Like much of the country, the greater Chicago area is enjoying unbelievable early spring weather. Last Sunday, I drove through NW suburbs to Evanston. There were bikers, joggers , and dog-walkers everywhere. Leaves are budding, flowering crab apple trees exploding in pink, and brown lawns are turning green. Life abundant, life abounding, life amazing.
I attended a festive celebration at Grace Lutheran of Evanston where Pastor Jen Rude became the latest to join the official roster of the ELCA through a Rite of Reception. Grace is a delightfully diverse congregation that had plenty of gray haired ladies, but also a healthy contingent of blacks, and a growing LGBT community, especially following the breakthroughs of CWA09. “Here is a church where we are welcome” is the word of mouth message that spreads through the gay community just to the south, which Pastor Dan Ruen jokingly referred to as “Grace Lutheran south campus”.
A Rite of Reception is the process worked out between ELCA leaders and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) that recognizes earlier extra ordinem ordinations but also celebrates in a formal way when the pastor joins the ELCA clergy roster. Bishop Wayne Miller of the Greater Chicago Synod laid on hands and presided over the rite and the Eucharistic celebration.
Pastor Rude was extraordinarily ordained in 2007 at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chicago. She is called to minister to homeless youth, many of whom are gay, at the Night Ministry in Chicago, a ministry of “presence of faith in the nighttime streets”. She also serves on the board of directors of ELM and as director of “Proclaim”, a new auxiliary of ELM:
“the professional community for publicly-identified LGBTQ Lutheran rostered leaders and seminarians. This network of rostered leaders and seminarians from multiple Lutheran rosters are committed to changing church culture and transforming society through their ministry as publicly-identified LGBTQ rostered leaders.”
As a seminarian, Jen was the first recipient of the Joel Workin scholarship. From my research into my current book project, I have learned that Joel was a seminarian in the late eighties who “came out” along with three of his fellow seminarians during the candidacy process. Though he and the others were initially approved, the newly formed ELCA caved under a public outcry and yanked the approvals. This is all part of a larger and fascinating story of the extraordinary ordinations in San Francisco in the early 1990s. Joel died of AIDS in 1995 after distinguished service through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. Rising from his coma, Joel proclaimed to the family and friends surrounding his deathbed, “We’re all children of God. Can I get an amen to that!” ELM is currently re-releasing a book of Joel’s writings.
Congregation pastor Dan Ruen offered a prophetic, emotional, and inspiring sermon, reminiscent of civil rights oratory, and punctuated with plenty of amens from the congregation.