Thursday, February 25, 2010

Trinity Lutheran Holds Celebration, Receives Senatorial Kudos

If you happen to be in vicinity of Lakewood, Ohio (Cleveland area), on Sunday, February 28, please consider joining Trinity Lutheran as they celebrate the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly's decisions regarding LGBT people and their families. A special worship service will be offered at 5:00 p.m., followed by a potluck. Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Northeast Ohio Synod, as well as ecumenical guests, will be in attendance. Fabulous music and a great party are included! The offering from the service will go to the Northeastern Ohio Synod.

And as long as we're talking about Trinity Lakewood . . .  . Back in October, Trinity's pastor, Rev. Paula Maeder Connor, recieved a handwritten note from the United States Senator from Ohio, Sherrod Brown, regarding the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly's decision to allow Lutherans in lifelong, publicly accountable, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as rostered ministers in the ELCA. The note from Senator Brown read, "Reverend Connor, My Church made me proud with its new position on ordination. Thank you for speaking out."

Thank you, Trinity Lakewood, for your continuing witness.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pastor Anita Hill to Be Received to the Clergy Roster of the ELCA

Pastor Anita Hill, St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran church, St. Paul, Minnesota, has been informed by the Candidacy Committee of the St. Paul Synod that she will be received onto the clergy roster of the ELCA following the finalization of changes to the governing documents, Vision and Expectations (V&E) and Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline (D&G), expected at the April meeting of the ELCA Church Council. The changes will remove the policy barriers to service on the roster in the ELCA by ministers in committed, lifelong, same-gender relationships.

Anita Hill was ordained on April 28, 2001, at a ceremony presided over by Rev. Paul Tidemann, then pastor of St. Paul-Reformation. Present for the ceremony and participating in the laying on of hands were Rev. Paul Egertson, then bishop of the ELCA Southwest California Synod; Rev. Dr. Krister Stendahl, Bishop Emeritus of Stockholm, Sweden and retired Academic Dean of the Harvard Divinity School; Rev. Lowell Ehrdahl, Bishop Emeritus of St. Paul Area Synod; and Rev. Stanley Olson, retired bishop of the Pacific Southwest Synod (Lutheran Church in America). The ordination was an act of the congregation gathered, under a provision in the Lutheran Confessions that allows congregations to ordain when bishops can't or won't. The call and ordination were at that time acts of ecclesiastical disobedience, the subject of a documentary film, This Obedience, available through LC/NA.

The impact of these acts has rippled down through the years since then. St. Paul-Reformation was censured and sanctioned for its action of calling a pastor not on the ELCA roster. The sanctions were later lifted, but the censure remains in place to date. Bishop Egertson subsequently submitted his resignation from the leadership of the synod. But in August of that year, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly began the study of ordination and service by clergy in committed, covenanted same-gender relationships that in August of 2009 resulted in the elimination of the policies that forbad such service. Also in August 2009 the churchwide assembly passed the Social Statement on Human Sexuality.

And Anita Hill did just what she said that she wanted to do in an interview at the time of her ordination: "just carry on with the work of this place [St. Paul-Reformation]," the work of spreading the Gospel and helping people. For years, she has done this and is recognized within her synod and elsewhere in the ELCA for her ministry.

Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned, said, "This is a particular wonderful and welcome piece of news: that Anita Hill will be finally received onto the roster she was called to, by the Holy Spirit and by the congregation she has served so faithfully since her ordination. We rejoice in this recognition of the ministry and faithfulness of this dedicated servant and minister to the body of Christ."

Also awaiting the Church Council passage of changes to V&E and D&G for his reinstatement is Pastor Bradley Schmeling of St. John''s Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He was removed from the roster of the ELCA in 2007 after an ecclesiastical trial, at the conclusion of which the Discipline Hearing Committee famously said that it found no fault with him or with his ministry and that the policy should be changed, before following the rule of the day and removing him from the roster solely for the reason of being in a committed, lifelong same-gender relationship.

It is very fitting and noteworthy as part of the celebratory context of this kairos time in the Lutheran Church that January 20th was the 20-Year Anniversary of the "extra-ordinem" ordinations of Pastors Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, acts of faith and conviction by both the pastors and the two churches that called them, openly gay and, in the case of Ruth and Phyllis, in a committed relationship. Pastor Johnson was called by First United Lutheran Church and Pastors Frost and Zillhart by St. Francis; both churches were expelled from the ELCA for having done so. These pastors were also the founders of an organization that has grown into what is now Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, an organization that advocates for the full inclusion of persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities within the Lutheran Church, encouraging congregations to consider calling sexual minority clergy and providing financial assistance, pastoral care, and legal advice to sexual minority pastors and to the congregations that support them.

Phil Soucy
Director Communications LC/NA

Monday, February 22, 2010

Retreats and Camps for LGBTQA Youth

Summer camp is probably a life-changing event for many of us. It may be the place where we found or renewed our faith. Studies have shown that about 75% of people in church leadership (clergy, lay professionals, council members) had a significant camp experience. Lutherans place a lot of value on the camp experience.

Now, there are now three organizations that offer camps and retreats for youth who want to explore the connections between faith, sexual orientation, and gender identity. These camps are designed not only for LGBT youth, but youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities. And…amazingly enough, they are all sponsored by Lutherans! The three camps have the stamp of approval of the Youth, Young Adult, and Family Committee of Lutherans Concerned/North America. All three are listed on the Youth, Young Adult, and Family Committee page of the LC/NA web site.

Wonderfully Made

April 16-18, 2010

Bear Creek Camp, Wilkes Barre, PA

Theme: Gift and Trust

This is an opportunity for young people who identify as LGBTQ and their allies and who are Christian to come together and safely share worship; faith journeys and struggles; and enjoy fellowship with other Christian teens. The camp is designed for 15-17 year olds who currently in 9th to 12th grades who are lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/ or questioning and their allies and who are interested in discussing and understanding sexuality alongside their own spirituality and are excited to spend time with other teenagers and staff in fellowship, worship, games, Bible Study, crafts, and guest speakers.

If you have questions about the camp or would like more information, please contact Fred Wolfe at 215-387-2885.

Spiritual Pride Project

April 23-25, 2010

Camp Lutherhill, LaGrange, TX

The Spiritual Pride Project is a new ministry that hopes to serve as a resource, a discussion forum, a community, and a sounding block for youth of all sexual orientations. More specifically, we are a weekend retreat where both sexuality and spirituality are seen as equally valuable gifts from God. It offers a weekend camp retreat as a safe, accepting and loving community where GLBTQIA (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Question Intersex and Allied) youth can discuss how their sexuality and spirituality are beautiful gifts from God. The camp accompanies youth on the faith journey as they celebrate and struggle with our faith, family, friends, school, relationships, and everything in between. This is still camp after all, so everyone enjoys God's creation and have a blast sharing our creative talents, playing games, and challenging each other. All People of all belief backgrounds are welcome!

The Naming Project

July 18-23, 2010

Bay Lake Camp, Deerwood, Minnesota

Theme: I Love to Tell the Story

The Naming Project Summer Camp is for 15-18 year olds or those who have completed 9th-12th grades who are of any sexual orientation or gender identity or expression who are interested in discussing and understanding sexuality in terms of their own spiritual journey and are excited to spend time with other teen campers and staff while canoeing, swimming, hiking, singing, doing arts and crafts. The theme for this summer’s session is I Love to Tell the Story. Campers will spend the week talking about how our stories connect with the ongoing story of God’s relationship with humanity. Each day, campers will spend time actively crafting and expressing their stories.Youth will be actively involved in conversation around their life experiences and Biblically based themes.This week of camp will give youth the opportunity to experience God's love and the care and support of community in new and incredible ways. Throughout the week there will be dialogue with staff and guest speakers, while enjoying the great outdoors and summer camp fun!

Trinity Homeless Shelter featured in PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

One of television's major venues for religious analysis, PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, recently featured Trinity Homeless Shelter, a ministry offered by RIC congregation Trinity Lutheran of Manhattan.

The shelter serves homeless LGBT youth, the majority of whom are also people of color. The need for such a shelter highlights the real and persistent intersections of oppression that still pervade our society.Even in an age when all people are allegedly equal, the necessity of ministry in the LGBT community as well as of ministries offered by RIC congregations remains evident.

LC/NA offers Trinity of Manhattan our thanks for their dedication and resolve in bringing Christ's love to all of God's children.

Watch the video segment here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

First Immanuel of Portland, OR joins the RIC Roster

We here at LCNA would like to extend our welcome and congratulations to the members of First Immanuel Lutheran Church. On January 31st, their congregation voted to become an open and affirming church for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Their statement reads:
Welcome! We are glad that you have come to First Immanuel this morning to worship God. We welcome people of every race, ethnic background, social status, physical limitation, sexual orientation and gender identity. We are a Reconciling in Christ congregation. Together, in our diversity, we seek to embrace the love God offers us in Jesus Christ.
 We're glad to have you, First Immanuel!

In the Spotlight: Miguel de la Torre, keynote speaker for Let Justice Roll

Born in Cuba just before Castro's Revolution, the Rev. Dr. De La Torre and his family immigrated to the United States as refugees when he was an infant. He was baptized in the Catholic Church in Queens, New York, although his parents were priests of the SanterĂ­a faith. After working in real estate and obtaining his Masters in Public Administration from American University, he became a "born again" Christian in his 20s. He dissolved his real estate company in 1992 in order to attend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and obtain his Masters in Divinity.

De La Torre earned his Doctorate in social ethics from Temple University in 1999. The focus of his work lies in ethics within contemporary U.S. thought, specifically how religion affects race, class, and gender oppression. While teaching Christian ethics at Hope College, De La Torre butted heads with Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson. In a newspaper column entitled "When the Bible Is Used for Hatred," De La Torre satirized Dobson's "outing" of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Due to the ensuing controversy, De La Torre resigned his tenure at Hope College and took a position teaching social ethics at Iliff School of Theology.

Dr. De La Torre has published a number of award-winning books, including Reading the Bible from the Margins (2002), SanterĂ­a: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America (2004), and Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, (2004).

Within the academy he has served as a director to the Society of Christian Ethics and the American Academy of Religion. Additionally, he has been co-chair of the Ethics Section at the American Academy of Religion.

Are you in the Twin Cities area? Check out: "Deepening the Welcome: After Churchwide 2009"

The Joint Synod Committee for Inclusivity, a committee of the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Area Synods, and the Reconciling in Christ Team of Lutherans Concerned / Twin Cities, would like to invite you to their upcoming workshop: Deepening the Welcome: After Churchwide 2009.

The workshop will take place on Saturday, April 17th from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Edina Community Lutheran Church.

Whether your congregation is already RIC or still somewhere along the journey, you've probably considered some of the following questions in the wake of CWA '09:
  • What's next after Churchwide?
  • What does the Bible say about this?
  • How can our congregation make our welcome clear and visible?
  • How can worship be more welcoming?
  • How can we talk with our children about welcome?
  • How can we communicate with persons who might disagree?
  • What can individuals do?
The "Deepening the Welcome" workshop will address these questions and more.

Note: Because the workshop is designed so that one person cannot attend all the breakout sessions, it would be worthwhile to send multiple persons from your congregation, if possible. Members of church committees that deal with Welcome, Evangelism, Youth, Worship & Music, Adult Faith Formation, Christian Action (and likely others) will all find relevant sessions.

To register, print out the .pdf registration brochure and mail it today!

LCNA Chaplain Joins Iowan Clergy in Support of Same-Sex Marriage

The Reverend Rachel Thorson Mithelman, Chaplain to the Board of Directors of LCNA, joined over two dozen ELCA clergy and fourteen dozen other religious leaders in signing a letter of support for same-sex marriage in Iowa.

The letter, put forth by the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa and directed towards the Iowa state legislature, serves as a counterweight to the anti-gay voices that claim to speak for the Church and for Iowa's religious citizens. The letter was given to Iowa lawmakers earlier this week. Some state lawmakers had stated they would attempt to overturn the law which legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa in April of 2009.

As Chaplain, the Rev. Mithelman provides spiritual guidance, leadership, and counsel to the Board of Directors. She is a native of northern Iowa, and has served congregations in Minnesota, California and Wisconsin, before returning to Iowa to serve as Senior Pastor of St John's Lutheran Church in Des Moines. A graduate of Wartburg College and Luther Seminary, Pastor Mithelman was ordained in 1983. Participation in local and regional ministries related to hunger, fair trade, domestic violence, and the full inclusion of all of God's children in the church have been her passions throughout her 25 years of ministry. She currently resides with her spouse, the Rev. Jack L. Mithelman, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Greater Milwaukee Synod RIC Ministry Team presents "Living Out Loud"

Hello friends,
On behalf of the Greater Milwaukee Synod Reconciling in Christ Ministry Team, we would like to invite you to their event, “Living Out Loud: Faithfully Celebrating God’s Gifts,” featuring Reverend Barbara Lundblad.

The event will take place on Saturday, March 20th and Rev. Lundblad will offer two sermons the next day.

   8:30 – Morning Registration
   9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Especially for RIC/LCNA folk
          – Barbara Lundblad shares spiritual - theological -- biblical resources for staying on the journey.
   11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. – Lunch 

   12:30 p.m. – Afternoon Registration Begins
   1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – Workshops
         A. Living into RIC – as a synod, congregation, individual
         B. Gary Liedtke – “CWA Actions” – Post Assembly Reflections
   2:30 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. – Break
   2:45 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. – Workshops
         C. The Intersectionality of “Isms”
         D. The T in LGBT – One Person’s Story in the ELCA

   4:30 p.m. – Worship with Barbara Lundblad preaching
   6:00 p.m. – Dinner
   7:00 p.m. – Reception

On Sunday, March 21, Pastor Lundblad preaches at the 8:30 and 11:00 services at Mount Zion Lutheran Church, 12012 W North Ave, Milwaukee.

LIVING OUT LOUD COST (Registration due by 3-8-10)
         $25.00 for entire event   
         $15.00 for morning presentation and lunch
         $15.00 for afternoon workshops, dinner, worship and reception
         Freewill offering for evening worship and reception
Scholarships available

If you would like to register, please mail your name, congregation, address, phone number, e-mail and registration fee (or scholarship request) to: Bill Wood at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 3022 W. Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI  53208-3950.

Make checks payable to Greater Milwaukee Synod RIC Ministry Team.

Please note: This event is NOT being hosted by LCNA. If you contact us, we will not be able to register you. You must register directly with the event hosts as indicated above.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Censure Lifted at Abiding Peace, Kansas City

Bishop Gerald Mansholt, ELCA Central States Synod, has lifted the censure against Abiding Peace Lutheran congregation of Kansas City, Missouri, which had been imposed in March 2001 because the congregation called and ordained Pastor Donna Simon the previous October. Pastor Donna is rostered with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) and was ordained extraordinarily (meaning outside the normal rubrics of the ELCA) under a provision in the Lutheran Confessions allowing such ordinations when bishops can't or won't.

Pastor Donna has served that congregation since her ordination and call. That service and her ministry drew praise from the bishop. In his letter to the congregation, he said of Pastor Donna, a lesbian not yet on the roster of the ELCA, and her service as pastor for nine years:
...though ordained outside the established processes of the Church, Pastor Simon has been a gracious witness among us in this synod as well as in the larger Church. She has spoken the truth in love, and shared her witness and struggle as a baptized child of God, even as she has prayed for a day of wider understanding and acceptance in the Church.
Bishop Mansholt, in notifying the synod of the lifting of the censure, repeated the above praise for Pastor Donna and commented on the faithfulness of the congregation at Abiding Lutheran:
As the Church studied, prayed and conversed with one another over the matters of gay and lesbian people in the Church, Abiding Peace Church might have walked away. But they remained in the Church and stayed in dialog with brothers and sisters who were trying to make sense of these issues in the light of the Gospel. They kept on praying for a better day, a time of wider awareness and acceptance. . . . I know the congregation also longs for the day when their pastor might be welcomed onto the roster of the ELCA.
Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned, said,
We are very pleased that the stalwart faithfulness and grace-filled witness of both Pastor Donna Simon and the congregation of Abiding Peace have at long last been recognized and uplifted by the Church and the body of Christ they serve so well. It is our fervent, prayerful hope and our continuing advocacy that more of the Church come to understand and honor the service of LGBT Lutherans as we continue the journey from ignorance, misunderstanding and oppression into the light of Christ Jesus.
Please see the full text of Bishop Mansholt's letter to the Central States Synod.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Register for Let Justice Roll Conference

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”  —Amos 5:24

You are invited to participate in Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters, the biennial assembly of Lutherans Concerned / North America and Reconciling in Christ conference. Online registration is now open.

Let Justice Roll is taking place this summer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on the campus of Augsburg College, July 8-10 with pre-events on July 7. All the details of this uplifting and grace-filled event, including housing, fee, and scholarship ifo, are available here.

Check out the speakers, pre-events, workshops, and the fellowship. Come to be reminded why you are involved in this work for full inclusion. Come and join in the celebration of the decisions of August 2009.

On Saturday, July 10, attendees will return to the site where the ELCA voted for full participation, with worship at Central Lutheran Church and banquet/celebration at the Minneapolis Convention Center.


Sign up... Come, join us in Minneapolis!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sermon for "Reconciling in Christ" Sunday, from Professor Guy Erwin

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

January 31, 2010
R. Guy Erwin, Ph.D.
Texts: Jeremiah 1:4–10; Psalm 71:1–6; 1 Corinthians 13:1–13; Luke 4:21–30

This morning’s lesson continues last week’s, when we heard about Jesus reading the scriptures in the synagogue. He read in the scroll from the book of Isaiah, at the place where the prophet spoke of “the one who was to come,” an anointed, chosen one sent from God, who would bring good news to the poor and deliverance to the oppressed, and would bring in a new time of God’s favor. Then, to what must have been the listeners’ complete astonishment, he told them that this scripture had now been fulfilled in their hearing—now, right in front of people he had known all his life, he was saying that he was that one, the one of whom Isaiah had spoken so long ago!

This week, we hear what happened next. We see what happens when they have a moment to think about the remarkable thing Jesus has said. At first they are amazed, but very quickly their amazement turns to questioning: Wait, isn’t this just the son of Joseph and Mary from down the road? How can he be the one Isaiah prophesied? And who says he is, anyway? Just Jesus himself—he’s the one who claims to be God’s anointed!

Their reaction goes through its phases very quickly: from astonishment to questioning, to dismay—and then to anger and attack. Who does he think he is? Who does he think they are, to mistake a carpenter’s son for the Messiah? What kind of fools does he take them for? In a flash they are enraged—outraged—and before you know it they have laid hands on him and swept him out of town and beyond. They push him in front of them, driving him forward to the cliff’s edge, to hurl him off—the punishment for a blasphemer and deceiver, a quick but painful death on the rocks.

Wow. All that. And so quickly. It’s a little scary that they should have gone from admiration to hatred so fast. Why? Even if they didn’t want to believe him, why did they react so violently? There is much about this story we don’t know and perhaps there are some parts we can’t really understand. But there are some parts we can, and the writer of Luke’s gospel knows it. We know our fellow human beings well enough to know that we humans are capable of much, including much evil, if we are afraid, confused, and angry.

What seems exaggerated in this case is how they should have hated Jesus instead of just laughing at him. They could have just said “You’ve got to be kidding—Jesus, Joseph’s boy? The Messiah? Never!” Or they could have just gone home shaking their heads, telling the story of how the crazy things that Jesus guy stood up and said at worship that morning were just completely whacked out. And snickered at him ever after.

But instead they are enraged. Murderously angry. Why? I think there are a couple of reasons, reasons that are not unfamiliar to us, even though we might not have such a violent reaction if it happened in our presence. First, I think those people had a pretty low self-image as a group. They were a small community, nothing special, not the kind of place that wonderful things happen in, not the kind of burgh that God uses to make a cosmic point. And then here comes Jesus, telling them that the Messiah had come to them that day, right there in Nazareth. Sounds fine to us, but what if we said Jesus had come to North Hollywood? We know he would have come to Toluca Lake, or at least have chosen a Studio City address. So part of these people’s reaction has to do with simple surprise and the incongruity of the claim.

But what made it worse, I think, is that Jesus—one of them—had suddenly claimed to be something really remarkable, unique, more-than-special: he was claiming to be God’s chosen one, the one so long awaited by generations of the people of Israel. The boldness of the claim was enough to take their breath away, but the problem was not just that—it was that he was claiming God for himself in a way that was much more intimate, much more powerful, than any of them could ever aspire to. So he was putting himself above them, claiming to be something better and grander than they were. They may not think of themselves as anything special, but they sure don’t like it when one of them claims to be better. How could he, when they know who he is? They know he’s no better than they are!

And finally and most importantly, I think Jesus’ claim messed with their idea of how God should work. God should reward the faithful and hardworking and obedient, not random sinners. God should work through conventional religious structures and people, and not through carpenters’ sons off the street. God was supposed to reward good people with satisfaction and comfort, not shake them up and confuse them about what was good and what was not, the way this Jesus did! Clearly, what Jesus was claiming was just way outside anything they could imagine about what God was like or was likely to do.

Those people who reacted so badly to Jesus weren’t right, but they weren’t exceptional, either. You see, over and over in the history of the people of God, both in the Bible and in the history of Christianity, God has acted in ways that surprised those who were trying their best to be faithful. And Jesus is just the supreme example of that—and, then, even more, Jesus went on surprising people by challenging their assumptions about God again and again—first in these unlikely epiphanies: an infant revealed to shepherds; a young man baptized by John; now as Isaiah’s promised savior in person. And this is just the beginning—Jesus will continue to bend people’s picture of God as he preaches love and forgiveness, as he proclaims a kingdom of justice and peace, and (most of all) when on the cross he offers his life for his friends. They haven’t seen anything yet.

Today, the last Sunday in January, is the day that what are called “Reconciling in Christ” congregations in our national Lutheran church celebrate and remember what made them decide to join together some years ago to promote a church and support congregations in which gay and lesbian Christians would be welcome, a church in which the gospel was seen not as dividing us into categories of human difference, but uniting us in the great promise of love and redemption God offers us in Christ. Our St. Matthew’s here was a pioneer in that regard, and a very early member of the Reconciling in Christ movement.

This story of Jesus and the people in the synagogue seems to me to be perfect for us to hear on this special day; perhaps it is not a coincidence that as we hear this lesson, we are also asked to think about what it means for us to be a place of welcome for people who have not always been welcome; to be a place where ministry is carried out for and by people who at one time were excluded from Christian leadership (and even the Christian community) on the basis of who they were. This has not been easy either. In the struggle to get the church to recognize and deal with injustice in its midst, we have had to preach and teach an understanding of Jesus and of God that not all of our fellow-Christians in this denomination, this country, and now this world can recognize—a new angle on the same old truth Jesus tried to teach the people of Nazareth in this story: that God works through our humanness to love us in our humanness, in our fallibility, in our imperfection—to redeem us now and as we are, not in some perfect future state when we can all get our acts together and earn God’s love.

For those who have for a lifetime (or generations, or centuries) cherished a picture of God who works in only one way, who loves only one kind of people under particular conditions, this new way of understanding God as embodied, as human, as being like us even in our imperfection—well, this is inconceivable and maybe even frightening. And they react badly, for the understandable human reason that to have to rethink your basic assumptions about God and life is difficult. And realizing that you may have to change your mind is not an insight everybody is able to welcome. It’s humiliating to have invested your energy in an assumption that turns out to be wrong.

So maybe we should have some compassion on those who struggle with the possibility they may not really understand the God they have tried so hard to love, the one they have counted on for clarity but who keeps leading them into ambiguity. Jesus didn’t turn on the crowd who rejected him; he simply slipped from their grasp, leaving them empty-handed. He left them in their error and confusion and moved on—to a wider, greater ministry than just his hometown. Many of us have done that too, in our own more humble ways: moved from places of non-acceptance to places where we can be welcome and safe. Places where people didn’t know us just as our parents’ child but knew us instead as independent adults. Places like Reconciling in Christ churches, where we could be accepted as ourselves.

In the history of the Christian church, again and again people have been called by God to challenge lazy assumptions about who God is and how God works, to challenge the complacency that the careless faithful always seem to settle into over time, thinking that only they understand and that all they need to do to stay faithful is to resist change. People like the saints and reformers of history, like Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther and in our modern day Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa—these people have called us to see the face of God in new places and in new ways, and it has never been easy.

Today, in the global Christian world, it is gay and lesbian Christians who are called to this unlikely witness. Many do not want to hear it. They cannot imagine that people once so scorned should now claim (and exercise) a priestly role in proclaiming God’s love to all. But we are always surprised by God. God comes to us right where we don’t expect, right in the midst of the messiness and ordinariness of life, and with a human face—the face of Jesus in our neighbor: black or white, male or female, gay or straight. And not just somewhere far away, in Haiti or Zimbabwe or Afghanistan, but here, in this city, in this neighborhood—and most of all, right in the middle of our lives. Right now! Amen.

Sermon given on January 31, 2010, at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church, North Hollywood, Calinfornia.

R. Guy Erwin, Ph.D.
Gerhard & Olga J. Belgum Professor of Lutheran Confessional Theology;
Professor of Religion and History;
Chair of the Department of Languages and Cultures, 2000
California Lutheran University

See Prof. Erwin's full profile.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reflections on Reconciling in Christ Sunday, Lord of Light, Ann Arbor

Reflections on Reconciling in Christ Sunday from Judith A. Moldenhauer, member of Lord of Light Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

I have been asked to “tell my story” today, my story as a lesbian in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). I doubt that any of the people who planned today’s Reconciling in Christ (RIC) service realized how significant the concept of storytelling is to my professional research and work nor the value that I place on personal storytelling as a way to effect changes in hearts and minds.

Professionally, I am a graphic designer and design educator whose focus is information design. As an information designer, I develop strategies that enable people to get, understand, and use information that they need to live their lives. . . . Designers must find ways to make information personally meaningful for individuals. In other words, that information must resonate with and make a connection with an individual’s personal experience. The methodology that I advocate for personalizing information is storytelling. What I do is learn the story of the information and the story of people’s experiences – their thoughts, action, and emotions – with this (or similar kinds of) information and then interweave these stories to create a new story in which the content and presentation of the information is shaped by the informational needs of those who use the information.

This past August the ELCA church-wide assembly voted to affirm full-inclusion of glbt – that is, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender – people into the life of the church. No longer do glbt pastors and seminarians have to choose between their love of God and their love of their partners. Now pastors and congregations can, without fear of sanctions, bless same-sex couples. This change in policy came about through years of work and advocacy of so many talented and committed people. But I think what made the difference – and what was at the heart of all the work and effort – were our stories: the stories of glbt people who were convinced of the love of God in their lives and the stories of their families and friends who knew that God’s love embraces us all. The stories of people like Brad Schmeling, Emily Eastwood, Jim Bischoff, Phyllis Zillhart, and Anita Hill are stories of faith, hope, and a desire to serve the church as individuals who happen to be gay and lesbian. Their stories (and many more like them) put faces on the term “homosexual”; their stories – and all our glbt stories – turn the abstraction of “gay” into the personal of “me.” I am not an abstraction; I am not a stereotype. I am, like you, created in the image of God, am blessed by grace through the life and death of Jesus, and am empowered by the Holy Spirit.

And so my story – my role – as an open lesbian in the ELCA, while nothing compared to the stories of those who have been affected most deeply by the anti-gay policies of the ELCA or who have spent incredible amounts of time and energy working to change those policies, has been the willingness to be one of those faces of glbt people in the church. Through my participation and very presence in various activities in the ELCA, I have served as an example that “homosexuality” is not an abstraction, that a gay Christian is not an oxymoron, and that I am not a threat to your faith because I am a gay Christian or because God’s loving embrace is for all of us. My story – like the story of every glbt person in the ELCA – is the personalization of the information that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. My story is simply that I stand among you and that I, like you, have experienced the joys and frustrations of life but most importantly, have experienced God’s grace and forgiveness.

A number of years ago, then Southeast Michigan Synod Bishop Bob Rimbo held a series of synod-wide conversations on the subject of homosexuality and the ELCA. These conversations were open to all members of all the synod’s congregations. At the first of these sessions, people were seated at tables and asked to discuss the subject with each other. The people at my table took turns expressing their feelings. The first to speak were two men who were especially vocal about disliking glbt people. They began by expounding on the “gay agenda,” stating that they don’t associate with gays and lesbians, would not want their kids taught by “those people,” and that if gays and lesbians wanted to be in the church then they should change their ways and “be like the rest of us.” One person at the table timidly mentioned having a gay relative; another thought a co-worker might be gay.

By the luck of the draw, I was the last to speak: “As a lesbian…” I began. The two guys who disliked glbt folks dropped their jaws in surprise and the others were suddenly paying close attention. The two guys acknowledged that they had never been around a gay person before (ha! – at least that’s what THEY thought!) let alone been in conversation with a gay or lesbian person. The others at the table asked questions and at the end of the session thanked me for my comments and said that they were now encouraged to talk with their relative and co-worker and to hear their stories. I have no idea where these people are now in their faith journey, but at least, because of our conversation, glbt people were no longer an abstraction but real human beings and, just maybe, could also be thought of as brothers and sisters in Christ.

My life as a glbt person in the ELCA is inexorably intertwined with my life at Lord of Light Lutheran Church – and the story of Lord of Light (LOL). After learning of the vote for full-inclusion at church-wide this August, I talked what other parishioners about the vote meant for LOL and how it would affect things here. We all agreed that the vote did not change anything at LOL – LOL has been practicing full-inclusion all along. Rather it meant that the ELCA was now catching up with LOL. I don’t know where I would be today without LOL. At LOL I found a community welcoming of glbt persons – we participate in worship, church council, committees, study groups, and service activities. As a campus ministry, LOL fosters questioning and supports each person’s faith journey.

My involvement with glbt advocacy in the ELCA is grounded in my life at LOL. Through LOL I was introduced to Lutherans Concerned/North America (LCNA) – attending local chapter meetings and national conferences, and doing some design work for Lutherans Concerned such as the worship resource for same-sex blessings. I have been on the Southeast Michigan Synod Gay and Lesbian Task Force and was on the ELCA Gay and Lesbian Hospitality task force, for which I designed the resulting resource materials (I used a photo of the front door of LOL for the poster!). LOL was the nexus for the 1997 Knutson conference, “The Gifts We Offer, The Burdens We Bear.” Phil Knutson, after whom the conferences are named and funded, was a gay man and ELCA pastor and the brother of our own Mary Olson. Pastor Sue Sprowls was the LOL intern that year and was very involved with the conference planning. I, too, was on the planning committee and designed the conference materials (ads, registration forms, programs, etc. – and the poster for the conference that hangs in the narthex today).

I have attended special conferences, such as the Reconciling Church conference in Minneapolis, that helped keep the need for full-inclusion before the national church. I served on the initial Extraordinary Candidacy Committee for seminarians who were dropped by their regular Candidacy Committees after revealing their sexual orientation and refusing to deny the gift of same-sex partners. I also served on the board of Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries (LLGM), which was formed in response to the 1990 censure (and later expulsion) of St. Francis and United Lutheran congregations in San Francisco who called two lesbians and a gay man as pastors. LLGM provided financial and spiritual support to congregations and ministries that called glbt pastors. (LLGM is now ELM, Extraordinary Lutheran Minstries.) I have served on the board of Lutheran Human Relations Association (LHRA), a voice for peace and justice, as its glbt representative. I have helped out with discussions of glbt issues at LOL, designed bulletins for RIC Sunday services, and shared in LOL services that celebrated the lives and gifts of glbt people. LOL hosted a memorial service in the wake of the murder of Matthew Shepard and it was at that service that I first heard Ann Arbor’s OutLoud Chorus perform. I was so moved by their performance that I later joined the Chorus.

The leadership at LOL has been unfailing in its support of glbt people. The pastors who have served LOL and whom I know and love – Galen Hora, John Rollefson, and Sue Sprowls – have been tireless advocates, committed to and actively engaged in changing attitudes and ELCA policies towards glbt people. I was so proud of and humbled by John Rollefson’s response to the following question that was once asked of him, “What if the church threatens you with sanctions for performing same-sex blessings?” “I’ll keep doing them,” he said. “I have to follow my conscience.” And I am so grateful to Pastor Sue for her vote at the ELCA assembly that has now made full-inclusion a reality. LOL’s glbt support has flowed over to providing internship opportunities for glbt seminarians and for seminarians who strongly pro-glbt. I have been privileged to be on several intern support committees.

My partner, Julia, and I have been together 25 years and that is almost as long as I have been at LOL (26 years). She has lived through all my involvement with glbt advocacy in the ELCA and has seen my hopes for change in the church rise and fall over the years. At times she would ask why I kept going to conferences and meetings when it seemed like things were not going to change. Why would I want to belong to an organization that did not want me in it? Goodness knows that I was sometimes tempted to chuck it all and, until this past August, never really knew if I would see change in my lifetime. What kept me going was a comment that I heard at a Lutherans Concerned conference long ago: the ELCA is my home, too. We simply need to make room for each other; no one should be asked to leave or feel unwelcome. God’s love encompasses us all.

Ultimately my story is the story of God’s wide-flung love for all people and all of creation. It’s the story of Jesus’s embrace, who shares my pain and grief, my hope and joy, and says, “I am with you always.” It’s the story of the Holy Spirit’s presence through the lives of those around me who are the blessings in my life. My story isn’t heroic or remarkable, but it’s God’s gift to me and if my story helps someone understand that glbt people are part of God’s plan for the ELCA, then my story has a purpose – to help the ELCA create its own new inclusive story.

Many thanks to all who have made my story possible – especially to you, the community of LOL. Thanks for your welcome, thanks for your presence in my life, and for the light of God in your hearts that shines through your words and actions. You live the Gospel, welcoming all as Jesus did. Through your generosity and hospitality, you are helping to create more stories that will contribute to making the church a welcoming home for everyone.

Judith A. Moldenhauer
Lord of Light Lutheran Church
Ann Arbor, Michigan

A somewhat longer version of these reflections is available here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The RIC Journey of Trinity Lutheran Church, Pullman, WA

In celebration of this past week's RIC Sunday, we pass along the following story from a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Pullman, Washington:

Trinity Lutheran (Pullman, Washington) began its journey to become a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation in September 2007 when a member read in The Lutheran that comments on the latest Sexuality Social Statement draft were due in November—and we hadn’t even seen the draft yet! We formed a dedicated group of about a dozen people and called ourselves the Inclusivity Group. We met monthly and planned educational events to raise the consciousness of our congregation about who was not at the table.

We started with a Bible study on Galatians. Then, Pastor Bradley Schmeling (St. John's Lutheran, Atlanta, Georgia) came in April 2008 and made two excellent presentations to us, opening many hearts and minds. Pastor Mark Chavez (from the organization Lutheran CORE) came later in the year to talk to us about what the Bible says about homosexuality—and many more opinions were solidified about what kind of congregation we wanted to be.

In January 2009 we held cottage meetings, watched the RIC video It’s About Being Church, and asked ourselves “What would be the best and worst things that would happen if we became RIC?” One member remarked that, more than any other issue ever discussed at our church, this issue of who is welcome made us really examine what the congregation truly believes—and we knew we wanted to be part of an all-inclusive church. Another member said, “The worst thing that would happen is that other churches in the community would say, ‘Look at those Lutherans, they let in anybody and everybody.’ And isn’t that what church is all about?”

We also held a story-telling event where a person of color, a disabled person, a mother of a Down syndrome child, the brother of a lesbian, the parents of a lesbian with two children, and a child of the parish who is a lesbian, all talked about what it is like to be “the other,” the outsider, and what being accepted in a faith community means to them.

Finally, we were ready for a vote. We voted 89% in favor of becoming an RIC congregation. We wrote a welcoming statement and received our RIC certificate in April 2009, and held a special celebration in September to commemorate our new identity. Members and pastors of other community churches came to celebrate with us and gave us a quilt with prayers attached.

Since we became RIC, we have really seen an increase in diversity in our congregation. We have been welcoming more people of color, more LGBT people, more people from other countries. We are changing, becoming more open and more intentionally welcoming to all people. Our programming revolves around living hospitality. This year, our Lenten journey will center on the film Lars and the Real Girl, a story of tolerance and acceptance. We will hear from community groups who work with the disabled and “outsiders” and how we can help them with their work. We will hear sermons about outsiders in the Bible who were called by God to use their gifts in service. We are learning what it really means to be welcoming, and the RIC process really helped us to open our hearts and our minds to “the other.”

Mary Lauver
Trinity Lutheran Church
Pullman, Washington

Monday, February 1, 2010

Yes We CAN . . . live together faithfully

Here are a couple stories that came across the wire over the weekend: examples of congregation members working together to live together faithfully amidst disagreement.

A few months back, leaders of the largest ELCA congregation in North Dakota, Hope Lutheran (about 10,000 members), had decided to suspend contributions to the ELCA's national offices. However, on January 28, the congregation voted at its annual meeting to lift that ban, voting to send $10,000 to the ELCA.

As the Fargo news outlet InForum reports:
George Koeck, a Hope Lutheran member, said he proposed the amendment Thursday because he believes “that the fundamental mission of Hope, to encourage all people to know the love of Christ, is far more important than differences of belief we may have on human sexuality.”
(You can get the full InForum article here, but you need to subscribe.)

The South Washington County Bulletin (also a subscriber service) reports that a similar thing happened at St. Luke Lutheran in Cottage Grove, Minnesota. Recently, congregation members voted to restore $15,000 in funding, reversing the decision by leadership to stop supporting the ELCA.