ELM Blog: When Coming Home Feels Less than Familiar

by Tom Gehring

Once again, we find ourselves entering the most sacred week of the church year.

As the child of two pastors, I consider myself intimately familiar with the church calendar as my life has been marked by its rhythms for 30 years now. Despite this long-running familiarity, however, the journey through Holy Week has always carried a meaningful significance. From washing feet and hearing the command to love as Jesus loved, to sitting through the painful emptiness of grief and keeping vigil, my spirit has always found peace and meaning among the familiar patterns. The Lenten runup and subsequent journey through this sacred week felt like a return home. It was a poignant reminder of who I am as an individual of faith as well as a member of the worldwide body of Christ. However, in recent years, Holy Week has not felt like much of a homecoming.

Four years ago, I was in my final year of seminary and navigating the early stages of a global pandemic that continues to mark our lives. As Holy Week approached, I struggled to find any peace, joy, comfort, or familiarity in the rhythms of the week because they had been so aggressively upended. I felt unable to feel much of anything through the observations of the week. Admittedly, I still struggle to some extent as the months and years since that first pandemic Holy Week have only grown increasingly chaotic and disheartening.

This year, however, I find myself wondering. If the familiarity of these sacred observances no longer brings a sense of comfort, introspection, and joy, then perhaps it can stir up something new within me, maybe in our communities as well. After all, the stories that shape and guide us, we profess to be a living Word. Though the structure and stories of this sacred week are relatively unchanged from year to year, we as individuals and communities have been shaped in myriad and tumultuous ways. I desperately want to believe that, despite living in a reality whose very fabric seems to be unfolding before our eyes, our collective journey through the days to come might help us face whatever comes next.

With everything in the world continuing to unfold, with each new and prolonged crisis, I cannot help but focus on the tenacity of this week. Perhaps, too I feel an indignant comfort in how staring down a world in chaos has only seemed to highlight the most important elements of this Holy Week: a protest through the streets that actively mocked an occupying empire, an intimate gathering of close friends sharing a meal amidst heightened anxieties, a desperate prayer in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, hours of keeping watch through the silence of night with a defiant hope.

However you approach this coming week, be it with anticipation and excitement or the numbness of enduring yet another year, I pray that the Spirit might find you and speak to you in the way you most need. May we all come home to this sacred moment and be transformed into the very Love we encounter in the altar, the cross, and the tomb. Amen.

Bio: Tom Gehring (He/They) is a pastor currently working as a chaplain in Metro Chicago providing spiritual care for individuals living with, or at risk for HIV. In their free time Tom loves to DJ, spend time outside, play lots of games (both video and board), read excessively thick fantasy novels, and work out with his lovely gym community. Tom has been serving as a member of ELM’s board of directors since October of ’23 and is honored to be a part of this ministry.

ELM Blog: Music Ministry to a New Beat

By Tom Gehring

The lockdown-era of the ongoing Covid pandemic had many of us exploring new hobbies and interests. For some, they nurtured sourdough starters and brought forth bountiful loaves. Others dove deep into the rabbit hole of brewing specialty coffee at home. Others still (most of us, if I remember) learned a lot about the world of exotic cats and the rather colorful characters who exist in that realm. For myself, it was an opportunity to do something I had been thinking about starting for decades: I started learning how to DJ.

Music has always been a major part of my life, and sharing music with others has been an integral part of how I enjoy the art. In elementary school, I always volunteered to provide music when we had a class party, and, as the child of a pastor, I attended more than my fair share of wedding receptions and was always enthralled by how the DJs could get an entire room of people out of their chairs, away from their food, and onto a dancefloor. And then, as a student at Luther Seminary, I had the chance to attend a house party planned and hosted by conveners of Decolonize Lutheranism. In between offerings of spoken word poetry, ongoing queer theology studies, and imbibing good food and drink, we danced to music provided by a DJ. It was one of the more authentic experiences I had of beloved community while a seminarian.

In January of 2021, I began my journey as a DJ, learning how to mix, how to match beats, how to blend between tracks, and transition across moods. I didn’t want the focus on me and my command of the tracks, rather I wanted to create a shared experience among the people who heard what I played. I was and still am fascinated and motivated by the concept of a group of people joining together and not just encountering the music I played, but co-creating a moment in time where we share in the same energies and emotions driven by the music.

I eventually created a persona for myself: DJ Happy Accidents (yes, in reference to the famous painter!) and started performing on the streaming platform Twitch. For just over 2.5 years now I have regularly played music on the internet and been intentional to keep the focus on the experience. For those who tune in, we not only enjoy the music and vibes together, but we share what we’re experiencing in life. Watching the people show up in Twitch Chat and support one another through hardships, while celebrating each other’s joys has been thrilling to see. When close colleagues first told me that in some ways, Twitch Chat was my mission field and my DJing was a ministry, I was resistant to the idea. I am of the opinion that we don’t need to ruin any more art forms by making Christian versions of them, and I have taken care to not bill myself as a Christian DJ.

However, in forming and creating this community online, as well as having opportunities to perform in-person, I do consider this hobby as a ministry. When we’re all caught up in the vibe of the music, I’ve found that people are willing and eager to show up as their authentic selves. The dance floor, or the chat window on Twitch, is a safe space for people to bring their full selves and engage in a co-creative process. We connect over the music, yes, but we also connect over the expression of emotion. And, for me at least, that is exactly why I continue to do this hobby.

If you’re interested in checking out my recorded mixes, want to tune in live on twitch, or shoot me an email, just follow this linktree: https://linktr.ee/djhappyaccidents

Tom Gehring (He/They) is a pastor currently working as a chaplain in Metro Chicago providing spiritual care for individuals living with, or at risk for HIV. In their free time Tom loves to DJ, spend time outside, play lots of games (both video and board), read excessively thick fantasy novels, and work out with his lovely gym community. Tom has been serving as a member of ELM’s board of directors since October of ’23 and is honored to be a part of this ministry.

ELM Blog: The Gay Man Who Became My Faithful Godmother by Mycah McNett

When I followed my heart after college to do a year with Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) with the ELCA, I did not expect that one of my best friends for years to come would be a 68-year-old Sister of Perpetual Indulgence.

To be honest, as a freshly graduated college student and someone who still was not quite out to herself, no less anyone else in my life, I was not sure what I was getting into by serving a church in Manchester, UK. What I found while I was there was the most welcoming, affirming, and diverse congregation that was excited to worship and be part of their local community for the benefit of everyone. It was the first congregation I had spent a significant amount of time in that so vocally and firmly believed that LGBTQIA+ people were beloved children of God and fully affirmed as we are.

One of my first outings with our church on the few days of arriving was to attend Manchester Pride and provide affirming messages of love from a faith perspective. We stood between the protesters and the rest of the parade, and it was from our spot on the sidelines that someone pointed out the float that one of our church members was riding. Alan was proudly in his full regalia as Sister Latex (OPI), waving with the other sisters.

(Left Photo) Alan and Mycah on a walk along a canal – he loved to walk around Manchester and share the city with me.

(Right Photo) Alan – Sister Latex OPI – posing with several Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at a Pride event. Alan is all the way to the left in this group.

Alan was the sacristan and always prepared the altar for worship (I learned more at his side about liturgical theology than I perhaps did in my own seminary class, sorry professor!). He also often prepared the other altar in our church, the counter where we hosted hospitality tea and cake. If no one baked a cake, he would pop around to the shops to get one and make sure we had enough tea to go around. In his spare time, he started a ministry teaching English to victims of human trafficking who lived near our church, getting a whole army of volunteers together to support our neighbors. He spent the rest of his volunteer time with an adult day center for people with dementia.

My friend, bless him, taught me what it was to be a follower of Jesus.

Alan came out as gay early in life, when he was sixteen and immigrated from a small town in Ireland to London, where he had a career in theatre and teaching. He joined the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence while there and shared so many wonderful stories of the loving chaotic ministry they did together.

We kept in near-weekly contact for a few years after I moved back to the US before he was diagnosed with cancer that he never recovered from. Even when he was too tired to respond, I would send him my latest updates from the States and remind him how deeply he was loved by his friends who became family, and by his creator.

Alan’s steady presence in faith and in my life was part of what brought me to my own understanding with God that I am a queer woman called to serve God’s people. I like to think of him as my faithful gay godmother who cheers me on in ministry every day.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are celebrating their 45th anniversary this Easter, and are distributing $45,000 in grants! The $250-$1000 grants are for projects that serve the Bay Area or particularly embattled communities in other locales around the country and the world that promote wellness, joy, tolerance, and diversity within our communities. Find out more about the grants and how to apply here.

The Rev. Mycah McNett graduated with honors in Biblical and Lutheran studies from United Lutheran Seminary. She was called as the second pastor at Saint Luke Lutheran Church in Devon, PA in the summer of 2023. Before seminary, Pastor Mycah served in church communication and youth ministry roles in Harrisonburg, VA, and was an ELCA Young Adult in Global Mission participant. Since 2022 Pastor Mycah has served on the Board of Directors for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and is an active member of the Proclaim Community for LGBTQIA+ Lutheran Rostered Leaders. Pastor Mycah lives in Downingtown with her spouse, Alyssa, and three cats, Minnie, Clio, and Clem.

ELM Ash Wednesday Haiku by Gretchen Rode

Molded from the mud
God breathes in us life and love
Ash to belov'd ash


Bio: Gretchen Rode enjoys preaching God’s all-encompassing love as the pastor at House of Hope Lutheran Church in New Hope Minnesota. She lives in the Twin Cities with her wife, Pastor Jill Rode, her four vivacious children, and her loveable hound dog. In her free time, she can be found contentedly reading in the sunshine or joyfully crushing her children at card games. 

Photo credit:

ELM Blog: Both/And by Alex Aivars

The story of the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus by the well (John 4:5-42) was never supposed to happen. Jesus, an unmarried Jewish man, and the unnamed woman, an unmarried Samaritan woman, were not supposed to meet. They were supposed to remain separate.

However, Jesus crosses the divide and speaks to the Samaritan woman. She is understandably surprised and says as much (verse 9).

This doesn’t stop Jesus. He keeps talking to the Samaritan woman. And the Samaritan woman keeps talking right back. Even when the Samaritan woman challenges Jesus, Jesus still stays in relationship.

In the end, the Samaritan woman becomes a believer in Jesus. And she tells EVERYONE, becoming one of the first evangelists in the Gospels.

I see similarities in this interaction of the Samaritan woman and Jesus, and the queer community. The Samaritan community was separate and cast out from the broader Jewish community. Queer history has been one of queer people either not being allowed in Christian spaces, or being required to change, or being required to hide. Historically there was more often than not some type of separation between those who are queer, and those who are Christian.

But Jesus and the Samaritan woman break the divide and have a conversation. I think of the many queer pioneers before me who broke the divide between the queer and Christian communities. I think about those who said, yes, I am both queer and Christian, and were loud about it. And then those that said yes, I am both queer and a ministerial leader, ordained by God, and were loud about it.

We have made strides in queer rights over the last few decades. In the Lutheran church, the 2009 decision allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly as pastors. Gay marriage being legalized nationwide in the United States in 2015.

And yet, the progress hasn’t been the same for everyone.

The people most helped by this progress have been white, cis-gender, gay men.

People like me.

While those in the queer community who are black, trans, women have not seen this progress benefit them in the same way.

Which means there is still work to do.

As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

My own freedom as a white, cis-gender, gay man is wrapped up in the freedom of those who are black, trans, women.

I’m Lutheran after all.

This is not either/or. This is both/and.

Bio: Alex is in his second call as pastor of Christ United Church in Dewitt, MI. Since this is a part-time call, he also develops websites for businesses, non-profits, and churches. In his spare time he likes to dance, be outdoors, travel, write and read.

ELM Announcement: Saying Goodbye to Olivia LaFlamme-Washington

Dear Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries & Proclaim Community,

After over five years as Program Director for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, Olivia LaFlamme-Washington will be concluding their time with ELM at the end of December. We are so incredibly thankful for the many gifts that Olivia has shared with us during their time with ELM. As Program Director, Olivia brought a clear vision and vibrant energy to accompanying Proclaimers, engaging leaders and volunteers, and partnering with the organization as a whole. In addition, during our recent period without an Executive Director, Olivia took on a myriad of additional responsibilities that ensured the continuing work of ELM. Their labor, dedication, and wisdom will forever have an impact on the life of our organization.

What does this mean for the immediate future for ELM, and specifically the Proclaim programs? Olivia has worked hard to engage, uplift and empower the volunteer leaders within Proclaim to work closely with the board and lead ministry teams, in particular the chaplains, welcome team, first call coaches, and identity-specific subgroups. If you have questions about specific program pieces, or simply would like accompaniment as you process this announcement, please reach out to us at board@elm.org.

What’s on the horizon for ELM? There is a team working on putting together an updated job description for an executive director and assembling a hiring team/call committee. We will be reaching out in early 2024 to Proclaim and the wider ELM community to recruit for individuals to serve on this team.

Board Secretary Lindsey Jorgensen-Skakum and the chaplains are currently planning a farewell gathering on zoom on December 28th, 4pm EST (3pm CST, 2pm MST, and 1pm PST). We hope you will join us to give thanks for Olivia’s time with us and wish them well on their endeavors to come.

May your Christmas be blessed and your new year full of promise and abundant life,

Board of Directors
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

Blog: On Being Gay, Latino, and Lutheran


October holds a dual significance for many, as it ushers in both Hispanic Heritage Month and Queer History Month. As someone who embodies the intersection of being Latino, gay, and Lutheran, this month offers a time of introspective reflection and celebration. 

Diversity within identities is not merely a demographic checkbox; it’s a complex interplay of experiences and histories that shape how we view the world and our place within it. Being Panamanian American means embodying a rich tapestry of cultures, traditions, and histories, spanning countries and continents. This vibrant mosaic is, in many ways, mirrored by the intricate tapestry of the queer community, which is vast and varied in its expressions of love, gender, and identity. 

However, our world often compels us to compartmentalize these aspects of our identity, as if they cannot coexist harmoniously. But I challenge that narrative. For me, being Latino and gay are not separate threads of my identity; they are intertwined, each lending its hue and texture to the fabric of who I am. And my Lutheran faith? It has been a space for me to live out the various aspects of who I am in service to God and others. 

The Lutheran church in metro New York, one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the world, unavoidably navigates a wide range of diversity. While there have been moments of tension and challenge, the core tenets of our faith — grace, love, and the inherent dignity of all — guide us towards inclusivity. Our faith encourages us to embrace all facets of our identity, acknowledging that in our differences lies our strength. 

As a board member of the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the power of intersectionality within our church. The queer community, which has historically felt estranged from religious spaces, finds in ELM a sanctuary where love is love, and God’s grace knows no bounds. Similarly, our rostered leaders find solace in an organization that sees them, hears them, and champions their invaluable contributions. 

However, it’s crucial to understand that while progress has been made, the journey is ongoing. Advocacy, education, and allyship are essential tools in ensuring that our church remains a space of acceptance and love. As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage and Queer History this month, it serves as a reminder that our stories, intertwined and complex, are an integral part of the broader narrative. 

In embracing our multiple identities, we provide a roadmap for future generations. A roadmap that says, you can be Latino, gay, Lutheran, or any combination of identities, and find love, acceptance, and purpose. The richness of our stories, the challenges we’ve overcome, and the future we’re forging are testaments to the resilience and beauty of our communities. 

I encourage each of us, regardless of our backgrounds, to take a moment this month to reflect on the intersections of our identities. Let us celebrate the beautiful mosaic that is our shared humanity. And let us remember that in our unity and acceptance we bring to others, we truly embody the teachings of our Lutheran faith. 

In gratitude and solidarity, 

Christopher Vergara 

Board Member, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries 

Vice President of the Metropolitan New York Synod 



Christopher Vergara grew up in a Spanish-language Pentecostal church in New York City. Having gone to parochial schools his entire life, as having a Christian education was of the utmost importance to his single immigrant mother, he attended Valparaiso University (IN), where he was drawn into the Luther tradition. He returned to NYC to attend The Juilliard School to study costuming, and recently completed his MFA in costume design and pedagogy.


For the Lutheran Churches of Metro New York, Christopher has served on the synod council, the executive committee, Chair of the AMMPARO/Sanctuary Ministry, and was appointed to lead the synod’s Advocacy Taskforce, before being elected to be the synod’s vice president. For the wider church, Christopher has served on the ELCA’s memorial and nomination’s committees. Christopher crafted the memorial and made the motion to the assembly to have the ELA declare itself a sanctuary denomination, making it the first church body in the U.S. to do so. He is also a proud member of the board of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

His advocacy work has earned him the Outstanding Friends of Immigrants Award from Seafarers International House, the Social Justice Award from the New York State Council of Churches, and The Order of the Blue Dragon & The Order of the Golden Dragon from the Gotham Nights Rugby Football Club


ELM Blog: In Remembrance of Matthew Shepard Feast Day

Queer Christians have always needed to be masters of simultaneously rejoicing and weeping. On October 11th each year, we rejoice for those who have come out and weep for those who aren’t safe to do so. On October 12th, we weep for the death of Matthew Shepard and rejoice for the anti-hate legislation that came in its wake. May the God of Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, the Ethiopian eunuch and Joseph in the princess dress, of beloved Matthew and each and every one of us unite our tears and shouts of joy into a clarion call for justice.

Below are excerpts from his internment at the National Cathedral in Washing, DC.

Full Video: https://www.youtube.com/live/FSXtHMXuaPI?si=Q5EW2ZKB9VkBFCjw

About Matthew: https://www.matthewshepard.org/about-us/our-story/

ELM Blog: You are God’s Pride & Joy!

A Coming Out Day Reflection By Jessica Davis

This past month, something miraculous happened. I made a commitment to correct people whenever they misgendered me, and I actually followed through with it, and I didn’t go up in flames. I didn’t shake so hard that I felt like I would fall apart. Best of all, I didn’t poop my pants in terror, for which I definitely deserve a round of applause, lolsob. 

I’m a tough old goat who isn’t surprised or intimidated by much at this point. I’ve worked for years in prisons and forensic psychiatric facilities. I’ve lived through homelessness, domestic violence, and life in the ELCA as a Black disabled person (if that ain’t scary, I don’t know what is!) So I didn’t expect coming out as non-binary/agender to be so damn hard. But it is terrifying. Still. Despite all the progress that’s been made, there is still a very long way to go towards constructing a world/church where queer people are safe, affirmed, and fully welcomed (Ngl, it still feels weird using the term “queer” to apply to myself, as though I haven’t earned my place. I will likely never know even a fraction of the oppression, and outright violence that those who came before me endured, and that so many, especially Black trans women, still endure today. But it feels better knowing that they probably felt that imposter syndrome too.)

When I first joined the ELM board, I identified as female and insisted I was there as “just an ally.” I thought that constantly feeling like your gender was an itchy sweater you could never take off was just part of the human experience, especially for Black women, whose lived experiences of femininity will never be enough for white culture to give them full access to the category of “womanhood.” But during my time with the organization, I met more and more BIPOC non-binary folks. I realized our experiences and feelings and struggles aligned, and that it was ok to test out different pronouns and ways of identifying and see which fit the best. I had my first of many “coming outs/inviting ins” in a board meeting two years ago, and received so much support and acceptance and love. There have been more since then, including the big hurdle that this last month has represented. There will be many more in future. They will not all go well. But when they don’t, I know that I have a beloved community in ELM to reach out to, where I will find others who understand, who have “been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt”, and who have paved the way for me. 

My time serving on the ELM board has been intense, especially in the last few years. We have weathered the pandemic, massive funding losses, and huge questions and divisions around our mission and vision for the future, especially where racism is concerned. We haven’t always done it well. But I’m still here because I see and experience the constant desire to do better by vulnerable people, to cultivate healthier relationships, to lead from a position that affirms that queerness is not to be just tolerated, but celebrated. That’s why I serve and why I donate to support the work of this organization. It’s why I’m inviting you to do the same on this National Coming Out Day where we are so blessed to be able to have 400+ members of Proclaim and so many allies who remain committed to doing this crucial work. Will you join me in celebrating this moment in our lives together with a contribution of $4, $40, or $400? (Or maybe $400,000-somebody out there has got to have that winning Powerball ticket, right?!?)

Whether or not you are able to make a financial contribution, whether or not you are officially “out,” wherever you might be in your journey of the constant comings-out that is queer existence, that continual revelation of who God was and is creating you to be…You are loved. Mightily. Riotously. God has seen you and declared you (and me!) queerly beloved. Your picture hangs on Their refrigerator, and They wear the macaroni necklace you made in kindergarten as a crown, because you are Their pride and joy. Be safe this day, beloveds. If you’re ready to, be bold, secure in the knowledge that your queerness is divine and that you are not alone. Reach out to us at board@elm.org if you need prayer, a listening ear, or cheering on as you embark on a difficult conversation today. God loves you and so do we.


 Jessica Davis, MA (they/them) is a Christian educator, pastoral counselor, D/E/I educator, and freelance writer and speaker living in the Philadelphia area. Their ministry passions include: youth ministry, church music, and community visioning. When not doing churchy things, they can usually be found knitting, volunteering with refugees and asylum-seekers, or working as a freelance makeup artist. You can connect with their work through Jessica Davis Church Consulting on Facebook.

Blog: Indigenous People’s Day

On Indigenous People’s Day, ELM wanted to take a moment to highlight and uplift ways Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries can be in solidarity with our indigenous members and neighbors. ELM is committed to liberation of all marginalised communities, and to centering the voices of queer folx who experience multi-layered intersectional and systemic oppression 

We are particularly thankful for the intense labor that went into creating the Truth and Healing Movement in the ELCA, which provides opportunities to learn the true history and current realities of Indigenous people. It is these truths, truths that have been ignored by most for hundreds of years, that will bring healing for both Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people. There are some upcoming classes and seminars, and a wonderful calendar of events on the website. There are also several recorded sessions on youtube if you are unable to make the session times. Here is a list of further resources housed on the ELCA website.

The ELCIC has several resources as well, including this explainer about the Doctrine of Discovery, and the dangers of denying the existence of Residential Schools

We invite queer Indigenous people to share in the comments anything you would like ELM to know about what it means to you to be queer and Indigenous.

Below is a link to the TikTok account of a Two-Spirit Anishinaabe community leader from whom we have learned a great deal. Non-Indigenous folks, we invite you to share resources from the queer Indigenous people who are your greatest teachers.

We join in solidarity and prayer as we continue to work toward a future where all of God’s people are honored and treated with care.