Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In the News: LCNA - RIC Sunday with the Metro Portland Chapter

Lutherans Concerned: RIC Sunday with the Metro Portland Chapter:

The following is a guest post from Vicky Charlston of the Lutherans Concerned/Portland Metro Chapter. Vicky shares her experience of the chapter’s worship celebration of Reconciling in Christ Sunday.

“We Shall Overcome Someday…”

We sang this verse as part of the seventh RIC worship service sponsored by the Portland Metro Chapter of Lutherans Concerned/North America. Lutherans from Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington gathered for the RIC Sunday celebration at First Immanuel Church in Northwest Portland. Pastor Megan Rohrer preached and spoke of the beginnings of Lutherans Concerned thirty-six years ago around the same time that a group of gay youth in San Francisco yearned for a Lutheran worship service where they felt safe and welcome.

Pr. Megan Rohrer preaching the Gospel

The service was a time of remembering how far the ELCA has come in its relationship with the GLBT community and how far is left to go before everyone feels truly welcome in our churches.

Megan also spoke of the ELCA pastors who were called to serve even though they were gay and partnered and how they were subsequently dismissed from the ELCA. Many of them, along with Pastor Rohrer, were recently welcomed back by the ELCA in Rites of Reception and reinstatements over the past few months. Yes, “We Shall Overcome Today…”

Some time for fellowship with Pr. Rohrer and Regional Coordinator Paul Jolly

Pastor Rohrer spent Saturday with chapter members and friends as well. At a catered dinner at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vancouver, WA, she spoke at length about how she ministers to those who can’t (or won’t, or simply don’t) come inside the church walls. By coordinating community gardens and feeding homeless people in San Francisco as well as by listening to their needs, she creates community with them. Megan continued her story at the adult education class on Sunday morning at Central Lutheran Church in Portland.

Captivated listeners as the RIC celebration continues!

One person summed up the weekend this way: “Megan’s story, from her growing up in South Dakota through her recent reception in July onto the ELCA roster as a transgender Lutheran pastor, brought tears to my eyes—tears of frustration for what was endured and tears of joy for what was accomplished. Add her incredible ministry to the street people in San Francisco and her new venture into community gardening, and I was left with a sense of ministry that meets people where they are and provides what they need. What a “wow” experience.”

Thanks to Vicky and to Jim Morrell for providing the blog post and accompanying images! To hear Pastor Rohrer's sermon, visit (sorry, no transcription is currently available). If you’d like to learn more about the Portland Metro Chapter, sign up for their mailing list.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Frozen-Turkey Evangelism: Living Lutheran Blog

Very well-meaning Christians of a congregation in San Francisco, whose yearly hunger ministry budget is over 4 million dollars, go on television and radio every Thanksgiving and Christmas to encourage people to help the homeless have a festive holiday.

They ask themselves, “If I were homeless what would be something that I would want?” The answer is, of course, a turkey. They collect funds and give out thousands and thousands of frozen turkeys to the homeless.

The rub is that the homeless do not have ovens. This is the folly of thinking that we can imagine what other people need or want.

Well-meaning congregations across the country discover that their really great ideas to help others or to get people in the door is “frozen-turkey evangelism.”

Sometimes these attempts serve only to remind the neighborhood that the congregation is out of touch with the very people and communities the congregation is trying to do outreach among.

I wish that I could say that when it comes to evangelism ELCA congregations are better at listening and being truly useful to the communities around them. But, Lutherans often get both stewardship and evangelism backward.

Read the rest of the blog at:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

the runaway youth that flee congregations

You may have heard about the work that I'm doing in San Francisco with runaway and throwaway youth who have fled congregations, families and communities that they thought they would or actually were rejected because of their sexuality and gender identities. If not, you can read about it at the Vanguard Revisited blog.

Today, I'm thinking about the youth that flee congregations without leaving town or their families. When I talk to congregations about the fact that youth are long known for fleeing congregations after their confirmations, they chuckle nervously and wiggle in their seats with the kind of nervousness that comes from not knowing what to do or of having tried for years without any sign that their work has helped.

In 1963, the World Council of Churches faced a similar dilemma when the heads of the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Methodist denominations gathered to come up with ideas about what to do about the fact that the baby boomers were all becoming teenagers. The denominations believed that if they lost the youth that their churches would die.

Sound familiar, contemporary churches?

So, the denominations trained pastors and lay leaders to create youth lead programs and ministry opportunities. College ministries created leadership programs and youth around the country were empowered to become a major part of the church. Theology and bible study became interested in the way that Bible spoke to people's every day lives.

This is something that people often tell me they are longing for when I visit congregations around the country, so why did this stop? The problem was that no one knew how to have boundaries and individualism at the same time. People worried that if they had any boundaries at all that the youth would flee the church and never come back. So, the individualism went way to far and church stopped looking like church.

In response to all the individualism, members of congregations began to crave structure and rules about what to believe and how to behave and churches across the country responded by reigning in on individualism and by preaching mainstream communal faith that could appeal to the majority.

Now, in the midst of unpopular wars and congregations that are falling behind the conventions of society it is time to revisit the theologies and youth led ministries that the 60's popularized. However, as people who are able to learn from our past, we need to find a balance between communal activities and extreme individualism.

So what is stopping us? Perhaps it's the fact that the youth whose individualism went too far are now the bishop's and members of church council who are afraid to trust the youth and ministers of today who want to be a part of youth led worship and groups.

So, consider this an open letter to those leaders, funders and pastors who lived benefited from youth led programing but worry that it will again go to far:

Please, forgive yourselves and the generation you were a part of. Be leaders to this new generation who deserve the chance to make the same mistakes you did. I believe that this important time in your life is what led to your ability to be strong leaders. You got to experiment, have patience with those who need to do so in order learn. Be mentors to me and other pastors who want to empower youth to lead their own activities and worship experiences. And remember that we can't do it for free. The 60's were only possible because they happened during a good economy. We need your money, without strings, to create the next generation of bishops, church council members and pastors. Please help!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

Political Notebook: Queer youth revive 1960s magazine

San Francisco in the 1960s was a beacon for LGBT youth from across the country. Yet it was far from being a safe haven for those young adults who were runaways and landed on the streets of the city's Polk and Tenderloin neighborhoods.

Back then that area of town was the Castro of its day, with numerous gay bars and residents. It was also a magnet for the queer youth moving to the city.

Once there, some turned to prostitution as a way to earn money, while others became addicted to drugs. Homosexuality was still considered a criminal act, and a sense of community was lacking for many of the youth.

The increasing numbers of queer kids on the streets soon caught the attention of both community organizers and local religious leaders. They formed some of the first gay liberation organizations as a way to provide support and services to the youth.

One such group that emerged in 1964 was the Council for Religion and the Homosexual. A collaboration between the early homophile organizations and urban ministers, its leaders secured federal War on Poverty funding that was used to start several programs for Tenderloin youth.

One of the first projects was Vanguard, the nation's first GLBT youth organization, which debuted in 1966. The following year saw the launch of Conversion Our Goal, an early transgender group, and the social services nonprofit Hospitality House, which remains in operation today.

"Vanguard was a street gang that was established. When I came the church adopted Vanguard as its youth group," recalled former Glide church pastor Larry Mamiya, who was 24 years old at the time. "We hosted dances and socials Friday and Saturday nights in the church basement. It was a mixture of straight, gay, lesbian. There were also transvestites and some transsexuals."

Looking for an outlet to express their feelings of isolation, abandonment and rage at the society at large, the Vanguard youth published their own magazine. The zine-like publication was a mixture of artwork, essays, and news reports. It sold for 25 cents.

It covered everything from opposition to the Vietnam War and the emergent hippie culture to the struggles and challenges the youth faced. Many, using pseudonyms, wrote first person accounts of their lives.

"I think Vanguard was one of the groups in the forefront of the gay movement that helped to push society to re-examine its views of gay people," said Mamiya, who is straight.

Copies of Vanguard from 1966 through 1969 remain in the archives of the GLBT Historical Society. They had been mostly overlooked, until now.

A new project has unearthed this important period of LGBT history, and a group of youth has revived Vanguard . They produced a new version of the publication called Vanguard Revisited that mixes vintage artwork and writings from the 1960s editions with their own contemporary pieces.

It will be officially released at a launch party tonight (Thursday, February 3). The 1,000 copies of the new 60-page edition will then be handed out to young adults from across the city for free.

"These aren't scripts from movies. It is real life. This is how some of these young adults are feeling about this," said Sergio Sandoval, 21, who moved to San Francisco five months ago from Atlanta.

While Sandoval, who is gay, doesn't have housing, he said he is "sheltered," meaning he relies on "nice friends" who offer him a place to stay.

He is also an artist, and created several artworks for Vanguard Revisited, including the cover art. He also interviewed a fellow youth and penned an "Open Letter to the Fags" using the alias Gotti.

The project was a way for him to express both his frustrations with the larger LGBT community and his hopefulness for the future.

"The whole project it has been super emotional," he said. "Being the transformer that I am, I just think people really need to realize that everything is not just how it seems. They really need to open their minds. People are so shallow; I need them to be a little deeper."

The genesis for the Vanguard Revisited project grew out of the Polk Street Oral History project spearheaded by Joey Plaster , 32, a consultant to the LGBT historical society and the volunteer director of its oral history program. His research led him to the archived Vanguards .

"I was immediately struck by their beauty and bluntness, and by the ways they combine themes of poverty, sex, and religion. I was also struck by how familiar the people were: I could imagine a modern-day Polk Street equivalent of each 1960s Tenderloin figure I read about in the archive," wrote Plaster in an e-mailed response to questions.

Plaster approached Megan Rohrer , 30, a transgender dyke and pastor in the Lutheran Church, about exploring the Tenderloin's queer history. They then decided to revive the Vanguard magazine and worked with Larkin Street Youth Services to find young adults interested in being part of the project.

The youth, assisted by Rohrer and Plaster, spent three months to "create a magazine that spoke to their expressed desire to enlighten youth, celebrate the queer history of the Tenderloin, and create a voice for the unheard," explained Rohrer.

They raised $23,500 from various foundations and LGBT agencies to fund their work. And the LGBT Community Center, through its youth program, signed on and provided space for the youth to meet each week.

The center and the Faithful Fools Street Ministry will continue to work with the youth Monday nights through June to determine how to move forward. One possibility is creating a second issue of Vanguard Revisited.

"If San Francisco's LGBT community knew what it was really like to be homeless queer youth, they would get motivated to fund organizations and to protest unjust laws and to give voices to those who are the most vulnerable in our community," said Rohrer, who with Plaster will bring a traveling exhibit about the Vanguard project to other cities this summer. "We were able to do that during the AIDS crisis. There are still problems happening in our community and we can do something positive about it."

Tonight's magazine release party will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at St. Francis Lutheran Church, 152 Church Street across from Safeway. It is free and open to the public.

For more information about the Vanguard project, including PDF versions of the original publications and the 2011 edition as well as recorded interviews with the youth involved, visit