An ‘extraordinary ordination:’ Lesbian pastor to lead Minneapolis congregation

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The Rev. Jen Nagel was ordained as minister last week at the Salem English Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, a move that makes Nagel one of the groundbreakers in a movement within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America toward acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clergy.

Nagel’s ordination comes as part of a change by the ELCA in the rules that allow churches to ordain gay and lesbian clergy who are in committed relationships. The church had allowed gay and lesbian clergy to be ordained as long as they remain celibate. The ELCA assembly voted to tweak that rule. It would still be technically against church rules to ordain a noncelibate gay or lesbian member of the clergy, but the assembly also directed local bishops not to defrock those clergy members that were ordained, issuing a “no punishment” policy.

The ordination is dubbed an “extraordinary ordination,” because the service is performed outside the ordinary guidelines for Lutheran ordinations.

That change went into effect in August, and since then one other church has ordained a lesbian minister in a relationship. Chicago’s Resurrection Lutheran Church ordained the Rev. Jen Rude last fall.

“After a long period of diligent and prayerful study, Salem has joyfully made the decision to call Jen as our pastor,” said Jan Olson, a member of Salem of the Call Committee, which selects clergy for ordination. “Jen has the gifts for ministry that our congregation needs at this time!”

Nagel and her partner, Jane McBride, have been together for nine years. McBride serves as a pastor at Falcon Heights United Church of Christ.

I asked Nagel about her ordination and what it means for the faith, the LGBT community and the intersection of both.
Andy Birkey :: An “extraordinary ordination”: Lesbian pastor to lead Minneapolis congregation
How does it feel to have your church’s support despite the fact that the ELCA is still a bit far behind in LGBT acceptance?

Nagel: Bittersweet. I am so grateful for this congregation’s bold witness and clear calling that I am to be their pastor at this time, and yet, I pray for this in the wider church for so many others who hear the call to serve and lead … or just want to worship in communities where they know all their gifts are fully welcomed. I am full of awe and gratitude on the one hand, and frustration, hope, impatience, and grief on the other.

Times like this beg the questions: Who is the church? What is the church? We teach that the church is the people of God and truly that is what I witnessed on Saturday.

How was the ceremony?

Nagel: Amazing. Powerful, moving, spirited. There were about 525 people present including around 100 vested clergy and rostered leaders, lots of people from other congregations, and many kids. The place was wonderfully full with a sweet sense of hope and promise. Rev. Angela Denise Davis preached. Angela is a pastor now living in Atlanta; she worshipped at Salem, and occasionally preached, while she was in the Twin Cities learning how to live as a blind person. To her preaching and ministry she brings her whole self as a blind, black, lesbian clergy person. She used the story from Acts of Peter and Cornelius. We had an assortment of talented and vibrant musicians including Salem’s jazz group, organ, piano, and African drum, and a large choir gathered from around the area.

And, how do you feel your ordination and the ordination of other LGBT people of faith impact the LGBT community? And in particular LGBT Lutherans and people of faith?

Nagel: From my own experience and the stories I continue to hear from others, these ordinations offer a spark of hope along road. For those who can attend, they are a gathering place, and an opportunity for rich worship and nourishment. For those who hear about them afterward, they can be a witness of movement and possibilities, the promise that God continues to move and act in the community of faith, even when so much pain abounds.

Do you think the ELCA will continue to make steps toward LGBT acceptance?

Nagel: I pray the ELCA will continue to take steps, sometime very small ones, sometimes much bigger leaps, too slowly for some and much too quickly for others, always, I trust, listening for the scriptures leading. As I looked around at the laity and clergy gathered on Saturday, it was so clear that the church is being transformed by interactions with one another. Our God radically changes the world and our lives through the birth of a baby, God incarnate. Similarly, we change one another through our human, lived interactions.

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