Just a short forty-six years ago Barbara Andrews broke barriers In December 1970, when she became the first female pastor ordained by the American Lutheran Church, while here in our own local community we have our own barrier breaker by the name of Donna Simon.
Donna is serving as the Pastor of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church located off of Troost in the Kansas City area. Donna is an openly gay woman and part of the Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries. Donna was a graduate of San Francisco State University (English Literature) and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California and was ordained back in 2000.
I reached out to Donna to see if she would be interested in taking part of our Community Spotlight Series where we highlight local people in the Kansas City area that we feel are overlooked or people that clearly inspire, support and rise to a challenge in positive ways in our community and need a spotlight shined on them. And Donna clearly fit the bill.
I was honestly surprised she had the time to fit us into that busy schedule of hers. For example. She serves on the board of Hollis Renewal Center. She teaches a small group of student pastors at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri. She volunteers with several organizations in and around Kansas City, including the Northland Assistance Center, Shalom House men’s shelter, the KC Coalition for Welcoming Ministries and still has time to create a sermon for the masses on Sunday morning.
I don’t know about you, but I’d be ready for a much-needed vacation if I walked in her shoes for a week.
I asked Donna if she would be willing to answer a few questions for KC Pride and she was more then happy to take the opportunity to do so.
KC Pride: When did you receive your calling to work in the ministry?
Donna: I joined a church in Redwood City, California. I was a college student, studying English. I thought I would become a teacher. But I couldn’t stop volunteering at church. I helped with kids programs and worship and eventually became the youth director. One day my pastor said to me, “Why don’t you just go to seminary? You could do church work all the time. It took me a year, but I finally followed his advice, and have never regretted it.
KC Pride: What do you believe your fundamental calling is as a minister of the gospel?
Donna: I am called to serve God and God’s people. I lead from amidst the people, equipping our congregation to serve our community and the church. I also have a particular calling to build a diverse community and to work for equal rights for all people. I have been called specifically to speak out on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning individuals.
KC Pride: Did your family find it difficult to accept that you were gay or were they accepting of your truth in coming out?
Donna: My mom was fantastic when I came out, and has been amazingly supportive, as has my brother. Mom sends articles about anything the church does with regard to LGBT people. She calls my wife Colleen her other daughter.
KC Pride: With all the debates going with gay marriage being in the spotlight. What are your thoughts view and hopes for Kansas City on this issue?
Donna: I believe Kansas City will continue to be a welcome place for the LGBT community. Our city has refused to allow discrimination for over twenty years, and the city actually argued on behalf of the plaintiffs in the case this month which asked Missouri to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Kansas City is a city which values diversity. My hope for our city is that folks within the gay community will show a similar respect for diversity. The community is sometimes divided against itself and doesn’t make room for all sorts of folks. We are stronger when we work together.
KC Pride: Where do you see your church in 3 years and what impact do you hope to have on the Kansas City community? and LGBTQ community?
Donna: In three years, we will be right where we are now—working and serving and worshiping on Troost. I love this community and am so proud to serve here. We will build on what we are doing now, continuing to provide a safe place for LGBTQ folks, to serve those in need in our neighborhood, and to advocate on behalf of those on the margins. I hope that our HOPE Center for Youth will be going strong, serving the youth from DeLaSalle High School across the street from us every weekday afternoon.
KC Pride: What do you feel that the LGBTQ community could offer to you that could help you have a stronger presence in the community?
Donna: We are always looking for more partners in our mission. Anyone looking for a place to belong, to explore faith and spirituality and to serve the community would be welcome at St. Mark Hope and Peace.
KC Pride: What would you recommend for today’s gay youths that is interested in working in the ministry?
Donna: More and more churches are opening their doors to LGBTQ members and families. Most of the mainline churches now ordain openly gay pastors, and more and more churches are willing to call gay pastors. I would advise any young person interested in ministry to find a welcoming denomination and explore the possibilities.
KC Pride: Do you have a message that you would like to share with the youth of our tomorrow?
Donna: I would like to say thank you to our youth, for leading the way toward strong communities which honor diversity. The young folks I know can teach us old folks something about treating all people with dignity. They refuse to allow discrimination against their LGBTQ peers, and those who are queer themselves are much more likely, to be honest about who they are. Being out is really important. The change we have witnessed over the past couple of decades is the result of brave folks who refused to live in the shadows, who were willing to be open about their lives and their families. Once people see that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people are like them—we love, we laugh, we work hard, and we value our families—they open their minds and their hearts.
KC Pride: What is your view on the stigma associated with HIV and how do you feel we can begin to remove it in our community?
Donna: We have to continue to address any misinformation about HIV and AIDS—ignorance about transmission, about persons who are HIV-positive, and about treatment. The stigma attached to HIV is generally the result of ignorance or prejudice. Neither is acceptable in an educated nation. The LGBTQ community should lead the way in supporting persons living with HIV and eradicating any stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.
KC Pride: What organizations are you currently active with outside of the church? i.e.,.. gardening, pets, homeless, women shelter, etc. ?
Donna: I serve on the board of Communities Creating Opportunity, a local faith-based community organizing federation, and on the board of a local Lutheran retreat center. Colleen (my wife) and I serve a meal at a men’s shelter in KCK every month. I am working on a doctorate, so I spend a lot of time reading and writing. We (my wife Colleen) and I have adopted three dogs and three cats, and are currently working to be certified as foster parents.
KC Pride: What is your greatest weaknesses as a pastor?
Donna: I tend to overextend myself and struggle to accomplish everything I need to do in a week. My office usually looks like a natural disaster zone. I can always find something I’d rather read or a cause I’d rather champion when it comes time to get organized.
KC Pride: How has your life been different than what you’d imagined as a kid?
Donna: When I was young, I thought I would become a forest ranger. Then I thought I’d be a lawyer. But what I really wanted was to do something that made a difference, and to have a fulfilling life. So I guess my life has turned out about the way I wanted it to.
Here at KC Pride, we say to be a pastor of Donna’s caliber it takes a level of commitment that is usually only found in Olympic athletes. You have to be willing to go all in, go big or go home. You have to be ready to do the work and own it. So if you are currently looking for a new community church home, please consider St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church in Kansas City.
You can find the address listed below.
St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church
Sunday School at 9:15
Worship at 10:30
A Reconciling in Christ Community
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