Liberation, not Legitimacy

by Amalia Vagts

I noticed something about my route while walking to my pastoral internship site at Luther College the other day. It’s a little over a mile from my home and the last part crosses the campus. In the winter, I’m usually ready to get out of the cold, and the large imposing Center for Faith and Life looks steps away by the time I’m ready to be inside. But just at that point, the sidewalk takes a sharp turn and leads me in the opposite direction of my intended destination. Finding meaning in this route is unavoidable as I reflect on how the last and next 30 years of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ journey intersects with my own winding path to ministry. 

 

When the first extraordinary ordinations happened in 1990, I was in high school and in love with the Lutheran church. I was completely unaware of the dramatic events happening in San Francisco that year, although I was increasingly aware of my identity as bisexual. By the time I did hear about one of these events (Rev. Anita Hill’s in 2001), the path was leading me well away from the Lutheran church before winding back towards it through the LGBTQ+ liberation movement. In the fall of 2006, a series of life events led me to follow a call to serve with what is now called Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. The ordination stories became the heartbeat of my call – the candidates, congregations, and the expansive donor community who saw the church for what it would become. 

 

Beginning in the spring of 2016, my growing call to ministry of Word and Sacrament became increasingly clear. I wanted to offer what I had received. I left my job and enrolled full-time at Wartburg Theological Seminary. I don’t think I ever expected the path would make a direct turn towards clarity at that point, but I may have underestimated the new questions and challenges that would emerge for me as I seek to become one of the queer-identifying ministry leaders I supported for so many years. I now understand the necessity and power of ELM’s work in deeply personal ways. “We can’t do this work without you,” was something I often and earnestly said as ELM’s executive director. I can’t even imagine this call without Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is my truth now. 

 

What remains most central for me in the work that began over thirty years ago in congregations and communities is best summarized in words that Rev. Phyllis Zillhart wrote in a very early Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries’ newsletter, quoting the work of Barbara Smith. Phyllis wrote, “we are emboldened by the words of black, feminist writer Barbara Smith who says to her lesbian sisters and gay brothers, “You must ask yourselves in everything you do, in all your actions for freedom and justice. Is it legitimacy you are working for, or is it liberation? If it is legitimacy, what will you end up with by trying so hard to be accepted and good, rather than just and free?”* These words continue to challenge me to imagine and work to create communities that reflect and seek liberation, not legitimacy.

 

The movement for LGBTQIA+ liberation that began over thirty years ago with the extraordinary  ordinations and countless acts of courage and proclamation since unfolds with surprising turns. I continue to learn from the early pioneers and the current prophets of this movement. Those of us who were once on the outside could be easily tempted to settle for being “let” into the ELCA. But God is calling us to do more than try to be “accepted and good.” The church – the living Body – longs to be just and free – liberated. I’m going down that path.

 

* Rev. Phyllis Zillhart, 1990 Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries Newsletter

43055705_10156427688095259_4763265520361275392_o (1).jpgAmalia Vagts (she/her/hers) writes, plans, dreams, naps, studies, dances and bases out of her home in Decorah, Iowa, which she shares with her partner David Lester, stepson Finn, and adorable miniature dachshund, Le Nez. She is a third year Master of Divinity student at Wartburg Theological Seminary. located in Dubuque, Iowa. Amalia is serving as Vicar this year at Luther College, Bethany Lutheran (Elkader, IA) and Emanuel Lutheran (Strawberry Point). She’s been listening to a LOT of podcasts during her commute. Amalia is the proud owner of several URLs she has big dreams for, including napdoula.com and stjunia.org. Amalia served as Executive Director of ELM from 2006 – 2017. Photo of Amalia and Le Nez by Charlie Langton. Amalia is joyfully a member of Proclaim!

A Remembrance: 30th Anniversary of the First Extraordinary Ordinations – January 20, 1990

By Rev. Steve Harms

These are highlights from the joyous liturgy ordaining Ruth, Phyllis and Jeff many years ago.  Context:  The ELCA was two years old; 10,000 men had died in San Francisco from AIDS in the previous decade; and SF Lutheran Clergy claimed our theological heritage to follow the inspiration and authority of the Holy Spirit to call and ordain God’s candidates.  St. Paulus hosted us, nearly 1,000 people attended.  I worked with a Liturgy Team to design the ordination.  

 

30 Drummers from the Sons of Orpheus (founder Bruce Silverman) lined the entrance steps.  As people arrived they passed through this ‘Loving Gauntlet’ charged with a primal energy that nothing will be the same once you enter here.  The drummers led the Processional with approximately 80 clergy participating, 65 of them Lutherans.

 

A Litany of Defrocked Clergy preceded the Processional naming 30 clergy defrocked or prevented from serving the church for being gay. A powerful moment of grieving

 

We had asked Bishop Krister Stendahl to preach because of his international reputation as a forward thinking theological scholar.  Unfortunately, his schedule did not permit. Therefore Jeff and I asked that he send a Reflection about the Meaning of this Ordination and that served as our New Testament Epistle.  This epistle became the document that outraged the 65 bishops of the ELCA and it brought contention for years.  They publicly demanded by what authority do you speak for our church – since Stendahl was a Swedish Bishop who had taught at Harvard.

 

A Gospel Processional proceeded down the center aisle of this Gothic Church where Rev. Jack Schiemann proclaimed the Gospel.  As he began, the fog of San Francisco broke for a moment and the sun shone brilliantly through the stain glass windows on Jack, crucifer and acolytes.  This classic sunlit illumination of the Gospel was happily savored by many.  Drummers enthusiastically took the procession back to their places as I danced Rev. Carter Heyward to the pulpit.  Having climbed the steps she arrived in the elevated pulpit and the drummers dramatically stopped.  She let out a gasped shriek and said, “I’ve never begun preaching like this before!

 

The Ordination Rite began with Jim Lawson dancing a Fire Dance.  Grasping flames from the Fire Stick he was carrying he cast flames upon each of the candidates sitting in the front row.  We continued with the traditional Ordination Rite lead by Rev. John Frykman of First United and Rev. Jim DeLange of St. Francis whose congregations were both expelled from the ELCA for issuing their calls to ministry.  Many years later they were reinstated.

 

The culminating Greeting of Peace was a moment of pure ecstasy with the whole congregation blessing and dancing to the drumming.  A richness of Spirit that could never be contained.

 

The Eucharist Prayer included this memorable line, “You have made us giddy with the freedom of laughter and joy”.  Ruth, Phyllis and Jeff shared the Benediction.

 

For our Recession the Thurifer (incense bearer) had tied long rainbow ribbons to the thurible.  He was a member of Grace Cathedral (Episcopal high church) who was shocked and delighted by the joy and depth of the liturgy.  I gave him the nod to begin the Recession and as he passed by me he said, ” This occasion warrants Queen Anne’s”.  Swinging the thurible in circles over his head with rainbow ribbons flying in all directions he led everyone down the center aisle. 

And with immense joy the whole congregation came out.

Rev. Steve Harms (he/him/his) Senior Pastor at Peace Lutheran in Danville, CA.  Former President of the Interfaith Council. Founder of Ruah Drama Ministry.

A Poem for Apocalyptic Advents By Cassie Hartnett

CW: Strong Language

It is not the end of the world, my therapist says, 

and I don’t believe her.

 

I read somewhere that maybe the mentally ill, the addicted, the over-dramatic, 

the vulnerable, the socially awkward, 

the crying-on-the-subway-at-2pm-on-a-Tuesday

might just be the canaries

 

The bright yellow birds in the darkness of the mine that are screaming and screaming 

for someone to hear them, 

saying this is wrong, this is fucked up, 

this is loneliness and brokenness and disconnection and death.

 

This is the end of the world.

 

About that day or hour no one knows, 

no one knows when the sun and the moon will go dark 

and the heavens will fall to the earth,

when suddenly we’ll turn around and the tectonic plates will have shifted, 

the cracks in the foundation will send rubble down into the caverns of the mines

where the canaries have been singing 

let us out let us out let us out

 

And we sing that song every day for weeks 

and we are the birds with bones too brittle for this world, 

with feathers that fall out and drift away on the breeze 

and we feel delicate and small and raw and vibrating 

because this is the end of the world.

 

So we watch. 

Jesus, you said to watch and I am watching every day. 

I’m watching so hard that I’m shaking on the phone and I can’t ride the subway 

and none of my friends are sure I’ve been eating. 

I’m keeping so alert that when my girlfriend’s phone dies I assume she has too 

and my therapist says 

why do you smile when you talk about wanting to disappear?

 

Jesus, you said to watch 

and so I am also watching the fig trees put forth their leaves 

and the babies that go out walking in the park, 

their little faces turned up towards the sky that stays just where it belongs 

and for a minute in the sun I think

 

Maybe the world goes on. 

And maybe I must stay awake to see it through.

 

 

Cassie Hartnett (she/her) grew up on the Connecticut shoreline and graduated from Union Theological Seminary in May 2019, where she studied psychology and religion, and wrote a new play for her thesis project. Previously, she studied at Barnard College and spent two years in the Twin Cities serving with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, including work with ReconcilingWorks. Cassie began her internship year at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Parkville, MD this August. In her spare time, she practices ballet and yoga, bakes excellent cookies, and can recommend a great queer young adult novel.”

 

Annunciation by JM Longworth

 

If you post this image, please include the following:

Picture description: ocean waves crashing along a rocky shore.

 

Poem:

Annunciation

by JM Longworth

 

Small child

curly dark hair

smile betraying

a great secret

 

Stands at 

the shore

a vast ocean

roaring tides

 

She stoops

once more

Dipping the clay jar

into surf

 

It seems

the task

will never end

bottling the ocean

 

A stranger

sickly wings

sharp tongue

asks her

 

That’s it?

Ocean in a jar?

This trick is 

Your big idea?

 

Nose wrinkling

She dips again

Catching waves

Mist clinging

 

She replies

It will be

the greatest gift

ever given

 

JM Longworth (they, them, theirs) lives in Rutland, Vermont with their partner Sara and two dogs. They are currently serving as the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and as co-pastor of the Faith on Foot Ministry Cooperative. JM also serves on the Board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and as a Formation & Vocation Coordinator for the Order of Ecumenical Franciscan.

Advent by Carla Christopher Wilson

If you share this image, please include the following:

Picture description: a finger drawn heart on a window with the light of a sunrise shining through.

Poem:

Advent
by Carla Christopher Wilson

Hold fast,

slip fingered though your grasp has been
against moments run like rain
through futile clenched hands
Hold fast,
the brightness is coming

Stand firm,
toes curled against a frozen earth,
braced against soil
determined in its lack of welcome
Stand firm,
the warmth is coming

Be still,
the cracking of dawn like a broken shell
is spilling gold 
into the purple darkness
Be still,
the sky is moving

Listen,
humming vibrations gather speed,
lifting flattened arches
and resting heels
Listen,
the earth is moving

Be ready
Poised and present, taut and sharp eyed,
waiting with ears turned
and open cupped hands
Be ready,
day is coming

Go forward,
even against wind without source,
Look toward the cliffs where birds with restless wings build nests
You have not been brought into this tundra winter
without reason, and purpose

Go forward,
dawn is coming.

 
 
Carla Christopher (she/her/hers) is a seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary – Gettysburg and Vicar of Union Lutheran church in York, PA. She is the founder and co-president of the York LGBTQIA+ Resource Center and co-chair of Toward Racial Justice, the diversity task force of Lower Susquehanna Synod.

Pulpit Dreams

This year, as we engage the liturgical season of Advent, ELM will be exploring the Advent themes of build-up, chaos, and the apocalyptic nature of the season through the lens of poetry. These poems, written by Proclaim members, are accompanied by images to help express the sentiment. 
 
Please feel free to share these poems and images in your own faith communities. For accessibility, a note describing each image and the poem text is included below the image.
 
Thank you for your continued reading of the ELM blog and for your support of LGBTQIA+ ministry leadership.

If you post this image, please include the following:

Picture description: a snowy scene of evergreen trees with the peak of a church poking through.

Poem:

Pulpit Dreams 

By Jon Rundquist

 

As frigid winds across the prairies blow

And birds have left the northern Midwest climes

The church upon the hill collects the snow

Around the door and lot just like old times

 

And I with wife in hand and child in arm

Head out into the drift with dragging skirts

The snow lets up before the bell’s alarm

We leave with hope, and yet, my heart still hurts

 

With yearning pulpit dreams akin to grief

It’s been so long since I have been up there

The peace I had was stolen by a thief

A thief with Bible-twisted fear and glare

 

Of course, the conscience-bound are always right

They steal the dreams of queer and trans alike

The joy of Advent mired by hate and spite

Uncomfortability is giv’n a mic

 

“I’m sorry” so they say. “Not ready yet”

“Just give us time, okay?” How long to wait?

Awaiting Baby Jesus, Advent wreaths are set

For love to break the walls of fear and hate

 

As frigid winds across the prairies blow

We pray for opened minds from Advent’s themes

Embrace us all to fill your hearts and sow

The seeds of all our hopes and pulpit dreams

Jon Rundquist (he/her/theirs) is a non-binary trans/genderqueer rebellious preacher of the rural Northwoods, where they are a stay-at-home parent and an occasional electronics team member at Target. Jon has many loves, including his wife and two children, and an affinity for sci-fi/fantasy Star Trek/Wars/Gate. Yes, that’s six slashes. She hopes to one day serve in ordained ministry for the God and Church she loves. Rebellions are built on hope after all.

Recapping the ELM October Board Meeting

by ELM Board Co-Chairs
Emily Ann Garcia and Matt James

Board Members who were present included Matt James (Co-Chair), Emily Ann Garcia (Co-Chair), Margaret Moreland (Secretary), Emily Ewing, Jeff Johnson, Kelsey Brown, Margarette Ouji, Jessica Davis, JM Longworth. ELM staff who were present included Amanda Gerken-Nelson, Olivia LaFlamme, Lewis Eggleston and Ivy Ellis.  Board members absent from the meeting included Jan Peterson (who joined via video when available) and outgoing board member Matta Ghaly.

This past October, ELM’s Board of Directors met for one of two annual in-person meetings at the beautiful Nicholas Center in Downtown Chicago. As we do in each meeting, we reminded ourselves of who Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is by reviewing and discussing our Belief Statement, Strategic Directions and Explicit Practices. At this meeting, we were able to engage deeply around what moves us in the daily work and what it may be time to revise or let go of as we continue to move forward with the work of ELM. As these conversations continue, we will be delighted to share more with all of you.

As part of our commitment as an organization and as a board to take anti-oppression seriously, all board members read Rev. Lenny Duncan’s book, Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the United States in preparation for the meeting. This led to fruitful discussion about the diversity of experience in the room.  How do you know you belong here? In what ways does ELM need to repent for being part of an unjust system? What could it look like for ELM to offer reparations?  What do you hope ELM will do tomorrow?  These are just some of the questions we took on as part of this discussion, and the answers we are moving toward will deeply influence the direction of the organization as we grow into the future.

The board also got the opportunity to engage with ELM staff members around their goals for 2020.  Staff has done an incredible job diving into their work and the goals they’ve set for 2020 were both impressive and inspiring.  The board split up into groups to talk with Amanda, Olivia and Lewis about ways the board and board members can help support their goals over the next year.  We won’t speak for everyone here, but the Executive Team’s conversation with Amanda was very exciting!

All of these conversations will guide the board’s and staff’s work in the coming months as we live into our dreaming.  The board room holds a lot of energy for this work and we are very much looking forward to what the next round of conversations will bring!

The ELM Board’s next meeting will be a conference call in December.  The next in-person meeting with be held March 19-22, 2019 in Pennsylvania at the Pendle Hill Retreat Center.

Questions or concerns you may have for the Board may be directed to Executive Director, Amanda Gerken-Nelson (amanda@elm.org) who will pass them along to the Board’s Executive Committee.

An Extraordinary Saint

Remembering Rev. Richard Andersen

1946-2019

A Creator of Things. Richard and I met in an Irish bar on the Riverwalk in San Antonio in 1992.  Neither one of us was Irish nor from Texas, but a work conference and a night of frivolity brought us together to sing drunken Irish tunes.  What we did have in common was having Midwest roots, strong spiritual backgrounds, and being gay men.

At the time, we were both financial advisors for the same company, struggling to build viable practices that served clients in the greater Lutheran community based on a model of care and generosity.  I remember traveling to O’Hare at the end of another work conference in Chicago, when I picked his brain for ideas of how to organize and build my business.   I focused on him, I think, because I knew he was smart, yet more importantly, he was wise.  I was seeking guidance, not just ideas.

Sometime in the following year, his wisdom, along with vision from his business partner, culminated in a handshake where my life partner, Brian and I became business partners.  From that weekend on I referred to Richard as my “Buddha” or “wise-guy”.  He had a quality of knowing, yet with deep humility.  

Any of you who spent time with him know he was good hearted and engaging, but you probably also came to see his handy work as well.  He built things – walls, roofs, buildings, things of substance.  Kind of macho things when I think about it.  He knew how to use a hammer, as they say.

He also created other kinds of things:  beautiful healthy food, usually Danish, connections with countless people, and amazing support for the institutions he loved.  His creative spirit drew people together.  He was an attractor, as I call it.

His ability to attract others made him an ideal board member.  Thus, he served the ELM board for many years.  I don’t think of him as one who was at the forefront of the movement for sexual equality within the ELCA or greater church, but one who supported and advised those who were.  There was something about his natural traditional sense that didn’t put him out front on this issue.  The arc of his own public coming out supports this idea.  He grew into his role as an ordained, gay Lutheran servant.  It took time.  He described the journey this way:  “My life has revolved around being gay and acknowledging my call to serve the church.”

On a walk in the Italian woods in Tuscany, we had a talk about the end of our lives, what would it be like, where did we hope our lives would be at the final point?  I remember discussing the desire to be “all used up”, having it all “left on the road” as a runner would say.  Richard’s sudden death this summer was stunning, it felt too soon.  He seemed to be at the apex of his knowledge and sense of serving the world.  He was lovingly walking through the days with his now husband, Patrick.  It was good.

And then God said, it is finished. 

Richard had told me of a visit with his own father at his deathbed many years earlier.  His father, a good Dane, of course, and also a Lutheran pastor, was ministering to his son, Richard at that dying moment.  He said, Richard, I love you, but most importantly, in your baptism, remember you are a beloved child of God. 

Its easy to love an attractor, they are made for it.  It’s harder to say goodbye to one such as this, for the connection, the glue that binds us, is so strong.  Yet, just as Richard’s father reminded him, we are called to who we really are in our baptism, and we know we will not ever really have to say farewell.

Pictured Left to Right: Brian Richards, Rev. Richard Andersen, Patrick Burns, Greg Jahnke)

Greg Jahnke is a wealth advisor with Thrivent Financial and resides with his husband, Brian Richards in San Francisco.  They are active members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.  They are both appreciative of all the efforts that have brought the church to its present stance on sexual minority issues.  They too hope to PROCLAIM God’s goodness by welcoming everyone fully into the life of the church.  In 2020 they will retire and move to Ashland, OR.

ELM- A Movement that isn’t Afraid…

In my first blog post as the Executive Director of ELM, I wrote about how I was one of “those” people. I am someone for whom “coming out as queer and coming out as a pastor has been a journey intimately intertwined.”

 

I recall watching the livestream of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly with tears in my eyes as the votes came in just over the margin needed to recognize me as a beloved child of God with a call to serve the church. What power that moment held – what power it still holds over us.

 

When I was in discernment, I did not know the stories of Jeff, Joel, Greg, Jim, Ruth, and Phyllis; I did not know about the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP) or Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (LLGM); I didn’t know the stories of the countless queer and ally lay people who devoted years of their lives to transform our church.

 

I had a sense that I stood on the shoulders of giants, I just didn’t know their names.

 

As we approach the 30th anniversary of the first extraordinary ordinations, it has been a joy to feature the stories of some of those giants and to learn their names. And, we must also acknowledge, that in the retelling of ELM’s history there are glaring absences of the stories of our bi, trans, ace/aro, and intersex siblings as well as our queer siblings of color.

 

There is significant work that must be done to uncover the phobias and -isms of which we as a justice-seeking ministry are not immune so that we can repent and offer reparations so as to live more fully and truly into our values and our gospel-calling.

 

Today, we in the Lutheran tradition commemorate the Reformation by retelling the story of Martin Luther and his 95 theses. But, there was more to that story too.

 

Amanda and her parents outside the Stadt Kirche in Wittenberg.

In 2017, I participated in a 500th Anniversary tour of Germany with my parents where we went and viewed the historical Reformation sites: Wittenberg, Leipzig, Augsburg and more!

 

It was on this trip that my dad learned about Philip Melanchthon and all of his contributions, especially the Augsburg Confession – “why didn’t I ever hear about him in my confirmation classes?” 

 

It was on this trip that I learned about Lucas Cranach the Elder and how his prints helped Luther tell the biblical stories through art. The trip gave me some perspective on the militaristic imagery that caused me angst in the song “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” when I saw the large, fortified castles that literally provided sanctuary to Luther and kept him safe during his life. 

 

My mother was aghast at what Luther wrote about our Jewish siblings and how it was used by the Nazis during World War II – even worse, the ways the Lutheran Church allied itself with the Nazi party. “But, how could they?”

 

ELM seeks to be a movement that isn’t afraid to tell its whole story and won’t shut the door on those who wish to hold us to account – whether it’s 95 theses or 5 – with all of the change, accountability, and story-telling that goes along with it. 

 

A movement is not one person and it is not immune from the phobias and -isms that plague our society. A movement must constantly be in motion and changing so that, in the words of Bishop Yvette Flunder, it doesn’t become a monument. 

 

I think, when God called me to this ministry, the intentional intertwining of my marginalized identities with my call was meant to help prepare me for a ministry such as this. I pray daily that I am worthy of the call and am grateful for the giants and accountability partners who make it possible to continue the hard work of dismantling systems of oppression and injustice.



Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson (she/her/hers) is the executive director of ELM and in this role has the blessed job of meeting giants of this movement on a daily basis. Amanda and her wife, Tasha, are new homeowners and so they will have no life outside of house projects for at least the next five years.