Imagery of church-related people and places.

Communication and Community.

L to R: Aubrey Thonvold (Executive Director, ReconcilingWorks) Christephor Gilbert, and Jennifer Thomas (LSTC Gift Officer and ELM Donor) at the 2017 ALDE Conference

 

by Christephor Gilbert
ELM Communications and Development Coordinator

Last week I had the privilege of representing ELM at the Annual ALDE Conference, held this year in beautiful and friendly Norfolk, Virginia. ALDE is the Association of Lutheran Development Executives, and their IGNITE conference is an opportunity to gather fundraising officers and development staff from a multitude of Lutheran organizations – and across the three major Lutheran bodies (ELCA, LCMS, and WELS) – to share stories and best practices from the field.

As a newbie to the conference, I was instantly surrounded by warm welcomes from existing members willing and able to help me navigate the rooms and connect with other members of who were “in the know” about all things development and ALDE. And, I felt instantly at ease knowing that ELM supporters, like Aubrey and Jennifer pictured above, as well as Proclaimer Aaron Decker (who was at the conference for a corollary event, the Evangelical Lutheran Education Association) were around as friendly and familiar faces.

Outside of the six breakout sessions I attended which offered both theoretical and practical development info, I was invigorated by the two keynote presentations. The first, by Donna Schumell, asked us to consider our values and virtues, and how you can engage emotional intelligence to become more effective communicators, leaders, and overall good people. The second, by Leslie Crutchfield, leaned on data gleaned from her non-profit leadership guide, Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, which studied organizations that went from zero to impactful in the last fifty years. Crutchfield offered up a paradigm that affirmed that the best organizations understand they can advocate and serve, work with for-profit business, the market, and other non-profits to create movements, not just organizations.

The core of this message—which was the underlying theme of the conference—was that in-person, genuine, communication that is matched with relationships is the most impactful at building community across organizations. As we gather and connect, telling our stories to one another, we create bonds that lead to new connections—forging a groundswell of inter-dependence that is committed to togetherness and yet supportive of unique identities.

This theme came into action for me during lunch on the second day, when an ALDE member offered up a story about one of her daughter’s friends who is in the middle of discerning their identity. I offered up some ideas about how to move forward—to be supportive, loving, and present for this young person who is not in a position to reveal their identity to their parents. But then I was able to refer this member to other LGBTQ organizations that might help. And because these people are involved in Lutheran religious life, it brought home the continued importance of what you, our supporters, help to achieve at ELM—supporting upcoming, new, and existing rostered leaders who represent the breadth and depth of identity in the church.

I recently re-read Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, wherein he says to the community, “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing” (1 Th. 5:11). It was wonderful experiencing encouragement from my colleagues at ALDE, a spur to action to continue to “build up” our community of supporters, seminarians, rostered leaders, and congregations.

 

Christephor Gilbert is the Communications and Development Coordinator for ELM, and is celebrating his one year anniversary with the organzation this month!  When he is not working on his MDiv studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, he is dreaming of the time he can wear his fedora’s and Hawaiian shirts.

Nevertheless, I Persisted.

photo credit Paul Nixdorf

(photo credit Paul Nixdorf) 

Guest blog by Chris Wogaman

On March 11, 2007, I was assigned to the Metropolitan New York Synod for first call. After 5 years of classes, part- and full-time ministry experience, CPE, and ELCA candidacy, I was ready to begin my life as an ordained minister of Word and sacrament.

However, a powerful ELCA official told me that I would have to “go under the radar” in order to receive a first call. If I insisted on being out as a gay man, she said, I would not receive a first call. Nevertheless, I persisted. “The bishop told you to go under the radar if you want to receive a call. But you insisted on leading with your sexual orientation. We can’t find you a call if you persist in leading with your sexual orientation.”

“Leading” with one’s sexual orientation meant, in 2007, that even the slightest mention of your sexual orientation immediately took over your entire vocational path with an anxiety and resistance that met its partial resolution in the 2009 Churchwide vote to allow open and partnered LGBTQ pastors and seminarians.

The years went on. One year without a call. Nevertheless, I persisted. Two years without a call. “Maybe it’s not God’s will for you to be a minister,” I was told. “Maybe the Holy Spirit is trying to tell you to find another path.” Nevertheless, I persisted.

After nearly five years, I finally had my first interview with a call committee. They turned me down, not because of sexual orientation. It was a heartbreak, but we were not a good match. Nevertheless, I persisted.

Nearly 30 call processes later, and after having become “perhaps the most approved candidate for ordination in the ELCA” (as was stated on my behavioral interview for Mission Developer/Redeveloper—finally the ELCA took note!), I came to one of the hardest interviews, on Wednesday, November 9, 2016. I was devastated by the results of the elections; I couldn’t wrap my head around even having this interview. I was close to receiving a call vote at a congregation that would not have been a good match, but I had the interview anyway. Nevertheless, I persisted.

That interview went well. The people on the call committee were also reeling from the elections’ results the night before. Very soon, they had me down for an in-person meeting, and soon I was approved for a congregational vote unanimously by the church council. I passed the congregational vote unanimously on January 15, 2017, nearly 10 years after first waiting in earnest for first call as a pastor. It seems like I have been called for times such as these. On April 1st, at 3:30 in the afternoon, at SpringHouse Ministry Center in Minneapolis, MN, I will be ordained to the ministry of Word and sacrament.

Thankfully, I persisted.

 

 

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Chris Wogaman finally got a call. He is now pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Park Forest, IL, about 30 miles south of Chicago. He loves researching dead people and advocating for the living. Of note for Chris’s new congregation is his interest in music, playing piano, and singing. He is looking forward to meeting and getting to know the Proclaim community in Chicago, and will be ordained on April Fool’s Day at the SpringHouse Ministry Center in Minneapolis at 3:30pm. Please come to his ordination and wear your favorite item of liturgical fool clothing!

 

 

Workin Scholarship Fund Reaches $100K.

(Joel pictured with his husband Paul Jenkins)

Guest blog by Michael Nelson

We demonstrate the gracious power and glory that is ours when we come out and take the step, saying, “We are here. We are Gay and Lesbian and Bisexual and Transgender. We are friends of Lesbians and Gays and Bisexuals and Transgender people. We are God’s. We are the kingdom.” The most precious grace God gives us is the grace to be ourselves.  And now, it is time to let grace abound.  – Joel R. Workin

Applications for the Joel R. Workin Scholarship will be made available in early March, and we encourage all Proclaim seminarians to review them and prayerfully consider a submission. While you consider this, I invite you to read Dear God, I’m Gay – Thank You!.  This book is a collection of essays written by Joel Workin and it will be important for applicants to familiarize themselves with his essays, one of which will be chosen for this year’s applicants to reflect upon. (Whether you apply or not, I think you’ll find them theologically marvelous and thought-provoking.)

Now for the exciting news! After years of faithfully tending and nurturing the fund from which the scholarship is awarded, ELM is pleased to announce that the fund’s principal has reached $100,000!  As a result, the Workin Scholarship committee will be able to award one of the largest grants yet to the selected Workin Scholar in 2017.

For those of you who may not yet know Joel, he was one of the “Berkeley Three” (himself, Jeff Johnson and Jim Lancaster).  As seminarians, they had been certified for call by PLTS as openly gay candidates, but when word of this got out, the ELCA “de-certified” them and instituted a requirement that LGBT candidates for ministry maintain celibacy – even though there was no such requirement for straight candidates.  That policy remained in effect until the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis and the rest, as they say, is history.

A lot of people in Joel’s shoes might have given up.  But Joel’s calling was part of who he was.  Despite his pain, he went faithfully onward, serving as Assistant Director of Chris Brownlie Hospice in Los Angeles, the first free standing hospice in the country dedicated to serving people with AIDS. He continued to write theological reflections for Lutherans Concerned/Los Angeles, serving as editor of their newsletter. He was an active member of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, and was an ardent supporter of Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries.  He and his husband, Paul Jenkins, bought a home together in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles and while they enjoyed many happy years together, they both continued to shake things up through ACTUP/LA demanding better drug regimens for people with AIDS and advocating early for marriage equality.  The living out of his calling, though rejected by the Church, still continues to be an inspiration. In his memory, his friends eagerly established the Joel R. Workin Fund (after his death in 1995) to help other deserving LGBTQ seminarians.

Previous Workin Scholars include the Rev. Jen Rude, the Rev. Matthew James, the Rev. Julie Boleyn, the Rev. Laura Kuntz, the Rev. Emily Ewing, the Rev. Rebecca Seely, the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, the Rev. Gretchen Colby Rode, the Rev. Amy Kumm-Hanson, Justin Ferko, and Christephor Gilbert.

Please watch for the scholarship materials in early March.

Let grace abound!

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Michael Nelson is the chair of the Joel R. Workin Scholarship Committee. In addition to him, the committee includes Greg Egertson, Rev. Jeff Johnson, Rev. Rebecca Seely, and ELM Executive Director Amalia Vagts.

 

Healing the Violence.


National Proclaim Gathering 2017
July 16 – 19, 2017

by Asher O’Callaghan
ELM Program Director

During these turbulent times, the Proclaim Community will be gathering this summer in Chicago around the theme “Healing the Violence.” Proclaim, a professional community of 245 publicly identified LGBTQ+ Lutheran people doing and pursuing rostered ministry, is committed to bringing good news and positive change to the world.

So during these violent times, how can LGBTQ+ ministers lead communities of healing? How can we and our communities give public witness to the violence in our world and God’s vision for healing? Through a number of hands-on workshops filled with practical tools and strategies, we’ll work to develop responses to these questions that we can adapt for use in our ministry contexts.

The program will focus on current happenings, including the Black Lives Matter movement, the 2016 elections, immigration, and environmental destruction. We’ll reflect on a number of specific events like the shootings in Charleston and Orlando, and the sharp increase of homicides in Chicago (where our retreat will be held). Lutheran responses like the ELCA’s social message on “Gender-based violence” will be considered.

In addition to bearing witness to the violence around us and in our own lives, Proclaim will also explore different pathways of healing: the arts, activism, prophetic preaching, communication strategies, and more. Building community with one another, of course, is also a pathway to healing. So there will be time to worship, socialize, relax, and have fun with one another as well.

After all, we believe that God’s will for the world is not merely to bring an end to violence. Luther’s Small Catechism teaches us that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” means that not only are we are not to murder our neighbors, but we also must “help and defend them in every need and danger of life and body. God wants us to heal into communities that help and defend one another. Communities where people can thrive. Together we will be exploring how we can become what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “beloved community”.

The Gathering is open to all members of Proclaim – visit www.elm.org/retreat to learn more. It’s been occurring annually in one form or another since the early 1990’s. ELM friends make it possible for all to attend by providing funds for scholarships – you gave close to $10,000 in scholarships last year! In a few weeks, we’ll invite you to give in support of our scholarship fund for the 2017 gathering.

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Asher O’Callaghan is the program director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Proclaim is one of the programs of ELM. There are two other programs: Ministry Engagement and Accompaniment. In the Ministry Accompaniment program, we help congregations get ready to call an LGBTQ+ rostered minister. In the Accompaniment program, we walk alongside LGBTQ+ candidates so they won’t have to go through the sometimes convoluted processes of candidacy, seminary, and interviewing for a first-call alone.

 

Extravaganza!.

ELM Program Director, the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, preaches at Extravaganza!

 

by Asher O’Callaghan
ELM Program Director

This past weekend, about 600 adult youth ministry workers descended upon the city of Louisville, Kentucky for the 2017 Extravaganza. If you’re unfamiliar with the Extravaganza, it is an annual 4-day event for adults who work with youth in congregations of the ELCA. According to the ELCA Youth Ministry Network which does a fabulous job of putting on this event:

It is for the professional and the volunteer. It is for the old and the young. It is for the urban, the suburban and the rural. It is for pastors, it is for laypeople. It is for all who share in the adventure we call youth and family ministry.

The event features a whole bunch of workshops, speakers, worship, music, renewal, and networking. See why it’s called an extravaganza???

According to Miriam-Webster, there are two definitions of the word “extravaganza”. The most frequent way that I’ve heard this word used is to indicate “a lavish or spectacular show or event.” The other definition (of which I was previously unaware until I consulted the dictionary) is: “a literary or musical work marked by extreme freedom of style or structure and usually by elements of burlesque or parody.”

As far as I’m aware, there was no burlesque at this event, but there was an extreme freedom of style and structure that it was refreshing to experience at a church related function. It was organized and structured but unconventional. Within one worship service, you might find: a contemporary Christian praise song, a Lutheran camp song complete with all the motions, a reading from Scripture, a quote from Beyonce, a ritual, and a game. It was truly amazing… Kind of like youth ministry.

So of course there were several Proclaimers involved in it! Proclaimers Brenda Bos and Paul Clark both served on the planning team. Becca Seely and I served as speakers and worship leaders. And Proclaimers Sara Cogsil, Laura Kuntz, Matt James, and Jeff Ogonowski were all in attendance. Since there were a number of Proclaimers in the same place at the same time, Steven Renner hosted a Regional Proclaim Meet-Up at the Troll Pub Under the Bridge. And Lutheran rapper and LGBTQ ally, Dave Scherer, aka AGAPE*, even joined us to break bread.

We’re all taking something different away from it. Becca is walking away with “a lot of hope for the church and the world – not because of our youth, whom I trust are full of passion and giftedness, but because of the adults, many of them volunteers, who are so committed to sharing the gospel of God’s unconditional love with youth and empowering them to live authentically and change this world for the better.” As a seminarian, Jeff is taking away three credits in youth and family ministry, along with, “a deeper understanding of fundraising, protection policies, self-care, and the value of continuing education for all youth leaders”. Laura commented, “I feel like I was soaking in creativity and energy from all the wonderful leaders at the Extravaganza. This helped spark my own creativity and gave me ideas and energy for daily ministry.”  My take away is passion – when we do our work with passion, we bring out the passion in others.

 

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Asher O’Callaghan (pictured with Becca Seely) is grateful for those who are working in youth ministry and are reminding us all that church can actually be FUN!

 

 

Extraordinary Love and Theological Education.

photo credit Brenda Tibbetts

It was a stimulating mixture of people to have in one room at the same time: from Rev. Tuhina Rasche, one of the conspirators of #decolonizelutheranism (and a co-curator of #RendtheHeavens, a Twitter Advent devotional), to Rev. Dr. Robin Steinke, the President of Luther Seminary. There were about 40 of us gathered from several different fields of ministry to discuss the future of Lutheran theological education at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Arizona.

This annual gathering called the Western Mission Network Conference, was formatted as a series of short 12-minute talks—like TED talks. The topic for these talks, however, was experiments and partnerships in theological education. And when we used the term “Lutheran theological education”, we weren’t only talking about seminary. We were talking about the vast range of ways that we learn and grow in the faith: from campus ministry, to interreligious dialogue, to outdoor camps, to youth ministry, to lay leaders learning to preach, to synod staffs equipping call committees as they search for their next pastor. We got to share with one another stories of how new experiments and partnerships are transforming theological education… the church… and ultimately the world. After all, the church exists not for its own sake, but for the sake of the whole world.

In Scripture, we experience a God whose extraordinary love brought all things into being. In the account of creation in Genesis, we experience a God who has an imagination and a knack for creativity. Our God delights in the wildest possible array of diversity from flowers to jellyfish, from whales to humans. So the question for us becomes: When we look at our congregations, when we listen to the perspectives of our candidates for ministry, when we think about theological education, do we experience that same kind of rich and vibrant diversity? When you experience church, do you experience a God who delights in difference? If you don’t, how does that diminish your witness to this God?

Diversity in all its forms is a gift. Diversity reflects God’s extraordinary love in a way that homogeneity just can’t. We need leaders in the church who reflect this reality. So where do we begin?

I shared with the group that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes that the public ministry of LGBTQ+ people transforms church and community, proclaiming God’s love for all. I introduced them to our programs and several of our resources for synod staffs, call committees, and candidates. It was a joy to get to talk to so many people who were new to our work and to hear about all the innovations going on in everyone else’s settings. (Shout out to Proclaim member and Associate Professor of Homiletics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Shauna Hannan, who presented on preaching as a ministry of the whole congregation!)

We closed our time with worship. Rev. Gordon Straw, who has served on the ELM Board of Directors and is a member of the Brothertown Indian Nation preached. In the passage for the day, he translated the word that anglos like myself typically translate as “righteousness” to “right relations” instead. He proclaimed Christ as the one who came to fulfill all right relations, in his Baptism, his living,  his dying, and rising. May we the church learn from Christ’s extraordinary love how to live in right relation with God, one another, and all of creation. Amen.

 

Asher O’Callaghan is the Program Director of ELM and he got to preside at the closing worship. He is grateful for the theological education he’s received over the years: from his parents, Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, camp counselors, pastors, transgender people of faith, anti-oppression trainers, Proclaim colleagues, spiritual directors, professors, mentors, and all the congregations he’s been a part of. His education is on-going. There’s just so much to learn.

 

Getting Out There.

 

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Amalia likes to expand her view by getting out there! 

 

I’m headed for the wilderness! (and the city and the sea).

During the month of February, I will be taking a month of study and renewal leave in Mexico. Not only is the practice of sabbath part of our religious tradition, it is also a concept that is supported by many in the field of social justice work. Doing hard work in life-giving ways is a central value for ELM. Two years ago, we were introduced to the concept of the 4-day work week at Rockwood Leadership Institute and after six months of conversation and exploration, we made this our practice. Eventually, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries hopes to offer a full-fledged sabbatical for long term staff.

But for the time being, we all agreed that a month made sense for ELM and me right now. And after ten years in the role, I’m looking forward to the chance to think in new ways for a spell. I’ll be spending the month in Mexico, primarily on the Yucatán Peninsula, traveling with my partner, David. I am looking forward to opening up my daily routine, spending time in another culture, and stretching myself figuratively and physically. I will be taking two weeks of language and culture classes and combining it with two weeks of vacation. In addition, I’m planning to focus my reading and reflection on two main subjects: love and prayer (and a little dash of dancing).

Two quotes to guide me:

[S]o our customary practice of prayer was brought to mind: how through our ignorance and inexperience in the ways of love we spend so much time on petition. I saw that it is indeed more worthy of God and more truly pleasing to [God] that through [God’s] goodness we should pray with full confidence, and by [God’s] grace cling to [God] with real understanding and unshakeable love, than that we should go on making as many petitions as our souls are capable of.

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

 

I thank God every day/that I woke up feeling this way.

Meghan Trainor, “Me Too”

Asher, Christephor, and the ELM Board will be keeping things going strong while I’m away. Being part of a collective effort has been one of the greatest joys of my work with ELM. And it’s always good to be reminded from time to time that things go on just fine without us when we take time away. I’m incredibly grateful to the Board, Asher, and Christephor, and all of you for your support during this time.

 

Amalia Vagts is Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and has served with the organization since October 2006.  Amalia’s last day in the office is Thursday, January 26. She will return to work on Wednesday, March 3.

What You Did in 2016!.

Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia

Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia

 

Happy New Year!

Thank you for being part of another extraordinary year!  The donations are still flowing in, but I am excited to say that we have achieved our 2016 goal!  It is equally exciting to look back over the past year’s achievements we have made as a community on which to build an even more incredible future in 2017.

2016 kicked off with newness all around.  After an amazing year-end of 2015 (which saw a 25% increase in Proclaim memberships and a solid financial foundation for the work of the year) we published the first LGBTQ 60-page candidacy guide, Mystery of the Ages:  A Handy Guide for LGBTQ People Exploring or Preparing for Rostered Ministry in the ELCA.  This electronic document is one of several that ELM offers up to congregations, rostered leaders, and those considering the ministry.

Later in that second month we gave great thanks for the work and ministry of our outgoing part-time administrator Marie O’Brien (of Grace Lutheran, Evanston, IL) as we welcomed our new Operations Coordinator, LSTC MDiv student Christephor Gilbert.

April brought the 2016 Proclaim National Gathering – Kindling the Flame – in Northern California.  The 3-day event was kicked off with a gathering of our ELM/Proclaim instigators:  the seven faithful and fabulous ones who were instrumental in the origins of ELM. Stories were shared and energy renewed for the ongoing journey.

In preparation for a greater presence at Synod assemblies this year, we produced (as part of our Ministry Engagement arm) two compelling communication pieces. First, a beautiful, full-color, 11×17 poster, that boldly proclaims who and what ELM is all about, and second, a sleek six-minute video that encourages congregations in ways to get ready for an LGBTQ leader.  Our new communications materials made the job of telling ELM’s story at Synod assemblies across the country even easier!

In May, ELM and ReconcilingWorks were invited by the Southwestern Washington Synod to participate in an education event, presenting companion sessions on the theme “Welcoming LGBTQ+ People to the Pews and the Pulpit.”

The summer began with the announcement that Rev. Jen Rude, intrepid Program Manager since 2013, extraordinarily called pastor, and fierce LGBTQ advocate, was called to serve Pacific Lutheran University in Washington. We sent her off with a grand celebration and deep gratitude for her service with ELM.

Summer 2016 also brought an event that will forever be etched in our LGBTQ collective minds: the impossibly tragic mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.  Rev. Ángel D. Marrero, proclaim member and pastor to Santuario Luterano in Waltham, MA, gave a most poignant reflection as a gay Latino pastor.

Our 2016 Joel R. Workin Scholar was named.  The honor fell this year to ELM’s own Christephor Gilbert, who shared a new way to think about grace.

ELM jumped at the chance to talk to ELM friend and Lutheran playwright, Tom Jacobson, right before the premiere of his new work Captain of the Bible Quiz Team in Los Angeles to rave reviews.

Early August brought the 2016 Churchwide assembly, a place where the clergy shortage was a hot topic, and the invisibly-visible presence of LGBTQ rostered leaders (on the lips and in the minds of our Churchwide leaders) gave ample opportunity for reflection and transformation.

The end of a busy summer brought new joy and new energy as we welcomed our new Program Manager, Rev. Asher O’Callaghan, to the team, and promoted Christephor from Operations coordinator to Communications and Development Coordinator.

Always looking for the Spirit on the cutting edge, ELM was present at the first #decolonizelutheranism conference, held in Chicago at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  Proclaim was in full force at this event, with pastors like Tita Valeriano, Lura Groen, and Andrew Nelson as organizers and keynote speakers.

Speaking of keynote speakers, ELM’s very own Asher O’Callaghan was tapped to present at the 2016 Why Christian? Conference, also in Chicago, where he represented with the up-and-coming of religious leaders like Nadia Bolz Weber, Onleilove Alston, and Rozella White.

Our seminary teams fostered community and sharing all around fabulousness at our seven Lutheran seminaries and affiliated theological schools.

The brain-trust of ELM, our delightful and dedicated board members, gathered together in Chicago at the Nicholas Center for an in person board meeting, where we laughed, prayed, and dreamed about the future of ELM and our strategic vision.

And as the year came to a close, we realized that the work was just beginning, work that must now unfold within a new political climate in the united states, one that has already proven to be a tenuous and tension-filled area where it is even more important to proclaim the inclusive message of the Gospel, a message that ensures everyone – regardless of one’s multiplicity of identity- has a privileged place at God’s table of grace.

While the months ahead may seem daunting, we know that it is all possible with you, ELM’s ardent supporter at our back!  ELM donor and playwright Tom Jacobson recently said, “This is not business as usual. We’re living in extraordinary times and we need extraordinary leaders.”

Thank you for your extraordinary support which provides us the resources to carry on this much needed work.

Here’s to our partnership in 2017!

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Thank you for an extraordinary year!.

Thank you for being part of an extraordinary year. We look forward to catching up with you soon about all we accomplished and all that is to come in 2017!

Proclaim Gathering

Folks taking time during the Proclaim Gathering to say THANK YOU to ELM friends.

Blue Christmas.

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Photo: Analyse Triolo

“And so I reached out . . . and to paraphrase the Beatles:  I got by with a little help from my friends.”

Guest blog by Analyse Triolo
Proclaim Member and Vicar, Trinity Lutheran Church, New York City

Christmas hurts. It has for almost as long as I can remember. I guess that happens when you lose numerous loved ones around the holiday season. As a teen, the disconnect from the joy and cheer of Christmas felt isolating at times; it felt like I was the only one not enjoying the seemingly endless Christmas music, earning me the nickname Grinch on numerous occasions.

This year is going to be the hardest Christmas yet. I lost my Mom on September 4th of this year, just days before starting my internship at Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan, on New York City’s Upper West Side. When my supervisor, Rev. Heidi Neumark, offered me the opportunity to lead a Longest Night Service, sometimes called a Blue Christmas Service, I jumped at the chance without thinking, then immediately wondered if I had the emotional capacity to write the whole service from scratch. And so, I reached out. I reached out to ELCA clergy and my classmates on internship, and to paraphrase the Beatles; I got by with a little help from my friends.

Fellow proclaim members Rev. Brenda Bos, pastor of Christ Lutheran in San Clemente, CA and Rev. Bill Beyer of Grace Lutheran Church in Thiensville, WI shared some of their experiences leading Blue Christmas services with me.  “We started the Blue Christmas tradition in 2015,” said Rev. Beyer.

We had a large number of people in our congregation who had been affected by loss of one kind or another.  Some had experienced death, some rejection, and some were experiencing loss of another kind.  So many people had come up to me and said words to the effect of, “People just don’t know how hard the holidays are.” While many are rejoicing and singing carols there are a significant number of people in our lives who are in pain.  They keep that pain silent because at this time of year it is about love, family, peace, and happiness.  But that is not the reality for many . . . Blue Christmas honors that pain.

They went on to talk about what congregants found meaningful in the service.  Rev. Bos wrote:

We light four candles, with one pastor reading a prayer as we light the candles, remembering those we’ve lost, recalling pain, naming our loss of direction in our lives, claiming hope. The Christ Candle is in the center, lit last, to remind us Christ is the center of our lives. A slightly different take on the Advent wreath. My parishioners tell me that was the most meaningful part.

Rev. Beyer added that in his first Blue Christmas service worshipers were invited to place blue carnations in a vase in memory of loved ones lost, which remained up during other Christmas services, a very memorable and meaningful experience for those who were grieving.

Their reflections reminded me just how important ritual is, perhaps even more so when more complex and difficult emotions and experiences need to be named. As I finished writing the liturgy for my first Longest Night Service to be held on December 21st, the longest night of the year, what I was expecting to be a really painful process became therapeutic, bringing some peace to what will be a difficult time for me. It is my hope that this service will bring some of that same peace to others as well.

 

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Analyse Triolo, sometimes known as The Vicar of Manhattan,  is trying to learn to navigate the worlds of internship and approval simultaneously while still trying to figure out why everyone is telling her she’s an adult now. She holds a Masters in Divinity from the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, a Masters of Arts in Ministry from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and is told she’s a Master Crafter too! If you know of a job opening be sure to let her know!

 

Join us. Give in support of faithful & fabulous LGBTQ+ people whose public witness as pastors, deacons, and seminarians is enriching and transforming our church.