Brach Jennings says he has “traveled the gamut of religion.” He was baptized Catholic, became Methodist in high school and dabbled in Quakerism and Unitarianism in college. He also attended a Baptist service and, at one point, didn’t even want to be near Christianity.
As far as the Lutheran church, Brach’s only connection there was his passion for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Brach studied to become a choral conductor in college.
But in his pursuit of self-discovery and faith during his formative years, Brach’s understanding of God was one of judgment and anger. Religion was exclusionary and condemning for Brach, who was also coming to terms with being gay.
So the idea of entering seminary was a “distant and crazy” notion, says Brach. But the idea occurred to him twice, unexpectedly. “The first time was in high school, and the second time was during a choir bus trip in college. I remember thinking, ‘Where is this coming from?’” he says, especially since he didn’t officially belong to a church.
A turning point
The turning point in Brach’s young life, however, was the unexpected death of his step-father. Shortly after his death, Brach met two ELCA pastors who offered life-changing messages of God’s grace and unconditional love.
“They basically told me that I could either focus on God’s wrath or God’s grace,” says Brach. “I had never before heard of a God of grace!” One of the two pastors would also become Brach’s spiritual mentor.
This all happened after the decisions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. And it was at that point Brach knew that the ELCA was the church for him. The decisions of the 2009 assembly proved to Brach that the ELCA is a welcoming church, that there is a place for him here.
“I’m so deeply grateful for the ELCA and Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson,” says Brach.
A life-saving message
In 2011, Bishop Hanson added his voice to the more than 3,000 videos in the It Gets Better project with words of reassurance and hope to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth saying, “You are a beloved child of God.” Brach says Bishop Hanson’s message was life-saving.
Brach had the opportunity to meet Bishop Hanson at a banquet where Brach was awarded the John and Sharon Haugo ELCA Fund for Leaders scholarship.
“At the banquet Bishop Hanson said to us, ‘There’s never been a time where I have been more hopeful for the ELCA than now.’ I agree with him and share in his enthusiasm and optimism,” says Brach.
As part of its commitment to supporting seminary students preparing for ministry, the ELCA Fund for Leaders honored 19 seminarians with full-tuition scholarships for the 2011-2012 academic year. The vision of Fund for Leaders is to provide support to all qualified students preparing for ordained or rostered lay ministry through one of the eight ELCA seminaries.
About a month after graduating from college, Brach entered seminary. He is pursuing a master of divinity degree at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, an ELCA seminary in Berkeley, Calif.
ELCA seminaries currently receive close to $8 million per year in Mission Support — the percentage of weekly congregational offerings that is shared with synods and ELCA churchwide ministries. This investment covers 15 percent of the seminaries’ total annual costs and goes directly to educating the 1,400 ministry candidates enrolled in ELCA seminaries.
“The Lutheran church has given me a lens to see a Christ that is not often heard. What I’ve come to learn about this church is that God is a God of grace as seen through the cross. This is not what I heard in college,” says Brach. “I believe the ELCA has a profound opportunity to witness Christ’s message of radical inclusivity to all people,” says Brach, who wants to reach out to people who only know a God of anger.
And spreading the good news of God’s grace to others is exactly what Brach plans to do.