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A Ministry of Emboldening LGBTQ+ Students

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Susan Young Thornton is curating a series highlighting ministry on the Pacific coast — a diverse, rapidly changing, and dizzyingly complex part of the country, and home to our upcoming 2019 National Gathering. We’ll hear from individuals serving in a variety of ministry settings about the struggles and blessings of living into God’s call on the West Coast. What is it really like to serve in this region? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Erin Green

I grew up in the Evangelical church and suppressed my being gay until my early thirties, when I had a very spiritual and cathartic moment that would change the course of my life forever. I was thirty-two when I came out as gay and Christian, fully affirming myself and LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church.

Photo from Brave Commons Facebook page

I have been passionate about Scripture since I was a child and never lost that passion, even while being ignored as a woman and marginalized as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I became a member of the PC(USA) shortly after coming out, and decided to return to academics to achieve my Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies. I went to Biola University and led their underground LGBTQ+, non-school sanctioned affirming group, Biolans’ Equal Ground. We held several demonstrations, events, and protested on campus when a lecture on campus endorsed conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ folks as a way to “heal” from their “sinful identity.” While training in biblical studies, I was also involved in The Reformation Project, a Christian, intersectional non-profit which focuses heavily on the Bible, inclusion, and racial justice. I did an extensive leadership cohort training with them and worked as a faith advocate and activist for other nonprofits as well.

In 2016, I transferred to Azusa Pacific University to complete my Biblical Studies degree and helped consult APU’s underground LGBTQ+ movement, called “Haven.” I spent my senior year negotiating a controversial policy removal that previously banned “romantic same-sex relationships.” The policy was reinstated by the school’s Board of Trustees once they received public criticism and backlash from conservative constituents and donors. I am currently working on action to protect LGBTQ+ students at APU and holding Christian institutions accountable by not allowing them to further marginalize and “other” our community within Christian university spaces.

Brave Commons, the current organization I help lead, is a new organization structured to unify and converge all LGBTQ+ underground and overground student groups at Christian universities across the U.S. Our specialty is understanding the dynamics of specific school regions, institutional politics, and emboldening LGBTQ+ student group movements. We employ a horizontal model of leadership with three co-executive directors strategically located in critical regions of the U.S. with non-affirming Christian universities nearby. Each one of us is trained in biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, intersectionality, pastoral care, racial justice, and direct action organizing. Along with my colleagues, Michael Vasquez and Lauren Sotolongo, we are also members of the Latinx community.

Brave Commons seeks to provoke a movement of faith and justice within Christian institutional and faith community spaces that oppress LGBTQ+ folks and Queer People of Color. Our Sermoncast series is a movement of homiletical activism and resistance where we utilize the common lectionary to preach to those on the margins and on the peripheries. We grieve the trauma imposed on our community and we seek to restore it, build it up, ignite it, and invite our LGBTQ+ siblings to take their seats at God’s table as beloved children of God.


Erin is an M.Div student (class of 2021) at San Francisco Theological Seminary. You can learn more about her and her brave initiatives at bravecommons.org. This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 edition of SFTS’s Chimes Magazine.

Ministry from North to South

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Susan Young Thornton is curating a series highlighting ministry on the Pacific coast — a diverse, rapidly changing, and dizzyingly complex part of the country, and home to our upcoming 2019 National Gathering. We’ll hear from individuals serving in a variety of ministry settings about the struggles and blessings of living into God’s call on the West Coast. What is it really like to serve in this region? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Karen Claassen

More than 2 decades ago I said to my spouse, “How could we not raise our daughter in a place that talks about bald eagles like city people talk about pigeons?” This sentiment sums up my experience of ministry in the West. Alaska, Washington, the greater Los Angeles megalopolis…these have been my stomping grounds. All are larger than life.

The communal faith life in these places is tenuous. Sometimes demographics just don’t fit denominational goals. Sometimes the local way of life works against the imposed model of church. Sometimes the flaws in the context undermine engagement. What do I mean?

Six months after ordination, at my first COM meeting, I asked, “Why are you considering closing that church?” The conversation that ensued shaped my next twenty-plus years in PCUSA ministry. Why this church and not that church? Did numbers matter? Which number mattered more: people in the building on Sunday morning or churches in the community?

If a PCUSA congregation was the only faith gathering in a small place, why would the presbytery close the church? (Or really, shut down the building? No outsider can “close” the church; it would just move to someone’s living room.) Because some city person says the town or congregation is too small? How small is too small to deserve an organized, connectional gathered community? What happened to “Where two or three gather in my name, I am there with them”?

The little church we discussed at that first COM meeting was in an Alaskan village whose population fluctuated from 200 to 350 people, depending on the season. Five years after that conversation, 80 attended Easter worship. 25-40% of the town was in the worship service. How many churches can say that? How do we measure success and viability in such a situation? That is ministry in much of the Western half of the United States: small congregations serving remote communities, often as the only organized representative of Christ.

Then there is the challenge of always meeting on Sundays. In the Pacific Northwest, subsistence or recreation or work consume the weekend. How is a congregation to gather if the people are scattered? Perhaps the answer lies, as one PCUSA church found, in running a Thursday night service during the summer that exactly mirrored the Sunday morning service. It was so successful for three summers that it became a permanent, year-round offering. Washington hunters deserve to gather for worship too.

Imagine my surprise my first three-day weekend after moving to Los Angeles. I planned for low numbers, constructing a beautiful, intimate, interactive experience that could not be done on a Sunday with the regular attendance. But the context had changed. A three-day weekend in Southern California offers time to get a lot of chores done and light traffic, so the worship service becomes a priority. There were MORE people than usual. It wrecked my plans and reminded me of the importance of understanding where I minister.

Each place I served is different. And yet, all my Western service, regardless of the locale, the communal faith life has proven tenuous. None of those areas could boast even a 30% church rate among the population. Each is a mission field that requires creativity and tenacity — and the ability to not lose one’s temper when someone from Louisville or Philadelphia calls at 5:00 or 6:00 AM, “the start of the business day.”


Karen Claassen has served congregations in four states and six presbyteries for the past 20 years, helping people encounter and love the Spirit more intensely. She constantly explores changing modes of discipleship and outreach in the 21st century in order to live her zeal for equipping Christians and encouraging congregations into a brighter future.