Imagery of church-related people and places.

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


Giving Thanks.

Scholarship recipients at the 2016 gathering give thanks! Photo: Emily Ann Garcia

by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director


Today is a day of giving for LGBTQ+ organizations across the country. Thank you to all who give so generously in support of LGBTQ+ Lutheran ministry leaders. We would not be here without you! I want to invite those who haven’t given yet to make a contribution today in support of our 2017 Proclaim Gathering Scholarship Fund.

The Proclaim Gathering is the largest gathering of its kind. It brings together publicly-identified LGBTQ+ rostered ministers and candidates from across the country. The Scholarship Fund ensures that finances are not a barrier to students and those without call. This year’s Gathering, Healing the Violence, will be held July 16 – 19 in Chicago.

It’s so important that LGBTQ+ leaders gather.  Here’s what one attendee wrote after last year’s Gathering:

Attending the Proclaim Gathering helped me to feel like I belong to a community in a way I haven’t felt before. The Gathering allowed me to learn more about my own history as a member of this community. It also allowed for growth of relationships in a way that isn’t possible to do over video calls, Facebook, and email. The Gathering helped me to see my own story as deeply connected to others and as a sacred story.

It’s even more important that ministers and seminarians go home, renewed and ready to provide ministry to people who deeply need it. Another attendee from last year shared her thoughts about this:

The Proclaim Gathering replenishes my spirit to celebrate our history and envision our future together. It helps me return to my congregation renewed and better equipped for ministry.

Your gift of $50 or $100 – or any amount – will help us provide scholarships to all who need them. If you have the means, you can provide a full scholarship with a gift of $395. Any additional funds will help cover the other costs of the Gathering so we can keep the registration low for everyone.

While some attendees can use professional development funds to attend, most pay out of pocket – and nearly all cover their own travel costs as well. We keep the registration cost low so that as many in the Proclaim community can attend as possible. But many participants are in seminary or don’t have a call. Others serve churches that struggle financially. That’s why your scholarship gift is so critical.

The power of Proclaim is community. It means that even though LGBTQ+ ministers may feel isolated from time to time, they know they are not alone. They are connected through you and their friends in Proclaim. Your gift will give these leaders a chance to experience the strength of community.

And then, most importantly, they will go back to their congregations and ministry sites renewed for ministry in places and with people who need it.

Thank you for considering making your gift today. I’d love to add your name to the list of those who will receive thank you notes from the Proclaim Gathering this year – we love writing those notes!

Amalia Vagts (in yellow) looks unsure about Easter in this late 1970’s photo, but is definitely on board with it this year, especially after listening to her pastor’s Easter sermon and church council colleague’s meeting devotion to “practice resurrection,”  drawn from the poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” by Wendell Berry


The Rev. Matthew L. James Joins ELM Board of Directors.


by Christephor Gilbert
ELM Communications and Development Coordinator

In February, the ELM Board of Directors voted to welcome the Rev. Matthew L. James as their newest member. Matt moved to Chicago in September of last year (with his husband, Deacon John E. Weit) to accept a call as the Director of Admissions at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). Prior to this call, he served for three years as Associate Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA, and as Protestant Campus Chaplain at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Matt received his Master of Divinity from the Lutheran Theological School at Philadelphia, and also holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism/public relations and communications from the University of Northern Colorado and a master of arts in media studies from The Pennsylvania State University. Matt is a member of Proclaim and a former Joel R. Workin Scholar.

I had the privilege of sitting down to talk with Matt about his various experiences, and was especially intrigued about his backstory as one of the first Proclaim members.

Matt’s journey to the ELM Board is in and through his experience as an LGBTQ+ candidate for Word and Sacrament prior to 2009, during the time of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project (ECP). The year was 2005, and through the movement of the Spirit and the guidance of his pastor at Luther Place in Washington, D.C., Matt began the candidacy process through ECP. Throughout the journey, including the three-year wait for his first call, Matt was bolstered by the pastoral and spiritual support he received through the cloud of witnesses that make up Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

He was excited to intentionally reengage with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries upon his move to Chicago and the new call at LSTC. It was then that he was contacted by Proclaim member and former ELM board member, the Rev. Rose Beeson, about serving on the board. Clearly, the Spirit at work, once again!

Matt is excited about the capacity ELM has to raise up LGBTQ+ leaders to serve – the hope, strength, and energy they bring to the church of tomorrow – but now! He affirms that there is much to celebrate post-2009, but still much work to be done to continue moving toward God’s preferential future.

When Matt isn’t finding the leaders of tomorrow at LSTC, or continuing to foster LGBTQ+ leadership through ELM, you might find him digging into scripture for inspiration, dreaming about finally taking those piano lessons, or adding yet another DVD or doll to his ever-growing Muppets collection (with Fozzie the Bear being his favorite).

Current members of the ELM Board of Directors are: Rev. Dr. J. Elise Brown (New York, NY); Rev. Brad Froslee (Minneapolis, MN); Charlie Horn (Pitman, NJ); Rev. Mike Wilker (Washington, DC); Dr. Margaret Moreland (Berkeley, CA); Rev. Emily Ewing (Peterson, MN); Nicole Johnson (Minneapolis, MN); Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad (Minneapolis, MN); Rev. Jeff Johnson (Berkeley, CA); Emily Ann Garcia (Vancouver, British Columbia); Rev. Matthew James (Chicago, IL).

Christephor Gilbert currently serves as the Communications and Development Coordinator for ELM, and is finishing up his second year in the MDiv Program at LSTC.  When he is not working or schooling, he remembers fondly when he sang both “I’ts Not Easy Being Green” and “The Rainbow Connection” in fifth-grade choir.

Proclaiming in the Holy Land.

Proclaim Members on Travel Seminar in the Holy Land, January 2017.

by Laura Ferree
Master of Divinity student, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, and member of Proclaim.

Proclaim, a program of ELM, is a community of 250 publicly-identified LGBTQ+ Lutheran rostered minister, candidates, and seminarians.

On January 3rd, 2017 I arrived at the Columbus, OH airport excited to board a plane and make my way to the Holy Land. I was embarking on this trip with my school, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, as my January term course. I did not know what to expect as we were boarding our flight to Tel Aviv. Part of me was nervous and the other part was so excited to walk on the same land where Jesus walked.

After flying all night our plane finally landed in Tel Aviv and the trip became real. From the moment we stepped foot on holy ground our trip was off to the races and not slowing down! We traveled from Tel Aviv to Galilee to Caesarea to Zippori to Caesarea Philippi to Capernaum to Jericho to Bethlehem to Battir to Jerusalem and the list could go on. We had a jam-packed schedule! We were always being shuffled from one place to the next while our tour guide, Khalil, shouted, “Yella people!” meaning hurry up or let’s go in Arabic.

I remember one point in the trip when “Yella people!” was being shouted but I couldn’t hurry up! As I was getting on our bus after a stop by the Sea of Galilee I looked out the window and saw Proclaim members. I shouted, “Those are my people!” and ran off the bus, ignoring Khalil saying “Yella Laura!” We had just a short time to reconnect before I was pulled back onto the bus so that we could continue our journey but I remember feeling filled with joy as I saw “my people” in a land that is so far away from home.

This is not the last place that I saw “my people”. There were three ELCA seminaries in the Holy Land at the same time and we all happened to be staying in Jerusalem during the same time. A seminary meet up was arranged and I could not contain my excitement during the day that our meet up would happen knowing that I would get to see Proclaim folks for the first time in almost a year. This community is so interconnected that we even find each other while we are in a foreign land.

That night of community in the Holy Land reminded me to kindle my flame and allowed me to remember how meaningful the Proclaim community is to me. As I continued to bump into Proclaim friends throughout the trip it always brought me joy to remember that I am a part of such a tight knit community of folks who free me to proclaim God’s good word to all.

Laura Ferree lives in Columbus, OH and is a second-year Master of Divinity student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. Once she survives this spring semester, Laura will start as the intern at Luther Memorial Church in Seattle, WA.


ELM Seeks New Executive Director.

Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is seeking a candidate to serve in the Executive Director position. Interested candidates should email their cover letter and resume to the Executive Director Search Committee, Applications will be accepted until May 1, 2017, position will be filled mid-June.

About the position:

Grounded in the belief that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identifying (LGBTQ+) people have extraordinary gifts for ministry, the Executive Director provides leadership in partnership with the Board of Director and staff. The Executive Director casts a strategic vision, leads fund development, and guides operational and program implementation. The Executive Director serves as the only full-time development position on staff.

Full job description and guiding qualifications: Executive Director Job Description: ELM-EDJobDescription

Get Ready, Get Set, Gathering!.


by Asher O’Callaghan
ELM Program Director

Registration and scholarship applications for the 2017 Proclaim Gathering will open this Saturday, April 1st.  You can register here.

The Proclaim Gathering brings together publicly-identified LGBTQ+ rostered ministers and candidates from across the church. ELM friends make it possible for seminarians and rostered leaders experiencing financial hardship to attend by providing funds for scholarships – you gave close to $10,000 in scholarships last year, and you can help again this year! Give now.

We’ve moved the Proclaim Gathering to a new time – in the summer – and this year we’ll be in the heart of Chicago. Our 2017 Gathering will be at the Cenacle Retreat Center from July 16th-19th.

The theme this year is Healing the Violence. Local speakers from the Chicago area will help Proclaimers name the violence, explore pathways of healing, and then send them back out into ministry with some practical tools. And, we’ll have plenty of inspiring worship, relationship building with colleagues, and space for leaders to be their full and fabulous queer selves. By the end of it, we send these leaders out renewed and ready to provide ministry to people who deeply need it.

We keep registration affordable so money is not a barrier to attending. Your gift of $100 – or more if you can do that today– will help us provide scholarships to all who need them. You can provide a full scholarship with a gift of $395. We’ll send you a card from the Gathering to express our thanks!

Asher O’Callaghan can’t wait for July 16th, when the 2017 Proclaim Gathering begins! The Gathering has been one of the highlights of his year since 2012. Asher’s favorite hobbies include surfing, discovering craft beers, and writing short bios in the third person.

We Laugh Together.

Finding New Perspective at Pendle Hill. Photo by Amalia Vagts

by Amalia Vagts
ELM Executive Director


The ELM Board of Directors gathered March 9-12,2017 at Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat center just outside Philadelphia, PA. We spent the bulk of our time engaged in work that board member Mike Wilker referred to as, “discerning where God has led us in the past and where God is calling us in the future.”

The time was rich, collaborative, challenging, and clarifying. One piece of our work was creating what our facilitators Lisa Negstad and Michael Bischoff referred to as “Simple Practices.” Almost immediately, we changed the heading to “Explicit Practices.” We like to turn words on end. And the new name seemed more “us,” which was the purpose of this exercise.

Of the seven or so practices that made it into the final working list, the one we all agreed on immediately was this: “We laugh together.”

It struck me, as it has many times in my work with the LGBTQ+ faith community, that laughter and joy are so often at the center of our work. Our work is often not easy. At times, it is completely discouraging. The journey has been long. Sometimes the future is unknown. And yet – time and time again, we find ourselves breaking into laughter, into song (and oh yes, even into dance thanks to the Fitness Marshall).

And it seems fitting that if someone happened upon a document that said “Explicit Practices of LGBTQ+ Lutherans,” they’d open it to read “We laugh together.”

Our time together spanned four days. We were thankful and encouraged by an afternoon in conversation with Lenny Duncan and Rev. Lura Groen, co-conspirators from #decolonizelutheranism. Lisa Negstad and Michael Bischoff guided us during a day-and-a-half session about the future direction of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. In addition to the Explicit Practices, we worked with our belief statement to make sure it better reflects our current work. We were nourished by the wonderful surroundings and people of Pendle Hill and each other. We were led by God. We spent a significant amount of time discerning where God is calling us – a direction Mike described as, “beautiful, compassionate, and fierce.” This important work continues and we’ll invite you into conversation with us as it unfolds.

We look forward to more work – and laughter – with you.

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Amalia Vagts, executive director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, has been known to laugh in the face of adversity, and, on occasion, at totally inopportune moments. She does not plan to cease this behavior anytime soon.



Announcement of Executive Director Departure.

ELM logoThe Board of Directors of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries announces that Executive Director Amalia Vagts will conclude her role in July 2017 and begin the process of becoming a minister of word and sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The Rev. Dr. Elise Brown, board co-chair, notes:

When Amalia announced her decision to attend seminary to the board last October, it received the news with joy and gratitude. Amalia’s leadership and collaborative spirit have strengthened programming, created connections inside and outside of the Lutheran church, and built a strong financial foundation for ELM as she proclaimed the ways the church is blessed by LGBTQ+ clergy and seminarians. Her leadership and work have been a great gift. While difficult to say goodbye to such a talented executive director, supporting Amalia in her deeper sense of call and vocation is thrilling for the board.

Vagts’ last day of work will be July 31, 2017. The Rev. Brad Froslee, board co-chair, says a search process will begin at the end of March with the plan to have a new executive director in place in July.

In sharing her news with the board, Amalia writes:

Photo credit: Emily Ann Garcia

I have been transformed by the experiences I have had these past ten and a half years. You invited me into your living rooms, sanctuaries, offices and hearts and shared your sorrows, joys, and stories with me. Thank you. Our work together has changed my life. The people who make up Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries as friends, board members, and the Proclaim community are truly faithful and fabulous. I feel a sense of deep fulfillment and clear that my calling is now leading me elsewhere. I will leave feeling confident that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is healthy, adaptable, and ready to receive your next executive director. It is impossible to imagine my life without the people who make ELM what it is and I’m thankful that I don’t have to! With joy, I will continue to wholeheartedly support ELM as a donor and friend and connect in new ways as a future Proclaim member. And for now, I’m getting back to work for the next five months!

Vagts’ tenure at ELM has been a time of great growth and change for the organization. She has overseen the expansion of ELM’s three programs, strengthened connections with donors and supporters, and has worked closely with congregations, synods, and bishops across the country. Brown shares, “The passion and faith Amalia brings to this work is unsurpassed. She is thoughtful, forthright and quick to add both deeper insights and moments of levity. That unique combination of gifts has served ELM very well over these 10 years. She has been an extraordinary leader during an extraordinary time.”

During her more than ten years with ELM, Vagts has been instrumental in the changes in ELM and the church. She was hired as the development director of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries in October 2006. Shortly after that Vagts co-facilitated the merger of LLGM with the Extraordinary Candidacy Project. In 2008, ELM hired Vagts at its first executive director.

Through Vagts’ leadership and skill, ELM doubled the number of extraordinary ordinations and calls to publicly identified LGBTQ+ ministers before the ELCA’s policy change in 2009. That year there were 46 members of the Extraordinary Roster–a community of resistance and hope that provided prophetic witness and pastoral leadership in communities often ignored and oppressed by the church and society. Today, the Proclaim community has 245 members, and continues to grow.

As board co-chairs, Brown and Froslee are working with the full board to appoint a Search Committee and will lay out the next steps for succession in the coming week. Additionally, the board will host gatherings across the country to allow those who have worked closely with Amalia to celebrate and honor her work.

ELM gives thanks for a gifted leader who has given her heart and soul to the work of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries to proclaim a place of welcome, grace, justice, and leadership in the Lutheran church and far beyond. Through her, God has unleashed the proclamation of the gospel.

Froslee says, “ELM vibrantly responds to God’s love and call to justice. It’s a gracious, strong, and creative ministry. We’re looking forward to the future and the new leader.”

What Does It All Stand For?.

by Asher O’Callaghan
ELM Program Director

If you’ve been following the LGBTQ+ movement during the past few decades, you’ve probably noticed several changes in the language we use. A few decades ago, many would use gay and lesbian to refer to our community. Then bisexual was included creating the acronym LGB. And not too long after that, transsexual was added to the mix, thus LGBT. Now, the word transsexual is usually replaced with transgender, and the letter Q has also been added for queer. Which brings us to LGBTQ—the acronym ELM has often used.

Most of these changes in language have taken place over the course of years and there’s been a lot of deliberation about what language fits and what doesn’t. So with that in mind, we’d like to invite your feedback on the most recent addition we’ve made.

In recent months, some of you may have noticed that we’ve begun using a + at the end of LGBTQ in many of ELM’s publications. The + is meant to symbolize the many queer identities that might not be fully represented by the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. Identities like intersex, two-spirit, or asexual, just to name a few. It reminds us to greet the new identities we encounter with open minds. It reminds us of how our language itself is evolving, and how we too are evolving with it.

The point to changing our language isn’t to make people feel uncomfortable and confused. The point is to recognize that language stands for something. The words we use are meaningful. Language is power. Words can actually create possibilities that didn’t exist before.

Take me for example. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “How old were you when you knew you were transgender?” Older than you might guess. Because I didn’t become familiar with the word transgender until I was in my 20s. Until then, I simply had never heard a word that described my experience of my gender. When we have no words to express our experiences, we are kept alone and silent.

The internet was the first place I found the word transgender. When I read about the experiences of other trans people, it felt like being named. With one word, experiences I had never been able to express before were affirmed. With one word, my experiences no longer kept me isolated but joined me together with others. In a very real sense, the word transgender made me possible.

These letters stand for something. They stand for people—for POSSIBILITY. Without words to name who we are in the world, we’re left silent and alone with our experiences. We want to celebrate the on-going naming and claiming of new identities in our community. We want to acknowledge that the process of naming and claiming these experiences is part of our DNA as a community.

Does the + help us do that? Ideally, it helps affirm the on-going evolution of queer identities in our communities. However, it may minimize identities like intersex, asexual, or two-spirit by lumping them all into a symbol. We invite your feedback.

For a few high-quality, user-friendly lists of what each of these words (and many others!) means check out these resources:

Lutheran Introduction To Our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Neighbors

LGBTQ+ Definitions

Asher O’Callaghan is grateful for all the ways that visibility gives birth to possibility. He didn’t know he could be a queer Lutheran pastor until he met a queer Lutheran pastor. He’s grateful for all the folks whose public witness as LGBTQ+ faith leaders creates space for queer faith.




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.