The last place I would have imagined I would finally respond to the still, small voice of God calling me into ministry would be at a Pride event. For years, I had entertained the thought of being called. But I continued to be resistant until my faith and identity were reconciled.

Like when I attended U.S. Marine Corps recruit training on Parris Island, S.C., in 2011. I was chosen to be my platoon’s lay leader. I found divine purpose with my sisters-in-arms, sharing my faith and representing Christ in the space where we expressed our pain and sought hope while enduring the mental and physical exhaustion of completing one of life’s most challenging experiences. This opportunity led me into a close relationship with the base chaplain and my first experience of being told I may be called to ministry.

I believed him. But I knew the deep truth. As much as I longed to follow the call, I couldn’t, because I was queer. Being queer and Christian was a dichotomy that existed within many denominations’ theology during that time. You couldn’t be queer and Christian, and you most definitely weren’t allowed to serve in ministry identifying as queer openly. I decided to avoid the call to ministry so that my choice to live a life of self-denial wouldn’t influence others.

As much as I longed to follow the call, I couldn’t, because I was queer.

It took me years of healing. After completing my military service in 2015, I devoted my life to deconstructing the theology that kept me in bondage to living a life of inadequacy, guilt, condemnation, unworthiness and inauthenticity. Marrying my wife, a lifelong Lutheran, led me to the ELCA, where we began attending worship services at a welcoming faith community. I built a strong relationship with my pastor, who married us, consistently loved on us and affirmed our welcome there. My relationship with the church was restored. I loved myself fully for all the characteristics that make me. I believed that I was beloved and made in the image of God. I was liberated, free to live a life of authenticity in right relationship with Christ.

In 2016, while attending my first LGBTQIA+ Pride event in Atlanta, I relived the dichotomy of my life presented before me in the form of love and acceptance, protested by a distorted version of Christianity that portrayed my God as hateful and displayed signs of fear and condemnation. I mourned, not for myself but for every individual who might experience what I had with the conflict of faith and identity. It was there I realized God was calling me once again to serve in the mission that I had been resisting. Romans 11:29 tells us “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” God continued to be faithful, and grace abounded.

I shared my experience with my pastor. He affirmed my call, and I began my journey into seminary in 2021. I decided to focus on my studies first and remain in continual discernment about pursuing a path in pastoral or diaconal ministry before entering the candidacy process.

Called to serve the marginalized

As I completed coursework, I was attentive to the issues that stirred my spirit with joy, passion and empathy. I found myself convicted to be vocal about sharing my life experiences as an underrepresented queer, Black woman veteran. I desired to serve those who are often marginalized and oppressed: God’s beloved, our neighbors, who are often missing in the pew on Sunday because they don’t have access to inclusive, affirming and/or culturally accepting faith communities, as well as those who are sitting in the pews, broken and suffering in isolation and secret.

In addition to theological coursework, seminary requires you to reflect often on your identity and faith formation. In reflection, I realized that my experiences of unacceptance and the church trauma I endured during my faith formation often resembled that of those whom I felt called to serve. I strongly remembered the pain I experienced from the season of my life when I didn’t have an affirming congregation in which to live out my baptism and share my gifts. I practiced my faith in isolation and found community in advocacy organizations, group therapy, virtual spaces and online ministries.

My public ministry leaders positioned themselves in the spaces where those discarded like me could be reached. These leaders, who gave me access to worship and faith formation outside the walls of the church, led to my healing and the reconciliation of my faith and identity. Their service would be described as diaconal ministry.

I realized that my experiences of unacceptance and the church trauma I endured during my faith formation often resembled that of those whom I felt called to serve.

According to the ELCA “Candidacy Manual,” “Ministers of Word and Service provide a ministry exemplifying the life of Christlike service to all persons and creation: nurturing, healing, leading, advocating dignity and justice, and equipping the whole people of God for their life of witness and service within and beyond the congregation for the sake of God’s mission in the world.”

I plan on serving in the same capacity. I’m excited to have the opportunity to provide pastoral care and mentorship to the young and the old who are still wrestling with their faith and identity; to teach, equip and model real inclusion and affirmation in discipleship, so that as the body of Christ we are truly living out the call to love God, neighbor and self; to develop safe spaces for those discarded, so that they can experience community and fellowship; to overcome the barriers that keep them isolated and stunt their growth in faith, well-being and purpose.

Most importantly, I plan to be present with those people as they are, where they are, nurturing them in worthiness, self-love and self-acceptance through the process of healing from the brokenness of the world and the wounds of exclusion that sometimes find their way into our communities, families, vocations, military service and worship spaces.

I will be there, serving and assuring them that they are indeed beloved children, made in the image of God.

Candice Clark
Candice Clark is a seminarian at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C., and member of Christ the Lord Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, Ga.

Read more about: