In a post last September, I wrote the following:

The young woman nervously approached the microphone at the ELCA 2009 convention.  This fall, she will be a high school senior.  With apologies, I paraphrase her plea.

“Give us honesty,” she said.  “My generation is turned off by what they see as hypocrisy in the church. ‘Love your neighbor’ is on the lips of the church, but a cold shoulder is what my generation sees.”

I concluded that blog post with this comment:

While many in the ELCA are wringing their hands, worrying about losing members, wondering how to defend Convention actions, wistful about the loss of a Bible writ in block letters, black and white and bold print, I say this is an opportunity.  An opportunity for mission.  An opportunity to live the gospel and not merely preach it.  An opportunity for honesty.  Let this be a teaching moment in which we plumb the depths of scripture far beyond the literalistic superficialities of the past.  Let us invite, encourage and inspire a new generation by our deeds.

It would seem that some are doing precisely that.  Although there are junk science believers among us who would still promote reparative therapy (pray the gay away) and whine that our youth are being proselytized into “a gay lifestyle”, the hopeful reality is that a vital mission opportunity is now blossoming around us. 

I speak of summer camps,

providing for youth in our communities who desperately need a positive experience where their faith is nurtured and sexuality can be approached with honesty and integrity.

Ross Murray I have known Ross Murray since CWA09; he was the interim director of Lutherans Concerned North America (LCNA) and thus a key person overseeing the Goodsoil efforts, and I was a Goodsoil volunteer “gracefully engaging” in a ministry of presence.  This summer at the LCNA national convention, I met Pastor Jay Wiesner of University Lutheran Church of the Incarnation in Philadelphia who served as one of the chaplains for the convention.  Ross and Jay, together with Pastor Brad Froslee, are the founders and directors of “The Naming Project”.  According to the organization’s website,

The mission of The Naming Project is to create places of safety for youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities where faith is shared and healthy life-giving community is modeled.

Jay WiesnerThe goal of The Naming Project is to provide a safe and sacred space where youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities are named and claimed by a loving God; can explore and share faith; experience healthy and life-giving community; reach out to others; and advocate for systemic change in church and society.

The Naming Project programs include:

  • Outings to Worship and Fellowship Experiences
  • E-mail check-ins and resources for youth and parents
  • Workshops and conversations for youth in schools, communities, and churches
  • Workshops for youth workers, parents, and congregations
  • A five-day summer camp for youth
    Meanwhile, with seeds planted by the Naming Project, a similar organization, centered around a camp experience for LGBTQ youth, has sprouted in Austin, Texas, and the first fruits were harvested this spring. 

    The Spiritual Pride Project is a new ministry that hopes to serve as a resource, a discussion forum, a community, and a sounding block for youth of all sexual orientations. More specifically, we are a weekend retreat where both sexuality and spirituality are seen as equally valuable gifts from God.

    Ashley DellagiacomaYesterday, I exchanged emails with Ashley Dellagiacoma, the executive director of the Spiritual Pride Project.  Here is her report:

    It has been a fabulously exciting year at SPP and we’re about to gear up for next year!  What I can tell you so far is that we were absolutely inspired by local need and the amazing precedent set by The Naming Project in MN.  We watched their documentary and saw that these were Lutherans at work!  We could work together!  They have been so helpful in supporting us as we get off the ground. 

    We held our first retreat in April and it looked like most any youth retreat.  Worship, s’mores, games (showtunes kickball was a hit!), songs.  We focused on how several bible stories connect to important people in the LGBTQIA community.  We talked about what life is like as LGBTQIA youth….in relationships…..with family… church.  Jeff Lutes, the former Executive Director of Soulforce empowered the campers to talk about how they had been hurt by the church, and provided resources like “For the Bible Tells Me So” to give them a new perspective on what the Bible says and doesn’t say about sexuality.  Most importantly, the campers formed a community and were supported by LGBT leaders in the church, Ally leaders, and LGBT leaders in the community. 

    I have a great letter that a camper wrote to us about how the retreat has impacted her.  She shared that even though her church had not openly condemned her sexuality, they certainly didn’t celebrate it either.  She didn’t feel they truly accepted her as God created her.  After being a part of Spiritual Pride Project, she was inspired to go back to her ELCA church and start a bible study group for LGBT issues.  She is reinvigorated in her faith.  Some of the campers were involved from the start in helping us plan and sharing the news of SPP to their church groups, their Gay-Straight Alliances at school, and secular groups like OutYouth in Austin.

    All of the campers are excited for the next retreat in 2011.  We are actually meeting this Saturday to talk more about that.  I will have more news after then.  I personally expect we may be intentionally expanding our programs to provide a better experience for Ally Youth.  We had so many people who wanted to bring their youth groups to learn how to be better allies, but we didn’t know how to do that best.  I think we’re going to take a shot at it this year.  We  may also talk about extending the ministry to young adults.  Who knows where the Spirit will lead?  Please keep us in your prayers and I will do my best to keep you updated.  I update our Spiritual Pride Project page on Facebook fairly often, so it is a good resource as well.

    At the recent Goodsoil service at Central Lutheran in Minneapolis, I heard former ELCA Bishop and current ELCA executive Pastor Stephen Bouman say words to the effect that the church has been part of the problem for too long and now it is time to become part of the solution.  These two projects are grass roots Lutheran efforts to minister to the youth wounded by a fearful church, stuck in the prejudices of the past.  Amidst the angst caused by dissenting voices, it is time for the faithful supporters of the ELCA to kick the dust off our feet and move forward to seize the opportunity for mission that lies before us.  While our youth may not have a choice about their sexuality, all of us have a choice—shall we be part of the problem or part of the solution?

    “Give us honesty,” said the young woman at CWA09.  “‘Love your neighbor’ is on the lips of the church, but a cold shoulder is what my generation sees.”  Out of the mouths of babes.  Let us be inspired and emboldened by our youth.