A thousand thanks
This weekend, I will meet with a committee in Indianapolis for an “approval” interview. Three years ago, in April 2015, I met with the same committee for the first time to begin the process of joining the roster of ordained ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Many of you know that I was a pastor in an American Baptist church for eight years before that, and many of you have asked me since I came to serve at St. Paul why I switched from Baptist to Lutheran.
That could be a long story, and it’s one I love to tell, especially over coffee. There are a couple of factors I always name. I love the long history and rich tradition of liturgical worship. Practices that have been shaped and continued for centuries make me feel connected to Christians of all times and places, and most of all, to God. The second factor I mention is Lutheran theology. The more I learned about it, the more I realized it was what I already had come to believe – that the good news is all about what God does and not what I do, that God’s love doesn’t depend on anything I do or any decision I make. The third factor I sometimes mention, depending on how safe I feel with my conversation partner, is that I’m gay, and in the ELCA I get to be all of me while doing all of the things I love in the church. It sure helps to be in a place that believes God loves all of me when trying to tell others that God loves the whole world.
At one point when I was discerning whether to leave my former denomination and join the ELCA, I enjoyed a long conversation with a pastor at a Lutheran seminary. We talked a lot about theology, but it was late in our conversation that I mentioned my sexual orientation. At that point, he said to me, “Ryan, there are a thousand reasons for you to become a Lutheran. The fact that this church welcomes you fully is just the icing on the cake.”
Sometimes it’s important that we say certain things out loud, so as I prepare to move on to the next phase of my ministry as an “official” Lutheran pastor, I want all of you connected with St. Paul to know what a blessing it has been for me to engage my passion for teaching and the gospel of Jesus Christ among a congregation that embraces all of me. This is the first place I’ve had the opportunity to do that, and for that I give a thousand thanks to God.