who threw such a lovely reception! Thank you also to Bishop Guy Erwin for presiding and for all who attended the service – the offering of $475 will go towards the Proclaim Gathering Scholarship Fund. (You can make your own gift for this fund right here).
May we each through our own vocation fan the flame of God’s gift.
Amalia Vagts, who at present is changing nearly every aspect of her life and is mostly keeping up, serves as executive director of ELM until July 31, 2017.
Guest blog by Jeffery Ogonowski
Proclaim member and Master of Divinity student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary
The Trinity Lutheran Seminary (TLS) community has experienced steady grief since the announcement of its reunion with Capital University. Capital and TLS were one campus for many years, but over the last 38, the two have grown apart as independent institutions. This reunion will reduce costs and broaden the portfolio of Capital University, but sadness and anger cloud TLS’s students by the uncertain future of the seminary. The community longs for comfort and safety of financial stability, yet it wishes to maintain its autonomous validity. Amidst this challenging climate, TLS welcomed Asher O’Callaghan, program director for ELM, to campus and celebrated the progress of the LGBTQ+ community this past week.
On May 2, 2016, the TLS board approved the designation to be an RIC seminary. Though only for a short time, TLS publicly proclaims itself as a safe and accepting campus for the LGBTQ+ community. This past week the campus celebrated the path of the students who strove for acceptance. The Tuesday morning litany created space for Margie Farnham to testify her pursuit of LGBTQ+ acceptance and safety on the campus. Margie was a student at TLS in the early 90s and joined the staff in 2008. In her testimony, she explored the grief of the cross, reflecting on her faith for a day when LGBTQ+ students could walk the TLS campus in celebration of their gifts for ministry.
Despite the small student enrollment, the LGBTQ+ population is growing at TLS. Among the 1st year students, approximately 19% represent the LGBTQ+ community. However, at the end of June, the majority of the TLS’s staff will lose their jobs, leaving no representation of LGBTQ+ church leadership on the seminary campus. Despite the struggle to gain acceptance for students, the climate on campus continues to need advocates like Margie. This week was for celebration, but as TLS forms leaders for Christ’s church at work in the world, the challenge of acceptance remains.
It is easy to dwell on the fear of the unknown future, but African Theologian John S. Mbiti describes a different understanding of time’s movement. He writes:
In traditional African thought, there is no concept of history moving ‘forward’ towards a future climax, or towards an end of the world. Since the future does not exist beyond a few months, the future cannot be expected to usher in a golden age, or a radically different state of affairs from what is in the Sasa [now] and the Zamani [past].(1)
Despite the worry for the coming years of the transition into a unified campus, stories like Margie’s provide hope for the ‘now.’ Stories like hers help reverse the movement of time and dispel the fear of the unknown future.
(1) John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1977), 23.
Jeff Ogonowski is in his first year of seminary at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. He worked in music retail for five years and has taught piano for the last 10 years in his hometown of New Bern, North Carolina. He enjoys theological discourse and craft beer.
This Sunday, May 7, the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan will be installed as Program Director for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Asher has received a synodical call from the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA to specialized ministry in his role with ELM.
All are invited in body and spirit to Lutheran Church Of The Master in Los Angeles, California. The candlelight eucharist and service of installation begins at 4:00 p.m.
Bishop R. Guy Erwin will be presiding and Amalia Vagts will be preaching. ELM supporters from area congregations are involved with various parts of the service.
All are welcome after the service for a festive reception celebrating the installation, departing executive director Amalia Vagts’ work with ELM over the last decade, and ELM’s ongoing work supporting the public witness of LGBTQ+ ministers in the Lutheran church. Join us as we celebrate fabulous ministers like Asher whose public witness is transforming the church and enriching the world.
by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director
“How are the pastors? What do they need?”
Nearly every conversation I’ve had with Joe McMahon over the last decade included questions like these. Joe always wanted to know about the pastors and was tireless in his care for them.
Joe, long-time board member of Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries (one of our predecessor organizations) and dear friend to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries passed away in his sleep on Thursday, April 20.
The Rev. Jim DeLange recruited Joe for the Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries board in 1995, when the organization moved from regional to national. Joe was a passionate member of the board for the following ten years, offering generous financial support, time, wisdom and commitment to the Gospel. Joe’s significant voice and generosity was critical to the movement at key points, a faithful leader who provided the necessary resources to bring the organization through difficult times. Joe invested in the mission because he believed it made a difference. Joe was one of the leadership givers to the One Voice campaign, which led directly to our growth into Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
Joe is often remembered as the leading voice in encouraging pastors to join the Extraordinary Candidacy Project Roster when it was created. He understood the power of the visible witness of a group of LGBTQ+ ministry leaders. The results of his dedicated work early on can be seen now in the 250+ ministers and seminarians in Proclaim.
Mari Irvin served as a board member with Joe for many years. She shared that after Joe stayed with her and spouse Jeannine Janson after one board meeting, Joe left a potted red rhododendron which they planted in in the front yard. She wrote that the plant has bloomed magnificently every spring and is an ever present memory of Joe and his generosity. Each year, Mari has sent Joe a picture when it has been in full bloom. Mari wrote that blooming is late this year because of all the rain they have had.
“The blooming,” she writes, “will have special meaning this year.”
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries extends our sympathy to Joe’s family and friends. We give thanks to Joe for his deep care for LGBTQ+ ministers and for his fearless advocacy to create changes in the church to welcome their ministry.
Thursday, May 11 at 2:00 pm
Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
Performing Arts / Omni District
464 NE 16th Street; Miami FL 33132
by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director
Today is a day of giving for LGBTQ+ organizations across the country. Thank you to all who give so generously in support of LGBTQ+ Lutheran ministry leaders. We would not be here without you! I want to invite those who haven’t given yet to make a contribution today in support of our 2017 Proclaim Gathering Scholarship Fund.
The Proclaim Gathering is the largest gathering of its kind. It brings together publicly-identified LGBTQ+ rostered ministers and candidates from across the country. The Scholarship Fund ensures that finances are not a barrier to students and those without call. This year’s Gathering, Healing the Violence, will be held July 16 – 19 in Chicago.
It’s so important that LGBTQ+ leaders gather. Here’s what one attendee wrote after last year’s Gathering:
Attending the Proclaim Gathering helped me to feel like I belong to a community in a way I haven’t felt before. The Gathering allowed me to learn more about my own history as a member of this community. It also allowed for growth of relationships in a way that isn’t possible to do over video calls, Facebook, and email. The Gathering helped me to see my own story as deeply connected to others and as a sacred story.
It’s even more important that ministers and seminarians go home, renewed and ready to provide ministry to people who deeply need it. Another attendee from last year shared her thoughts about this:
The Proclaim Gathering replenishes my spirit to celebrate our history and envision our future together. It helps me return to my congregation renewed and better equipped for ministry.
Your gift of $50 or $100 – or any amount – will help us provide scholarships to all who need them. If you have the means, you can provide a full scholarship with a gift of $395. Any additional funds will help cover the other costs of the Gathering so we can keep the registration low for everyone.
While some attendees can use professional development funds to attend, most pay out of pocket – and nearly all cover their own travel costs as well. We keep the registration cost low so that as many in the Proclaim community can attend as possible. But many participants are in seminary or don’t have a call. Others serve churches that struggle financially. That’s why your scholarship gift is so critical.
The power of Proclaim is community. It means that even though LGBTQ+ ministers may feel isolated from time to time, they know they are not alone. They are connected through you and their friends in Proclaim. Your gift will give these leaders a chance to experience the strength of community.
And then, most importantly, they will go back to their congregations and ministry sites renewed for ministry in places and with people who need it.
Thank you for considering making your gift today. I’d love to add your name to the list of those who will receive thank you notes from the Proclaim Gathering this year – we love writing those notes!
Amalia Vagts (in yellow) looks unsure about Easter in this late 1970’s photo, but is definitely on board with it this year, especially after listening to her pastor’s Easter sermon and church council colleague’s meeting devotion to “practice resurrection,” drawn from the poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” by Wendell Berry.
by Christephor Gilbert
ELM Communications and Development Coordinator
In February, the ELM Board of Directors voted to welcome the Rev. Matthew L. James as their newest member. Matt moved to Chicago in September of last year (with his husband, Deacon John E. Weit) to accept a call as the Director of Admissions at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). Prior to this call, he served for three years as Associate Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA, and as Protestant Campus Chaplain at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Matt received his Master of Divinity from the Lutheran Theological School at Philadelphia, and also holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism/public relations and communications from the University of Northern Colorado and a master of arts in media studies from The Pennsylvania State University. Matt is a member of Proclaim and a former Joel R. Workin Scholar.
I had the privilege of sitting down to talk with Matt about his various experiences, and was especially intrigued about his backstory as one of the first Proclaim members.
Matt’s journey to the ELM Board is in and through his experience as an LGBTQ+ candidate for Word and Sacrament prior to 2009, during the time of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP). The year was 2005, and through the movement of the Spirit and the guidance of his pastor at Luther Place in Washington, D.C., Matt began the candidacy process through ECP. Throughout the journey, including the three-year wait for his first call, Matt was bolstered by the pastoral and spiritual support he received through the cloud of witnesses that make up Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.
He was excited to intentionally reengage with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries upon his move to Chicago and the new call at LSTC. It was then that he was contacted by Proclaim member and former ELM board member, the Rev. Rose Beeson, about serving on the board. Clearly, the Spirit at work, once again!
Matt is excited about the capacity ELM has to raise up LGBTQ+ leaders to serve – the hope, strength, and energy they bring to the church of tomorrow – but now! He affirms that there is much to celebrate post-2009, but still much work to be done to continue moving toward God’s preferential future.
When Matt isn’t finding the leaders of tomorrow at LSTC, or continuing to foster LGBTQ+ leadership through ELM, you might find him digging into scripture for inspiration, dreaming about finally taking those piano lessons, or adding yet another DVD or doll to his ever-growing Muppets collection (with Fozzie the Bear being his favorite).
Current members of the ELM Board of Directors are: Rev. Dr. J. Elise Brown (New York, NY); Rev. Brad Froslee (Minneapolis, MN); Charlie Horn (Pitman, NJ); Rev. Mike Wilker (Washington, DC); Dr. Margaret Moreland (Berkeley, CA); Rev. Emily Ewing (Peterson, MN); Nicole Johnson (Minneapolis, MN); Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad (Minneapolis, MN); Rev. Jeff Johnson (Berkeley, CA); Emily Ann Garcia (Vancouver, British Columbia); Rev. Matthew James (Chicago, IL).
Christephor Gilbert currently serves as the Communications and Development Coordinator for ELM, and is finishing up his second year in the MDiv Program at LSTC. When he is not working or schooling, he remembers fondly when he sang both “I’ts Not Easy Being Green” and “The Rainbow Connection” in fifth-grade choir.
by Laura Ferree
Master of Divinity student, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, and member of Proclaim.
Proclaim, a program of ELM, is a community of 250 publicly-identified LGBTQ+ Lutheran rostered minister, candidates, and seminarians.
On January 3rd, 2017 I arrived at the Columbus, OH airport excited to board a plane and make my way to the Holy Land. I was embarking on this trip with my school, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, as my January term course. I did not know what to expect as we were boarding our flight to Tel Aviv. Part of me was nervous and the other part was so excited to walk on the same land where Jesus walked.
After flying all night our plane finally landed in Tel Aviv and the trip became real. From the moment we stepped foot on holy ground our trip was off to the races and not slowing down! We traveled from Tel Aviv to Galilee to Caesarea to Zippori to Caesarea Philippi to Capernaum to Jericho to Bethlehem to Battir to Jerusalem and the list could go on. We had a jam-packed schedule! We were always being shuffled from one place to the next while our tour guide, Khalil, shouted, “Yella people!” meaning hurry up or let’s go in Arabic.
I remember one point in the trip when “Yella people!” was being shouted but I couldn’t hurry up! As I was getting on our bus after a stop by the Sea of Galilee I looked out the window and saw Proclaim members. I shouted, “Those are my people!” and ran off the bus, ignoring Khalil saying “Yella Laura!” We had just a short time to reconnect before I was pulled back onto the bus so that we could continue our journey but I remember feeling filled with joy as I saw “my people” in a land that is so far away from home.
This is not the last place that I saw “my people”. There were three ELCA seminaries in the Holy Land at the same time and we all happened to be staying in Jerusalem during the same time. A seminary meet up was arranged and I could not contain my excitement during the day that our meet up would happen knowing that I would get to see Proclaim folks for the first time in almost a year. This community is so interconnected that we even find each other while we are in a foreign land.
That night of community in the Holy Land reminded me to kindle my flame and allowed me to remember how meaningful the Proclaim community is to me. As I continued to bump into Proclaim friends throughout the trip it always brought me joy to remember that I am a part of such a tight knit community of folks who free me to proclaim God’s good word to all.
Laura Ferree lives in Columbus, OH and is a second-year Master of Divinity student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. Once she survives this spring semester, Laura will start as the intern at Luther Memorial Church in Seattle, WA.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is seeking a candidate to serve in the Executive Director position. Interested candidates should email their cover letter and resume to the Executive Director Search Committee, firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications will be accepted until May 1, 2017, position will be filled mid-June.
About the position:
Grounded in the belief that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identifying (LGBTQ+) people have extraordinary gifts for ministry, the Executive Director provides leadership in partnership with the Board of Director and staff. The Executive Director casts a strategic vision, leads fund development, and guides operational and program implementation. The Executive Director serves as the only full-time development position on staff.
Full job description and guiding qualifications: Executive Director Job Description: ELM-EDJobDescription
by Asher O’Callaghan
ELM Program Director
Registration and scholarship applications for the 2017 Proclaim Gathering will open this Saturday, April 1st. You can register here.
The Proclaim Gathering brings together publicly-identified LGBTQ+ rostered ministers and candidates from across the church. ELM friends make it possible for seminarians and rostered leaders experiencing financial hardship to attend by providing funds for scholarships – you gave close to $10,000 in scholarships last year, and you can help again this year! Give now.
We’ve moved the Proclaim Gathering to a new time – in the summer – and this year we’ll be in the heart of Chicago. Our 2017 Gathering will be at the Cenacle Retreat Center from July 16th-19th.
The theme this year is Healing the Violence. Local speakers from the Chicago area will help Proclaimers name the violence, explore pathways of healing, and then send them back out into ministry with some practical tools. And, we’ll have plenty of inspiring worship, relationship building with colleagues, and space for leaders to be their full and fabulous queer selves. By the end of it, we send these leaders out renewed and ready to provide ministry to people who deeply need it.
We keep registration affordable so money is not a barrier to attending. Your gift of $100 – or more if you can do that today– will help us provide scholarships to all who need them. You can provide a full scholarship with a gift of $395. We’ll send you a card from the Gathering to express our thanks!
Asher O’Callaghan can’t wait for July 16th, when the 2017 Proclaim Gathering begins! The Gathering has been one of the highlights of his year since 2012. Asher’s favorite hobbies include surfing, discovering craft beers, and writing short bios in the third person.