Rev. Jim DeLange, a supporter of LGBTQ rights, dies

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Tuesday August 23, 2022
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The Reverend Jim DeLange. Photo: Courtesy the DeLange family
The Reverend Jim DeLange. Photo: Courtesy the DeLange family

The Reverend Jim DeLange, a straight ally who advocated for the LGBTQ community in the Lutheran Church, died August 20 at his home in San Francisco. He was 88.

Pastor DeLange had suffered from dementia for many years, his daughter, Lynn Krausse, wrote in an email, and added that she and other family members were at his side. For the last several years, Krausse said that her brother, Brad DeLange, served as his primary caretaker.

In 1981, pastor DeLange accepted the call to St. Francis Lutheran Church, a small inner-city congregation on the eastern edge of San Francisco's Castro district, the city's large LGBTQ neighborhood, noted an obituary that pastor DeLange wrote. Through his efforts, the congregation expanded its outreach to the gay community, just as the AIDS crisis was striking. St. Francis church grew and soon established itself as a voice for gay and lesbian people in the Lutheran Church.

In 1982, the congregation called the Reverend James Lokken, a gay man, as a part-time assistant pastor. In 1984, the congregation called the Reverend Michael Hiller, another gay man, as a part-time assistant pastor, according to the obituary. Both of these calls were approved by the former American Lutheran Church. In 1990, the congregation called and ordained a lesbian clergy couple, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart, as assistant pastors and assigned them to work with another recent gay seminary graduate, Jeff Johnson, to develop Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministry. For this latter action, the St. Francis congregation was charged by the local Evangelical Lutheran Church in America bishop with violating the ELCA constitution, put on trial, suspended from membership for five years and, finally, was expelled from the ELCA in 1995.

In 1994, pastors Frost and Zillhart became part of the pastoral staff of St. Francis Church and, under pastor DeLange's leadership, LLGM moved to a national organization, called Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries. The organization is now called Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and has over 250 ELCA LGBTQ pastors and seminarians on its roster.

With the 2009 change in ELCA policy toward LGBTQ pastors, St. Francis was received back into membership in the ELCA. During the Festival of Reconciliation in 2011, a formal ceremony marking the end of St. Francis' expulsion from the national Lutheran Church, as the Bay Area Reporter noted at the time.

"Jim and the St. Francis Lutheran faithful in the Castro, along with their allies, changed the church," Michael Pappas, a gay man who's executive director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, wrote in an email. "Jim was a passionate leader who challenged, exerted, worked, and prayed for the church to become an open and welcoming place for all of God's people. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is still a church in transition, but because of Jim's courage and passion it is infinitely closer today to being, in his words, 'the church that it oughta be — a church that makes a difference in the lives of individuals, in the whole church and in the world.'"

Pastor DeLange was also involved in ministering to gay men in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. As gay men moved into the old Victorian homes in Duboce Triangle and Eureka Valley further south on Market Street, many of St. Francis's longtime straight parishioners had moved to other parts of the city and Bay Area. And not many of the new residents attended the Lutheran services.

"There were some gay men in the congregation when I became pastor. It was a small congregation," recalled DeLange in a 2011 interview with the B.A.R.

But in 1981 pastor DeLange soon found himself providing pastoral care to many gay men raised Lutheran who had succumbed to a mysterious disease that had only been discovered that summer.

"Mostly what happened is there were people in the congregation who said their friends were sick and asked if I would go visit them," he said. "The hospitals would also call to say there was a gay man here who is Lutheran and very sick. That got me involved."

SF interfaith group

In 1989, the Reverend DeLange was invited to join a steering committee that was forming the San Francisco Interfaith Council. He served on the board of the SFIC for 23 years, eight of those years as chair, 2004-2012. During that time, he and his colleague, Rita Semel, raised the profile of the organization, developed the board, and raised the funds to hire Pappas as the first executive director.

"His many years of leadership solidified the infrastructure and foundation of the SFIC as we know it today," Pappas stated in an email. "He was a friend and mentor whose wise counsel I both trusted and valued."

Fran Johns served with pastor DeLange on the SFIC in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

"Jim's remarkable work for justice and equity for the LGBTQ community was part of what earned him such high regard," Johns wrote in an email. "But he was also gifted with an ability to reach out to faith communities of every tradition, and the genuine love and concern he held for all humankind made him unique as a faith leader."

Marilyn Saner, an Episcopalian who served with pastor DeLange on the interfaith council, wrote in an email that he was friends with José Julio Sarria, a gay man and drag queen who founded the Imperial Court System, and was in the procession for Mr. Sarria's funeral at Grace Cathedral in 2013.

Early life

Pastor DeLange was born on July 6, 1934, and was a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, the obituary stated. His mother was the youngest daughter of Swedish immigrants who had moved from Ystad in Skåne to St. Paul in 1903. His father was the grandson of Norwegian immigrants from Bergen and English grandparents from Yorkshire. He attended elementary school in St. Paul and graduated from North St. Paul High School in 1951. He entered the University of Minnesota that fall. His college education was interrupted by the Korean War, and he joined the U.S. Navy in January 1953. During his time in the Navy (1955-1958) he resumed his college education at the University of Minnesota. Upon his discharge from the Navy in 1958, he transferred to Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, Illinois. He graduated in 1962 and was ordained in his home church, Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Maplewood, by his family's next-door neighbor and longtime pastor, the Reverend Paul Krause.

In 1957 he married Beverly Hansen (now Beverly Bradley, Ph.D.) in St. Paul, according to the obituary. That marriage gave them two children, Lynn Rene born in 1959; and Jay Bradley in 1963. They divorced in 1970. A second marriage also ended in divorce. In 1991, at a Synod Assembly in Fresno, pastor DeLange met Diane Nelson. They were married at St. Francis Church a year later. After 20 wonderful years together, Diane died of cancer in 2011.

Reverend DeLange is survived by his sister Rochelle and her husband Floyd Schrodt; his nephew Dean Schrodt and his wife Wendy; his niece Shari Nelson and her husband Chuck; his daughter Lynn Krausse and her husband Jeffrey; son Brad DeLange; two step-children, Matthew Nelson and Adrienne Nelson Brown; and four grandchildren: Ellen Armstrong and her husband Troy, Paul Krausse and his girlfriend Lauren Fenske, Gordon, and Glenn Brown.

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