Sunday, March 30, 2014

In the News: West Hawaii Today

George Keanaaina right picks out eyeglass frames with help from Laurel Kapros at Saturday's Vision Event, sponsored by The Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity and the Welcome Ministry of San Francisco at the Old Airport Makaeo Events Pavilion. Laura Shimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today

By Bret Yager, West Hawaii Today

Debbi Sale lives under a makeshift shelter of tarps in Kona. She and her husband Vance cook on a one-burner stove and use public restrooms across the street. They live on Vance’s Social Security check and improvise the rest.

So the Sales were grateful for a couple of hot meals and the chance to get vision screening and new glasses at the Old Kona Airport Park’s Makaeo Events Pavilion on Saturday.

“I’m totally blind in my right eye from cataracts,” said Debbi Sale, picking through a table of free clothing. “I have glasses but they’re the kind you buy for $10 at Longs.”

Some 35 volunteers registered and screened 70 people and served meals to more than 100.

Cindy Hall, leader of the Help Everyone Regardless of Outcome ministry, is on a first name basis with many of them. That’s because her work with Kona’s homeless puts her out on the street almost daily on “mission walks.” When the 73 pairs of glasses arrive in the mail, she’ll be on another walk, delivering them one by one to haunts where she knows the dispossessed dwell.

“We’re here to be of service to our brothers and sisters. We’re here to love our neighbors,” said Hall, who brought in food throughout the day, starting with a pancake and sausage breakfast.

After receiving an eye exam, participants were able to order frames. They were also able to get blood pressure and diabetes screening and a haircut. The event was a partnership between Kailua-Kona’s Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity and the Welcome Ministry from San Francisco. It was funded by a $2,500 grant from the Grace Family Foundation.

Pastor Megan Rohrer of the Welcome Ministry, her mother, Peggy Heard, and grandmother, Darlene Audus, bathed the feet of the homeless at a washing station. The three generations, all from the mainland, also applied lotion to the often cracked and ragged feet.

“You can get everything. Food, haircut. These people are good. They take care of everybody on the street,” said Freddie Winkle, sitting on the lawn outside the pavilion.

Ophthalmologist Susan Senft of Island Eye Care administered the eye exams with the help of an assistant.

“What could be better than helping people see?” said Eloise Schafer, a volunteer with the Lutheran Church who helped organize a table of free essentials — detergent, razors, Band-Aids, shampoo and other toiletries.

“Imagine if you can’t even see people smile at you,” Schafer said.

A man who wished to be identified only as Nick chowed down on a plate of teriyaki beef and cabbage salad. He recently got 26 stitches in his scalp after falling off a rock wall he was trying to climb.

“I lost my wife and job,” he said. “Since then I’ve just been drifting. I went up to Alaska but I got tired of the snow. I was working for Vets Helping Vets making $40 a day.”

He’s been waiting for veterans assistance for housing for two years now.

“The hardest thing,” he said, “is getting out of the homeless situation.”

- See more at:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

In the News: West Hawaii Today

Thursday, March 27, 2014, West Hawaii Today

The Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity is partnering with pastor Megan Rohrer from the Welcome Ministry in San Francisco to put on the Kona Vision Event to help homeless and low-income people with their vision needs.

The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Old Kona Airport Park’s Makaeo Event Pavilion. Susan Senft and Jenn Brown, staff at Island Eye Care, Inc., will administer free eye exams, and the Welcome Ministry will order free glasses for participants. The glasses will be delivered to the Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity and distributed by its homeless ministry. A free meal, free blood pressure and diabetes screening, and haircuts will also be offered.
For more information, call 329-5733 or visit

- See more at:

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fred Phelps is Dead and I am Not - Is This God's Will Too?

What if Fred Phelps is right and we can see God's will in the deaths of others?  What then does it mean that Phelps is dead and I am alive?  Is God letting us know that pastors like me, with disabilities, who are gay and transgender are his hope for the future?

Having walked through a Fred Phelps picket line to go to church, I know it's not as fun as people think when they post to their Facebook wall that they would like to "live their life so that Fred Phelps would picket their funeral."  It sticks in your guts like gum on the bottom of your shoe.  It shapes you. And if it doesn't deflate you, it helps you become stronger in your faith and able to stand up to everyone who lies when they tell people that they are beyond God's love.

Although many people have given up on the church because of the kinds of hate theology that some Christians have loudly spread with the help of consenting news and radio shows.  Fred Phelps was a self proclaimed preacher of hate, who used lawsuits against individuals who were unable to control their anger and their fists during his protests.

For me, the most enduring vision of the group is not their fiery hate speech or their sexually explicit posters, it's the vision of young children holding these signs.  Many if not most of the protesters who went out in the name of the Westboro Baptist Church were his grandchildren. 

For others it was the exploitation of the AIDS epidemic, the death of soldiers and the protest of mourning families who helped many see through the thinly veiled "theology" to the true core of the message - hate. 

I firmly believe that it is important for people of faith to live out their beliefs, to follow the call that they discern from God.  I believe this even when I think God has called me to live out opposite beliefs.  This comes from my Lutheran roots and from wisdom that ascends through the years from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

When I preach and teach I do so based on my faith.  But, I always leave open the possibility that I am wrong.  I listen and sometimes engage in dialogue with those who not only disagree, but believe that I am evil. 

Because, unlike those who are holding signs and yelling on tv, I am the one whose relationship with God is at stake.  Contrary to their assumptions, I care more than they do if God loves me or not.

I choose to believe that the children's song is true: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells Me so."  Those who think I'm wrong would say that I'm just believing what makes myself feel better.  Thankfully, Paul has a better answer than I could ever give:
"38For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8)

Phelps and I are/were convinced that our interpretations of the Book of Romans is what God wants us to share with the world.  So let's pretend for a moment that Fred Phelps is right and that you can tell God's will by who is alive and who is dead.  Then this transgender pastor, serving at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco is all the proof you need that God LOVES .... well, all us internet using, people who write with typos, occasionally trip on the sidewalk, do our best to love, trying to pay down our debt folk.

You can also add any of the other labels that people get grumpy about:      
LUTHERAN                     GAY                                       TRANSGENDER                          DISABLED                      FEMALE BODIED                OVER WEIGHT
SAN FRANCISCAN        DIVORCED                           ADHD
AUTISTIC SPECTRUM         LEFT HANDED             .... or whatever other label moves you

 For those who haven't noticed yet, the world has shifted dramatically since that day when Matthew Shepard's passing brought brother Phelps fame and led to my eventually getting kicked out of my home congregation in Sioux Falls, SD.  Beyond my ability to serve as a pastor, there is expanding marriage equality, a welcome for LGBTQ folk on both sides of the altar and an expanding number of gay and lesbian bishops in mainline denominations.

My journey to become a pastor was fueled by a young man who was six and trying to commit suicide for the twelfth time.  He wanted to die before he was so bad that he wouldn't be able to go to heaven.  I wanted to become a pastor to no children of God (of any age) would ever hear a message like that from their pulpit.

Most of us have more than our fair share of shame and self-doubt.  We look in the mirror and see all the flaps and lay sleepless at night thinking of all the flubs in our speech and long to redo our past and live better.

But, no matter what anyone says, the good news does not point to a hateful God who bullies us.  I believe, the good news is that Jesus came to earth and made it possible for God to know what it is like to be vulnerable, to go through puberty, to try to love in an imperfect world and this bodily knowing compels God to be with us. 

Today I pray that the love of God find you and particularly those who gave up on the church because of the words and protests of folk like Fred Phelps.  May these hateful words pass away from our memory.  For it is really true this day, as it always was, that God's love for us endures forever.

Love to all that come to read this, whether you see it as words of hope or something to be scoffed at,

Pastor Megan Rohrer

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In the News: PQ Monthly

Pastor Megan Makes History

By David-Elijah Nahmod, Special to PQ Monthly
On Feb. 22, Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco installed Pastor Megan Rohrer as their new pastor. The well attended service, dubbed Beatles Mass (congregants sang praise lyrics to the music of The Beatles), was not only joyously uplifting, it was historic. Pastor Megan identifies as transgender.

Rohrer, who prefers the pronoun they, brings a long history of transgender and homeless advocacy to the table. Three nights a week, they walk the streets of San Francisco as part of Night Ministry, a loose network of clergy from various denominations who offer counseling, prayer, guidance and hands on support to homeless individuals.

As the congregation stood in line to receive Holy Communion from their new pastor for the first time, Megan stood before the altar, holding up the bread and wine for all to see. There were smiles of joy and peace in the faces of all those present.

Now ensconced in their new job, Pastor Megan spoke to PQ about issues that are near and dear to their heart.

PQ: Can you describe to our readers exactly what the Beatles Mass entailed?
Pastor Megan: The worship that we used at the installation was created for an evening worship service at St Aidan’s Episcopal. In the hopes of attracting young people and those new to the church, I created a Lady Gaga Mass. The service gained a lot of attention and I was able to share it at congregations around the the country.  However, Lady Gaga’s music is very complicated and much more difficult to sing than what you’d expect from a pop song. Many of the young people knew the tunes, but the older generation had a difficult time. I created the Beatles Mass because the tunes were recognized by both older and younger members and participants often leave the service feeling uplifted.

PQ: Can you share your backstory on coming out as transgender and what led you to ministry?
Pastor Megan: I grew up in South Dakota and went to a Lutheran college where I was out and encouraged to pursue my gifts for ministry. After enduring some hate crimes and religious abuse during the time following the death of Matthew Shepard, I thought it wouldn’t be possible to become an LGBT pastor in the Lutheran church. Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkley encouraged me to continue my studies and I moved to the Bay Area in 2002. In June of that year I began working as the Executive Director of the Welcome Ministry, where I continue to support, feed, and find creative ways to help the homeless and hungry improve their quality of life. With programs at Lutheran congregations around San Francisco we’ve created community gardens that have given away over 5.4 tons of produce. Through partnering with Project Homeless Connect, we’ve given away almost 200 pairs of glasses in the past five months  and provided groceries for HIV positive individuals.

PQ: Are there many trans people in ministry?
Pastor Megan: I meet annually with a group of about 150 transgender pastors and faith leaders from diverse faiths at a retreat hosted by the Center For Lesbian and Gay Studies in Berkeley. We talk about how we can show support and learn from each other, and the best practice for sharing our stories, advocating for trans individuals, and our own employment needs. There may be many more than that, but some people choose not to be open about their transgender status after they transition. This is why I use the words openly transgender in my identification.

PQ: It is difficult for them to find accepting congregations?
Pastor Megan: Many transgender pastor faith leaders work in specialized ministry to support vulnerable populations. When it comes to faithfully serving LGBT individuals or the homeless, being transgender is often an asset. Very few openly transgender pastors are able to find work leading a congregation. I believe this will change as society becomes more welcoming and understanding of transgender issues.

PQ: Will you be doing trans outreach at Grace Lutheran?
Pastor Megan: We take the name Grace seriously, so we will be doing outreach to people of all shapes and sizes. The congregation is enthusiastic about welcoming everyone, particularly those of us who have been lied to and told that they’re not good enough to be part of a faith community.

PQ: Can you address some of the hardships that transgenders face in their daily lives?
Pastor Megan: People who live outside of society’s cultural gender norms have experienced violence, arrest, and loss of jobs for centuries. I have personally been yelled at in bathrooms and inappropriately touched by people who think my gender identity means that my private parts are up for grabs. I’ve also provided pastoral support to transgender youth who’ve been kicked out of their homes, set on fire, sexually or physically assaulted, robbed or arrested. Many others live in fear that this violence could come at any moment.

PQ: What’s being done to change this?
Pastor Megan: As transgender issues gain more attention in the media and with LGBTQ church groups who are educating congregations, society is beginning to understand the diversity of experiences transgender people take. Within most faith and Christian denominations, there are groups of trans individuals working to help their branch of faith become aware of the issues that affect transgender people. The Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Department has excellent resources for faith communities and I have worked with them and other trans pastors to create preaching reassures for pastors to use with their congregations.

Lutherans have a group called Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries who have been very helpful for my journey and advocate not only for LGBTQ pastors, but also those in school training to become pastors as they go through the church credentialing process.

PQ: Can you describe how you felt at your installation?
Pastor Megan: My tears of weeping have turned to tears of joy. Many people were surprised that Grace called me because they weren’t at the forefront of gay pride parades or lobbying for LGBTQ folks at the church. They did not call a transgender pastor to make a statement, they called me because they like my sermons, bible study and ideas for growing the congregation. This is the future I want for the church and the world, a vision that sees beyond color and identity and embodies the all encompassing love of God.

Read Pastor Megan’s blog:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Are you a pastor, rostered lay leader or seminarian who identifies as both trans* and Lutheran?

Trans* identified pastors, rostered lay leaders and seminarians join me, Pastor Megan Rohrer, for a conference call at 6pm PST/8pm CST/9pm EST on March 17, 2014.

Depending on who joins us, we may do some or all of the following: meet and greet, share a little about our context, learn about Proclaim and ELM (a group that advocates for professional LGBTQ future and present Lutheran leaders), talk about how we can support each other and/or dream about the future.

Please save this link somewhere important, like my Facebook page or email to get connected to updates about this call.  Also, let me know if you'd like email updates about the call or to be included in future calls or events.    For example, if you are a Lutheran pastor, rostered lay leader or seminarian who has a trans* family member whom you you might want to have covered on ELCA insurance at some point, please be in touch because some of the issues we will talk about might also affect you.

Please share this blog post freely with anyone you think might be interested. I've made this post instead of a facebook event to protect the identity of people that might be invited. Please help us create a safe place for low and non disclosers, by inviting people using private messages, public bulletin boards or via email to this meeting.

"Trans*" Poster