Newly installed, Associate Pastor Ben Hogue of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation doesn’t just look like a swimmer, he was one. With broad shoulders, long arms and the height to match, Hogue swam competitively from the age of 5 and was recruited to swim in the collegiate levels at California Lutheran University (known as Cal Lutheran), specializing in the 100 and 200-meter breaststroke.
Yet, something changed in college. Swimming wasn’t as enjoyable anymore, and soon he found a new community in campus ministry, participating more heavily in the church he grew up in. After college, Hogue volunteered for the Peace Corps in Western Ukraine teaching English, then completed his graduate degree at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA. And now, after spending a year as an intern for DC’s Lutheran Church of the Reformation, he is their newly installed Associate Pastor.
Hogue hails from Grand Junction, Colorado, a small city of over 60,000 people, home to high desert, red sandstone and a growing wine industry. In a “pretty conservative city,” Hogue was raised in the Lutheran Church by two progressive parents.
“I had parents who were very encouraging of thinking outside of the box and being independent and being unique,” Hogue said.
Though the small-town feel of Grand Junction was at times comforting and supporting, it was also confining and limiting during others. Growing up gay, Hogue never knew anybody like himself
“I always saw myself away from Grand Junction,” Hogue said. “It was difficult because there weren’t a lot of queer people that I necessarily knew or that were out. That wasn’t until maybe high school or college that even that was present … and especially not in the Church.”
“I didn’t know if I could be my whole self, authentic self, and be a pastor at the same time,” Hogue continued. “Those examples weren’t showed to me in Western Colorado.”
When Tides Change
It wasn’t until he worked at Rainbow Trail Lutheran Summer Camp during college, that Hogue found people who were asking similar questions and wrestling with their faith, “challenging things that we had learned and knew.”
“Martin Luther encouraged that questioning,” Hogue said. “Part of Reformation was to ask questions and get the bible into a language that people understood, not just the languages that priests and popes spoke. [Luther’s] big thing was ‘Let’s think about this.’”
As a counselor at Rainbow Trail and a student at Cal Lutheran, Hogue thought critically about scripture and traditions with friends and mentors, something he wasn’t able to do when he was younger.
While Hogue was at college, in 2009, the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), made a policy decision to start ordaining “out and partnered,” effectively making an unofficial practice official. Since 1987, DC’s Lutheran Church of the Reformation had publicly welcomed LGBTQ leaders and members, but no congregation had called an out LGBTQ Lutheran Pastor in DC.
DC’s Lutheran Church of the Reformation had been doing so since 1987.
“I knew their history here,” Hogue said, citing it as a reason he was interested in interning there last year. “Part of the ethos of this congregation is that all people are welcome, and they have stood strong on that for a while. … To be able to be fully embraced with my partner with all that we bring, all the gifts that I have, is a pretty incredible thing.”
One of those gifts, Hogue said, is his orientation. Hogue believes his sexual orientation is a strength, a gift from God, a tool that he can use to help people.
A wall in Hogue’s office is plastered with protest signs. Some read “Clean Dream Act Now!” and “Gun Reform > Thoughts and Prayers.” A white poster board, written in red and blue marker, reads “Love Thy – Immigrant and Refugee – Neighbor” and hangs next to a drawing of Martin Luther.
As Reformation’s intern last year, Hogue learned from other members of the church the best ways to help in the community, the ward, and the greater Washington region. As the Associate Pastor, he is looking to continue serving those in need.
“Part of what I feel called to do is stand with people who are oppressed and are marginalized,” Hogue said. “I can stand with you, I can be shoulder to shoulder with you and accompany you however you need.”
By continuing to help Reformation rethink the food pantry and how it approaches food justice, maintain their presence in the Washinton Interfaith Network (WIN), and helping with refugee resettlements, Hogue hopes to make a lasting difference in the community.
What His ‘Call’ Might Mean
Hogue believes that Reformation, by calling him to be their Associate Pastor, is making a statement. It is a sign that anyone is welcome.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, who you love,” Hogue said. “We want you to know that there’s a place at this table for you. There’s a place in the pews for you, there’s a place in this community for you.”
In a time with such division, Hogue wants to stay away from drawing metaphorical lines in who can and cannot find refuge in Reformation’s pews, and instead, promote an environment in which everyone is welcome.
“To have a place just to say, ‘Whoever you are is good enough and whoever you are is beloved and whole.’”
These words are not said nearly enough. But with Hogue residing on East Capitol Street for the foreseeable future, you’ll hear it a lot more often through Reformation’s doors. If you peek inside, you might see Hogue leading services, perhaps wearing a rainbow stole, standing tall and solemn with a frame built for the water, helping everyone find their peace in prayer.