By: Sergio Rodriguez, Proclaim’s 300th member
From ELM: We did it! Proclaim (ELM’s professional community of publicly identified LGBTQIA+ ministers and candidates) just hit 300! Join us in a bold welcome to Sergio Rodriguez, Proclaim’s 300th member.
I must from the outset thank and praise our Triune God for the grace which brought us all here together for ministry in our world today. This message of the grace of God in Christ Jesus continues to shape and mold our communities from which God calls us and will call others like us to ministry.
Growing up the gay son of two Mexican immigrants, the notion that God would call anyone outside the sexual and gender norms of our Mexican-American society seemed contrary to God’s will. Though I loved Jesus, his mother Mary, and the church, I found myself at odds with the wider Roman Catholic institution because of my sexuality. While this effectively made me leave the church during my high school years, I found myself returning to the Roman Catholic church as I studied at Baylor University.
At Baylor University, I felt God called me to serve the capacity as a minister of the church and to test this out. I became the chaplain of two music organizations; the Baylor University Marching Band and Kappa Kappa Psi.
Despite serving in this capacity, I still resented my sexuality and found myself hungering for a God who would simply accept me for who I was and who I wanted to be.
During my senior year of college, God showed me the message of radical and inclusive grace for all through my studies of Dr. Luther’s works, conversation, and conversion to Lutheranism.
At that time, I felt that I needed to wait before I dived right into word and sacrament ministry. From the end of college up to this present day, I managed to complete a Master’s of the Arts in Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary, switch from the LC-MS to the ELCA, and move to San Antonio where I briefly studied Marriage and Family Therapy.
About two years ago, the weight of these changes finally took their spiritual toll on me as I contemplated giving up the idea of being a rostered word and sacrament leader in the ELCA.
I felt that I was unable to find an affirming congregation that would also attend to my identity as a Latinx Lutheran. Precisely at that moment, God made me aware of Gethsemane Lutheran Church and Jesus Maestro church in San Antonio where I met my future pastoral supervisor and Spiritual Father who awakened in me that call I felt so many years ago in college.
Moreso, he reaffirmed my dignity as a gay Mexican Lutheran and made me aware that God calls people to ministry regardless of where they are in their lives, their gender, their sexuality, and their race.
So when a classmate of mine encouraged me to join Proclaim, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was God gathering me to a community of fellow believers and leaders to join them in proclaiming the Gospel of our Crucified and Risen Lord that all may know the all-inclusive love of God!
Bio: Sergio Rodriguez (he/him/his) Growing up in the Texas borderlands in an immigrant household, my parents raised me to be aware of how the border defined our identities, culture, and lives as children of God. While my formative years were spent growing up in socially conservative Mexican household in McAllen, TX, I found affirmation, mercy, and unconditional love amongst my fellow musicians, religion majors, and friends at Baylor University.
Though I continued to struggle to integrate my Latinx identity with my faith, I felt God calling me in the midst of an emotionally difficult time of my life during my senior year of college to a position of leadership knowing full well the lucha that people of color face in the church.
Unbeknownst to me as I navigated through the institution of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, God needed me to mature, develop, grow and learn further about what radical grace means for all people today.
Rather than be disingenuous to my God-given identity as a Latinx believer, I left the Missouri Synod while I finished a Master’s in Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary because God showed me the depth, the breath and the height of the love of Christ for all people with no exception to gender, race, sexuality, age, creed, capacity or the like
After taking a year off following graduation and moving to San Antonio, God kindled in me the passion, the confidence and knowledge for being a leader in the church for the sake of the world and moved me to start the candidacy process for rostered word and sacrament ministry. As I progress through my studies at Wartburg Theological seminary and candidacy process, God has continued to assure me there is no more certain calling for me than to proclaim Christ crucified for the sake of the world in word, sacrament, and deed.
By Allison Bengfort, Proclaim Member
What is the Proclaim Gathering? ELM’s annual Proclaim Gathering was held August 5-8, 2018 at Pearlstone Retreat Center outside Baltimore, MD. The Gathering brings together members of Proclaim (ELM’s professional community for publicly identified LGBTQIA+ Lutheran rostered ministers and candidates) and their families, for a time of renewal, community building, and professional development as publicly identified leaders.
I am new to Proclaim – just joined in April. As a seminary student at LSTC, I was aware of Proclaim’s presence and had heard good things, but it wasn’t until I entered the first call process that my need to join became apparent. In the midst of ignorant comments in interviews and losing call opportunities because of my orientation, I needed a community. Apart from initial welcome emails, this year’s Gathering was my introduction to the community. I am pleased to say that I went away from the experience excited about new friendships, inspired by the idea of queerness as central to Christianity, and heartened by the potential of this group of leaders. The Gathering exceeded my expectations, but more importantly, it offered something I hadn’t expected.
In the world of clinical social work, which is my background, we talk about something called “unconditional positive regard.” Unconditional positive regard is an intentional, emotional posture that the best therapists extend to their clients. As its name implies, unconditional positive regard assumes the best in the client. It assumes that the client is inherently good, worthy, and worthwhile. It is able to separate misguided choices and challenging behaviors from who the person is deep down. It is essentially a clinical description of love and grace.
While I had experienced unconditional positive regard from outstanding therapists, until the Gathering, I had never experienced this posture from an entire community of people, all at once. I felt it extended to me in conversations about my difficulties in the call process, in theological discussions about problematic aspects of Lutheran theology, and in conversations about bisexuality and being “queer enough.” I witnessed it being extended to others in sessions on polyamory that challenged more traditional views, in worship services that intentionally included expansive language, and in day-to-day interactions in which both friends and strangers were deeply seen and accepted. Experiencing this openness and radical acceptance made me want to participate in it – want to reciprocate and extend this attitude to others. It made it so much easier to turn to my neighbor and offer them the same attention and acceptance.
Ideally, this experience of communal unconditional positive regard would be the mark of the church. Can you imagine congregation members feeling this way every Sunday morning or at every church event?! Talk about changing the world. Of course, this is not the case at many churches, and it is also important to recognize that my experience of the Proclaim Gathering was likely not universal. That being said, I truly believe that this community of leaders has something powerful to offer. Our experience as queer people has taught us the importance unconditional positive regard, and God has empowered us to offer it to others. Thank you all for extending this unexpected gift to me.
Bio: Allison Bengfort (she/her/hers) is an approved candidate for ordination, currently assigned to the Metro Chicago Synod. Born and raised in the Midwest, Allison moved to Seattle in 2016 for a final-year internship and loved the area so much, she decided to stay while she awaits call. Allison holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College, a Master of Social Work from the University of Chicago, and a Master of Divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. As a bisexual woman, Allison is passionate about dismantling systems of oppression in the church and the larger world. While awaiting her first call as a pastor, Allison stays busy teaching violin lessons, working at a church preschool, and playing lots of Ultimate Frisbee.
Photos by Emily Ann Garcia
By: Br. Matta Ghaly, CSJC, ELM Board Member, Justice & Recruitment Convener
ELM is responding to the Holy Spirit’s call by growing into an intersectional organization and a beloved community that is shaped by diverse experiences. I have known Rev. Shannon to be a gifted pastor, wise teacher and vocal supporter of LGBTQIA+ ministers. Her voice and experience will enrich our witness to the gospel and justice-making labor in God’s kin-dom. Read on to learn more:
The Rev. Angela Lynn Shannon grew up in a law enforcement family in Gary, Indiana. Pastoral ministry is her second career but first love and calling. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology/criminal justice from Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana. Rev. Shannon graduated from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in June 1996 and was ordained January 12, 1997, the feast day of the baptism of our Lord at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Gary, IN. She has served congregations in Indiana, Ohio and Texas. She has served as Dean of Student Life of Luther Seminary, St Paul, MN.
Rev. Shannon is the national Vice-President for the African Descent Lutheran Association. For over twenty years she has been involved in ecumenical and interfaith conversation at home and abroad. A self-described, church “blerd,” she loves liturgy and theology.
However, her driving passion is the ministry of reconciliation. As such, she is trained in conflict transformation. Says Rev. Shannon: “My deepest hope is that we will deepen our empathy for one another in these very odd times and restore hope. To engage a sustainable reconciliation, we must take a middle step towards each other.”
Rev. Shannon is a tireless bridge-builder whose vision invites us into multi-issue and collaborative work with other associations and communities. Along with the rest of the ELM Board, please join me in welcoming Rev. Angela Shannon!
Bio: Br. Matta Ghaly, CSJC. (all pronouns) is a candidate for the ministry of Word and sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and currently serves as vicar at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN. Along with a passion for congregational ministry, Matta feels a deep call to the@logical education and serves as adjunct faculty for Islamic and Quranic Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, CA. In the midst of laboring, Matta is spiritually replenished through religious life as a Brother of the Community of Saint John Cassian (CSJC), a vowed apostolic community under the Episcopal Church. Matta is married to Rev. Sonny Graves (United Church of Christ), and finds a lot of joy in travelling, writing and teaching, composing multi-religious music, exploring unfamiliar food scenes and brewing delicious coffee.
I’ve made academia my home. The classroom was the birthplace of my intellectual curiosity, my understanding of my identities, and my passion for liberation. I felt like I could never know enough, could never read enough, and always pushed myself to integrate every piece into my larger worldview; constantly evolving. Then it became time for me to shift to become a knowledge-producer. I had to ask myself what do YOU think? What are the connections YOU are seeing? How do you articulate something that hasn’t been said before? This process tested everything I thought I knew about myself. It was really hard. I realized that I didn’t trust myself or what I knew and I definitely didn’t believe that I had something unique to contribute (hello, imposter syndrome!).
It was like BOOM! One day I woke up and just realized that I have something important to say. Thanks to the faith that I have in powers bigger than this world, I know it was no coincidence. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries came to me on the coattails of that moment. I finally felt like I could say 100% yes, I have something to offer here and I’m confident in casting a vision. I’m still an academic at heart, but I think that takes many forms. Knowledge is everywhere, and I want to practice what I know in as many ways as possible. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn from ELM as well as contribute to its strengthening and growth. Thank you!
We’ve got news for you.
We’re fresh off the recent Proclaim Gathering near Baltimore Aug 5-8, 2018 bringing together over 60 LGBTQIA+ pastors, seminarians, and rostered leaders for a time of learning and community. On our final day, we announced big news we can now share with everyone.
Drumroll please… (click below video!)
Proclaim is approaching 300 members! And we’re kicking off a campaign to mark this momentum:
What is #Proclaim300?
Proclaim (ELM’s professional community for Lutheran pastors, rostered ministers, and those preparing for rostered ministry who publicly identify as LGBTQIA+) is growing exponentially! In September 2015, we reached our 200th member, and just three years later in 2018, we are approaching our 300th member. Wow!
Together, we will mark this momentum with:
1) A three-month visibility and fundraising campaign August- October 2018, helping a wider community know about ELM, including opportunities to financially support the increased membership of Proclaim and future of ELM, with a goal of 300 gifts of $300.
2) A week of celebration and gratitude September 17-23, 2018, sharing online about extraordinary gifts of LGBTQIA+ leaders, honoring those who have gone before us, offering prayers for a messy and beautiful community of God, naming barriers and triumphs faced by LGBTQIA+ people in the church, and inviting others to learn more about ELM and Proclaim.
What are our Goals for #Proclaim300?
#Proclaim300 has three main goals:
- Celebrate ELM’s Proclaim community. Raise each other up.
- Build the momentum. Raise friends.
- Grow our support! Raise funds.
What are we asking you?
- Celebrate your colleagues and partners in ministry. Thank a mentor, send love to a Proclaimer, enjoy this milestone!
- Build our presence on social media by posting about #Proclaim300 and inviting others to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Follow the daily prompts September 17-23 and encouragefriends and allies to join in! Reach both inside and outside the church and queer community!
- Grow ELM! Ask organizations, individuals, and congregations to give $300 (or more!) to honor and celebrate this exciting moment. Or raise these funds by guest preaching, having a special offering in Worship, starting a Facebook fundraiser, or hosting a giving gathering.
When can you start? NOW!
Give online, mark “attending” on Facebook, share gratitude with Proclaimers, start a fundraiser, forward this email, and ask your congregation, friends, and self: will you help us reach our giving goal?
In deep gratitude and excitement,
Anna Czarnik Neimeyer, ELM Associate Director of Development & Communications
Ben Hogue, Proclaim Member, ELM Fund Development Committee
Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer and Ben Hogue love ELM as an ongoing justice movement, and enjoy fearlessly asking people to be part of the movement with their time, talent, and treasure! The friends and colleagues each studied communications & PR, and like serving communion, high fives, puns, and service work; Ben was a Peace Corps volunteer and Anna volunteered at Holden Village.
Photos by Emily Ann Garcia
In Deuteronomy, when Moses is giving his final blessing to Israel, he said to the tribe of Asher, “Most blessed of sons be Asher… let him dip his foot in oil.” (Deut 33:24-25).
As a farewell, Barbara K Lundblad highlighted this passage as she led ELM’s Board of Directors in reflecting upon my namesake in the Bible (Asher means “happy” in Hebrew) and invited the group to share affirmations. After each affirmation, they all said together, “Thank God for Asher.” Then they all extended their hands (through their webcams) as they prayed blessing over me.
I felt as though my foot had indeed been dipped in oil.
As I wrap up my time serving as Program Director for ELM, it is remarkable to look back on all we have accomplished together over these past two years: We’ve doubled our presence at synod assemblies across the country. The average amount of time that our candidates are waiting to receive their first-call has decreased significantly. More bishops and synod staffs are acknowledging and using our resources to address the imagination gap that has held our candidates back from getting quality first-call placements more quickly. And as a community, Proclaim has reached nearly 300 members! It has been a joy to witness how all of the new members have strengthened us and helped us grow both more deeply into our roots and out towards the future.
My final day with ELM will be Friday August 17th and until then I’ll be running on all cylinders as we head into The Proclaim Gathering next week, and then setting everything up for the next Program Director the following week.
My new call will be to serve as pastor of Highlands Lutheran Church in Denver, Colorado.
I do plan to remain a member of Proclaim. And while I’ll be stepping back from any leadership in the community to allow the new Program Director to lead, I do look forward to embracing the vision they cast and continuing in fellowship with the community.
It has truly been an honor and a joy to serve as your Program Director for nearly two years now. I will miss working with our fabulous staff and volunteers. And I am so grateful for all that I have learned in this position and will be carrying on with me to my next call. Thanks to ELM’s staff, Board of Directors, our supporters who make our work possible, and to all of the Proclaim members out there transforming the church. Serving with you has been a blessing – You have dipped my foot in oil!
Asher O’Callaghan (he/him/his) is super excited for ELM’s Proclaim Gathering which begins this Sunday, August 5th! Lately he has discovered the joy of making iced soy chai tea lattes at home in the afternoon as a little mid-day boost. He lives with his cat, Jack, in Denver, Colorado where he appreciates the late afternoon thunderstorms that this time of year offers.
Each Year, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries hosts The Gathering for members of Proclaim (the professional community for publicly identified LGBTQIA+ Lutheran rostered ministers and candidates) and their families, for a time of renewal, community building, and professional development. We come together and embrace what it means to be publicly identified (“out!”) leaders as we care for ourselves, build community, and learn together.This August 5-8, 2018, over 65 Proclaimers from around the country will gather at Pearlstone Retreat Center outside of Baltimore!
Rev. Elizabeth Edman, author of Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity will be our keynote speaker, featured alongside workshops, social time, music, worship, small groups, and more. You can help sponsor a Proclaimer HERE.
In addition to ELM’s trusty Program Director Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, a small and mighty team has been crafting the Gathering’s schedule. Thank you to the Dream Team for all you do. Check it out!
Co-Chairs: Brian Hornbecker & Laura Kuntz
My name is: Brian Hornbecker
My pronouns are: he/him/his
I’m co-chairing the Fun Team because: I think the opportunity to kick back, relax, and have fun with friends and colleagues is one of the best parts of the Proclaim gathering.
I’m excited for: the chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones at the Proclaim Gathering.
Who I am: I serve as Faith Formation and Communications Coordinator at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN, just south of Saint Paul. I graduated from Wartburg Seminary last year and am candidate for the diaconal roster (although that is a long and complicated story). I live with my spouse, Josh Moss, who is also a Proclaim member and a candidate for the diaconal roster, and our nephew Trent in the Twin Cities area. We just bought a house, so most of our “fun” time lately has been occupied with moving and everything that comes with that.
My name is: Laura Kuntz
My pronouns are: she/her/hers
I’m co-chairing the fun Team because: I enjoy coordinating social activities to build community.
I’m excited for: making new friends and be in a space where my queer identity is celebrated at the Proclaim Gathering
Who I am: My wife and I live in Lakewood, Ohio where she is serving a call and I am in an interim position. We’ve been coming to Proclaim gatherings since we were seminarians and look forward to them every year. I love fly fishing and playing in stonewall sports leagues.
Co-Chairs: Kelsey Brown and Josh Evans
My name is: Kelsey Brown
My pronouns are: she/her/hers
I’m co-chairing the Worship Team because: I believe innovative and expansive worship are essential to Christian Life.
I’m excited for: all the fun you will have at the Proclaim Gathering, I’m sorry I can’t attend!
Who I am: Kelsey Brown serves as Vicar at St.Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California. She is originally from Long Island, NY but when she’s not in SoCal she calls Philadelphia and United Lutheran Seminary Home. She likes spoken word poetry, Drag Queens and dancing around her kitchen. She finds joy in lavender essential oils, Netflix binges and preschool laughter.
My name is: Josh Evans
My pronouns are: he/him/his.
I’m co-chairing the Worship Team because: I am passionate about the church’s historic liturgy brought to life in new, vibrant ways, and I love experiencing the Body of Christ praying, singing, and communing together.
I’m excited for: worship (duh!) at the Proclaim Gathering — and also getting a chance to see so many wonderful people I haven’t seen since last year’s Gathering or haven’t met in person yet.
Who I am: I grew up in Michigan and I am a graduate of LSTC in Chicago, awaiting first call in the Metro Chicago Synod, and currently working as Interim Coordinator for Global Service Events at the ELCA Churchwide offices. In my precious free time, I enjoy reading, drinking coffee, enjoying all things Chicago, watching inordinate amounts of Netflix, and spoiling my two cats (Oliver and Sophia) and their canine sibling (Roscoe).
Co-chairs: Peter Beeson & Reed Fowler
My name is: Peter Beeson
My pronouns are: he/him/his
I’m co-chairing the Program Team: because I was invited.
I’m excited for: community, learning from the speakers at the Proclaim Gathering, and enjoying the nature (and organic farming) of the Pearlstone Retreat Center.
Who I am: Peter R. Beeson currently lives at work and has developed a newfound obsession with getting out of New York City, and finding mountains and trees. In his spare time he enjoys turning around declining organizations, fostering transparency, and teaching his toddler how to do chores.
My name is: Reed Fowler
My pronouns are: they/them/theirs
I’m co-chairing the Program Team because: I enjoy creative planning and creating space for introverts.
I’m excited to: connect with nature and other Proclaimers at the Gathering.
Who I am: Reed is a seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In their downtime, Reed is at the pottery studio or hanging out with their partner, dog, and cats.
Each year, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries names a Joel Workin Scholar to honor the life and ministry of Joel R. Workin, one of the “Berkeley Three” (bio below). This scholarship is open to seminarians who are members of Proclaim, ELM’s professional community for Lutheran pastors, rostered lay leaders, and those preparing for rostered leadership who publicly identify as LGBTQIA+. The 2017 Scholar is Ben Hogue. A list of previous years’ scholars can be found on our website.
Each year, seminarians are asked to reflect on one of Joel’s essays or sermons – Joel was a gifted writer and theologian. The following is Joel’s essay “The Cost.” This is the essay the Workin Scholarship Committee has asked seminarians to reflect on in their applications and it speaks powerfully to the issue of “coming out” which has been the theme of our blog posts this past month.
As a note: ALL seminarians who are Proclaim members are qualified to apply for the Workin Scholarship. The deadline to receive applications has been extended to June 15th. If you or someone you know is an LGBTQIA+ seminarian, please encourage them to apply! You can find out more about the scholarship here.
ITEM: The certificate was given to three gay seminarians in appreciation of “the Gifts of Time and Talent in Outstanding Service to the Membership of Lutherans Concerned/North America as a Model of Faith, Courage, and Integrity.” And with the certificate came sustained applause, wave upon wave of admiration, gratitude and respect, as 130 gay Lutherans rose to their feet, giving their version of a group hug.
ITEM: The news was in The Advocate (issue 514, page 20): “A Presbyterian minister who had tested positive for the HIV antibody shot himself to death in Tuscaloosa June 14.” And even if all Christendom were to clap its hands, and even if the Almighty Herself were to get down on Her knees and scrub, still nothing would be able to completely clean the blood-soaked carpet of that closet, whatever the closet — gay, HIV-positive, etc. — where that child of God lay dead, cold and stiff, unhugged and unapplauded.
As one of the “Berkeley Three” it has been an honor and encouragement to receive the support and even the accolades of many persons, particularly my fellow Gay and Lesbian Lutherans. The past months have been a time of kairos, and it seems that a great part of what angers people is a recognition of the cost, the price of being “out” in the Lutheran church. The toll, both professionally and personally, is indeed very high.
Careers are ended, even before they are begun. Private life vanishes. Families are exposed to public attention. No one can pretend that being out is easy, that to follow the call to honesty and discipleship in this way is without a cross.
Yet, what is the cost of the closet? Over and over again, as people, many of them closeted, express their rage and sympathy over the price that three seminarians and many others have to pay for being out, I want to know — what about the cost of the closet?
How does one tally up the toll of living two lives, one of fear and the other of escape, one real the other false, one of tact the other of hiding, one of deceit the other of full-blooded reveling? How much does it cost? Twice as much?
How much energy does it take to every day, every minute, run from God and God’s grace and God’s gift of gayness, to run from families who wonder why the weather is the only topic of conversation, to run from oneself, which is the most basic thing God has given, and to hide out in well-constructed closets of success, excess, or numbness? How much energy does it take to keep the gospel, the Word, God’s own self, our true “created good” selves, at bay?
What pound of flesh is exacted from our very flesh by the closet? How many ulcers? How many headaches? How many heartaches? How many bodies dead in a pool of blood on the closet floor? How many persons sacrificed at the altar of political indifference or religious bigotry? How much flesh, how many corpses do blood-smeared hands need to stack against the closet door to make sure it will remain shut, even as we bury ourselves inside?
Or, literally, in real life, hard earned, greenback, dollars, bucks. What are the expenses involved in buying or renting two homes and setting up two different households, one for each of the lovers, mailing things in brown paper wrappers, driving far enough away to be somewhat safe, in always being denied the “couples rate”? What is the dollar cost of the closet?
Some people think that the three seminarians were very brave and courageous. (Some people think the three were foolish or demonic, and maybe we were a bit of each, perhaps.) But let no one think that we alone are paying the cost. Let no one think that those who “pass,” those who do not say anything are having an easy time of it. Let no one think that the choice is between paying the price or not paying the price. We do all have a choice, whether or not to come out, but we have no choice about the cross. We shall either take ours up on the way out of the closet or we shall be nailed, slowly and silently, to the one that hangs upon the closet wall. There is no way around it.
I do not know how we each decide which price it is we are willing to pay, which cross it is we are willing to take. In many ways, it seems that coming out is the easiest path.
The Berkeley Three were maybe not so brave after all. They were just too wimpy to face life in the closet. That cross, constructed by the church and the world, was too much for them to bear. And if that is the case, then let me encourage us all to take the easy way out and go to the One whose yoke is easy and burden light. Who knows, you may even get a certificate and a stirring round of applause to go with it.
And if you are still not convinced that the closet has a price, then I pray that God, as She kneels in your closet, trying to get the blood stains out of the carpet, may reach over and scratch your callused hide a time or two, just to make sure you are not dead.
“The Cost” is part of a larger collection – along with many other inspirational and challenging reflections and sermons from Joel – called Dear God, I’m gay…thank you! Which was edited by Joel’s dear friend, Michael Nelson, and may be requested along with a donation to ELM.
Joel Raydon Workin (1961-1995) was born in Fargo, ND, received his Master of Divinity from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, CA, and served as intern at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Inglewood, CA. In the fall of 1987, Joel came out publicly as a gay candidate for the ordained ministry and was certified for call by the American Lutheran Church (a predecessor body to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Following this courageous and faithful act, Joel’s certification was revoked by the ELCA and his name was never placed on the roster of approved candidates waiting for call. Joel’s ministry continued in Los Angeles, however, at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and as Director of Chris Brownlie Hospice. On December 30, 1988, Joel married Paul Jenkins, whom he loved. Joel was a member of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, North Hollywood. He and Paul were active in Lutherans Concerned/Los Angeles and Dignity/Los Angeles.
In the last weeks of his illness, Joel gave his friends and family permission to sponsor an endowed memorial fund in his name. The Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholarship Fund was thus established upon Joel’s death from AIDS on November 29, 1995. In keeping with Joel’s wishes, awards from the fund are used to provide scholarships to publicly-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer seminary students who proclaim God’s love and seek justice for all. The fund is managed by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, through the InFaith Community Foundation.
A year ago I came out to my congregation.
Not as the queer pastor they had always known I was,
but as the straight, white, geeky guy I have always been.
It was a long time coming.
Two years ago the Rev. Dr. Megan Rohrer invited me to preach at the opening worship of the Queer Stories / Sacred Witness Proclaim Gathering in Northern California. In the invitation they asked me to share part of my story about the invisible queer witness of being trans and pregnant.
I shared that sermon with a preaching partner and trusted colleague at St. Matthew Trinity, the congregation I serve, along with the note that I wasn’t yet ready to share it publicly.
Nine months later, during St. Matthew Trinity’s Stories of Resurrection summer story telling series, I was again at the Proclaim Gathering, this time Healing the Violence in Chicago; full of anxiety at being in a familiar place, while using a new name and wearing a new wardrobe. It was then, while also in the midst of providing pastoral care and preparing for a series of funerals, I realized I had neglected to recruit a story teller for the Sunday after the Gathering.
It was in this way a parishioner, and one of the co-instigators of our summer story telling series, received her wish and got my story of resurrection for which she had been waiting.
Talking with new friends at the Proclaim Gathering it became clear the scripture from Matthew about the wheat and tares, the assigned lectionary reading for that Sunday, would provide the perfect frame for my story. A flurry of phone calls ensued, as I spoke with Council members and other congregational leaders to share with them that I wanted to live and minister from a place of greater integrity. Framing my story in the scriptures for Sunday, July 23, 2017 was the most natural way for me to share this part of my journey with others in the community.
Serving a congregation rooted in radical hospitality, the congregation was amazing. After months of praying and talking we chose to share our story publicly, to be a resource for others and proclaim God’s mercy. As part of publicly affirming and marking my journey, a team from the congregation worked with the Bishop of the New Jersey Synod to celebrate a renaming ceremony on Transfiguration Sunday.
Transitioning publicly, altering my body to live into this new reality, claiming being a white man who happens to be trans as a public identity, has provided space for honest conversation about how the church (both locally and nationally) must change or die. Embodying the liminal space within which the church finds itself reminds me of Isaiah who spent three years naked, wandering around the city, embodying God’s message about the vulnerability and destruction of slavery (Isaiah 20).
Public witness, living boldly, loving deeply, risking greatly, allows us as LGBTQIA+ rostered leaders and seminarians, to create space that fosters transparency.
There is power in owning and claiming one’s own story.
In claiming our wholeness, in living into and constantly becoming the people God has formed us to be, we have the power to hold space and proclaim God’s mercy for all those living at the margins, regardless of their identity.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Peter R. Beeson (he/him/his) is a pastor, prophet, and parent. In his free time you may find him geeking out over budgets in Excel spreadsheets, working for affordable housing, exploring parks with his toddler, cleaning house, and vacillating between disgust and delight at his emerging beer belly.
Photo at top: Jim Kowalski
Bio Photo: Provided by author