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Lutheran Lesbian & Gay Ministries


The Ordination of Sharon Stalkfleet on May 12th, 2002 at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Oakland, CA.

There are 87 nursing homes in Alameda County. Four of them in the cities of Oakland and Alameda will now have a full-time chaplain, thanks to the co-operative efforts of five East Bay California congregations.

"I never saw her face; I don't know her name, but I did see her feet. Feet with paper-thin skin, propped up on a pillow. Feet that once danced, walked down a church aisle, carried her own children. Now wearied and propped up on a pillow - yet beautiful feet. Now, thanks to these five congregations, a chaplain will walk into this woman’s room. ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.’" (Romans 10:15)

These were the words of Rev. Ross Merkel, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Oakland, CA, on a Mother’s Day afternoon. On Sunday, May 12, 2002, Sharon Sue Stalkfleet was ordained and installed at St. Paul’s as Chaplain for the East Bay Nursing Home Ministry. It was the second ordination of an Extraordinary Candidate at St. Paul’s in 15 months. In February, 2001, Craig Minich was ordained and installed to serve as Youth Minister for a similar coopertative ministry.

Pastor Stalkfleet, 47, is well qualified to serve in this much needed ministry. A Registered Nurse who worked as nurse clinician for 16 years at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, Iowa, she is well acquainted with the medical as well as the spiritual issues facing elderly and disabled people who live in nursing homes. As a mother and grandmother she also understands the feelings of families who often feel helpless when they come to visit an elderly family member in a care facility. "In my years of working as a nurse, I often wanted to give my patients and their families more than the benefits of medical science," says Sharon, "I wanted to give them the comfort and presence of Jesus who I always felt was at my side." With that in her mind and heart, Sharon entered the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and graduated with an M.Div. in 1999. While struggling with her sexual orientation, she was approved for call and ordination by her ELCA candidacy committee. But after accepting her sexual orientation as bisexual, she put her application with the ELCA process on hold and applied to the Extraordinary Candidacy Project. She was approved by the ECP in May of 2001. Sharon and her girlfriend, Liz, are excited about the call. "It has been difficult to wait, not knowing if there would be a ministry in which I could answer God’s call and use my gifts. This call is truly amazing because it is a more than an excellent match! It is truly the culmination of the work of God, the support of the ECP, the hope given by LLGM and the incredible witness of four congregations willing to take the risk of being censured by the ELCA."

The genesis of the East Bay Nursing Home Ministry began in 1998 when Pr. Ross Merkel met with a group of colleagues to discuss possible ministries that would use the gifts of GLBT pastors. Among the possibilities were a Youth Ministry and a Ministry to Nursing Homes. The Youth Ministry was the first to get off the ground, leading to the call and ordination of Craig Minich in February, 2001. Funding for the Ministry to Nursing Homes was also secured by pledges from individuals and churches. However, no candidate surfaced. So, in November, 1999, the ministry was placed on hold while all donations were refunded or redirected according to the wishes of the donors. In January, 2001, the vision of the nursing home ministry was revived. Again clergy and laity met to discuss the possibility of this ministry. A long respected local organization, the San Francisco Bay Area Ministry to Nursing Homes and its Executive Director, Brent Nettle, were brought in as partners to develop goals for the ministry and to gain access to the nursing home facilities. This time a national search was made for a qualified person on both the ELCA roster and the ECP roster. Once again funds were solicited from churches and individuals. In January, 2002, a Call Committee formed which ultimately recommended Sharon Stalkfleet be called and ordained to the position. On April 14th, St. Paul (Pr. Merkel) and Resurrection Lutheran (Pr. Lucy Kolin) of Oakland extended the call; the following Sunday, Trinity Lutheran of Oakland (Pr. Brian Stein-Webber) and Trinity Lutheran of Alameda (Pr. Mary Rowe) extended calls. Bethlehem Lutheran Church of Oakland, while not participating in the call, pledged to support the ministry financially. LLGM agreed to serve with back-up financial support if it is needed.

Held on a beautiful Mother’s Day afternoon, the church was filled with representatives from the four calling congregations, local pastors and the St. Paul choir. Dr. Margaret Moreland, president of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project and Rev. Jeff Johnson, pastor of University Lutheran Chapel, Berkeley, presented the candidate with the words: "We present for the ordination of Word and Sacrament Sharon Sue Stalkfleet, who has been prepared, examined and certified for this ministry and who has been called by the Church to the office of Pastor." Pr. Mary Rowe, Dean of the East Bay Conference of ELCA churches and pastor of Trinity, Alameda, one of the calling congregations said, "We are breaking a (by) law to keep a commandment. For Jesus told us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel." In addition to the pastors of the calling congregations, Prs. Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart, Robyn Hartwig, and Lyle Beckman, all ECP pastors serving local ELCA or Independent Lutheran congregations, participated in the laying on of hands, as did Pr. Anita Hill, who traveled from St. Paul, MN, especially for the occasion. Other local clergy also participated in the laying on of hands. LLGM co-chair, Greg Egertson, brought a letter of congratulations and introduced LLGM Board Members Mari Irvin, John Eric Rolfstad, and Jim DeLange. Rev. Lucy Kolin, pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church, Oakland, another of the calling congregations, presided at the two hour service. Pr. Kolin was also the Presiding Minister at the historic ordinations on January 20, 1990, when Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, were ordained at St. Paulus Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

People who wish to support this ministry can send their contributions to LLGM, 152 Church St., San Francisco, CA 94114 and designate them: "East Bay Nursing Home Ministry."