by the Rev. Douglas Barclay
Proclaim member and Pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church, Manchester, CT
When I was a child I would hide beneath the pew during the endless sermons at my central PA church. But when the organ would play it was like the voice of God. I would sit up on the pew and strain to see the organist: clearly the person closest to God.
Other Sundays with my grandmother we wouldn’t “go to church” but we could watch TV church…The Hour of Power. The Crystal Cathedral had water features and the glass doors would open as the organ postlude exploded…I was convinced that Fred Swann was a divine being.
I was hooked.
While some children dreamed of becoming astronauts, I wanted to be a church organist, preferably a caped organist.
After years of piano lessons at 14 my dream job finally emerged. My English teacher offered me my first organ job at her Methodist church. A vintage Wurlitzer electronic organ was the instrument. Soon enough I would soon graduate to the bigger Lutheran churches with real pipe organs in the small town in Western PA.
In the midst of all of this I was also struggling with the realization that I was gay. I would have done anything to be delivered from such a fate, especially in scary gun-toting Western PA. It was in that place of fear that I heard God’s voice once again through music.
While preparing for Sunday worship, sitting on the organ bench, I had what I can only describe as a mystical encounter with God. As I was playing, I felt the entire world melt away…erotic rapture.
I interpret that experience as one of pure grace. God’s presence made me aware that I was entirely held, known, loved and accepted.
I think I was given this gift so that no matter how bad it got in school or at my house, no matter how close to self-harm I came, I would have something to keep me alive.
God gave me the gift of escape through music as well and I went on to study piano and organ at college. The music of the church and the liturgy kept calling. My first job out of college was as an organist at a Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore. Even though it wasn’t a gay mecca, I finally could be out and doing what I loved.
That freedom and space created room for me to discern that I was called through music into the priestly ministry as well. Now I get to wear incredible capes even more often.
I still don’t particularly like sermons. I don’t feel particularly holy or in divine ecstasy often these days.
But I know that the God of acceptance and holy affirmation continues to speak through fiery musicians and dissonant chords and the congregation’s song.
Thanks be to God for the gift of music. Thanks be to God for the gay musicians who have mentored me. Thanks be to God for the work of Proclaim in always keep God’s acceptance and Yes before us. Also, thanks be to God for fabulous capes.
The Rev. Douglas Barclay is pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church in Manchester, CT. He graduated from the seminary formerly known as LTSP after setting the world on fire with a particularly good sermon on the importance of capes in 2nd c. Gallican worship. He worked for years as a church musician in Baltimore, including a brief but spectacular stint at Christ Lutheran Inner Harbor as Interim Director of Music where he was also ordained. He and his partner Sean live in New Haven, CT and enjoy long walks on the beach, Swedish hip-hop artists and pizza from Modern. He hopes to one day be interred in the organ loft at Notre Dame in Paris.
Photo at top: Public commons
Bio Photo: Provided by Rev. Barclay
by Rev. Richard Andersen
Editors Note: Have you wondered where God is calling LGBTQ+ people within the greater church? This is the third in a four-part series on Proclaim leaders who are doing ministry outside of the parish ministry context.
I have been the executive director at Spirit in the Desert retreat center since January 2016, and have been thrilled to welcome more than 3,800 people from all over the U.S. and 41 countries as they participated in 151 programs – and the numbers keep growing! We are already seeing 20 percent more people in 2017 so far.
Our purpose is to offer the opportunity for renewal, reconciliation, healing and transformation for every participant. We do this with welcoming hospitality, the expertise of program facilitators, and our serene, eight-acre, Sonoran Desert environment that includes open spaces for meditation, prayer and reflection.
Retreats this fall include “Healing of Memories” for veterans and first responders, “Boundless Compassion” for all those seeking to live and share compassion, mercy and justice, “Leading Well” for clergy and ministry leaders, and “Spiritual Director Training.” People with LGBTQ+ identity are among the guests who are welcome here. Our mission is to provide the supportive environment and resources for people to freely discover their calling.
ELM helped me discover my calling. I graduated from Luther Seminary in 1979. At that time I joined the ARC Retreat Community instead of seeking a call as an ordained pastor. In 1986 I was ordained and took a call to a parish in Southwestern Minnesota while remaining in the closet. Hiding my LGBTQ+ identity did not work and I resigned from my call. From 1987 until 2008 I sought and found successful alternative careers in restaurant management, financial planning and fundraising. After the vote in 2009 the St. Paul Area Synod Council called me to specialized ministry with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSSMN). In 2016, the Grand Canyon Synod called me to my present position at Spirit in the Desert.
The calling I have received to serve the ELCA as an ordained pastor has brought me great joy. I waited a long, long time. However, the experiences I had working at the ARC Retreat Center, managing five restaurants, building a financial planning team and raising funds for LSSMN are the reasons I was qualified to accept the call to Spirit in the Desert.
In my experience ELM gave me the structure, the support, and the pathway to follow my calling. I am grateful!
It was a stimulating mixture of people to have in one room at the same time: from Rev. Tuhina Rasche, one of the conspirators of #decolonizelutheranism (and a co-curator of #RendtheHeavens, a Twitter Advent devotional), to Rev. Dr. Robin Steinke, the President of Luther Seminary. There were about 40 of us gathered from several different fields of ministry to discuss the future of Lutheran theological education at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Arizona.
This annual gathering called the Western Mission Network Conference, was formatted as a series of short 12-minute talks—like TED talks. The topic for these talks, however, was experiments and partnerships in theological education. And when we used the term “Lutheran theological education”, we weren’t only talking about seminary. We were talking about the vast range of ways that we learn and grow in the faith: from campus ministry, to interreligious dialogue, to outdoor camps, to youth ministry, to lay leaders learning to preach, to synod staffs equipping call committees as they search for their next pastor. We got to share with one another stories of how new experiments and partnerships are transforming theological education… the church… and ultimately the world. After all, the church exists not for its own sake, but for the sake of the whole world.
In Scripture, we experience a God whose extraordinary love brought all things into being. In the account of creation in Genesis, we experience a God who has an imagination and a knack for creativity. Our God delights in the wildest possible array of diversity from flowers to jellyfish, from whales to humans. So the question for us becomes: When we look at our congregations, when we listen to the perspectives of our candidates for ministry, when we think about theological education, do we experience that same kind of rich and vibrant diversity? When you experience church, do you experience a God who delights in difference? If you don’t, how does that diminish your witness to this God?
Diversity in all its forms is a gift. Diversity reflects God’s extraordinary love in a way that homogeneity just can’t. We need leaders in the church who reflect this reality. So where do we begin?
I shared with the group that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes that the public ministry of LGBTQ+ people transforms church and community, proclaiming God’s love for all. I introduced them to our programs and several of our resources for synod staffs, call committees, and candidates. It was a joy to get to talk to so many people who were new to our work and to hear about all the innovations going on in everyone else’s settings. (Shout out to Proclaim member and Associate Professor of Homiletics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Shauna Hannan, who presented on preaching as a ministry of the whole congregation!)
We closed our time with worship. Rev. Gordon Straw, who has served on the ELM Board of Directors and is a member of the Brothertown Indian Nation preached. In the passage for the day, he translated the word that anglos like myself typically translate as “righteousness” to “right relations” instead. He proclaimed Christ as the one who came to fulfill all right relations, in his Baptism, his living, his dying, and rising. May we the church learn from Christ’s extraordinary love how to live in right relation with God, one another, and all of creation. Amen.
Asher O’Callaghan is the Program Director of ELM and he got to preside at the closing worship. He is grateful for the theological education he’s received over the years: from his parents, Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, camp counselors, pastors, transgender people of faith, anti-oppression trainers, Proclaim colleagues, spiritual directors, professors, mentors, and all the congregations he’s been a part of. His education is on-going. There’s just so much to learn.
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: email@example.com.
Enrich and Transform – Welcoming LGBTQ Candidates into the Call Process (Booklet & Video)
Is 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.
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!
Treasure 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!
A Joint Message to supporters of ReconcilingWorks and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries:
Thrivent members recently received an appeal to designate Thrivent Choice Dollars in response to the mass shooting in Orlando. This came as a jolt for those who know that Thrivent executives decided in 2014 to ban funds to a handful of organizations, including Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and ReconcilingWorks, deeming our work in support of LGBTQ individuals as “divisive.”
It is hypocritical and futile for Thrivent to offer support for the effects of homophobia while banning funds to those working to remove the cause of it.
We give thanks for Thrivent staff who are LGBTQ or allies of our community, many who are working hard to end this discriminatory and dangerous policy of intolerance.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and ReconcilingWorks will continue to affirm and support the LGBTQ community, who are beloved, and to work against injustice, hatred, homophobia, and discrimination.
We encourage Thrivent members to contact Thrivent with a message that they must end this practice. You are welcome to use the language below as a boiler plate (shared with permission by Proclaim member Miriam Samuelson-Roberts).
Thank you for the opportunity to direct my Choice Dollars to help the victims of the horrific shooting in Orlando. This e-mail stings a bit, though, because of Thrivent’s policy to not allow Choice Dollars to be directed toward organizations that support the thriving and safety of LGBTQ people. In light of the shooting, I ask you to reconsider this stance, and to consider that the message Thrivent puts forth through that policy–that those in the LGBTQ community are to be “othered” and seen as a “divisive issue” instead of fully equal children of God–is the same underlying message at the core of the violence that we saw last weekend.”
Amalia Vagts, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries
Aubrey Thonvold, ReconcilingWorks
& Leo Bancroft, ReconcilingWorks
“Our son came out of the closet,” he began, “and we went into one.”
Rick Nelson was speaking in a workshop led by ReconcilingWorks. His shared story drew the whole room into the deep truth of many families in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Mary Ann Nelson shared how their transgender child had been embraced and cared for by his Episcopalian church following a hospitalization. She shared how his church family cared for him in a way that his first church family had not. She looked out at the worship attendees gathered around the tables in front of her. “This could be our church.”
Her words hung in the air. They were a sentence. A charge. An invitation.
ReconcilingWorks and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries had been invited by the Southwestern Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America to be part of regional one-day educational events. Our companion workshops were about welcoming LGBTQ into the pews and pulpits of the Lutheran church.
In the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries workshop we talked through the way many of us tend to minimize differences in order to avoid talking about them. One participant said, “It’s pretty comfortable being in a place of minimization – it seems like a lot of work to get out of it!”
We all knew what he meant. It is hard work. In our conversation, we focused on all the benefits and liberation awaiting our congregations if we do this hard work.
The ReconcilingWorks workshop reminded us of how high the stakes are if we don’t. Many people who have been welcomed into the pews are feeling that welcome comes with limits. Others feel silenced, unable to share even the joys of a granddaughter’s prom date or the pain of a son-in-law’s recent job loss.
“These are life-saving conversations,” Mary Ann shared. She said she was on a listserve with other mothers of transgender children. The night before our workshop, another mother wrote to say her child had committed suicide, because she had been unable to find a space of welcome and belonging.
“Too many of my friends in the LGBTQIA community believe there is no place for them in the church,” says Leo. “Too many of my friends have had heart-breaking experiences of rejection in faith communities. The church is not a safe space for many. The painful stories they tell me inspire me to give up my weekends traveling to various church settings to train congregations how to be more welcoming.”
The room where the ReconcilingWorks workshop was held had a statue of Jesus, with his arms spread open in embrace. Between the outspread arms of Jesus, Leo placed a flip chart page which read, “Welcoming LGBT Members into your pews: Reconciling Works – Welcome, Inclusion, Celebration of LGBTQ people in the Lutheran church.”
A few of the people stood up to take a picture of this moment, of Jesus embracing the work of welcome for the LGBTQ community. It was a poignant moment, illustrative of the hunger in our community for an acknowledgement of the love and hospitality of God, and the embrace of all people, no matter what.
The painful experiences that many have had in the church do not have to be the norm. We are touching lives and helping churches live into God’s welcome, even one training and one story at a time. There is hope, and there is grace.
We’ve come a long way. We’ve so much further to go. We do our work with joy in the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, and as a movement of people and organizations working together for the new day we all know awaits.
Leo Channing Bancroft (he/him) has a passion for advocacy for both the HIV and LGBTQ communities. When he is not working a tech job or hanging from a trapeze, he is a member of the Board of Directors for Cascade AIDS Project and ReconcilingWorks. Leo serves as a volunteer Regional Coordinator for ReconcilingWorks, is a member of the Proclaim Community, and a candidate for ministry in the ELCA. He enjoys training, preaching, and sharing his story as a bisexual trans man to help make the church a safe and welcoming space.
Amalia Vagts (she/her) has spent time in four cities in the last 7 days thankful to be working as Executive Director for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. She’s especially glad for the chance to have joined Leo and Mary Ann & Rick Nelson (longtime advocates for LGBTQ justice) this past Saturday for their workshop.
*Names and stories used with permission.
One of the great joys I feel in the call to rostered ministry is the expectation that we work to create community among Christians and neighbors.
In the gospel stories of Jesus, we hear of the ways in which Christ’s ministry focused on gathering people together for teaching, meals, and healing. In the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul, we hear of the many ways that the early followers of Jesus built communities and the struggles these early communities faced. These communities were not always permanent structures – sometimes a community gathered once for a meal and left transformed. These communities often were separated geographically, but connected through Christ.
Although Proclaim Seminarians are scattered around the country and Canada, we are connected in community through Christ, too. This time of year many of our students are returning back to their communities on campus. As leaders on campus, the members of the Proclaim Seminarian Team (PST) are immediately involved in the work of creating connections with new people in the community as well as re-connecting with people returning to campus.
PST members had a robust and active presence in the orientations at each of our 8 Lutheran seminaries and at a couple ecumenical divinity schools with Proclaim students. Many new students had never heard of Proclaim before and this was the first time they had been connected with other LGBTQ seminarians – what a gift to know that as you follow this exciting and sometimes scary call as an LGBTQ person that you are not alone!
Kristian Kohler, who represents Lutheran students at non-Lutheran seminaries on the PST and attends Yale Divinity School, hosted a Proclaim table during Yale Divinity’s School’s Orientation. Kristian connected with a couple of students on exchange at Yale from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. These two students come from theologically conservative dioceses in the UK and were surprised, but excited to hear about the work of Proclaim and ELM. They even took Proclaim and ELM brochures so they could learn more about the work of ELM and use the resources we provide for pastors and congregations on our website!
Beyond orientation, our representatives are planning ways to connect and build community throughout the first semester. Dug Swank, a first-year student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and the PST representative for LTSP, plans to organize a social for Proclaim members at LTSP as well as Proclaim members who live and work in the Philadelphia area. For students who attend seminaries in areas where many Proclaim members live, a gathering like this is a great opportunity to expand their community outside of the seminary. This community can provide encouragement, mentoring, and professional connections for students as they move through seminary and internship.
The PST will also build community beyond campus this semester – hosting video and phone chats, sending care packages and notes to members on internship or being assigned for first call, and praying for members of the group each month. Like many of the early Christian communities, this group of seminarians is geographically scattered, but through Proclaim we will support and care for each other, and stay connected through Christ.
Peter Carlson Schattauer received his Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School last May and serves as the pastoral intern at Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Seattle. He is busy learning about his new home in Seattle, both the natural beauty and ways in which the housing crisis is disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable Seattleites. If you email him and he doesn’t respond, you should assume that he’s watching a show imported from the BBC or listening to the Indigo Girls.
by Amalia Vagts, Executive Director
I’m back from some time away on vacation with my family – a wondrously renewing time. And having now had a few weeks to let the June 26 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges sink in, I want to share a couple reflections.
Something that has always struck a deep chord with me from the majority opinion in the Massachusetts marriage equality case was these words from Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall: “…the decision whether and who to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”
And I’ve never forgotten this line from a joint statement released by Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy the day that the Supreme Court in my adopted home state of Iowa ruled unanimously in favor of marriage equality, ““When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today’s events will be why it took us so long.”
These questions – whether or not to marry; who to marry; and why change takes so long are at the heart of what I think about as I both celebrate the joyous news of June 26th and look down the long road of justice ahead – on so many, many issues. On this particular issue of marriage, it’s my hope that society and our church will someday fully honor the weight of the momentous decision of whether and who to marry. And when we finally get there, I imagine there will only be the lasting question of what took so long.
Lastly, our Presiding Bishop’s letter left many in the LGBTQ community wanting. Many of you have already read the powerful and important response from our partners in ministry, ReconcilingWorks. As I close, I want to again share it and express my thankfulness for their witness. Click here to read the full letter from Executive Director Aubrey Thonvold.
Amalia Vagts, Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, made sure not only of whether and who she was marrying, but also that the pastor’s face was clean at her wedding on the steps of the Winneshiek County Courthouse in 2009. (And yes, that IS Rev. Erik Christensen, Pastor of St. Luke’s Logan Square!)
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries celebrates the life of pastor, advocate for justice, and LGBTQ ally Rev. Paul A. Tidemann.
Pastor Tidemann played a significant role in the early days of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, notably during the 2001 extraordinary ordination of the Rev. Anita Hill. Pastor Tidemann served for many years as lead pastor of St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church. He was involved with many levels of the movement for LGBTQ justice in the Lutheran church, including ReconcilingWorks, Wingspan, and through his leadership at St. Paul-Reformation. And he was a tireless advocate for justice for many peoples in addition to LGBTQ people, including his advocacy for racial and economic equality
ELM Board Member Jeremy Posadas, who served on the Goodsoil Legislative Team with Pastor Tidemann remembers him this way,
“Paul was truly the deep conscience within a whole community of folks trying to right the church’s moral compass. I was always awed by the wisdom he had wrought from long melding the roles of pastor, prophet, and organizer. Paul was one of the only people I know who had stared so far into the sinfulness of the institutional church but still held faith that it could yet be redeemed into the communion of grace God yearns for it to be — a faith strong enough that he endlessly agitated and advocated and organized wherever he could to hasten that redemption. I hope the LGBTQ Lutheran community will honor Paul’s memory by bravely imagining what new frontiers of justice — what new coalitions and solidarities — we will seek in coming years, as we inhabit the church in new roles.”
We share our thankfulness and sadness with Paul’s family, friends, all those who were impacted by his ministry.
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ – Ephesians 4:11
We celebrate first calls for Proclaim members Javen Swanson and Paul Gibson. As they enter into Christ’s work to equip the saints for ministry in these new communities, we give thanks for their spirit and witness in building up the body of Christ.
Supporting First Call Candidates
ELM has put together a resource for LGBTQ first call candidates. The Mysteries of the Ages: ELM’s Unofficial Guide for LGBTQ First Call Candidates provides detailed, fresh advice about navigating the approval and assignment process from those who’ve been there. The guide is informative, funny, and one-of-a-kind. It is currently being reviewed by those in the approval process and will be released this fall. It was created by Proclaim members who are currently serving in their first call and members from the Accompaniment Team.
Your gift to ELM helps us affirm, support, and walk with LGBTQ seminarians, candidates, and rostered leaders in their ministry. This is a gift to the whole church. Thank you!