Andrew Tobias Joy Nelson is a 2012 graduate of LSTC, serving his first half-time call in Chatham, NY. He’s trying to be as visible as possible about being Trans for the sake of those for whom visibility is impossible because it would put their lives and livelihoods at risk. Andrew plays french horn and is always reading four or five books at a time, though he can’t pick a favorite between Star Wars and Star Trek because the musical scores are too good. He writes in tribute to his mother, who responded to his public gender transition with the assurance that she “always knew [she] was carrying a boy.”
Two weeks ago “We Talk. We Listen.” featured a post by River Needham on transgender identity and the distinct issues their community faces. We are now continuing this discussion on Christianity and queerness with a post by Rev. Megan Rohrer, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco, and author of a FASCINATING study of Lutheran theology and queer identity succinctly titled “Queerly Lutheran.” Read, enjoy, and share!
Every Sunday during communion, pastors around the world invite angels and archangels, saints and mentors from other times and spaces to join with us in the Eucharistic feast. For the mystically minded, this moment invites a Transfiguration into our sacrament, syncs us to the rhythms of the faithful who have come before us and allows us to acknowledge our ancestors.
For those living on the margins, with few opportunities to hear about how people “like them” are a part of God’s sacred stories, this is an opportunity for us to imagine those with similar skin tone, disabilities, backgrounds, classes and struggles to be present at the altar and expand our imagined representation of who is worthy to not only receive communion, but to serve it.
My first book, Queerly Lutheran, is a collection of essays published by Wilgefortis Press in 2009 (a few months before the ELCA changed its policies to allow openly LGBT clergy stand on both sides of the communion altar). Queerly Lutheran’s appendix includes a 42 page prayer calendar of extraordinary LGBT faith leaders, bible characters, officially recognized saints and contemporary saint/sinner Lutherans who worked within the church to ensure a full inclusion of LGBTQ pastors and worshippers.
Within the prayer calendar are the stories of brave congregations and 18 openly LGBTQ pastors who ritualized the Medieval accounting of disobedient ordinations held by Martin Lutheran and recorded in the Smalcald Articles.
Before the rebellious ordination of a gay man and two lesbians in 1990, the late Bishop of Stockholm Krister Stendahl, sent his blessings and dubbed the ordinations “extraordinem” or extraordinary. During the following two decades it would take for the ELCA to change its policies, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries supported and credentialed the pastors serving in Exodus.
In 2010, when I was one of the first seven openly LGBTQ pastors (five extraordinarily ordained, one transferred from the Missouri Synod and one expelled from the ELCA by trial), we and all the clergy assembled wore green stoles, embodying the shift in our ministries to Ordinary Time.
Five years have passed since that Service of Reconciliation was held in San Francisco. Since then, countless Lutheran sinner/saint pastors have been able to live into their full fabulousness, come out and a new generation of pastors have been ordained Ordinarily.
August 16: Pastor Rev. Teresita Valeriano – On this date in 2013, Pastor Tita became the first openly LGBTQ pastor invited to participate in a pastoral role at an ELCA Churchwide Assembly. A mission developer serving in Northern California’s East Bay (near San Francisco), Pastor Tita previously served as a Regional Officer for North America at the Lutheran World Federation.
March 30th: Pastor Beate Chun – On this date in 2014, Pastor Beate (pronounced “Be”) was installed as the pastor of St. Francis Lutheran Church in San Francisco. A few years prior, in her fifties, Pastor Beate fell in love with her wife Alex.
April 26th: Pastor Matthew James – On this day in 2013, Pastor Matt, who identifies as bi-racial, Caucasian and African-American, was ordained at Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, MA. Pastor Matt is the first openly gay pastor in the Lutheran church to identify as bi-racial (Caucasian and African-American). Here is a video of his ordination.
April 26: Pastor Ángel D. Marrero-Roe – On this day in 2015, Pastor Ángel was called to develop a new congregation in the New England Synod. It is believed that Pastor Ángel is the only openly gay Latino, mother-tongue Spanish pastor serving in the ELCA.
June 8th: Pastor Andrew Nelson – On this date in 2015, the transgender LSTC alum (MDiv 2012), informed the council at Christ our Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Chatham, NY that he was changing his name to Andrew. That night, the council approved a letter to inform the congregation and Pastor Andrew began openly and courageously embodying the beautiful Lutheran that God called him to be.
July 2nd: Pastor Asher O’Callaghan – On this date in 2015, Pastor Asher was ordained at the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver in what was reported to be the first Ordinary Ordination in the ELCA of a transgender pastor. Some of the transgender pastor’s story was chronicled in Pastor Nadia Bolz-Webber’s book Pastrix. Also, The Lutheran published a piece on his ordination this past summer.
July 18th: Bishop Kevin Kanouse – On this day in 2015, Bishop Kevin came out to 400 people at the Detroit Youth Gathering. In his third term as Bishop of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area, Bishop Kevin has been married to his wife for 40 years. Read Bishop Kevins blog post about coming out at the Youth Gathering.
August 9th: Pastor Bill Kenezovich – After experiencing unimaginable child abuse to repress his own sexuality, as the pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco (where I currently serve) Pastor Bill passionately protested the election of the Extraordinarily Ordained Pastor Jeff Johnson as the Dean of the San Francisco Conference. More than two decades later, and near the edge of suicide, Pastor Bill came out to his family and then in a sermon to his congregation. Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Fresno gave Pastor Bill’s sermon a standing ovation and recently voted to welcome and affirm LGBTQ individuals in all aspects of their ministry. Read more about Pastor Bill’s story here.
September 21st: Bishop Guy Erwin – On this date in 2013, Bishop Guy became both the first Native American and openly gay bishop in the ELCA. Ordained on May 11, 2011, Bishop Guy was previously the Gerhard & Olga J. Belgum Chair of Lutheran Confessional Theology and a Professor of Religion and History at California Lutheran University. A year later on May 31, 2012 Bishop Guy was elected the Bishop of the Southwest California Synod. See video from the installation.
November 18th: Bishop-elect Daniel Harms – On this date in 2014, Pastor Dan told me the story of his election as a bishop in the Lutheran church in 1979. After the election, Bishop-elect Dan was strong armed into coming out to those assembled. Despite the reaffirmation of the election in two more ballots, the Bishop-elect was bullied into withdrawing his name before he was installed. Over the next four years, Pastor Dan fought to remain a pastor. The bishop elected in his place, asked Pastor Dan choose between remaining a pastor or divorcing his husband. Ultimately, Pastor Dan was removed from the official roster of pastors, but he remains married to his husband.
Pastor Megan Rohrer is the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran Church, is currently pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran in San Francisco, and is a contributing blogger of the ELCA’s Living Lutheran. Pastor Megan was a 2014 honorable mention as an Unsung Hero of Compassion by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, received an Honorary Doctorate from Palo Alto University, a Distinguished Alum award from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in transgender nonfiction is an award winning filmmaker and historian. You can learn more about Pastor Megan’s online “Bible Study that Doesn’t Suck”* and other creative ministry projects at www.progressivelutheran.com.
*Bible Study that Doesn’t Suck – is the name of a personal Bible study that Rev. Rohrer leads online.