Editor’s note: This year the ELCA celebrates 50 years of Lutheran women’s ordination in the United States, 40 years of the ordination of Lutheran women of color, and 10 years of Lutheran LGBTQIA+ individuals’ freedom to serve (elca.org/50yearsofordainedwomen). In this series, these leaders share their joys, struggles and gospel hope. 

I was raised Lutheran, a daughter of Christ’s church.

Over the years, through periods of growth and change, people experience many versions of themselves. Who I was as a bright-eyed kindergartner is not who I remained throughout my teenage years. I was a completely different person, filled with complexities and warring emotions. Around the age of 13, I came to know myself more fully as gay.

My religious community told me that being gay was a sin and that my willingness to commit this sin would undoubtedly sever my relationship with God. I turned away from the church, which had been a safe space, and clung to other people, places and coping mechanisms in the hope that they might pull me out of despair.

After a year of toxic friendships, poor self-esteem and destructive behavior, I ended up at Pinecrest Lutheran Leadership Ministries, a camping ministry of the Metropolitan New York Synod.

Pinecrest saved my life.

There, I was reintroduced to a loving, grace-filled God and met some very silly people. I fell back in love with myself and my God.

At Pinecrest, I felt for the first time as if I could love God and be true to myself. And, as I changed yet again, my friends and connections from that community continued to uplift and rebuild my spirit. Without them, I wouldn’t have trusted that I could be whomever God was calling me to be—and that you can too.

Bold in faith

Life continued. I felt the sting of death, the few first breezes of summer love and the movement of the Holy Spirit. It felt freeing.

As college rolled around, I chose my dream school and my dream major, nursing. Then my world flipped onto its head. I was depressed, scared of being alone and anxious 24/7.

I decided that nursing school wasn’t for me.

So, I took a leap of faith. I changed my major to history and began discerning a call to rostered ministry in the ELCA.

I was young, black, female, queer and depressed. These words were far from the ones I used when I imagined a pastor.

Later, at our camp leaders retreat, my mentor found me crying on the sidelines about my conflicting identities. Without knowing what was wrong, she checked in and prayed with me.

“Kelsey, what makes you you is holy,” she told me. “What you see as broken, Christ sees as mosaic. Let Christ fill in the cracks you feel with love and grace. You have a story to tell. It is a story that will help both young and old. There is power in being exactly who God created you to be. You are powerful, you are unapologetic, God loves that and so do I.”

The world needs vulnerable leaders, leaders who are more cracks in the concrete than flawless marble. The church needs us, needs me, needs you!

Neither of us knew then that the reassurance and hope she poured into me would enable me to stand, all these years later, as a complex, sinful, grace-given, absurdly silly pastor in Christ’s church.

The church has a lot of good to give, but we’re not always good at giving it. That good is often pushed out of focus by the sins that bind this institution: racism, homophobia, transphobia and other kinds of hatred. Such sins have been cloaked by the powers that be.

Today in the church we rebuke the white supremacy and capitalism that has infiltrated our institution since its inception. We rebuke the ways the church has told us to separate ourselves from those who are different from us, to look not to our neighbor but to our government for security and to put idols over Christ.

Now I’m standing up as an unapologetic leader, one who speaks not only for the folks who look, think and act as I do but for those who couldn’t be more different.

The world needs vulnerable leaders, leaders who are more cracks in concrete than flawless marble. The church needs us, needs me, needs you! We’re stronger together than we are apart.

Starting today and ending when God calls us to be by God’s side in the kin-dom, let us act on our faith and demand social justice. See you out there in the fight!

I’ll be the pastor who looks like me.

Thank goodness.

Kelsey Brown
Kelsey Brown (she/her/hers) is pastor/developer at Jehu's Table, Brooklyn, NY.

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