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"

Wendt sent the girl a book-length treatise in which she talked about her struggles reconciling her sexuality with her faith. She thought that would be the end of it, but the next day, Wendt found a book-length reply.

"I was in such a weird place at the time," recalls Morse. "But she gave me everything. Every thought. So I responded in the same way. We really talked about how different things, like seminary, affect us because of our sexuality. It was a connection both supportive and challenging."

In February of 2006, Wendt came to Minneapolis to tour Luther and met Morse for lunch at Panera in Uptown. Over French onion soup and chicken sandwiches, they talked for four hours straight.

Lauren Wendt asked her pastor if she should still go to seminary. He told her, "Of course!"
Nick Vlcek
Lauren Wendt asked her pastor if she should still go to seminary. He told her, "Of course!"
Dustin Nelson came out as a result of seminary. "It was very freeing," he says.
Nick Vlcek
Dustin Nelson came out as a result of seminary. "It was very freeing," he says.

When Wendt returned to New York she called Morse to say, "I really like you." They started to talk regularly, and Morse went out to visit her during Easter break.

"I remember she left me red and pink Starburst candies by my bed," Morse says. "It was from a previous conversation we had about things we like. It was cute."

Wendt came out to Minneapolis to visit again in June and July before moving here in August 2007 to start seminary. She'd won a full academic scholarship to attend Luther.

Being closer to Morse helped their relationship blossom. They've been together for two and a half years and are still going strong.

"How many people meet the love of their lives through a sermon?" Wendt marvels, shaking her head.

• • • • •

DISCUSSIONS ABOUT LOVE occur in Luther seminaryclasses, but talk of sexual-ity doesn't come up much atall. This was the reason why Wendt re-started a group on campus called Agape, a Greek word roughly translated as "love," or "God's love."

Margaret Kelly co-leads the group with Wendt, and is much more overt about her lifestyle. She has a nose ring, spikes her hair with gel, and has several tattoos. Her first year on campus, she was known among her classmates as "The Girl with Pink Hair."

Kelly's father, Bob, is a pastor at the People's Church in Bemidji. She grew up in the Lutheran church but left it soon after high school.

Unlike Wendt, there was no big coming out for Kelly. While her dad was a pastor, he was a hippie in his heart. She remembers that he wrote an op-ed for the Star Tribune that argued in support of the gay pastors in San Francisco. For her, it meant that being a lesbian wasn't that big a deal.

Before coming to Luther, Kelly was living in Uptown and working at the Wedge co-op, where she was just another punk rocker. "No one would bat an eye if you wore bright colors," she says. "It's not strange to be around and work alongside people with shaved heads, dreadlocks, or mohawks. I didn't stand out."

This wasn't the case at Luther. When a pastor came to interview her for an internship, he asked how he would recognize her. The office staff responded by saying, "Oh, you'll recognize her...."

Kelly originally thought she wanted a master's in neuropsychology, but the idea of seminary kept circling around in her head. And while she tried to refuse the pull of the family business, she eventually entered Luther, though only because it offered a degree in social work along with the master's in divinity.

"There is this tradition in the church and it relates to the bishop St. Augustine," Kelly explains. "It says that if you don't know what else to do, then be a pastor. It's okay."

Kelly still remembers how nervous she was when she went before the candidacy committee, the first step in an arduous process toward becoming ordained. Lit by fluorescent lights, she sat facing a table of seven people in sweaters and dress shirts. One of the men asked her what sort of relationships she'd had.

Kelly knew just what he was alluding to. "Do you want to know if I'm gay?"

There was hemming and hawing, so Kelly gave them her answer.

Later, a pastor asked what she would do if called to an anti-gay congregation.

Kelly answered politely, but inside she'd had enough. "It was insane. There is no way an anti-gay congregation would ever call me. Why ask the question?"

The meeting ended after more than an hour of grilling. Kelly hurriedly slipped out of the conference room. When she saw her parents standing in the lobby, she broke down in tears.

Despite the traumatic interview, Kelly still decided to attend Luther. During her first semester, she quickly realized that most of her fellow students just assumed everyone there was straight. "It's a pretty sheltered place," she says. "But I figured somebody had to be the out one."

By the end of her sophomore year, Kelly felt comfortable enough to come out in her classes. The Agape meetings created a dialogue at Luther, although Kelly says she became the token queer kid on campus.

In May, students were invited to the Chapel of Incarnation to receive a blessing before their internships. At the entrance, a volunteer handed out pamphlets listing where each student had been assigned. Kelly followed the list down to find her name—it was the only one that didn't have a church next to it. She took a seat.

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