Recently, I have been asked: How do I help my congregation have a conversation around marriage? (Short answer: slowly.) What are these so-called “religious freedom” bills and why are they so bad? I mean, don’t we all want to be “free” to practice our religion? (Very short answer: discrimination in the name of religion is still discrimination.) We are a newly married gay couple, but there is some unspoken unease in our congregation. How can we help change that? (Short answer: by being you, and congratulations!) I think I understand “gay” and “lesbian,” but I don’t understand “transgender.” Are transgender people made in God’s image too? (Short answer: absolutely yes!)
The “short answers” above belie deep conversations. Moreover, the questions drive home an undeniable fact: that the mission and ministry of ReconcilingWorks still matters. While our context has changed dramatically since the 70s, the need for a Lutheran voice for full inclusion and participation in the church and society is as important now as it has ever been. Some of the questions may seem “old” or clunky—or both. Some issues may feel all but settled: we await a US Supreme Court decision on marriage equality; an ELCA Task Force is in conversation about how the church can authentically minister to same gender couples and their families; and LGBT pastors are slowly being called to congregations. Isn’t our work “done”?
While progress is to be celebrated, we are a long way from “done.” Sometimes the “same old” questions or issues get re-packaged and asked in new ways. This notion of “religious liberty” to justify homophobia is a prime example. There are lessons we can learn from the great lengths it was, and still is, used to justify racism. Old arguments are packaged in new ways. The message that God’s radical, fully inclusive love is really for all continues to be a response that can never be said often enough. The ministry of reconciliation, entrusted to us, is urgently needed.
So while we are unwavering in our message, we must be nimble as an organization to be effective evangelists in a changing church and world. The ReconcilingWorks Board of Directors realized that we must closely align our resources and energies with the mission we believe God is now calling us to do. We are profoundly grateful for those who have laid the groundwork for the path on which we boldly continue. We are thankful for the vision of those who led ReconcilingWorks through extraordinary times. Keeping the concept of graceful engagement at the forefront, giving people the support and encouragement to tell their stories, listening deeply to those who see the world differently—it’s all part of our DNA now. And it’s oh-so Lutheran!
As our sister in Christ, Emily Eastwood, stepped down as Executive Director, the Board searched for someone who understood from whence we came, but who could also see a path ahead and lead us in this new context. So, after prayerful consideration, it is with great joy that we welcome Aubrey Thonvold as the new Executive Director of ReconcilingWorks! Aubrey has served as our Interim Executive Director since June. We have experienced her energy and passion, her deeply rooted faith, and her grace. Aubrey is a Lutheran and a Minnesota native, having most recently worked with faith communities in marriage equality campaigns in Hawaii and Oregon. Aubrey is married to Heather Thomason, who is a hospice chaplain with Allina Health in the Twin Cities. Aubrey brings networking expertise and an intuitive strategic focus to our work.
Speaking recently with Board officers, Emily Eastwood said, “I am pleased for Aubrey and for ReconcilingWorks as she becomes Executive Director. She leads with grace and gratitude, both essential when organizing to create the changes of heart and action needed to foster full inclusion. Her Lutheran foundations as well as her experience make Aubrey an excellent choice for leadership, especially at this place in the journey of both our organization and the movement in church and society.”
We are confident of Aubrey’s ability to lead ReconcilingWorks forward through the lens of our new strategic plan. Where our focus was once primarily on sanctuary for LGBT people, it is now on faith-based advocacy for full participation in our church and in society. The strategic plan focuses on four key things:
- Deepening and expanding our Reconciling in Christ programs
- Dismantling injustice based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, race, ethnicity, and other social categories through a Lutheran faith lens
- Building and strengthening relationships within the ELCA and the ELCIC
- Sustainably funding the mission
I know I speak on behalf of the entire board of directors in expressing a hearty welcome to Aubrey in her role as executive director. And there is no better way for you to take part in that welcome than by coming to Minneapolis this summer to attend Until All Are Free, ReconcilingWorks’ 2015 Assembly in Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 31–August 2! Hope to see you there!
Co-Chair, Board of Directors
ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation
P.S. If you cannot join us for the entire three days of our assembly, the Gala Dinner is not to be missed, as ReconcilingWorks will be honoring our past, celebrating our present, and working into our future.
To register for the Assembly or the Gala, please complete the registration form. If members of your congregation are unable to attend, but would like to have a presence at the event, they may consider sponsoring a table at the Gala for $400. For more information, call the national office at 651-665-0861.
Please distribute this bulletin insert “Until All Are Free” registration flyer to your congregation.Please distribute this bulletin insert “Until All Are Free” registration flyer to your congregation.