The ELCA is a beautiful tapestry of cultures and identities. We want to celebrate Pride Month with a focus on our LGTBQIA+ Lutherans. We are excited to amplify the voices of our ELCA siblings who are proud to be a part of the LQBTQIA+ community, and to affirm and embrace everyone in the church. Today our guest is Ian Heseltine.

How are you connected to the ELCA?

There are a couple of different ways that I’m connected to the ELCA. I’ve been a Lutheran my entire life – baptized, confirmed and sent into the world. I went from attending and supporting the programming of my home congregation to an ELCA university, Augsburg University. By the time I had finished my undergrad degree, I had a B.A. in religion and was looking at seminary. One year later I started my seminary journey at Wartburg Theological Seminary as a candidate for Word and Service. In addition to being a full-time seminary student, I serve with the churchwide organization as the interim vocational fellowship coordinator with Young Adult Ministry.

How does your faith shape and affirm your person/identity?

The Churchwide Assembly vote in 2009, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust”, was not something I was aware of as a young person, but I do remember seeing faces who had been going to the church I went to, and suddenly they were no longer there. It’s because of my faith, I can proclaim that God loves you, me, us—just as we are. This isn’t a love in spite of queerness, this is a love that surpasses all things surrounding my identity.

He’s here in the midst of it—
right at the centre of the dance floor,
robes hitched up to His knees
to make it easy to spin.
At some point in the evening
a boy will touch the hem of His robe
and beg to be healed, beg to be
anything other than this;
and He will reach His arms out,
sweat-damp, and weary from dance.
He’ll cup this boy’s face in His hand
and say,
                                  my beautiful child
there is nothing in this heart of yours
that ever needs to be healed.

—Jay Hulme, “Jesus at the Gay Bar

“You see, there is healing in this poem—it’s just not the healing you’d expect. In the poem, just as in Mark 5, and throughout the Gospels, Jesus does the unexpected (especially if what is ‘expected’ is the ‘letter of the law’ as proscribed by religious authorities). The boy’s queerness is not healed, because, as stated, it does not need to be healed. And it is through not healing their queerness that the boy (and hopefully the reader) is healed of whatever it was that made them reach out to Jesus in the first place, and beg to not be queer.” —Jay Hulme

This poem and additional writing by Jay Hulme have been pivotal in my understanding of being queer in this church. They shape my faith and my identity.

What are your hopes and expectations for the way that the church can support and affirm you?

I hope that this church can move toward the “Reconciling in Christ” (RIC) program as a standard practice and that the work in affirming and welcoming folks of all backgrounds doesn’t stop there but that RIC is just the very beginning of their process. Another way the church can support and affirm queer folks is by making space for queer folks. This might include mission explorations in queer spaces, or starting small groups/Bible studies for queer folks.

How can the ELCA support and uplift the LGBTQIA+ community?

I believe the Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church is coming along at the right moment. As previously mentioned, RIC is the tip of the iceberg, not the meat of the work that needs to be done. As anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in this country runs rampant, we must stand together and stand behind the rights and access to resources for all people, especially those on the margins of this church. There are congregations doing such great work around this and others that are still hostile to enter as a queer person. This is a growth area for our church, and I pray we might prayerfully consider how we might continue to be church together at the next Churchwide Assembly.

What gives you hope?

Hearing about ministry exploration in queer spaces across this denomination gives me great hope! In Minneapolis we have a beautifully queer space called Queer Grace. These spaces matter; we (queer folks) matter. I wouldn’t continue to be in this church if I didn’t fully believe that we can make progress in acceptance, tolerance, and love of our beloved queerness.

What do you pray for?

My prayer for today, this week, this Pride month:

God, you made me in your image; teach me to love myself as you love me.
God, you made me in your image; allow me to show that image to the world.
God, you made me in your image; help me to see your image in all those I meet.
God, you made me in your image; teach me to conserve and protect all your creation.
God, you made me in your image; bless and protect me and all your children.
In your name we pray. Amen.

Kelly Wilkerson
Kelly Wilkerson is a content strategist for the ELCA. She is a former worship minister, creative arts director, and youth and family director, and has been working in full-time ministry for her entire professional career. Kelly is using her passion for storytelling, art, design and social media to serve in the Office of the Presiding Bishop on the Strategic Communications team. She is also an ELCA coach and currently resides in Columbus, Ohio, with her fiancee and their 80-pound bernedoodle.

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