Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rev. Craig Minich: Believing It

One year after the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Decisions, we take a look at how the actions affected one ELM pastor... 

Rev. Craig Minich
My reflection on my experiences on the first Sunday after Easter, 2010.

By Rev. Craig Minich

When I was asked to preach at Trinity Lutheran Church in Oakland (one of the churches who are part of the collaborative youth ministry, called the East Bay Lutheran Youth Program), I was unprepared for what was to unfold for me in the life of the church, my ministry, and my faith. I knew that I would be preaching on the first Sunday after Easter (an opportunity, as a youth pastor, I am offered consistently each year) and that the Gospel would undoubtedly be the 'Doubting Thomas' text. As an out gay man ordained Extra Ordinem on February 18th, 2001 and rostered by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) I had a pretty good idea what I would be focusing on for my sermon.  

The ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August of 2009 had passed a resolution to roster qualified gay and lesbian pastors who are in "publically-accountable, life-long, and monogamous relationships."  As a pastor who is gay and in a partnered relationship this was welcome news.  As an out gay pastor, who has been doing ministry with the "yes" of ELM for 10 years while still standing in principled non-compliance against the ELCA's policy of exclusion against GLBT pastors, their "no," this day seemed like it would never come.  In the midst of that astounding vote in August, even though I wanted to believe it, I found myself saying to myself, "I'll believe it when I see it."  I know how slow the church can move, I know the institution can take a long time to codify it's policies, and hence when dealing with the institution, I 'don't count my chickens before they hatch.'  I have been disappointed before, and I knew from experience that until the policy is officially changed, I had reason to be careful.  I wanted to celebrate with straight clergy allies who came up to me effusively saying things like, "aren't you happy!" and "great news, huh?"  In those situations, I found myself only being able to smile tersely, all the while thinking to myself, "I'll believe it when I see it."

The road to policy change has long indeed.  Shortly after the August Assembly in 2009, we were told that November was the date to look forward to when the Conference of Bishops would next meet.  As November came and went, we were told that it would be March 2010 until a decision would be made at the next Conference of Bishops meeting.  As the winter months passed, more and more colleagues congratulated me and said things like, "we did it! - the day is here."  Again, I would smile tersely and think to myself, "The day is not here yet... I'll believe it when I see it."

As the Bishops deliberated in March 2010 about requiring the 're-ordination' of ELM pastors who had been ordained Extra Ordinem by ELM and their calling congregation(s), my "believe it when I see it" position was in full gear.  "See," I would say to myself, "see the day is not here."  And yet, as that meeting continued, word began to spread that transformation was occurring in their ranks and the offensive notion (and the theological contradiction) of re-ordination was off the table!  Surprised and heartened by this unexpected change of course, I knew that this was simply a recommendation from the Conference of Bishops that would still need to be ratified by the ELCA Church Council meeting in April 2010, and I was not confident that that would happen either.  My wounded heart which had been betrayed so many times by the ELCA, still echoed the phrase that Thomas uttered after Christ's crucifixion in the presence of his Lord, "I'll believe it when I see it"...

As those weeks spilled into April, still more people were anticipating celebration at the implementation of the change, yet I was still with Thomas "I'll believe it when I see it."  So as I prepared my sermon the week after Easter, I knew exactly what I would preach.  I would share with this congregation my experiences with the August resolution, the November postponing of decisions, the March transformation, and the April discussions at the ELCA Church Council.  I would share with this - one of my five - congregations that I longed to celebrate the direction of changes in the ELCA in regard to gay and lesbian clergy who are in relationship, but that I had found myself over the last 8 months instead repeating my frustrated mantra "I'll believe it when I see it."  As I finished preparing my sermon on Saturday morning which named that reality which I have just explained, and yet went on to proclaim my assurance of God's love presence with me in my struggle, and by extension God's presence with all of us in each of our struggles - God's grace showered on us all - I read of the results of the ELCA  Church Council.  

They had voted to ratify the Conference of Bishops proposal and voted to implement the policy changes necessary to receive gay and lesbian clergy in relationship onto synodical rosters of the ELCA.  I was stunned, I was dumb-struck... and I didn't know what I was going to preach the following day.

I found myself throughout that day overwhelmed with emotion - this was the day and I indeed now I did believe it.  I also prayed and prayed continually and found myself compelled to sing the song 'This is the air I breathe" on endless loop in my mind.  Throughout that day, into my dreams that night and into the next morning as I walked to the pulpit to read the Gospel, that is the song that did not cease.  As I walked to the pulpit, I was again overtaken with emotion as I felt the weight of those GLBT pastors and seminarians who had gone before me, many of whom had been driven out of the church, and many others who were living half-lives in the Church's closet.  I found myself completely overwhelmed and humbled to have been called to serve in my ministry for the last 10 years with this and 5 other congregations who had said "yes," in the face of the ELCA's "no."  I found myself humbled to be called to proclaim the Gospel this day, to be asked to preach this day in the midst of such profoundly Divine irony. 

I could not get the first word out, my grief and tears welled up so quickly.  I sobbed my way through the Gospel reading, a reading that seemed to take ages, and I cried as I confessed at it's conclusion, that "I was OK, no one has died."  I jettisoned my prepared sermon, and I preached from the depths of my heart, sharing what had happened the previous day (which most people had not heard about yet), sharing my surprise, and sharing that what I had intended to preach, was no longer the case.  A new day had come, one that I had a hard time embracing at first, and yet here we were, we were at this day and their was no denying it.  I could experience the change in the ELCA and feel their welcome in a new way, believing that this day had finally arrived, but more important than that, I shared that all along my journey to get to this day, I had seen the risen Christ like Thomas along the way, and I indeed, like Thomas, believed.

Rev. Craig Minich who serves the East Bay Lutheran Youth Program was received onto the ELCA roster of ordained ministers on Sunday, July 25. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Rev. Jenny Mason Reinstated to ELCA Roster

I am very happy to the share the news that Rev. Jenny Mason (pictured at right) has been reinstated to the ELCA roster of ordained ministers.

Rev. Jenny Mason served as an ELCA missionary in Santiago, Chile before being removed from the ELCA clergy roster in 2001 because she was an openly lesbian woman in relationship. Jenny then served as Associate Pastor at Central City Lutheran Mission (CCLM) in San Bernardino, California, which was disciplined by the Synod for installing Jenny. This resulted in the loss of both funding and official ELCA status as a congregation in development for this unique social ministry and active worship community.

Jenny holds a Master of Divinity degree from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, OH, and a Doctorate of Ministry in Proclamation from the Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago. Jenny moved to the Twin Cities in 2005 to live with her partner, the Rev. Jodi Barry, and now works as a Congregational Partnership Organizer for a faith-based developer of affordable housing.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rev. Dale Poland Reinstated to ELCA Roster

It is with great joy that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries announces that Rev. Dale Poland (pictured at right) has been reinstated to the ELCA roster of ordained pastors!

Please check our blog later this week for a personal reflection from Pastor Dale about the experience of being reinstated to the ELCA roster.

Rev. Dale Poland was ordained in 1991. He was removed from the ELCA roster in 2003 because he is gay. Rev. Poland has been a member of the ELM roster since then, serving for two years as chaplain to the roster. Rev. Poland serves as a hospice chaplain in the Boulder, CO area and is a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Denver, CO.

Monday, August 23, 2010

ELM featured on Minnesota Public Radio

Minnesota Public Radio is featuring stories about the ELCA 2009 vote titled 'A Church Divided, Together:

"We explore the effect of the August 21st, 2009 vote allowing gay pastors to serve as clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America through the stories of Lutherans in the Public Insight Network."

ELM co-chair and pastor Jen Nagel is interviewed here about the ELCA one year after the historic vote. ELM's Executive Director Amalia Vagts is featured in a story here.

This project will have ongoing articles about ELM so expect more updates soon.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sept 18 Saint Paul Area Synod Rite of Reception

Three pastors rostered with Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries anticipate official reception to the ELCA Clergy Roster. Rev. Anita Hill (left), Rev. Phyllis Zillhart (bottom left), Rev. Ruth Frost (right)

Saturday, September 18, 2010, 2 - 4 p.m.; Party to follow
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
285 North Dale St, Saint Paul, MN
Presider: Rev. Peter Rogness, Bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod
Preacher: Rev. Barbara Lundblad, Union Theological Seminary

Service hosted by St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church.
Clergy and Rostered Leaders are invited to vest. The color is green. Please arrive by 1:15 p.m. to join the procession.

A Ticketed Dinner & Dance benefiting Wingspan Ministry, Lutherans Concerned/North America and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries will be held at 7 pm that evening.

Extraordinary Meeting

Sunday, July 25 was extraordinary for a number of reasons, as you've read here previously. An unexpected happy occurrence was an unplanned gathering of all 8 founding members of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project.

From left to right-Jack Elliott, Mari Irvin, Sherry Mattson, Jeff Johnson, Margaret Moreland, Stan Olson, Greg Egertson, Elizabeth Thompson.

The group gathered for an impromptu photo shoot and a few shared memories. It was quite amazing for all gathered to see this group together. This group's prophetic work to credential and authorize gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people for ministry in the Lutheran Church has meant that openly LGBT people have been able to follow a call to ministry for nearly 20 years in the Lutheran church. Amazing work! Amazing people!