Imagery of church-related people and places.

Recapping the ELM October Board Meeting.

by ELM Board Co-Chairs
Emily Ann Garcia and Matt James

Board Members who were present included Matt James (Co-Chair), Emily Ann Garcia (Co-Chair), Margaret Moreland (Secretary), Emily Ewing, Jeff Johnson, Kelsey Brown, Margarette Ouji, Jessica Davis, JM Longworth. ELM staff who were present included Amanda Gerken-Nelson, Olivia LaFlamme, Lewis Eggleston and Ivy Ellis.  Board members absent from the meeting included Jan Peterson (who joined via video when available) and outgoing board member Matta Ghaly.

This past October, ELM’s Board of Directors met for one of two annual in-person meetings at the beautiful Nicholas Center in Downtown Chicago. As we do in each meeting, we reminded ourselves of who Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is by reviewing and discussing our Belief Statement, Strategic Directions and Explicit Practices. At this meeting, we were able to engage deeply around what moves us in the daily work and what it may be time to revise or let go of as we continue to move forward with the work of ELM. As these conversations continue, we will be delighted to share more with all of you.

As part of our commitment as an organization and as a board to take anti-oppression seriously, all board members read Rev. Lenny Duncan’s book, Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the United States in preparation for the meeting. This led to fruitful discussion about the diversity of experience in the room.  How do you know you belong here? In what ways does ELM need to repent for being part of an unjust system? What could it look like for ELM to offer reparations?  What do you hope ELM will do tomorrow?  These are just some of the questions we took on as part of this discussion, and the answers we are moving toward will deeply influence the direction of the organization as we grow into the future.

The board also got the opportunity to engage with ELM staff members around their goals for 2020.  Staff has done an incredible job diving into their work and the goals they’ve set for 2020 were both impressive and inspiring.  The board split up into groups to talk with Amanda, Olivia and Lewis about ways the board and board members can help support their goals over the next year.  We won’t speak for everyone here, but the Executive Team’s conversation with Amanda was very exciting!

All of these conversations will guide the board’s and staff’s work in the coming months as we live into our dreaming.  The board room holds a lot of energy for this work and we are very much looking forward to what the next round of conversations will bring!

The ELM Board’s next meeting will be a conference call in December.  The next in-person meeting with be held March 19-22, 2019 in Pennsylvania at the Pendle Hill Retreat Center.

Questions or concerns you may have for the Board may be directed to Executive Director, Amanda Gerken-Nelson (amanda@elm.org) who will pass them along to the Board’s Executive Committee.

An Extraordinary Saint.

Remembering Rev. Richard Andersen

1946-2019

A Creator of Things. Richard and I met in an Irish bar on the Riverwalk in San Antonio in 1992.  Neither one of us was Irish nor from Texas, but a work conference and a night of frivolity brought us together to sing drunken Irish tunes.  What we did have in common was having Midwest roots, strong spiritual backgrounds, and being gay men.

At the time, we were both financial advisors for the same company, struggling to build viable practices that served clients in the greater Lutheran community based on a model of care and generosity.  I remember traveling to O’Hare at the end of another work conference in Chicago, when I picked his brain for ideas of how to organize and build my business.   I focused on him, I think, because I knew he was smart, yet more importantly, he was wise.  I was seeking guidance, not just ideas.

Sometime in the following year, his wisdom, along with vision from his business partner, culminated in a handshake where my life partner, Brian and I became business partners.  From that weekend on I referred to Richard as my “Buddha” or “wise-guy”.  He had a quality of knowing, yet with deep humility.  

Any of you who spent time with him know he was good hearted and engaging, but you probably also came to see his handy work as well.  He built things – walls, roofs, buildings, things of substance.  Kind of macho things when I think about it.  He knew how to use a hammer, as they say.

He also created other kinds of things:  beautiful healthy food, usually Danish, connections with countless people, and amazing support for the institutions he loved.  His creative spirit drew people together.  He was an attractor, as I call it.

His ability to attract others made him an ideal board member.  Thus, he served the ELM board for many years.  I don’t think of him as one who was at the forefront of the movement for sexual equality within the ELCA or greater church, but one who supported and advised those who were.  There was something about his natural traditional sense that didn’t put him out front on this issue.  The arc of his own public coming out supports this idea.  He grew into his role as an ordained, gay Lutheran servant.  It took time.  He described the journey this way:  “My life has revolved around being gay and acknowledging my call to serve the church.”

On a walk in the Italian woods in Tuscany, we had a talk about the end of our lives, what would it be like, where did we hope our lives would be at the final point?  I remember discussing the desire to be “all used up”, having it all “left on the road” as a runner would say.  Richard’s sudden death this summer was stunning, it felt too soon.  He seemed to be at the apex of his knowledge and sense of serving the world.  He was lovingly walking through the days with his now husband, Patrick.  It was good.

And then God said, it is finished. 

Richard had told me of a visit with his own father at his deathbed many years earlier.  His father, a good Dane, of course, and also a Lutheran pastor, was ministering to his son, Richard at that dying moment.  He said, Richard, I love you, but most importantly, in your baptism, remember you are a beloved child of God. 

Its easy to love an attractor, they are made for it.  It’s harder to say goodbye to one such as this, for the connection, the glue that binds us, is so strong.  Yet, just as Richard’s father reminded him, we are called to who we really are in our baptism, and we know we will not ever really have to say farewell.

Pictured Left to Right: Brian Richards, Rev. Richard Andersen, Patrick Burns, Greg Jahnke)

Greg Jahnke is a wealth advisor with Thrivent Financial and resides with his husband, Brian Richards in San Francisco.  They are active members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.  They are both appreciative of all the efforts that have brought the church to its present stance on sexual minority issues.  They too hope to PROCLAIM God’s goodness by welcoming everyone fully into the life of the church.  In 2020 they will retire and move to Ashland, OR.

ELM- A Movement that isn’t Afraid….

In my first blog post as the Executive Director of ELM, I wrote about how I was one of “those” people. I am someone for whom “coming out as queer and coming out as a pastor has been a journey intimately intertwined.”

 

I recall watching the livestream of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly with tears in my eyes as the votes came in just over the margin needed to recognize me as a beloved child of God with a call to serve the church. What power that moment held – what power it still holds over us.

 

When I was in discernment, I did not know the stories of Jeff, Joel, Greg, Jim, Ruth, and Phyllis; I did not know about the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP) or Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (LLGM); I didn’t know the stories of the countless queer and ally lay people who devoted years of their lives to transform our church.

 

I had a sense that I stood on the shoulders of giants, I just didn’t know their names.

 

As we approach the 30th anniversary of the first extraordinary ordinations, it has been a joy to feature the stories of some of those giants and to learn their names. And, we must also acknowledge, that in the retelling of ELM’s history there are glaring absences of the stories of our bi, trans, ace/aro, and intersex siblings as well as our queer siblings of color.

 

There is significant work that must be done to uncover the phobias and -isms of which we as a justice-seeking ministry are not immune so that we can repent and offer reparations so as to live more fully and truly into our values and our gospel-calling.

 

Today, we in the Lutheran tradition commemorate the Reformation by retelling the story of Martin Luther and his 95 theses. But, there was more to that story too.

 

Amanda and her parents outside the Stadt Kirche in Wittenberg.

In 2017, I participated in a 500th Anniversary tour of Germany with my parents where we went and viewed the historical Reformation sites: Wittenberg, Leipzig, Augsburg and more!

 

It was on this trip that my dad learned about Philip Melanchthon and all of his contributions, especially the Augsburg Confession – “why didn’t I ever hear about him in my confirmation classes?” 

 

It was on this trip that I learned about Lucas Cranach the Elder and how his prints helped Luther tell the biblical stories through art. The trip gave me some perspective on the militaristic imagery that caused me angst in the song “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” when I saw the large, fortified castles that literally provided sanctuary to Luther and kept him safe during his life. 

 

My mother was aghast at what Luther wrote about our Jewish siblings and how it was used by the Nazis during World War II – even worse, the ways the Lutheran Church allied itself with the Nazi party. “But, how could they?”

 

ELM seeks to be a movement that isn’t afraid to tell its whole story and won’t shut the door on those who wish to hold us to account – whether it’s 95 theses or 5 – with all of the change, accountability, and story-telling that goes along with it. 

 

A movement is not one person and it is not immune from the phobias and -isms that plague our society. A movement must constantly be in motion and changing so that, in the words of Bishop Yvette Flunder, it doesn’t become a monument. 

 

I think, when God called me to this ministry, the intentional intertwining of my marginalized identities with my call was meant to help prepare me for a ministry such as this. I pray daily that I am worthy of the call and am grateful for the giants and accountability partners who make it possible to continue the hard work of dismantling systems of oppression and injustice.



Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson (she/her/hers) is the executive director of ELM and in this role has the blessed job of meeting giants of this movement on a daily basis. Amanda and her wife, Tasha, are new homeowners and so they will have no life outside of house projects for at least the next five years.



Throwback Thursday….

At the start of the 30 Extraordinary Years campaign we highlighted the original footage from the “In the beginning” video of the Extraordinary Ordinations of the Revs. Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart, and Jeff Johnson. In 2013, through a grant funded by St. Francis Lutheran Church, ELM told its story about the work that we continue today. Here is that video… 

 

The Lost Ones….

CW: spiritual abuse/trauma

I have loved reading the 30 Extraordinary Years reflections of the last several months.  I was a member of St. Paul- Oakland during most of those 30 years. You might remember us–our pastor, Ross Merkel, was “defrocked” in 1994 for being in a gay relationship.  The defiant congregation said a collective “no thanks” to the ELCA, refusing to relieve Ross of his call. Thereafter we were officially listed as a congregation with a “vacant” pulpit–which was both distressing and hilarious. 
 
Being queer myself, I was interested in righting this wrong and propeling our liberation movement forward. Yes, it was a liberation movement. We were liberating the hearts and minds of those in the ELCA who were closed off to God’s love for all of God’s people.  So my feet hit the ground and I volunteered to serve on the West Coast Candidacy Panel. We were preparing ECP (Extraordinary Candidacy Project) candidates for extraordination and for the day the ELCA would finally be able to see their gifts and welcome them to their place within the greater church.
 

(Pictured: A Stole from lesbian pastor, Ellen Taube, whose name was removed from the ELCA roster in December 2002. Shower of Stoles Project)

It put me in a position not only to hear the beautiful and uplifting stories of a candidate’s call to ministry from the Holy Spirit, but also the stories of psychological abuse rained down on them by the ELCA when they tried to answer that call.  Because my partner was one of those extraordinarily ordained pastors, I was able to attend the annual ECP clergy retreats. I both loved and dreaded going to these retreats. One minute it was like a queer summer camp, with high-jinx and silliness, and the the next minute, it was a sobering grief support group. Overall, it was an oasis of solidarity and affirmation in our desert march to full inclusion in the church. 
 
But as I read these recent uplifting reflections on our 30 years of answering the call, I am feeling deep sadness and heartache for a group that has yet to be acknowledged.  This is the group I sorrowfully call “the lost ones”. There were many I met who had the touch of the Holy Spirit on their shoulders, and heard Her whisper a call to ministry.  But when they tried to answer that call, they were so psychologically and spiritually battered by the status quo that they became the “lost ones”. Each year at the ECP retreats we’d learn of someone who just gave up waiting, or worse, disappeared altogether from our radar.  Their empty chair was like an unmarked spiritual grave. Some just sank back into the pews in a depressed state. Others were so spiritually traumatized that they needed to leave the church in order to recover their dignity and worth. 
 
So as we celebrate our successes over the last 30 years, let us not forget the spiritual casualties whose giftedness and potential died along that desert road leading to 2009.  Let us give thanks that against all odds they boldly answered the call of the Holy Spirit to ordained ministry. Let us pray for their spiritual recovery and emotional well-being.  And finally, the act which I have not been able to complete: let us forgive those who coldly extinguished the fire of Her Spirit in the hearts of the lost ones. 

Larell Fineren (she, her, hers) retired from 50 years in nursing and now lives in Petaluma, CA. She keeps busy with the immigration fight and has applied to be a sponsor for a trans asylum seeker who’s currently detained. In her spare time she joyously welcomes new foster babies into her extended family, like little Annalee, our latest angel.

30 Extraordinary Years: Reflection by Joel Workin Scholar, Cassie Hartnett.

There is a moment that I imagine sometimes, that I think is coming soon.

 

It’s that part of an ordination service when all the clergy gather around their new colleague, the bright colors of their stoles standing out against the white of their robes, their feet shuffling to make space for everyone, and they lay hands on the shoulders of the newest pastor in the ELCA. I imagine feeling the weight of so many hands, the energy moving from the fingertips that cannot reach me, that grasp for the backs and arms of people closer by. I imagine that if these hands surround me and hold me and build a safe place of support, I will be, just in that moment, invincible.

 

When Phyllis Zillhart, Jeff Johnson and Ruth Frost were ordained in San Francisco in 1990, they walked from the altar to the center of the sanctuary and held hands, just the three of them. Around them, the people—not just the ones in the stoles and robes—were invited to gather. They got close. They laid hands on one another. I wasn’t even born yet, and I know that the Holy Spirit was present. Watching the footage now fills me with a funny mix of awe and sadness.

 

I am in awe of thirty years of extraordinary ordinations, and in awe of the fact that because of this history, my ordination might be among the ones of the next thirty years. I am in awe of the members of Proclaim that I encounter every week in the course of parish work and in our online community, and I’m even in awe that I’m writing this reflection at all. So much progress has been made and so many LGBTQIA+ people have served God’s church with creativity, resilience, grace, and strength.

 

But at the same time, my awe is tinged with sadness when I imagine the world that Ruth, Phyllis, and Jeff faced in the days, months, and years that followed their ordination. I know things are different now, but I still feel the sting of microaggressions, offhand comments, or whispered rumors in the communities I serve. Stories about conversion therapy and high rates of mental illness among LGBTQIA+ youth break my heart. News bulletins about another trans woman of color lost to senseless violence makes me feel desperately lost. Our community is resilient, but we are not without our battle scars. 

 

One evening, I drove another Proclaim member home after we’d been at a synod event, and our conversation turned to this old, tired struggle. She was angry; I just sighed because it had been a long day. As she swung my car door open, we reminded each other: “I’m proud of you. You are fierce and powerful and you’re called to this work. I’ve got your back, no matter what happens.” 

 

There is a moment I imagine sometimes, where Ruth and Phyllis and Jeff and all the extraordinarily ordained said these things to one another. We build each other up and call each other to shine. For a moment, we make each other invincible. We’ve done it for more than thirty years, and we’ll keep doing it far beyond thirty more.

 

Cassie Hartnett (she/her/hers) grew up on the Connecticut shoreline and graduated from Union Theological Seminary in May 2019, where she studied psychology and religion, and wrote a new play for her thesis project. Previously, she studied at Barnard College and spent two years in the Twin Cities serving with the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, including work with ReconcilingWorks. In August, Cassie began her internship year at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Parkville, MD. In her spare time, she practices ballet and yoga, bakes excellent cookies, and can recommend a great queer young adult novel.”

Extraordinary Congregations Called Extraordinary Pastors.

As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the first extraordinary ordinations, most of the focus has been on the three pastors who were ordained and on other pastors who followed them.

But none of this would have happened without the actions of the congregations that called them.  This work started before January 20, 1990.

In American Lutheranism ordinations only happen after a candidate has received a call from a congregation.  The extraordinary road began in 1989 when the members and pastors of First United and St. Francis Lutheran Churches decided to defy the ELCA policy requiring celibacy of lesbian, gay, and bisexual clergy.  Call votes were taken at St. Francis on October 29 and at First United on November 12, 1989.  They did not make this decision lightly or expect that there would be no consequences.

These two congregations were tried, suspended, and expelled from the ELCA. (Click link to read the full decision) Although it took ten years for the next one, fifteen other extraordinary ordinations occurred between 2000 and 2009.  Two extraordinarily ordained pastors also received second calls.  These calls and ordinations all happened because congregations (21 in all in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada) were willing to risk discipline in order to call a candidate that they believed would best lead and serve their ministry.  Some of them were disciplined, but all remained in the ELCA or ELCiC.

 

The ministries of these congregations and their pastors demonstrated that LGBTQIA+ people (lay and clergy) are a vibrant part of the church.  The members of these churches believed more in the Gospel than in church policy.  They saw that the policy barring pastors in same-gender relationships was not only in violation of the gospel message, but also in violation of the ELCA constitution.

 

The Extraordinary Congregations were:

 

  • First United Lutheran Church, San Francisco: Jeff Johnson, 1990
  • St. Francis Lutheran Church, San Francisco: Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, 1990
  • Abiding Peace Lutheran Church, Kansas City: Donna Simon, 2000
  • St. Paul and United Lutheran Churches, Oakland and University Lutheran Chapel, Berkeley: Craig Minich, 2001
  • St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church, St. Paul: Anita Hill, 2001
  • St. Paul, Resurrection, and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Oakland, and Trinity Lutheran Church, Alameda: Sharon Stalkfleet, 2002
  • Bethany Lutheran Church, Minneapolis: Jay Wiesner, 2004
  • St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square, Chicago: Erik Christensen, 2006
  • Her Church, Christ Church Lutheran, St. Francis Lutheran Church, and Sts. Mary and Martha Lutheran Church, San Francisco: Megan Rohrer, 2006
  • St. Francis Lutheran Church, San Francisco:  Dawn Roginski, – June 1 2007
  • Resurrection Lutheran Church, Chicago: Jen Rude, 2007
  • Salem English Lutheran Church, Minneapolis:  Jen Nagel, 2008
  • Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Newmarket, Ontario: Lionel Ketola, 2008
  • Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Houston: Lura Groen, 2008
  • Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries to a hospital chaplaincy in Minneapolis: Jodi Barry, 2008
  • First United Lutheran Church, San Francisco: Jay Wilson, 2008
  • Holy Communion Lutheran Church, Philadelphia: Steve Keiser, 2009
  • University Lutheran Chapel, Berkeley: Jeff Johnson second call, 1999
  • University Lutheran Church of the Incarnation, Philadelphia: Jay Weisner second call, 2008

 

Margaret Moreland (she/her/hers) lives in Berkeley, California. She is happy to be married to Bennett Falk.  Margaret was one of the founders of ECP (Extraordinary Candidacy Project) and has served on the Boards of ECP, LLGM (Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries), and ELM.  She will be retiring from the ELM Board in February which will give her more time for tai chi and bicycling.

Step Out of Line.

On Saturday, January 20, 1990 at St. Paulus Lutheran Church in San Francisco, unbeknownst to the ELCA (indeed, unbeknownst, at first, to most of the ordinands themselves), there was a mass extraordinary ordination of approximately 1000 people with hundreds more participating at satellite services in Seattle, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Holden Village, Washington D.C., Phoenix, and Milwaukee.

 

Only three of the ordinands present (Ruth Frost, Jeff Johnson, and Phyllis Zillhart) had letters of call to local parishes. In electing to call Pastors Frost, Zillhart, and Johnson, St. Francis Lutheran and First United Lutheran had set the extraordinary event in motion. Technically, none of the three ordinands were “available for call”: the ELCA’s “interim guidelines” (a predecessor of “Vision and Expectations”) required celibacy of gay and lesbian candidates for ministry. The ELCA chose to discipline and eventually expel both congregations. 

 

The vast majority of those ordained that day, however, were (again, “technically”) lay people without seminary degrees. Many of them were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or something else altogether, and none of them pledged to be celibate. Largely unnoticed by the ELCA, they left St. Paulus and the various satellite services to pursue their new-found ministries extra ordinem.

 

What had happened? In the sermon she preached that day, The Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward explained:

 

…I am here today to speak of what it may mean to be blessed by God, because, my brothers and sisters, we have been blessed abundantly by the sacred spirit. 

 

Our presence here today bears this witness: the Holy One who breathes our only hope into the world; She whose tenderness and tenacity topples principalities and powers; He whose compassion and humor fortifies our lives one day at a time; this God has gathered us today to celebrate a blessing we have already been given, each of us in his or her own way — and yet, a common blessing it is: ours, not simply mine or yours, not simply Ruth’s, or Phyllis’, or Jeff’s, not simply theirs, but a blessing we share, all of us who have been drawn here today. And therein is its sacred power.

 

Ordination, ultimately, is not about clergy rosters. Ordination is sacred empowerment. It is rooted in the blessing from God that we hold in common: the people blessed by God are empowered to be agents of God’s blessing for others. On January 20, 1990, the scope of that empowerment expanded far beyond the three newly ordained pastors.

 

More than a few of those present for ordination in January, 1990 encouraged their home congregations to consider a more inclusive process for calling pastors. Some put their efforts into the newly-formed Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (LLGM), supporting ministries and congregations at risk by virtue of the ELCA policy of exclusion. Others established the Extraordinary Candidacy Project to certify qualified candidates for ministry excluded by ELCA’s requirement of celibacy for sexual minority pastors.  Even others connected with Lutherans Concerned/North America (LC/NA, now Reconciling Works) or Wingspan or Soulforce or Goodsoil to work for policy change. 

 

Fifteen more extraordinary ordinations (and more disciplinary actions) followed. Nineteen years later, ELCA  policy changed, though that was no more than the tip of an enormous iceberg, and the truth of the Gospel message, the truth of the blessing we have all received, has yet to be fully embraced. 

 

The 1990 ordinations stand in a line of irregular, extraordinary, improbable events that reaches back even further than the first Pentecost. These are the sacred events by which the community of those blessed and empowered by God moves forward. 

 

We pray the future will be no less extraordinary.

Bennett Falk lives in Berkeley, California. He is happy to be married to Margaret Moreland. He and Margaret were present at the 1990 ordinations and at the fifteen extraordinary ordinations that followed. He was webmaster for goodsoil.org (now defunct) and proprietor of lutheranconfessions.com (inactive, but still online). He has a bass guitar and a recumbent tricycle, and he’s not afraid to use them.



An Extraordinary Time to Be the Church.

Almost 50 years ago in 1971, University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley, where I serve as pastor, declared itself to be a “sanctuary” during the Vietnam War for conscientious objector sailors on board the USS Coral Sea aircraft carrier anchored in the San Francisco Bay. The following month, the City Council of Berkeley took action and declared Berkeley to be a “sanctuary” for these sailors, becoming the first municipality in the country to identify itself in this way.

 

There was no law or official statue in 1971 that authorized either the city of Berkeley or the congregation of the Chapel to act in solidarity with conscientious objectors or to create zones of “sanctuary.” There was only a bit of courage and determination to act for an alternative vision of living together in the world that valued conscience, respected individual agency, and prioritized human dignity.

 

There is a decades-long link that connects these original actions at the Chapel and the city of Berkeley in 1971 to contemporary declarations of “sanctuary” across the country and within our church. The response of this summer’s ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee to the current hostility against asylum-seeking refugees was to declare the whole church to be in solidarity as a “sanctuary denomination.” Once again, there are no rules permitting such solidarity; indeed, there are federal laws against aiding and assisting undocumented migrants. But our church found the courage it needed to stand in solidary from a deeply held, faith-rooted vision for an alternative way of living together in the world that values conscience, dignity, and basic human rights; a way we see reflected in Gospel.

 

As well, at this same Churchwide Assembly, we celebrated the 10thyear anniversary of the dismantling of the church’s policies of discrimination against lgbtqia+ people. Again, there is a decades-long link connecting this dismantling and our illegal, illicit, and extraordinary ordinations 30 years ago at St. Paulus church in San Francisco, when I was ordained with Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart in spite of ELCA policy. A time when ELCA rostered and lay leaders and congregations summoned faith-rooted courage and promoted an alternative vision for the being church together — risking their own careers and reputations to stand alongside us. Pastors like the Revs. Charles Lewis, Lucy Kolin, Jack Schiemann, Ross Merkel, John Frykmann, James Delange, and hundreds of others, who pledged solidarity and subjected themselves to denominational hostility and compliance-based-pressure because of their resistance to the ELCA’s hastily created policies of discrimination that destroyed faith, disrespected our relationships, and fueled church-sponsored hostility toward lgbtqia+ people.

 

ELM and PROCLAIM are heirs and beneficiaries to the provocative resistance and courageous solidarity of those who refused to follow unjust rules, to submit to anxious church authorities, and to implement faith destroying policies. Together with this cloud of witnesses — allies, accomplices, advocates, and activists — we provoked into being an alternative way of being church in the world centered in sanctuary, resistance, non-compliance with injustice, and solidarity with the oppressed.

 

Sanctuary was a way to stand in solidarity with war resisters in the early 1970’s. It is a powerful and provocative frame for accompaniment with refugees and migrants terrorized in today’s context by our government’s brutal and inhumane immigration, asylum, and detention policies. And it was and continues to be a life-saving form of resistance and liberation with lgbtqia+ people during the era of ELCA sponsored hostility and oppression, and especially as we provoke the church again to respect us more deeply and the gifts we offer for ministry, and to honor the diversity and multiplicity of relationship models and covenants that are intrinsic to and held in high esteem within our community.



Pastor Jeff was ordained in 1990 and is the fourth pastor to serve University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley, the Lutheran Campus Ministry at CAL. He is a member of the Boards for SHARE El Salvador, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and the LuMin Network for ELCA Campus Ministries; on the Steering Committee for the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy; a member of the East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition, and serves on the Spiritual Care Team at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary.  Prior to his ministry at the Chapel, Pr. Jeff was the pastor of First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco’s Richmond District. He was married in 2014 and lives in Oakland’s Piedmont District in a 1920’s stucco bungalow with his husband, J Guadalupe (Pepe) Sánchez Aldaco. He enjoys working around the house, mystery novels, watching movies, genealogy, cooking and dinner parties, visiting family, studying Spanish, playing piano, and salsa dancing.

The Extraordinary Ruth Frost.

Pictured above: Jeff Johnson, Greg Egertson, Phyllis Zillhart, and Ruth Frost at the 2016 Proclaim Gathering

I cannot reflect on my call of almost thirty years ago without seeing it as deeply embedded in the calls of my beloved spouse Phyllis Zillhart and our gifted partner in ministry, Jeff Johnson. We three built upon the courage of such pioneers as Anita C. Hill, Joel Workin and Carter Heyward who laid the groundwork for us and shed light on our path. It can truly be said that “my” call was so much more than “me.” I have always said that the best part of our work was the company we kept. And this includes alliances with many other gifted leaders across the nation, way too numerous to count. But they all do count. And together, we were all a force for change within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Every change agent works for a world they may not live to see. In our case, we have lived long enough to see the changes we worked for because our work was taken up by so many others who made it their work and advanced it further. For that, I am deeply grateful. Justice-love is unstoppable. And God’s grace knows no bounds.

 

We anchored our ministries in the San Francisco Bay Area during the height of the twin epidemics of AIDS and homelessness. This meant we were steeped in grief and sustained by love: the love of God, and two small church communities that never left our sides. In such a time life is lived close to the bone and closer to the heart. Those fifteen years have shaped the arc of our life together.

 

Returning to Minnesota in 2005, we chose not to seek parish calls because we knew we had already experienced the best and because it was time for a quieter form of soul-care that was less public. Hospice chaplaincy became our next chapter in ministry. As a chaplain and trained legacy guide, it is very rewarding to help people identify their legacy of love and realize that both love and forgiveness have traveling power across space and time. This quiet, bedside ministry was very different from, but no less rich than, our very public ministry of advocacy. And it certainly was shaped by our ministry at St. Francis as well as by our work with LLGM/ELM.

 

When I first retired in 2013, I wondered what my next act would be. God soon showed me my new calling, which has been to provide childcare for my wonderful grandson Ciel who lives with us, together with his parents. Blessedly, my grandson naps for two hours daily and I have used this time wisely. I have just completed a book entitled “Homes with Heart: Reflections on Turning Living Spaces into Loving Places.”  I have come to believe that ultimately, finding home means taking a spiritual journey in good company. We are all one. Together, the way home is love.

In the words of Ram Dass, “All we are doing is walking each other home.” What if that is the most important thing we do in this life?

My thanks to all who have taken this walk with us.


On January 20, 1990 Ruth Frost was 1 of 3 individuals Extraordinarily Ordained – as in outside the parameters of the policies of the ELCA – because of her publicly known sexual identity. Ruth was called by St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco. After the 2009 ELCA policy change allowing partnered LGBTQIA+ ministry leaders to serve, Ruth and her partner, Phyllis Zillhart, were then finally welcomed as ELCA rostered ministers.