I often remark that I find it amusing that the first person to whom I came out was a pastor. That was in 2011 and all the more remarkable because it came on the heels of graduating from a college of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the culmination of just over twenty years of growing up in that conservative, fundamentalistic tradition. That pastor to whom I came out ended up being the reason I gave his church—and the church—a second chance, and just over four years later, I would write of my call to public ministry in my endorsement essay (the second of three steps in the ordination process for my denomination): “I want to in some small way be for others what that pastor was for me—that is, an instrument of affirmation and reconciliation.”
Fast forward to this past April: I was sitting in the chapel at St. Francis Retreat Center, just outside of San Francisco, for my first Proclaim gathering. I knew only a small sliver of the folks assembled in that room for Eucharist. But then something amazing happened: we read a litany. It was a historical litany, marking momentous occasions in the history of LGBTQ+ persons in the life of the church—including the dates of so-called “extraordinary” ordinations (those not officially recognized by the denomination) and those that have happened since the ELCA’s 2009 vote to affirm LGBTQ+ persons in ministry. As the litany was read, those who were present were invited to stand as they heard their names and respond “This is my body!” They were also passed a ball of red yarn, holding on to part of the string before tossing it to the next person, and so forth.
The text of the litany was printed in the worship bulletin, and so I could see where it ended: with a list of names symbolizing the future of Proclaim, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and the wider church. My name, too, was on that list, and I, too, held part of that strand of yarn. Before long, everyone in that chapel was literally connected by a single red string of yarn, and even though I still did not know many of these people, I knew I was a part of that group, a part of the larger cloud of witnesses, both living and sainted, on whose shoulders I stand as I continue to navigate my own journey in ministry. This is my body.
When I think about LGBTQ+ History Month, I think of my own personal history, and I think of that first pastor to whom I came out and all the fabulous trailblazing queer pastors and rostered leaders who have made it possible for me to do what I love and that to which I am lovingly called by God. And I know, too, that as the years go by, my name will move further and further back on that litany of names and ordinations and that I will be a part of someone else’s history. It’s an incredibly exciting—and nerve-wracking—vision, but one I believe can be said of all LGBTQ+ persons in and preparing for ministry.
Dean Esther Menn quoted a verse from Isaiah during my incoming class’s orientation week: “[Thus says the LORD…] I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43.19). Now, she was talking about the new curriculum, and Isaiah was talking about something else entirely. But when I hear these words—I am about to do a new thing—I hear God’s promise as encapsulated by the ELCA tagline: “Always Being Made New.” Our church is always being made new, and God is constantly up to new things. Who knows what the future of mainline Protestantism and our small denomination within it will look like in ten, twenty, fifty years? But I do know that queer people will continue to be a part of it. Our gifts for ministry are important, and our history is a rich one. Our future, too, is one of promise. God is doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it?