Thursday, August 27, 2015

In the News: Lutheran Magazine

Extending an receiving welcome

Megan Rohrer’s path to ministry could be likened to that of Jonah. Time and again Rohrer heard God’s call to become a pastor in the urgings of professors, pastors and friends. Yet saying “yes” meant facing challenges that the lifelong Lutheran wasn’t ready to meet upon graduation from Augustana College, Sioux Falls, S.D., in 2001.

Instead, Rohrer became a counselor at the Children’s Home Society in Sioux Falls. There the call came in the whisper of a 6-year-old boy who had tried to commit suicide for the 12th time. He confided to Rohrer: “I heard in church that if you’re bad, you’ll go to hell. I know that I’m a naughty boy. I want to kill myself first before I go to hell.”

The encounter pushed Rohrer in 2001 to enroll as a master’s student of theology at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, Calif. “I realized I was going to have all these experiences happen to me,” Rohrer said. “I wanted to make sure no kid ever heard anything like that from a pulpit again.”
In the year that followed, Rohrer became executive director of Welcome, an organization of San Francisco congregations responding to homelessness in their community. In that job, God called again: the homeless people kept calling the graduate student “pastor.”

“I tried to correct them and afterward they’d just shake their heads and say, ‘Whatever, pastor,’” Rohrer said. “Then I decided that they have called me and I should finally give up running away from the whale. So I changed my study to the master of divinity.”

What held Rohrer back? Rohrer is transgender, an umbrella term for a diverse group of people who understand their gender to be outside the traditional definitions of male and female.
Nevertheless, Rohrer finished seminary, saying, “I had wondered if the Lutheran church would be able to have me in it, but I never wondered if I was a Lutheran. I’ve always had this deep sense in my gut that God was with me.”

Welcoming the outsiders
Rohrer, however, could not be rostered in the ELCA, which prior to 2009 expected pastors to “abstain from homosexual sexual relationships” (Vision and Expections). On Nov. 18, 2006, Rohrer was ordained and rostered by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, an organization that works for the full participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (GLBTQ) people in the Lutheran church. Next came a call from St. Francis, Santa Maria y Martha (St. Mary and Martha), Christ and Ebenezer Lutheran churches to work with Welcome.

That ordination and call was not sanctioned by the ELCA. That changed when the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted for “a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to be ordained and rostered.” And on July 25, 2010, Rohrer was received onto the ELCA roster.

Rohrer is believed to be one of the first openly transgender pastors on the ELCA roster. This July, Asher O’Callaghan, a transgender person, was ordained at House for All Sinners and All Saints in Denver.
Rohrer now serves Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco and continues as executive director of Welcome.

The pastor remains committed to serving and speaking out on behalf of individuals who are homeless. “The Bible says a lot that we should listen for God’s voice,” Rohrer said. “Spending time with the homeless was a place where I could listen to God’s voice in the world and be paying attention to potential prophets.”

Part of this commitment to the homeless comes from knowing what it feels like to be on the fringe and unsure if the church will welcome you, Rohrer said.

Grace under fire
Members of Grace have been welcoming to their pastor, but the call has not been without challenges.
Last year a Presbyterian congregation that rented space at Grace took offense to Rohrer’s hiring in February 2014 and to the congregation’s welcome of LGBTQ people, said Grace council president Sally Ann Ryan. At one point the rainbow window clings Grace posted to express welcome were removed, she said.

As tensions rose, Grace’s members concluded “they didn’t want anyone to come to any service in their building where people didn’t feel welcome,” Rohrer said. “A congregation of almost all straight people said that welcome is the most important thing here.”

The Presbyterian pastor did not agree. After a 20-year relationship, the congregations parted ways in December.

The loss of rental income left a gaping hole in Grace’s strapped budget. With Rohrer’s leadership, parishioners organized “Grace Under Fire,” a benefit dinner to recognize congregations and individuals that welcomed LGBTQ people even when it meant facing great odds. The event raised more than $12,000 for Grace’s operating expenses.

Under Rohrer’s leadership, the congregation is trying new ideas for outreach and evangelism, from a Beatles worship service to the imposition of ashes in the subway station. Evangelism also expands beyond the congregation’s walls through a weekly online Bible study focusing on issues of justice in the lectionary readings. ELCA pastors Amanda Zentz-Alo and Dawn Roginski collaborate on the project, which reaches between 2,500 and 3,000 people.

“It has been so healing to be part of a congregation that loves you so much,” said Rohrer, reflecting on Grace. The pastor feels astonished by and grateful for the new ways church and society are welcoming LGBTQ individuals, but also thinks there is more work to be done.

“For a long time we didn’t talk about alcoholism or abuse or cancer. I feel like [being transgender] is like anything difficult that you go through. I hope the way that I serve as a pastor is that it never serves as a barrier or declaration,” Rohrer said. “Any time we can have pastorsthat embody the diversity of our full creation, our church is better for it.”

Q&A: Being transgender
Earlier this year, Caitlyn Jenner’s headline-making interview with Barbara Walters and Vanity Fair spread brought transgender issues into the public eye. In this interview, Megan Rohrer, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, San Francisco, offers insight about transgender issues.

The Lutheran: What does it mean to be transgender?
Rohrer: Transgender is an umbrella term that includes a very diverse group of people who understand their gender to be outside of the traditional definitions of male and female. That is as broad as someone who is female and doesn’t want to wear a bra, all the way to someone who has had hormonal changes from male to female.

How many people are transgender?
While there is no accurate count, some say there are 700,000 trans individuals in the U.S. This number is likely low due to fear of violence, lack of family support or health care, and the desire of many trans people to keep their medical choices private. The best practice is to allow trans people the choice to self-identify.

How do I refer to someone who is transgender?
In church, I hope we see everyone simply as a child of God. In conversation, it is best to use the name and the gender or non-gender pronouns (they/their) they prefer.

What about people who say being transgender is a sin?
Thankfully, as Lutherans we believe God’s grace is more important news than who and how we are sinning. God’s baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch [is a] biblical reminder that God’s love stretches to include all of us.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

In the News: SF Bay Times

Opera Superstar Frederica Von Stade to Sing Street Requiem in Support of Homeless Choir 

reposted from:

operaladyFamed mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade will join with a mass chorus of singers and chamber orchestra in two California premiere performances of Street Requiem by Australian composers Dr. Kathleen McGuire, Andy Payne, and Dr. Jonathon Welch AM. Other vocal soloists include Blake Quin, Ilyas Iliya and Mark Jackson.

This week, it was also announced that Street Requiem has been selected as a semi-finalist in the professional choral composition division of The American Prize national non-profit competitions in the performing arts. (For more information, see

McGuire, who is well known to Bay Area audiences having led the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and others from 2000 to 2013, will return from Melbourne, Australia, to conduct Street Requiem on Saturday, August 29, at 7:00pm at Old First Presbyterian Church at 1751 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, and on Sunday, August 30, at 2:00pm at the Congregational Church of San Mateo, 225 Tilton
Avenue in San Mateo.

The concert is a benefit for Singers of the Street (SOS), which McGuire founded in 2010. Now led by Ashley Moore and a project of Welcome, SOS is a choir of San Franciscans who have experienced, or are at risk of, homelessness. Its mission is to raise their voices for justice, healing and joy. SOS will open the concert and will also sing with the mass choir in Street Requiem.

opera2Street Requiem provides a musical opportunity for us to mourn not only the homeless who have passed away, but also our own frustration that there are still so many homeless individuals living in streets and shelters,” said the Rev. Megan Rohrer, Executive Director of Welcome. “Beyond a one of a kind concert experience, audience members can also celebrate that the price of admission enables homeless individuals to heal and express themselves for years to come.”

Composed in 2014, Street Requiem has already received international acclaim. Music critic Wayne Lee Gay (Dallas Magazine) said: “A remarkable, unique and beautiful work…an unfailingly engaging cantata. The religious texts were constantly questioned, but with an effect that produces transformation rather than blasphemy. The audience is never let off the hook: in the final movement, the chorus intones, as if to remind those who observe suffering are as much in need of divine intervention and guidance as those who suffer directly: ‘Given them peace. Give us peace.’”

Street Requiem is a 40-minute multi-movement cantata scored for choirs, soloists, and chamber orchestras. It aims to bring a sense of peace, remembrance, and hope to communities struggling with homelessness, poverty, war, hate-crime and street violence. The work is neither secular nor religious, but is intended to be spiritual and includes English and African lyrics, as well as traditional Latin texts. While at times deeply moving, the work is optimistic and uplifting, and employs Gospel, Celtic, neo-Romantic, neo-Baroque, and contemporary compositional styles and instrumentation to reflect the multicultural and multi-faith traditions of modern city living.
McGuire said, “Street Requiem provides an opportunity to mourn those we’ve lost—often ‘nameless’ on our streets—and to protest the tragic injustices we witness every day. These are global issues, but we can each make a difference, one by one. Ms. von Stade’s generous participation is a testament to the importance of this project and the wider cause.”

Ms. von Stade will be joined on stage by a mass choir including singers from The Choral Project (San Jose), the Chancel Choir of the Congregational Church of San Mateo, singers from CREDO (Dallas, Texas, who performed the U.S. premiere in January), and Singers of the Street (San Francisco). Accompaniment will be provided by members of the Community Women’s Orchestra, and Carl Pantle will play piano.

Rehearsals led by Stephanie Lynne Smith, Grace Renaud, Daniel Hughes, Dana Sadava, Dr. Jonathan Palant and Carl Pantle are currently underway in San Francisco and San Mateo; singers wishing to participate should visit:

Tickets for Street Requiem range from $15–$50 and are available online at or by calling (415) 731-1305. All proceeds benefit Singers of the Street.