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The Cost

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

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.

 

Embodying the Prophets

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

by Rev. Peter R. Beeson
Proclaim member and Pastor of St. Matthew’s – Trinity Lutheran Church in Hoboken, NJ

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

 

Freed to Abundant Life

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Freed to Abundant Life

by Rev. Steve Hoffard
Proclaim member and Pastor of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church–Kingston, ON

One of the strangest things that happens to me as a pastor is that, occasionally, I am hit hard by the truth of the gospel right in the middle of preaching.

I can wrestle with a text and finding the right words for a whole week, going over it again and again. I even practice preaching it from the pulpit a number of times as part of my homiletic practice, and nothing particularly moving or spectacular happens.

Then wham! It does. Suddenly the Holy Spirit illuminates something for me right in the middle of proclaiming the gospel.

This is what happened to me two summers ago. A secret I had held tightly for fifty years, one that I had only whispered to one other person a few weeks earlier, confronted me in the middle of a sermon.

I was preaching on the Lutheran World Federation theme “Liberated by God’s Grace: Humanity Not for Sale”. In particular, I was speaking about the grace Jesus spoke of in John’s gospel saying, “I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” In that moment, I suddenly understood that not living my truth had affected someone else besides me.

By keeping my secret, my wife of twenty-two years was not able to experience the abundant life she deserved. It was in that moment that I knew what I had to do. It was the beginning of sharing my truth with my family, friends and congregation that I am and have always been gay.

I spent months coming out to family, friends and those closest to me. Then one day, I found myself standing in the same pulpit, trembling as I shared with the congregation how grace had called me forth in my full identity.

I told them about my orientation and how I no longer desired to change it. Most importantly, I told them that I was good with who God created me to be.

I recognized it as a gift that made me more sensitive to the struggle of others and therefore a better pastor. I had been freed to the abundant life that God intended for me and for all of us.

Now when I climb into the pulpit, I don’t expect something revelatory to happen. But I never know where the Holy Spirit will take me next!


Rev. Steve Hoffard (he/him/his) is pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Kingston, Ontario.  He continues to blunder into God’s grace unexpectedly while exploring who God created him to be.

 

The Holy Gospel According to Coming Out Stories

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

The Holy Gospel According to Coming Out Stories

by Rev. Amanda Nelson
Proclaim member and Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries

 

Benson Kua Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0

In college, a dear friend of mine did her senior thesis on the coming out process for LGBTQIA+ individuals. To write her thesis, she interviewed many of our classmates and friends who had already bravely come out, and some who were not yet ready to do so publicly.

At the time, I had not yet come out to her and had only started to give myself permission to even think of the possibility that I wasn’t straight.

I remember talking to her many times about her interviews and finding myself fascinated with what she was learning. One of the major points of her thesis, something that sticks with me even to this day, is the role of vulnerability and fear.

I asked her again recently to clarify this point for me and this is what she said: [when you come out] you lose control of how people will view you because that view could change. When you don’t come out, you retain the power and control: you are keeping this idea to yourself, no one can judge what they don’t know. The moment you tell people, you lose control as you don’t know how people will react/respond/change their views on you.”

There is so much truth in this! In my life and in my work, I encounter countless individuals for whom their relationships did change drastically when they came out.

Some relationships changed for the worse: communication was cut off, closeness was replaced with distance, and depth replaced by superficiality. At its worst, coming out can inflict physical, mental, and spiritual violence from those we thought loved us.

And!

And, many of my peers who have come out have experienced relationships that changed in truly beautiful ways: fear of acceptance from our family and friends was met with unconditional love; fear of being able to express our identities in public through dress, speech, or displays of affection were quelled by the celebration of Pride in our communities; and, suffocating silence was transformed by safe, brave spaces into liberated voices of joy in our churches and schools.

At its best, coming out can mediate reconciliation of body, mind, and spirit.

To be honest, it’s not an “either, or” – you either have good experiences in coming out or bad ones – because what things in life really are binary? It’s more like a circle or a spiral of different reactions and experiences. It is a spiral we experience the first time we come out…and it is a spiral we experience the one thousandth time we come out.

It is this spiral that can hold many people back from ever fully expressing their identities.

When I am experiencing the hurtful phase of the spiral, I can deeply understand why people choose not to come out. And, when I’m experiencing the joy-filled phase, I feel as tho I have been lifted into a holy embrace with God and I want to shout it from the rooftops.

Fear and vulnerability are such powerful forces in our lives, and, they are transformational.

Brene Brown, who writes so beautifully on the subject of vulnerability, has said, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

In this season of Easter, of resurrection, I am finding gospel “good news” in the coming out stories of my peers and colleagues. Throughout these next two months, we are excited to share many of those stories with you.

Thanks be to God for those who serve our church publicly out, and for those who help to ensure that gender and sexual minorities experience a holy embrace from our church in celebration of those identities!


Photo from Amanda’s Installation on March 10th by Emily Ann Garcia

Rev. Amanda Nelson (she/her/hers) is Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. When she told her friend that she was gay her friend laughed and said “uh huh, yeah”…because many people had jokingly “come out” to her because of the topic of her thesis. When she realized Amanda was serious, she apologized and was perfectly loving and accepting. Amanda is grateful to her friend, Elena, for her unconditional love.

 

Love Lives Again in ELM’s New Endowment

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

by Rev. Amanda Nelson

Proclaim member Executive Director of ELM

I never had the good fortune to meet Blanche Grube – she died soon after I started as Executive Director at the end of last summer. But, I had heard about her from ELM’s previous Executive Director, Amalia Vagts, as well as from Proclaim members and members of our Board.

Blanche’s legacy of loving ELM and the LGBTQIA+ leaders we serve well preceded her – and her legacy will now transcend the boundaries of life and death.

Blanche did something extraordinary before she passed away: Blanche added ELM to her will.

Blanche wanted to make sure that the gender and sexual minority ministers who she so valued would be able to flourish even after she was no longer here to send her annual gifts.

We are thrilled to announce, that, thanks to Blanche’s generosity, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ endowment is now active!

Over the next few months, ELM’s Board will be creating an Endowment Committee to discern the governance and vision for this endowment – ensuring the gifts made to ELM’s Endowment are stewarded with the utmost care and the funds are used to celebrate and support LGBTQIA+ leaders in innovative and necessary ways.

I will also be working with this Endowment Committee to expand our planned giving efforts and look forward to speaking with many of you about this opportunity!

In this season of resurrection joy, we dance to the hymns that proclaim: “Now the green blade rises from the buried grain, wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain; love lives again, that with the dead has been; love is come again like wheat arising green.”

We mourned the loss of our dear friend, Blanche, when she passed last summer. And now, we dance with her in this resurrection glee and give thanks for her generosity which surpasses the bounds of this worldly life.

We wouldn’t be where we are now without the support of donors like Blanche!

Please keep our Endowment Committee in your prayers as we embark on this new journey. And, please join us in giving thanks for Blanche Grube!

 



Rev. Amanda Nelson (she/her/hers) is Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. She is thrilled that it is okay once again to shout “Alleluia!” and lifts her voice in “Alleluias” for Blanche! Her favorite thing about Easter is Starbust jelly beans – she keeps a bag in her car this time of year for emergencies. 

 

 

 

Photo at top: from the obituary for Blanche posted on Dignity Memorial’s website.

Bio Photo: Provided by author

Why Do We Fear Mystics?

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

 

by Reed Fowler

Proclaim member and
MDiv student at LSTC

In this time of Lent as we follow the call to journey into the wilderness, we also remember our ancestors in faith who went before us. To help us in doing that, several Proclaim members will be reflecting upon the mystics in their blog posts here during the month of March.

Why do we fear mystics?
Why do we delegate those who feel deeply and without restraint to psychiatric wards, allow those who experience visions and speak of them to roam without shelter or care, create a culture that is so scientific and reason-based that any moment of Divine unity is best experienced and then filed away – only to be shared in hushed tones? Why is it that the wildness of nature is one of the few spaces where we are allowed to express holy and mystic awe, and yet those spaces are constantly threatened and encroached on?

The industrial structures that are the fabric of United States are based on the lie that we have to seek outside of ourselves and community to fill spiritual needs. Marketing is designed to trick us into believing that we aren’t enough. That we don’t have the capacity to encounter the Divine in our very cells, but that we need to be supplemented by things that we buy and consume.

“You can’t exist in your body as it is, you need to change it…”

“You can’t reach the Divine unless you subscribe…buy…”

What could our world be if more people lived into the reality that we already have what we need spiritually in ourselves and in community? To lean into our dirt-creaturehood and realize that we are Good and made for the delight of the Divine?

There is a power in being receptive to mystic happenings, because it requires vulnerability and openness, and a counter-culture belief in experience. It’s also a muscle that can be trained. Artistic practice helps to develop those muscles in my embodiment and daily life. It’s hard for me to be still and quiet in traditional meditative forms, but while weaving or throwing clay, I can center.

Dorothee Söelle is a mid-century German mystic, who proposes that mystic experience can be an act of resistance, a balance point. “But if I need both, the inner light of being at one with every living thing and the resistance against the machine of death, how do I get them together?”* The artistic impulse is to react from your gut with a ‘yes’. Yes, things are messy and rough right now. Yes, God is still near. Yes, we are holy and can experience the Divine.

 

*Söelle, Dorothee. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2001. pg. 5

 


Reed Fowler (they/them/theirs) is a seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and a candidate for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They are invested in interfaith collaboration, holding space for witness and tenderness, and centering alternative and artistic expressions of the sacred. They spend downtime knitting, queering faith + domesticity, gardening, and snuggling with their ever-increasing menagerie.

 

 

 

Photo at top & Bio Photo: Provided by author

ELM Hiring – Associate Director and Administrative Assistant Positions

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is seeking candidates to serve as ELM’s Associate Director of Development and Communications as well as Program and Administrative Assistant.

Interested candidates should email their cover letter and resume to ELM’s Executive Director, Amanda Nelson at search@elm.org


About the positions:

The Associate Director of Development and Communications organizes and supports the fundraising efforts of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and coordinates internal and external communications in partnership with the ELM staff. Applications will be accepted until April 20th, 2018. Position will be filled by June 1, 2018.

Full job description and guiding qualifications: Associate Director of Development & Communications Job Description

 

The Program & Administrative Assistant provides general administrative support to the ELM staff and programs. Applications will be accepted until April 13th, 2018. Position will be filled by, if not before, June 1, 2018.

Full job description and guiding qualifications: Program & Administrative Assistant Position Description


Questions may be sent to search@elm.org

ELM is committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all qualified individuals and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, marital status, veteran status, parental status, or any other basis prohibited by applicable law.

ELM Statement Concerning United Lutheran Seminary

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

ELM Statement Concerning United Lutheran Seminary

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries was deeply saddened to hear that the Rev. Dr. Theresa Latini, President of United Lutheran Seminary, previously served as the director of One by One, an anti-LGBTQIA+ organization that promotes conversion therapy as a solution for people “in conflict with their sexuality;” and, that Dr. Latini – in her previously published writings – described herself as someone who had struggled with a “homosexual orientation” but through prayer and one-on-one counseling was able to change her orientation.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of gender and sexual minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world. By living into the fullest expression of their identities, LGBTQIA+ leaders model God’s liberating love for all and boldly proclaim the goodness of their being – so beautifully captured in the words of the Psalmist: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139: 14a).

Organizations like One by One and the horrific practices of reparative and conversion therapy are the antithesis of the Psalmist’s beautiful lyric, not to mention the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, these practices and organizations promote self-hatred and the systemic oppression and repression of LGBTQIA+ people; they mentally and physically abuse children and youth; and, they cause spiritual, emotional, and physical death.

Rather than boldly stating her past and joyfully celebrating her identity and transformation of heart, Dr. Latini chose not to share the fullness of her story to the ULS Board during the hiring process. Tragically, once informed, the Board also chose not to make an announcement in the interest of full transparency. The mismanagement and secrecy surrounding these events has instilled fear and mistrust in the LGBTQIA+ community towards the seminary and its leaders.

Because, unfortunately, time and again, gender and sexual minorities have been lured into the halls and sanctuaries of our churches with promises of “all are welcome” only to be faced with  heteronormative biases, un-checked prejudice, and statements like “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries condemns and abhors the assumption that gender and sexual identities are sinful, wrong, or need to be changed in any way. We lament Dr. Latini’s history with an anti-LGBTQIA+ organization, and mourn her perceived need to hide her personal story of identity. We grieve our church’s inclination towards institutional preservation over the honoring of God’s beloved children.

Likewise, ELM is deeply saddened and troubled by the entanglement of ELM Board Member, the Rev. Dr. Elise Brown, who has served on ELM’s board faithfully and honorably for the past six years. Dr. Brown is also the Chairperson of United Lutheran Seminary’s Board of Trustees. ELM’s Board of Directors under the leadership of our Co-Chairs, the Rev. Matthew James and Emily Ann Garcia, are engaging in discernment and conversation regarding Elise’s role on our Board.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes that we are called to respond to God’s love and call to justice by listening deeply, publicly claiming our identities, working collaboratively, acting transparently, and speaking truthfully. We covenant to live into these practices with all those who desire truth, trust, and justice.

ELM dreams of a Church in which gender and sexual minorities do not need to question whether they are welcome wholly as they are – in our congregations, at our seminaries, or in our pulpits. Our lived experiences remind us daily that we are not there yet. While we are on the journey, ELM will continue to advocate for LGBTQIA+ leaders, offer our gifts as resources to the broader community, accompany individuals and communities in the holy work of loving the “fearfully and wonderfully made” Body of Christ embodied in all its queerness, and hold each other gently when the world doesn’t live up to God’s promises.

 


 Rev. Amanda Nelson                 Rev. Asher O’Callaghan
Executive Director                                  Program Director

Board of Directors
Emily Ann Garcia, Co-Chair                   Rev. Matthew James, Co-Chair

Dr. Margaret Moreland, Secretary          Charles Horn III, Treasure

                           Rev. Emily E. Ewing, Rev. Brad Froslee, Rev. Jeff Johnson, Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad, Rev. Michael Wilker

*Rev. Dr. Elise Brown is a member of ELM’s Board but is not listed as a publisher of this statement due to her dual roles as Chair of the United Lutheran Seminary’s Board of Trustees.

Capes, the Organ, and God’s Voice

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

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

Five Careers and Counting

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

View from Ravenscroft Chapel at Spirit in the Desert. Photo by Christephor Gilbert

by Rev. Richard Andersen
Proclaim member

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!


Richard lives in Cave Creek, AZ with Patrick Burns.  They met the first day of college in 1964.