A new wave of gay seminarians prepares to take the pulpit

The Lutheran church struggles with its policy on homosexuality and the meaning of "all God's children"

"It can be tough for gays and lesbians," says David Fredrickson, professor of the New Testament at Luther. "They hear a religious call and then they come to Luther and hear some say they're an abomination to God."

• • • • •

''YOU'RE GAY. GET OVER IT."The words jolted Wendt. She opened her eyes and sat down before the band finished their song. For the remainder of the service, she sat and prayed to herself. "I said, 'God, please don't make this be true. I don't want this. This is too hard.'"

"I flat-out told her why I couldn't have this relationship," recalls Brenda Froisland, "It could ruin my call to ministry."
Nick Vlcek
"I flat-out told her why I couldn't have this relationship," recalls Brenda Froisland, "It could ruin my call to ministry."

Three weeks later, on a visit back to Minneapolis, she came out to a friend from college. It happened after several glasses of white wine. And when she finally sputtered out the words, she spilled her entire glass on the carpet. "Thankfully," she adds, "it was beige-colored carpet."

When she returned to Baltimore, Wendt tried to change her heart. She went for a guy she met through work, but it was forced, and the guy could tell. "I wasn't really attracted to him, either," she says. "I just liked hanging out with him."

Although she could never bring herself to admit it, Wendt had known she was gay from the time she was 12. Her first girl crush happened when she was in seventh grade and was chosen for a role in a school play. "It was this horrible middle-school coming-of-age play," she says. "But I was able to act next to this eighth-grader girl. I just thought she was the greatest thing on the planet."

The eighth-grader had long, curly, brunette hair and wore baggy, stonewashed jeans, Doc Martens, and flannel shirts over tight T-shirts. "She was total grunge and here I was, totally average. Just a T-shirt and jeans."

Wendt wanted to be around her all the time. While the rest of her friends pined over two twin boys, she dreamed of the next time she would get together with the girl after school or between class periods to rehearse their lines.

But she never acted on her attraction. "I really didn't know what the feeling was at the time," she says.

The next crush hit Wendt in high school. The girl was a senior and on her debate team. All year long they studied the arguments for and against renewable wind energy. And with each retort, Wendt grew more attracted to the girl. "I would get so nervous and excited to just talk with her," Wendt recalls. "She was so confident. And really, confidence is the sexiest trait you can have."

But Wendt hid the crush and the senior graduated.

After graduation, Wendt went off to college at St. Olaf in Northfield, a small Lutheran college, where she remained single. "It was actually pretty easy," she says. "It's so small that if you date someone it better be serious. Because if something goes wrong, you have to see the person every day for the rest of school."

While Wendt kept her sexuality on hold, she started to explore religion, a requirement at St. Olaf. She'd always been intrigued by the idea, but had no idea how much she would enjoy the messages and stories about Christ. After a secular childhood, she converted to Christianity at St. Olaf and deepened her involvement in the church by joining the volunteer program in Baltimore.

After the call from God, Wendt began talking with her friends about the experience. She approached it slowly over the course of eight months, always prefacing the conversations with the question, "What if I were gay?"

Eventually, in December 2005, she broached the topic with Pastor Kelly Chatman, the leader of the Redeemer Lutheran Church in north Minneapolis, where she worked as an intern during a summer break in college.

"Wendt approached me with her dilemma," recalls Chatman. "She wanted to know if she should still go to seminary. I told her, 'Of course!' Of course she should."

The conversation stayed with Chatman. He eventually gave a sermon in which he revealed that "a member of our church" was full of the lord but thinking of not joining the seminary because she was gay. "And this girl connected the dots," says Chatman.

Her name was Michelle Morse and she was stunned. Her first thoughts were, "Oh my god. Lauren Wendt is gay!" Michelle was gay, too, and desperately wanted to talk to Wendt about the possibility of going to seminary herself. Chatman told Morse that he'd give Wendt her email.

By then, Wendt had moved to New York and was trying to come to terms with her sexuality. One night, after she had gotten off work at a nonprofit in Manhattan, she rented The L Word, the Showtime series about a close-knit group of lesbians living in Los Angeles. She recognized herself in the characters. "You need to see yourself projected on the screen," says Wendt. "I didn't know any lesbians at the time and needed to see women I could relate to."

Wendt was standing in downtown Manhattan, on her way to the Empire State Building, when she got the call from Pastor Chatman. He told her there was a member of the church who "had things in common" with her. At first, Wendt was annoyed that Chatman had semi-outed her in a sermon, but she nonetheless agreed to email the girl.

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