Imagery of church-related people and places.

Rev. Amanda Nelson Named Executive Director of ELM.

Rev. Amanda Nelson. Photo: Emily Ann Garcia.

It is with great joy and excitement that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries announces that the Rev. Amanda Nelson (she/her/hers) has been selected as the new Executive Director! Amanda brings a breadth of experience and personal connection to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries that leads her to be well equipped to further the mission and vision of ELM.

As Executive Director, Amanda will provide vision, direction, and leadership to ELM by partnering with the Board of Directors, managing staff, and guiding program implementation. She will also lead fund development, as well as operate as an ambassador for ELM, developing partnerships and relationships. Amanda begins in early August and will work from New England.

Search Committee co-chairs Rev. Dr. Elise Brown and Lois Voss write,

“This has been a Spirit-filled process. The caliber of candidates who applied affirms ELM’s strength as an organization and points towards a very strong future. Amanda was the unanimous final choice for the search committee and was affirmed by a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors. Amanda has the passion, competency, development skills and executive abilities to lead Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries into the strategic directions we have worked on together. We are energized by the vision and passion she brings to our mission.”

The two-month search was lead by a team selected by the ELM Board of Directors. In addition to co-chairs Rev. Elise Brown and Lois Voss, the team included Emily Ann Garcia, Mack Patrick (Proclaim Seminarian), the Rev. Jeff Johnson (Proclaim), and Ben Hogue (Proclaim Seminarian). The committee conducted five web and three in-person interviews with finalists before making their final recommendation.

Amanda writes,

“I am overjoyed at the opportunity to serve as Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and to give back to an organization whose ministries have supported me and helped me in my own journey to be a proud, publicly out, queer minister in the ELCA.

The people of ELM – from the members of Proclaim to the many individuals, families, and congregations who support our ministries – are what get me most excited about this position! If you’re looking for hope in the future of the church; for energetic, enthusiastic, creative, and deeply considerate leaders; and for a glimpse into God’s awesome Kin-dom, look no further, it’s right here!

In stepping into this role, I know I do so on the shoulders of giants. I was humbled to be counted as their colleague when I joined Proclaim six years ago, and now I look forward to the milestones we will accomplish together for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of LGBTQ+ leaders in our Church.”

A graduate of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California, Amanda grew up on the East Coast and considers herself a true New Englander at heart. She attended Wheaton College in Norton, MA, majoring in International Relations and German Studies. After college, Amanda worked at a Domestic and Sexual Violence agency before following her call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. She comes to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries from Faith Lutheran Church and the community of East Hartford, Connecticut where she served as Pastor. Amanda is a member of Proclaim and served on ELM’s Fund Development Team as well as a Proclaim Chaplain.

This is an exciting next chapter for ELM and we are enthusiastic Amanda has said ‘Yes!’ to this new call. We’re thankful to you, our wonderful supporters, who make it possible for ELM to do ministry in the world. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of LGBTQ+ ministers transforms the church and enriches the world. Your support allows us to live out that belief through Proclaim, Accompaniment, and Ministry Engagement – thank you!

I Always Knew I Was Destined to be Erik Christensen’s Father.

Linda Christensen representing Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries at the Southeastern Iowa Synod Assembly


Guest post by Larry Christensen
ELM supporter and Proclaim parent

If you go to the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Home page, look up at the right-hand upper corner. That guy in the blue clerical shirt and zipper sweater is my son, Erik. He is why his mother and I got involved in full inclusion actions, participated in marches, spoke at panels and forums, got arrested a couple times, and led “sing-ins” at the 2006 Churchwide Assembly in Chicago. We were also the go-to referral when parents had a child come out: “You should meet the Christensens.” Finally I got to be a voting member at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly when the policy changed. It is all Erik’s fault, and for that I am forever grateful.

That is how Linda and I ended up getting asked to sit at the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries information table for the 2017 Southeastern Iowa Synod Assembly this May. We had never done it and did not know what to expect. I took reading material in case business was slow, but there was no need. We had wonderful conversations with a variety of people. Some folks, naturally wondered if there was still a need for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries given the change in the ELCA’s policy, and that was probably our most meaningful work – to help people understand that the work is far from over. We were actually helped by the repeated pleas in the general sessions to recruit people for ordained and diaconal ministry. The clergy/deacon shortage and the availability of wonderful candidates was a natural case-in-point.

Some people wanted to know more about how to become an Reconciling In Christ congregation, and that was a referral to the table next door to visit with the ReconcilingWorks folks. Others simply wanted a chance to talk about how things were going in their congregation back home, and always we encouraged them to work now so that the next time they are in a call process there might be a conversation about a wider search for candidates. “You are from a rural community? Some of our ELM pastors grew up on farms you know.” The ELM materials are great and wonderful conversation points.

There was also another category of conversation which was in its own way sweet and maybe therapeutic. That was the retired pastors and church members reflecting back on the journey that they and the church had taken. It has been a pilgrimage to be sure, and we have all been changed. To be honest, I needed that time at the ELM table to heal a bit, to absorb the change, and enjoy the new wine and wineskins.

Larry Christensen was raised on a farm in Eastern Nebraska, then became a music teacher, then a church youth worker, and finally a church musician. Larry was a “Lay Professional” in the LCA, and “AIM” in the ELCA, and now, in retirement, would guess that he is a “Deacon” – all without additional schooling or degrees. He is married to a wonderful woman, Linda (pictured at right), who is unrepentantly decent, loving, and spiritual, and they are the parents of two children: Erik, who went into the family business and is a gay, Lutheran pastor in Chicago married to Kerry, and their Thai, adopted daughter, Tara, who has been dating a 6’4” car nut for seven years. Larry and Linda live in Des Moines, Iowa where they enjoy their home, yard, and the wildlife that cohabitates with them.

Announcing the 2017 Joel R. Workin Scholar.

Photo by Emily Ann Garcia.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is pleased to announce that Benjamin Hogue is the
2017 Joel R. Workin Scholar!

Workin Selection Committee Chair Michael Price Nelson writes,

In this 500th year of the Reformation, it strikes me that if LGBTQ+ Christians are to help in the ongoing reformation, then surely Ben’s voice is one that needs to be lifted up. I speak for all the committee when I say we pray that, as a Workin Scholar, Joel’s witness will continue to shine and sparkle in Ben’s life and ministry throughout the years.

Ben’s resume illustrates the breadth of his experience, from a commitment to youth, the marginalized, multiple justice issues, and experience outside the Church. Ben’s essay was striking for its elegant prose, thoughtful reasoning, and the ease with which it integrates not only Joel’s writings, but thoughts from Martin Luther and Mother Teresa as well.

Each year ELM names a Joel R. Workin Memorial Scholar to honor the life and ministry of Joel Raydon Workin. Joel was one of the three seminarians who were refused ordination in 1989 after coming out to their candidacy committees. Upon his death, Joel’s parents, Ray and Betty, and other family and friends created the scholarship fund in his name to keep his prophetic voice part of the movement. This past November, Betty’s life was honored through many memorial gifts to the Fund after she passed away from cancer. The award comes with a $2,500 scholarship for academic or spiritual study and is available for members of Proclaim who are preparing for rostered leadership in the Lutheran church.

Upon hearing of the decision, Ben wrote,

I am so sincerely humbled and honored to be the 2017 Joel R. Workin Scholar and am grateful for Joel’s family for carrying on his legacy, as well as the selection committee for this honor, and the ministry of staff of ELM and the Board. Thank you!

During my time at PLTS and throughout candidacy, Joel’s words have accompanied me and will continue to impact my ministry. Through his sermons and essays, Joel has become in some ways a saint-mentor and I am so grateful for his witness.

It is not lost on me that I am receiving word of this award one year after the Pulse Night Club tragedy. This year has been difficult, especially for the LGBTQ+ community, communities of color, and those with intersectional identities. The anniversary of Pulse allows us to come together to do the hard work of existence, resistance, and persistence. Joel’s words remind us that death will not win, nor keep us from God. ‘God’s love, and I say this by faith and not by fact, is the mightiest thing in all creation and nothing will keep it from us.’ I hold that dear to my heart.

Ben is a candidate for ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a seminarian at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. Ben is from Grand Junction, Colorado and graduated from California Lutheran University in 2010 with a degree in Advertising/Public Relations and Sociology. Ben served with Peace Corps Ukraine, in the small village of Kolky from 2010-2013, teaching English, leadership, and country studies, and also helped to organize and run teacher and youth camps.

Ben has been an active member of the Proclaim community, attending the annual Gathering, and serving in various capacities, most recently as the Proclaim Seminarian Outreach Team Convener this past year. Ben will be on internship beginning this fall at Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, D.C., where ELM board member Rev. Michael Wilker is lead pastor.

Learn more about the Joel R. Workin Endowed Scholarship here.

Ecumenical LGBTQ+ Event This Fall.

A guest post from the organizers of Rolling the Stone Away

Get ready for one of the biggest gatherings of founders, movers, and shakers in the LGBTQ+ ecumenical faith world. October 31-November 2, 2017, in St. Louis, prophets young and old will tell the stories of our history and explore our future at Rolling The Stone Away.

Special guests include the Rev. Chuck Lewis, Leo Treadway, Nicole Garcia and many others from a variety of backgrounds and faith traditions. The Rev. Dr. Megan M. Rohrer is serving on the planning team as the Lutheran representative for ELM and ReconcilingWorks.

Rolling The Stone Away is a conference of elders, saints and prophets from all generations to honor the ground-breaking achievements, relentless commitments, and often painful sacrifices many have made in religious organizations over the past five decades and to inspire the next generations to push forward.

The LGBT Religious Archives Network ecumenical planning team is committed to preserve, celebrate, and learn from the history of LGBTQ+ justice groups and activists in Christian faith traditions. Together we will worship, listen, reflect, and plan.

ELM Friends who are interested are encouraged to learn more/register:

Putting the ‘Protest’ back in Protestant!.


Guest blog by Kristian C. Kohler
Proclaim member and pastoral intern at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Santa Monica / SoCal Lutherans

On the evening of Friday, May 19, three Proclaimers (Rev. Caleb Crainer, Kristian Kohler, and Rev. Asher O’Callaghan) descended upon Long Beach, CA to set up the SoCal Lutherans booth for Long Beach Pride. As the Southern California Chapter of ReconcilingWorks, SoCal Lutherans maintains an annual presence at Long Beach, Los Angeles, Orange County, and Ventura County Prides. We distribute buttons, pens, and most famously, temporary tattoos.

I was amazed by people who would come up to our table and say things like “I need my tattoo! I’ve been coming to you every year for 8 years, and it wouldn’t be Pride without it!” Others would say things like, “Wait, are you a pastor?!” Or simply “I love that a church is here!” This Lutheran tattoo parlor operates under a big banner that proclaims “God loves you and the ones you love!

The theme we chose for our festival and parade presence this year is “Putting the ‘Protest’ Back in Protestant.” After the weekend ended, I found myself wondering what exactly it was that our presence was protesting and proclaiming. The message of God’s love for all— especially for LGBTQ+ people—is itself a protest, I think.

Our protest is one of words: that God loves you and the ones you love, no matter what those who would try to use religion as a weapon of hate say. Our protest is also one of deed: putting temporary tattoos on bodies that have been told by others that they don’t count, don’t belong, or don’t matter to God. And our protest is one of heart (rainbow hearts, to be exact): witnessing to the incarnate Love of God.

As Pride season begins, we have many opportunities to offer public witness, to be our true selves and invite others to be their true selves. We can boldly proclaim that God loves all, and in so doing protest exclusion, injustice, hatred, and violence. We can literally and figuratively cover the world in rainbow hearts.

K.C. Kohler (pictured on the right with Sandy Smith (center) and Ruth Benner (left)) lives in Venice, CA, and is on internship at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Santa Monica / SoCal Lutherans (the Southern California Chapter of ReconcilingWorks). In August, Kristian will return to Reading, PA to await Fall Assignment. He is recently obsessed with a Netflix documentary series on castles starring the historian Dan Jones. 


And We’re Off!.

by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has been engaged in a strategic vision process over the last year. Early on in the process, I shared with the board a valuable sailing lesson I’d learned years ago. Many know that when you want to change directions in a sailboat, you “come about.” And most sailors will alert their occupants to “prepare to come about.” One wise sailor friend of mine would always warn us to “prepare to prepare to come about.” While this was always said somewhat in jest, I’ve learned that with vision work, when change comes, things happen very quickly and it’s better to take the time preparing so you are ready when it’s time.

And it’s time! We’re excited to announce our new vision and strategic objectives. This has been an evolutionary process – the church, our communities, and our own organization have been in a period of growth and change. The work we did helps set the course for the incoming executive director and the work they will do with the board and staff to create and implement the next steps for ELM.


Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of LGBTQ+ ministers transforms the church and enriches the world.

Our belief statement has evolved from focusing on the “extraordinary gifts” of LGBTQ+ ministers to an emphasis on public witness. This is a more active belief statement that describes the real change that is possible and is already happening because of the work of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.


Public witness: Model God’s liberation for all by publicly claiming the value of visible LGBTQ+ led ministry. Public witness is one of the core gifts ELM brings to the church – by being our true selves, we invite others to be their true selves. ELM’s focus on this brings purpose to our work and clarity to the point of Proclaim. This is so central to our identity that we must be clear and committed to it. Unwavering commitment to this value will provide clarity and direction in all of our work.

Boldly proclaim: Boldly address barriers and create space for emerging ideas, leaders, and movements. These times call for boldness. By proclaiming boldly we step into brave space, we engage in holy provocation, and we explore big ideas like funding emerging ministry. If we do not embrace boldness, our work could lead us down the road of safely fitting within the system. If we embrace boldness, this direction resonates with the history and spirit of ELM and meets a need in the church right now for truth-telling and action.


As part of this work, we also discussed and named some basic “explicit practices” that describe how we function as an organization. These simple statements describe our commitments and practices.

We listen deeply, we publicly claim our identities, we work collaboratively, we act transparently, we ask ‘who is not here?’, we speak truthfully, even when it is hard, and we laugh together.

I’m so thankful to the board and staff for their thoughtful and engaged work throughout this process. Thanks also to the wonderful Lisa Negstad and Michael Bischoff who guided us through this process.

We welcome your input and engagement as we move forward!

Amalia Vagts loves water metaphors and lives in a relaxed state, but ready to leap as required. Pictured here in Railroad Creek at Holden Village, 2007. 


Fanning the Flame.

Asher receives gifts for his ministry with ELM. (Photo: Rob Flynn)

Last week, I was part of a group of people who gathered on a Sunday afternoon in western Los Angeles to install the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan as program director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

Asher has been serving in this role since last August and in the Lutheran tradition, we most often think of installations as a service a congregation hosts for their new pastor.

So why were we installing Asher?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recognizes that ministry happens in a variety of places. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries has a long history of engaging in street, hospital, nursing home, and community ministry. Together, we celebrated Asher’s synodical call to specialized ministry among the LGBTQ+ community as program director of ELM. It was a glorious and significant day as Bishop Guy Erwin, other leaders from throughout the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA, and friends of ELM gathered to recognize Asher’s call.

We honored the extraordinary nature of the day through expansive language and a variety of tools for ministry for Asher (like a pea plant to recognize the Proclaim, Accompaniment, and Engagement programs of ELM!). The Southwest California Synod has recognized Asher’s work as part of his call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Asher’s ministry is not one of place, but of creating space. It is not a ministry with a building, but rather one that is about building a ministry.

I gave the sermon and had quickly honed in on the phrase “rekindle the gift of God within you” from 2 Timothy. Shortly before the service, lector Jason DeRose (ELM Extraordinary Friend and frequent internship committee member for Proclaim interns at St. Paul Lutheran in Santa Monica) checked in with me to see if I was using anything from that reading. Jason planned on using another translation.

It turns out one of the phrases that was worded differently was the very one I’d chosen as a “refrain” for my sermon. Instead of “rekindle the gift of God within you,” this translation read, “fan the flame of God’s gift.”


Lutheran Church of The Master throws an excellent reception! (Photo: Peg Schultz-Akerson)

The day was made especially beautiful thank you to open-hearted hospitality by the people of Lutheran Church of The Master in Los Angeles, who hosted the service and threw a fabulous reception in honor of Asher’s installation and my upcoming departure from ELM. Lutheran Church of the Master has long supported the work of ELM and Proclaim pastors. We give thanks to interim Pastor Peg Schultz-Akerson, the many service participants, and all who threw such a lovely reception! Thank you also to Bishop Guy Erwin for presiding and for all who attended the service – the offering of $475 will go towards the Proclaim Gathering Scholarship Fund. (You can make your own gift for this fund right here).

May we each through our own vocation fan the flame of God’s gift.

Amalia Vagts, who at present is changing nearly every aspect of her life and is mostly keeping up, serves as executive director of ELM until July 31, 2017.


Turning Time Backwards.

Guest blog by Jeffery Ogonowski
Proclaim member and Master of Divinity student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary

The Trinity Lutheran Seminary (TLS) community has experienced steady grief since the announcement of its reunion with Capital University. Capital and TLS were one campus for many years, but over the last 38, the two have grown apart as independent institutions. This reunion will reduce costs and broaden the portfolio of Capital University, but sadness and anger cloud TLS’s students by the uncertain future of the seminary. The community longs for comfort and safety of financial stability, yet it wishes to maintain its autonomous validity. Amidst this challenging climate, TLS welcomed Asher O’Callaghan, program director for ELM, to campus and celebrated the progress of the LGBTQ+ community this past week.

On May 2, 2016, the TLS board approved the designation to be an RIC seminary. Though only for a short time, TLS publicly proclaims itself as a safe and accepting campus for the LGBTQ+ community. This past week the campus celebrated the path of the students who strove for acceptance. The Tuesday morning litany created space for Margie Farnham to testify her pursuit of LGBTQ+ acceptance and safety on the campus. Margie was a student at TLS in the early 90s and joined the staff in 2008. In her testimony, she explored the grief of the cross, reflecting on her faith for a day when LGBTQ+ students could walk the TLS campus in celebration of their gifts for ministry.

Despite the small student enrollment, the LGBTQ+ population is growing at TLS. Among the 1st year students, approximately 19% represent the LGBTQ+ community. However, at the end of June, the majority of the TLS’s staff will lose their jobs, leaving no representation of LGBTQ+ church leadership on the seminary campus. Despite the struggle to gain acceptance for students, the climate on campus continues to need advocates like Margie. This week was for celebration, but as TLS forms leaders for Christ’s church at work in the world, the challenge of acceptance remains.

It is easy to dwell on the fear of the unknown future, but African Theologian John S. Mbiti describes a different understanding of time’s movement. He writes:

In traditional African thought, there is no concept of history moving ‘forward’ towards a future climax, or towards an end of the world. Since the future does not exist beyond a few months, the future cannot be expected to usher in a golden age, or a radically different state of affairs from what is in the Sasa [now] and the Zamani [past].(1)

Despite the worry for the coming years of the transition into a unified campus, stories like Margie’s provide hope for the ‘now.’ Stories like hers help reverse the movement of time and dispel the fear of the unknown future.

(1)  John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1977), 23.

Jeff Ogonowski is in his first year of seminary at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. He worked in music retail for five years and has taught piano for the last 10 years in his hometown of New Bern, North Carolina. He enjoys theological discourse and craft beer.

Rev. Asher O’Callaghan to be Installed as Program Director for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

This Sunday, May 7, the Rev. Asher O’Callaghan will be installed as Program Director for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Asher has received a synodical call from the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA to specialized ministry in his role with ELM.

All are invited in body and spirit to Lutheran Church Of The Master in Los Angeles, California. The candlelight eucharist and service of installation begins at 4:00 p.m.

Bishop R. Guy Erwin will be presiding and Amalia Vagts will be preaching. ELM supporters from area congregations are involved with various parts of the service.

All are welcome after the service for a festive reception celebrating the installation, departing executive director Amalia Vagts’ work with ELM over the last decade, and ELM’s ongoing work supporting the public witness of LGBTQ+ ministers in the Lutheran church. Join us as we celebrate fabulous ministers like Asher whose public witness is transforming the church and enriching the world.

Remembering Joe McMahon.

Mari Irvin and Joe McMahon

Mari Irvin presents Joe McMahon with board leadership award.

by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director

“How are the pastors? What do they need?”

Nearly every conversation I’ve had with Joe McMahon over the last decade included questions like these. Joe always wanted to know about the pastors and was tireless in his care for them.

Joe, long-time board member of Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries (one of our predecessor organizations) and dear friend to Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries passed away in his sleep on Thursday, April 20.

The Rev. Jim DeLange recruited Joe for the Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries board in 1995, when the organization moved from regional to national. Joe was a passionate member of the board for the following ten years, offering generous financial support, time, wisdom and commitment to the Gospel. Joe’s significant voice and generosity was critical to the movement at key points, a faithful leader who provided the necessary resources to bring the organization through difficult times. Joe invested in the mission because he believed it made a difference. Joe was one of the leadership givers to the One Voice campaign, which led directly to our growth into Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

Joe is often remembered as the leading voice in encouraging pastors to join the Extraordinary Candidacy Project Roster when it was created. He understood the power of the visible witness of a group of LGBTQ+ ministry leaders. The results of his dedicated work early on can be seen now in the 250+ ministers and seminarians in Proclaim.

Mari Irvin served as a board member with Joe for many years. She shared that after Joe stayed with her and spouse Jeannine Janson after one board meeting, Joe left a potted red rhododendron which they planted in in the front yard. She wrote that the plant has bloomed magnificently every spring and is an ever present memory of Joe and his generosity. Each year, Mari has sent Joe a picture when it has been in full bloom. Mari wrote that blooming is late this year because of all the rain they have had.

“The blooming,” she writes, “will have special meaning this year.”

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries extends our sympathy to Joe’s family and friends. We give thanks to Joe for his deep care for LGBTQ+ ministers and for his fearless advocacy to create changes in the church to welcome their ministry.

Memorial Service
Thursday, May 11 at 2:00 pm
Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral
Performing Arts / Omni District
464 NE 16th Street; Miami FL 33132