Brooke Thames ’18
Mast Magazine Editor
Jen Rude hails from a line of pastors. Her grandfather, father, and uncle each stood behind the pulpit as Lutheran preachers. Growing up, Rude thought she would follow them –until coming out as queer in her first year of college caused her to hesitate.
“At the time, there was not a lot of room in the Lutheran church for open LGBTQ folk, sisters, and pastors,” Rude said. “I came out and [said], ‘Okay, maybe this isn’t a path I can pursue.’”
However, coming out didn’t deter Rude from earning a religion degree at Augustana University. Determined to serve, she actively followed her vocation in ministry.
When she officially became campus pastor in July 2016, she made Pacific Lutheran University history as the first queer-identified pastor.
Rude steps into her first university pastoral position after spending years advocating for LGBTQ leadership and serving queer youth in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
She began in seminary. She found inspiration and gained experience from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a group of LGBTQ Lutheran pastors who sought to do the church’s work despite its exclusive policies.
Until 2009, non-celibate LGBTQ individuals were barred from holding leadership positions within the Lutheran church. Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries’ website notes that the group has endeavored to affirm and support partnered LGBTQ clergy and those seeking positions in Lutheran ministry since the early 1990s.
Working with ELM taught Rude she didn’t have to wait for the church to change in order to do its work. Instead, she could exercise her call to support, engage and serve community in the here and now.
“The evolution of how I ended up in ministry [was through] finding other people who weren’t waiting around for the world to change, but were part of changing the world,” Rude said.
Rude relocated to Chicago after completing her education, equipped with degrees in religion and gender studies. There, she spent 11 years involved in a variety of church-related service and advocacy work. She advocated for LGBTQ pastors with a national nonprofit, aided homeless queer youth through a program called The Night Ministry and served as a pastor.
Rude’s minor degree in gender studies came in handy while working with LGBTQ youth in Chicago. Her education helped her think of gender as a nonbinary spectrum. It proved invaluable while caring for a variety of queer youth who identified as transgender, gender nonconforming and gender fluid.
Gender studies also alerted Rude to the reality of privilege and systematic injustice. Even more, she learned how privilege could be used to potentially build bridges between different demographics.
“I learned how most of us have a mixture of privilege and oppression and how that can help us relate to each other,” Rude said.
As she inherits her new role as campus pastor, she plans to make strides toward stronger religious intersectionality and interfaith dialogue on campus. Even though PLU finds a strong sense of identity in its middle name, Rude holds that variety and exchange should be far from discouraged. If anything, she says diversity is a Lutheran virtue.
“A Lutheran value is critical inquiry,” Rude said. “A Lutheran value is engaging the neighbor. I feel like it’s very Lutheran to have interfaith dialogue.”
Furthermore, Rude believes a vital part of Lutheran education is the ability to listen and think critically about religious rhetoric. Whether in media, politics or everyday conversation, Lutes should be quick to spot bias and eager to learn through open communication.
“I think all of us can figure out what our [particular beliefs are] — which might be different for each of us — and [still] have an open door to others,” Rude said. “Even if people don’t have a faith, I think even academically we all need skills in interfaith dialogue because of the world we live in.”
In the midst of enacting inclusivity and conversation, Rude is sure to be found mingling with students and faculty across PLU’s campus in the coming school year — learning what it means to be a Lute while continuing to serve as an LGBTQ advocate on campus and beyond.
“I can feel the energy building around here. I think people are really excited to have a fresh start and dive in.”