Bio: Bishop Jim Hazelwood (he/him/his) was born in Concord, MA. Not raised in the church, he was baptized at age 21 while serving at El Camino Pines, a Lutheran Camp in Southern California. BA Cal Lutheran University, M.Div PLTS, D.Min Fuller Seminary Pasadena, CA. Pastor 1987 to 1993 Bethany Lutheran Brooklyn NY 1993 to 2012 St Andrew Charlestown RI. 2012 to present Bishop. Married to Lisa, Father and now Grandfather. When not bishoping he is bicycling, swimming, doing stand up comedy and writing a book on Everyday Spirituality.
By Sara Cunningham , Executive Director & CEO of Free Mom Hugs
When I was a child, my mother called me “Goose,” I am certain now more than ever this was because of my natural ability to put my nose into other people’s business. I needed to know what was going on, if everyone was ok, and most importantly when we could all get together again. Community was everything to me then, and it certainly is my focus every day now.
My Journey to becoming an ally began with the words from my child, “Mom I’ve met someone, and I need you to be okay about it.” I didn’t take the news very well, and I said and did some things I regret even to this day.
I had to re-examine my religion as it suggested that I needed to choose between my faith and my child. I discovered, with the help of some others who came alongside me, that what I believed about LGBTQIA+ people came from a few verses in the Bible that had been misinterpreted and misunderstood. From there, my journey went from the church to the local pride parade wearing a homemade button and offering Free Mom Hugs or High Fives.
I wasn’t the first mom to show up at a Pride Parade offering love and hope and hugs, but I did create a non-profit based on that experience. After my post about being a stand-in mom at same-sex weddings went viral; what we have seen has been a movement of love and celebration for the LGBTQIA+ Community.
It has been the most amazing gift dropped in our laps as far as getting the message out to moms, dads, educators, and churches that NOW is the time to get educated, to step out of fear and ignorance and come out of their own closets to speak out on behalf of their children.
But what has been even more beautiful is the community, the connection and healing that is taking place in the lives of LGBTQIA+ youth and adults due to the thousands of compassionate, empowered people who are responding and offering support, birthday cards, words of affirmation, homemade blankets, and other simple but very important small gestures such as referring to a transgender person by their chosen name.
We also recently had a follower on Instagram post about their 11-year-old child who attempted suicide because of intense scrutiny and bullying from family and school. We noticed the post and got our group of “Mama Bears to the Rescue” their address and when the young girl came home from the hospital, she was surprised by dozens of cards, stuffed animals and blankets from Mamas all across the country. These small acts of kindness, this kind of loving presence in the life of that child and her Mama delivered a message of love and hope that was life-changing for them.
This is where we are going Beyond The Hug. We are supporting homeless youth with Free Mom Hugs Hoodies. We are helping our transgender friends fund legal fees for gender name changes, emotional and financial support after top- surgeries; we travel to small-town colleges and encourage their GSA’s. We are educating on behalf of our communities in schools and in the workplace. We are advocating on behalf of mental health awareness, ending workplace discrimination, and putting an end to once and for all the mental abuse that is conversion therapy.
So many young LGBTQIA+ people are hurting from family rejection and rigid religious beliefs. This is why I support LGBTQIA+ ministries like Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries who, every day, affirm & inspire bold loving leaders to Proclaim the gospel in the world. We may not be able to change every heart and mind – we may not be able to solve most problems – but one thing we can all do is be a loving presence in the life of LGBTQIA+ people. Anyone reading this can send a card, speak words of affirmation, get together with someone for a coffee, give a small gift, use someone’s chosen name, give a hug. These are things we can all do.
My hope is that my journey will inspire all of you to want to be a loving presence in the life of LGBTQIA+ people.
Together I believe we can change the world, so it is a kinder, safer, more loving place for all people to live.
Love wins. Hugs and high fives help too.
Bio: Sara Cunningham is the Founder of Free Mom Hugs and has a heart as deep and wide as the ocean, and a commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community that matches it. Sara has very recently been featured on the Today Show, CNN, and has been viewed by millions on social media. What does Free Mom Hugs mean to her? “For me, it just represents unconditional love,” she said. “Everyone needs love and understanding from their mother.”
By Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson
Over the course of this past month, ELM’s blog has featured stories of “new-ness”:new ideas and goals for the new year, new members of Proclaim, new ELM staff members to help serve our growing community.
“Newness” as a theme and concept is not just a reaction to the start of a new calendar year as of January 1st – but also the anticipated advent of change and newness for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries as an organization as a whole.
In my first year as Executive Director of ELM, I have often reflected on Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence. In the book, Dr. Tickle talks about how the Christian church has undergone a reformation approximately every 500 years (to read a brief description of Dr. Tickle’s ideas and a personal reflection from a Presbyterian colleague, click here). I have wondered if ELM has gone through our own re-formations approximately every ten years or so: from the first extraordinary ordinations and the formation of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries and the Extraordinary Candidacy Project in 1990 and 1993, to the merger of these ministries which formed Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and the change in ELCA policy to allow LGBTQIA+ individuals to enter candidacy and serve openly in 2007 and 2009, to now: in 2019 we’re marking 10 years since the ELCA’s policy changed, ELM has an entirely new staff, and Proclaim has grown to over 320 members.
Perhaps, this theme of newness feels resonant to all of us because we are in a time of re-formation.
It wouldn’t be surprising, then, if in this period of change and newness we might find ourselves experiencing some disorientation and asking ourselves “is this the new place where we are called to be?” Or, like the Magi who visited the holy family in the stable–which we currently celebrate in this liturgical season of Epiphany–ask ourselves “Is this, in fact, the holy one?”
What has remained true for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries throughout the years and re-formations is our insistence on and deep belief and trust that the lives, bodies, and calls of gender and sexual minority leaders are indeed holy and beloved.
It is with great intentionality of living into that sentiment and with a deep reverence for what has come before us that our current ELM staff and board endeavor to explore, listen, and consider journeying down new paths in our programming and ministries.
We are living into our gospel mandate to look to the margins even within the LGBTQIA+ community to center the experiences of the most marginalized: those with identities that are still “taboo” in our culture and society, and those who carry in their bodies and lives a variety of identities beyond gender and sexual orientation that complicates and complexifies their oppression and which calls on us as an organization to think, act, and exist differently.
As we embark on this journey, we hope to continue to share with you all what we learn and what we’re hearing through this blog. Many of you have supported ELM for many years and through our previous re-formations–we are excited to share this new journey with you and with those of you who have more recently joined our community.
Our staff welcome your thoughts and reflections on what you hear and experience with us on this journey. And, we thank you for your continued support and encouragement!
Bio: Amanda Gerken-Nelson (she/her/hers) is currently in Texas avoiding the polar vortex. Upon her return to her home in Maine on Sunday, she looks forward to celebrating a Patriot victory and knows she will get hate mail for saying “Go Patriots!”
By Rev. Emily E. Ewing
It’s hard to put into words the thoughts and feelings swirling inside me when I think of Rev. Gordon Straw. He was a colleague, but more than that. A mentor and elder, but more than that. A teacher, a companion in the struggle, but more than any of those.
There was something about the way that Gordon lived and worked in the world—a spark of the Divine—that carried a deep compassion and thoughtfulness. It was as if he slowed time down enough that decisions and statements weren’t made in haste, but instead carefully considered, taking into account the whole of Creation. Rev. Mike Wilker, who was co-chair of the ELM Board during much of Gordon’s tenure on the Board, put it this way, “Gordon combined deep compassion for each person with a fierce passion for justice for all. As a board member he focused ELM on creative ministry in which every baptized person was liberated and called to share their gifts. He also led ELM to deeper understandings of the history of American Indian and Alaska Native ministries in the Lutheran churches of North America.”
Gordon, as a member of theBrothertown Indian Nation, led one of our Board anti-oppression trainings focusing on Native history and theologies. I wrote about some of what I learned on the blog after the training, though the wisdom he shared during the training continues to inform how I live my faith. As an organization ELM now includes land acknowledgments at our in-person board meetings and as part of our opening worship at Proclaim Gatherings, reminding and grounding us in the lives and histories of the land we gather on and its peoples. Gordon also wrote a guest blog on supporting Standing Rock in response to the Dakota Access Pipe Line.
It was in large part because of his leadership that so many of us in Proclaim introduced and advocated for the ELCA’s 2016 repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery at local synod assemblies as well as at the Churchwide Assembly itself, an important step for our denomination, though as another former ELM board member, Vance Blackfox noted, “more needs to be done to fulfill our promises.”
I’ve felt a deep resonance as I have been reflecting so intentionally on Gordon’s life these past two Sundays. First, reflecting on the magi at Epiphany, I couldn’t help but think of the ways that Gordon continues to be a wise one in my life. Then, as I prepared my sermon for the Baptism of Jesus this past Sunday, I was vividly reminded of Gordon’s emphasis on the many ways that God calls the whole body of Christ—all the baptized—into a life of ministry.
ELM joins the whole church in grieving for the loss of Rev. Gordon Straw’s leadership while giving thanks for his companionship in life and ministry. We pray for comfort, especially for Evelyn and Amanda, and trust that Gordon now rests with the ancestors, even as he remains connected to all of us and all of Creation, all our relations.
Rev. Emily E. Ewing (they/them/their) is a member of Proclaim and the ELM Board. Emily grew up on land originally inhabited by the Ute, in the mountains they knew as the Shining Mountains, and currently lives and does ministry on land originally inhabited by the Ioway, Sauk, and Meskwaki peoples. They’re grateful for the witnesses, wisdom, and patience of many of their elders, like Gordon, in journeying with them on the path of ministry.
By Hannah Dorn
In my short time working in the nonprofit world, I’ve come to realize the importance of all the background work that needs to be done for an organization to function at its highest level. Data must be tracked, gears must be greased, lists must be created.
In college, I worked for a small nonprofit where one of my main duties was to seek out places willing to post event posters for us. I was charged with the managing of these places for future use. With each new place found, a new line on my growing list.
Later on, I worked for the Journalism Institute at my university. I tracked technology; meaning I ran around the building to locate and label each and every piece of tech the Institute owned. Each item becoming one more line on a seemingly endless list.
Now, at ELM, I have a new list; a list I hope will never end. My new list is you; the Proclaimers, the supporters, and the volunteers.
Since I began in May, I have added 33 new faces to the growing list of Proclaim members, added nearly 500 new donors (thank you Facebook Fundraisers!), and logged countless new gifts. With each new person, a new account is created and a line is added.
While you could definitely say technology is complicated, nothing quite compares to the complexity any single human holds. These new lines hold more than any of my other lists before. These lines each represent a new face and a new story added to ELM’s mission. These lines represent one more reason for us to exist and to do the work that we do.
I get to see, firsthand, the growth that is happening within Proclaim and ELM as a whole. Each new name that comes across my screen fills me with joy as I know you are one more person touched by our work.
It is my honor to keep track of each and every one of you.
There are so many creatures on this earth, and somehow God keeps track of each and every one of us. I’m glad that I only have to keep track of a fraction of that!
Hannah Dorn (she/her/hers) is ELM’s Program and Administrative Assistant. She is a self-proclaimed master of our donor database and delights in compiling useful information. She is an avid rock climber and cat mom of Pablo and Lana del Kitty.
By Vicar Lewis Eggleston
Who in their right mind would want to ask people for money for a living?
My name is Lewis Eggleston (he/him/his), and I’ve asked myself that question many times now. Now is probably a good time to mention that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries recently hired me as the Associate Director of Development and Communications. Surprise! But do not worry, I have a plan.
My struggle is that the word Development is a loaded word, and it usually makes eyebrows furl upward like perhaps I might have some agenda in our conversation. Development people get a terrible rap. Yet, every good and thriving nonprofit is thrilled to have us! Let’s unpack that. I graduated seminary in 2015 with an MDiv from the Pacific School of Religion in
Berkeley, CA and I am currently on Internship through PLTS at Spirit of Joy in Seguin, Texas. Yes, there are gays in Texas and on Sundays I wear my boots and collar.
I learned in seminary one can pick apart words at great length, which for some, can get tedious. I did this at some point in my career with every word that is in my new job title. Here are my findings.
A few years ago I attended a faith-based development seminar where the whole room picked apart the word “Development.” My worlds of the intentionality of words, faith & praxis had collided, and it was glorious. While others in the room may have audibly groaned, I became fidgety with excitement.
Someone who shared my frustration with the term, said this, “I’ve quit calling myself the Director of Development, and now I call myself the Director of Generosity.”
Her words set off a significant paradigm shift for me as it better articulated my inner belief system causing the Marketing side of my brain to explode too. Director of Generosity! The trait of being generous is a virtue to all of us, and I get to be a facilitator of people’s generosity towards a cause that can, and is, changing the world for the better. What a privilege!
I love connecting people and to connect people to a purpose or mission gives me great joy.
So for those still wondering, “What about Communications”? Go with me here, if you think about Communications from a pulpit perspective, to me, Communications in ministry is nothing more than an extension of the Great Commission. Go and PROCLAIM the Good News! The ELM community has been doing this for years by overcoming tremendous struggles, at first with what seemed like zero power but with continued determination, Proclaimers continue to make an impact on the world.
It will be my honor to share the Good News of every proclaimer out there who brings the Gospel to the world in bold new ways. What a joy!
Associate Director of Generosity and Good News. Regardless of how you look at it, or whatever words work for you, I look forward to this journey with y’all as we continue together to transform the church and the world. Blessings my friends!
Vicar Lewis Eggleston (he/him/his) is an Air Force spouse currently living in San Antonio, TX with his husband Mitchell and dog-child Carla. He’s been an advocate for children’s access to the arts through museum and symphony educational programming and has worked with homeless individuals and families for the past ten years. In his free time, he loves to attend musicals whilst fighting every urge to sing-along.
By ELM Program Director Olivia LaFlamme
Resolution; a firm decision to do, or not to do, something.
The first thing we ask people when the new year arrives is “what are your new year resolutions?”
We expect lists of long promised changes and sacrificing of indulgences or vices. We all seem to know that the newness of the year cycle starting over again means that change is in the air in a way that we can harness to make our lives better. We feel emboldened to be, do or say that thing that we haven’t had the capacity for in the years past.
A resolution is a firm decision; it is a stake in the ground and a line in the sand. But how many of us know that what starts off all hopeful and confident on January 1st, so quickly slips through our fingers and is forgotten; tucked away until next year. We all do that, right? And here’s the thing, that loss of steam around that list of firm decisions to do, or not to do, something makes perfect sense because it is missing something crucial. That list of declarations can never be fulfilled without a plan. What if, instead of just resolutions this year, we approach the newness, this heightened possibility of making positive change, with solutions on top.
Solution; a means of solving a problem or dealing with a difficult situation.
Every day we are all coming up with solutions to the most mundane problems.
Problem: I’m hungry.
That’s one way to put it, but it’s a little oversimplified. In order to eat, you had to find out what you had available (at your desk, in your kitchen, in your bag, etc.), then you had to choose something, then you may even have had to prepare the food (you know how many steps that could involve!) before you could actually just “eat”. The solution isn’t “eat”, it’s actually all those steps that lead up to you performing the act of eating. We do this constantly; following a series of actions that we know will lead to our desired result. Somewhere in our minds we just know that is how things work. In order for something to happen, there we will be a bunch of other things that happen to make that a reality; let’s call that a plan.
Here’s the thing, “resolution” and “solution” have the same root word; “solve”. Both are seeking to find the answer to a question. What separates the two is simply the modus operandi. Resolutions are statements of intention (“I won’t”/“I will”). Solutions are the means, the way that you will make something happen; a plan. Setting an intention to leave something in 2018 and take something else into 2019 is purposeful and is productive. But let’s take it one step further and ensure our success just a little bit more this time. Let’s add a plan of action. How are you going to do it? Who do you need to talk to that can hold you accountable? What would it look like if you were able to do this thing? What do you need today to make that possible tomorrow?
Every new year promises change. Let’s encourage each other to get in on that opportunity to heal, grow, and expand our horizons in 2019 with intentions and plans.
Happy New Year everyone!
Olivia LaFlamme (they/them/theirs) is the Program Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Olivia is a Black queer feminist. They have an M.A. in Women and Gender Studies with an emphasis on queer theory and a B.A. in Comparative Women’s Studies with a concentration in Social Justice. Olivia is a budding filmmaker (focused in documentary) and their thesis project, entitled “Spirits Speak,” is an experimental documentary exploring queer temporality as it is demonstrated through ancestral/lineage projects (spiritual, archival and artistic). They have a background in organizing, administration in the university, and teaching. Raised in the Assemblies of God Christian church, they have since cobbled together several religious traditions that inform their own spiritual identity. Olivia views faith in the Supernatural as crucial to their ability to move through this world that would seek to destroy their gender non-conforming, Black and queer body. They have an amazing and supportive partner, three younger siblings, and loving parents.
From ELM Executive Director Amanda Gerken-Nelson
I’ve often joked with Proclaim members and ELM supporters that if Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries were a church, we’d be on the cover of Living Lutheran for our outstanding growth and ministries!
On September 20th of this year, Proclaim welcomed its 300th member! Now, with 319 members, Proclaim – ELM’s professional community of
publicly out gender and sexual minority seminarians and rostered ministers – has more than quadrupled in size since it’s inception almost nine years ago.
As Proclaim has grown, ELM has had to respond to the ever growing and changing needs of our community. And so, our staff, Board of Directors, and the leadership teams for all three of ELM’s ministries – Proclaim, Accompaniment, and Ministry Engagement – have worked to grow and diversify what we do and how we do it to more wholly support these vibrant leaders of our church.
This fall, ELM’s new program director, Olivia LaFlamme, organized a Facebook group for Proclaim members who identify with a racial identity other than white. Olivia noted regarding the formation of this group: “I hope to use this space to cultivate community and support for those in Proclaim who face racial as well as gender/sexual oppression.”
To meet the growing needs of our community, ELM expanded our staff this year by adding a three-quarter time Associate Director of Development and Communications. By adding this new position and reconfiguring responsibilities between the staff, we have been able to provide more administrative support to our growing Proclaim community and have been able to give more time and attention to growing our volunteer and support base to help sustain the ministries that help our Proclaim members serve their congregations with vitality and enthusiasm.
New Proclaim members bring with them a multitude of identities and ELM’s staff and Board of Directors have engaged in education and anti-oppression training around gender and sexual identities that are either new to us or have challenged us – yes, even we need to be educated on gender and sexual identities!
The ELM Board learned more about intersex and asexual identities at our spring in-person meeting when we decided to add the letters “I” and “A” to the “LGBTQIA+” acronym whenever it is used in ELM publications.
The ELM Board and the Proclaim community have had opportunities to learn more about polyamory through education sessions held at both the spring in-person Board meeting and this summer’s Proclaim Gathering. Polyamorous families and individuals are looking to organizations like ELM for support and community as they navigate the candidacy process and the church’s restrictive teachings on human sexuality.
Like any congregation or community that is growing at such a significant pace, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is learning how to embrace difference, how to listen to each other in our disagreements, and how to navigate the challenging relationships between identity(ies) and faithfulness.
While we by no means consider ourselves experts or exemplars of church growth, we do believe that the queerness of our identities – as individuals and as an organization – has provided us with many tools for engaging and navigating this time of growth and change and maintaining our integrity and purpose.
In the midst of the grief and consternation which can accompany change – there is also great beauty and joy! Joy in knowing that Proclaim’s growth means that there are an increasing number of LGBTQIA+ individuals who not only feel called to ministry in the church – they are actively serving our church and bringing the good news to thousands of individuals across our nation every week. And that is a beautiful image of the kin-dom of God!
Thank you for the support, feedback, and engagement you’ve provided us at ELM this year! We look forward to what 2019 will bring and we are grateful to have you join us in the journey!
I wish you a very merry Christmas and a blessed New Year!
Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson, Executive Director
Amanda Gerken-Nelson (she/her/hers) is the Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Her favorite thing about this role is getting to know the people and congregations who love and support LGBTQIA+ pastors, deacons, and seminarians across our country – and there are a lot of you! Amanda travels extensively for ELM and would love to visit you and your community . Please consider inviting her to preach at your church sometime!