It is not that hard, after all, to know what God is doing in the world. God is loving it. And all I have to do to see what God is doing loving the world is to talk to our interns from Luther Seminary. In my columns this spring, I’m highlighting how our interns and their congregations are getting involved in what God is doing in the world. This month, I’ve talked to Emmy Kegler, Intern at Light of the World in Apple Valley MN.
Two intertwining aspects of Emmy’s internship caught my attention. She is an intern at a new mission congregation in the suburbs, and she’s openly gay.
While common wisdom might assume urban congregations would be more open to welcoming an openly gay seminarian, “the times,” as Bob Dylan sang, “they are a-changin’.” The particular DNA of Light of the World helps make sense of why they were open to welcoming and helping to form Emmy in her pastoral journey even before becoming Reconciling in Christ (which is an official process of congregational welcome to GLBTQ persons).
The DNA of the Congregation
Eight years ago or so, under the leadership of Pastor Deb Stehlin, a process based in Faith-Based Community Organizing (FBCO) became the tool for relationship building in the Apple Valley/Farmington area south of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The process starts not with knocking on doors to tell others about Jesus or ‘our new church’ or even sending out a mass-mailing advertising whatever new flavor of church is forming just down the street. Rather, it starts with deep listening, one by one, over coffee or a meal. These one-to-ones lead to discernment about shared concerns-issues and struggles people articulate and can serve to draw people together.
Deb heard certain themes again and again: isolation, desire for connection, for a safe space for honest connection with others. They template was to build a community listening to and building community in response to the real needs of the community. Their DNA was to find ways to love and be with and for this particular community and its people.Their DNA was to find ways to love and be with and for this particular community and its people.
From an early group that began gathered for bible study and sharing about their lives, a worshiping community developed. Deb punctuated the invitation to communion with a line that has become defining of the congregations’ life ever since: All are welcome, no exceptions. At first, Deb said the whole line, but later it developed into a call and response, with pastor saying “All are welcome,” and the congregation replying, “No exceptions.” The community drew young families, people disconnected from faith communities. As one participant puts it, “I never thought in a million years I’d be part of a church until Light of the World.” Said another, “This is the first church where I’ve really felt accepted.”
Welcoming a Gay Intern
The truth is the divide on full inclusion of GLBTQ people in church and society is not so much an urban/suburban/rural issues as it is a generational issue. The Public Religion Research Institute has found seven out of ten Millennials (persons aged 18 - 33) support gay marriage, compared to four in ten of the Silent Generation (persons aged 68 and older). It makes sense, given this national trend, that the younger demographic drawn to LOTW were already open to full welcome for GLBTQ persons, and a number of the community were GLBTQ themselves.
When they declared before communion, “All are welcome. No exceptions," they meant gay and straight. If people couldn’t come, be welcome, with their full self, then they weren’t being the light of the world, the embodiment of God’s love for the world in this community.
If people couldn’t come, be welcome, with their full self, then they weren’t being the light of the world, the embodiment of God’s love for the world in this community. Emmy has been welcomed fully, and done exciting ministry over the two years she has served as part-time intern. Among other things, she’s had a wonderful time with a youth initiative called “Young Voices for Change” taking on among other things bullying in the schools. She has also been a leader through transition as Deb, the founding pastor, moved on to a synod leadership position, an interim pastor came and went, and a new pastor was called.
The congregation has also been a major support for Emmy through her own transitions. During a year, as she describes it, “when I lost everything I was planning on” personally and professionally, they embraced her and helped keep her together.
Being Light of the World
I’m grateful for being able to listen to Emmy’s story about ministry with the people of Light of the World. I hope others of you are willing to ask yourselves how your lives, your ministries, your communities, are getting involved with what God is doing. How are you, as those who belong to Jesus, empower by the Holy Spirit, sent into the world to shine with God’s love? In the face of grinding poverty, of the degradation of creation, of intolerance, of great hurt and illness, of deep shame and brokenness, how are you loving the world in response? Write me a note and share your story!