Daniel Kirschbaum graduated from UW-Madison in 2017. Now, they’re a Program Director for the Young Adult Ministry with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Kirschbaum’s story highlights how gender, sexuality, and faith can come together and positively impact a college faith community.

Churches steer clear of conversations surrounding gender, sexuality, and faith. Putting the three topics together can be considered controversial. The ELCA, however, is trying to change such notions. At an ELCA–affiliated church or student–faith community like Lutheran Campus Ministry (LCM), we believe every person is created in God’s image—including folks within the LGBTQ+ community. 

Daniel Kirschbaum identifies as queer and uses he/they pronouns. They found their faith early on in Tomah, Wisconsin, and attended an ELCA church. 

“God became real to me when I was at a youth retreat in middle school,” Kirschbaum said. “I started developing a real relationship to a God I felt knew me, and who I could get to know.” 

Kirschbaum kept their relationship with God throughout middle and high school. They attended Sugar Creek Bible Camp every year and even worked as a camp counselor. Throughout college, they attended a church 30 minutes outside of Madison in Black Earth, Wisconsin. A valued part of their church community, Kirschbaum was even picked up from downtown Madison by other members to attend worship services. 

Because Kirschbaum was so connected to the community in Black Earth, they were not actively seeking out campus ministry opportunities. Yet, when Kirschbaum met Pastor Emily Tveite, that all changed. 

Tveite worked at Sugar Creek and connected with Kirschbaum when they were a camp counselor. 

“Daniel had always been very outgoing,” Tveite said. “They’re a really great person.” 

When Tveite took the job with LCM, she invited Kirschbaum to get plugged into LCM’s community. Kirshbaum had tried other ministries on campus that they believed matched their worship style. Yet, when Kirschbaum stepped into LCM for the first time, they knew something was different.

“The other options I tried in my early years [of college] that were more praise and worship style were not welcoming places,” Kirschbaum said. “Even though LCM didn’t match my worship preference, they were a place that I was completely safe and affirmed.” 

Kirschbaum made LCM a part of their work and life rhythm and quickly acquired leadership roles on staff. They served as an office staff member, a student representative on the LCM Board, and helped reimagine what ministry could look like on campus. 

According to Tveite, having Kirschbaum by her side was a huge help. As a non-profit leadership major, Kirschbaum applied what he was learning in the classroom to LCM. Together, Tveite and Kirschbaum came up with ways to make LCM as inclusive as possible. 

“We wanted to be a space that was inclusive to people beyond students who grew up in an ELCA Lutheran congregation,” Tveite said. “We wanted people to find this space open to them.” 

Stakeholder engagement and listening sessions with students and board members drove Kirschbaum to create content and student activities. With Kirschbaum’s help, LCM made major strides in becoming welcoming for all students. 

Kirschbaum says their experiences leading at LCM while exploring the intersectionality of gender, sexuality, and faith gave them practical, real-world experience for post graduation. The skills Kirschbaum learned at LCM are ones they continue applying as a Program Director for the Young Adult Ministry with the ELCA. And they hope others can have a similar experience at LCM. 

Years of faith and self discovery have shown Kirschbaum what the ELCA believes to be the truth— diversity drives unity. 

“I think God loves all of who I am,” Kirschbaum said. “And maybe even celebrates that too.” 

Here at LCM, we hope all feel celebrated like Kirschbaum as children of God. If you wish to support what LCM does for students like Kirschbaum at UW-Madison, go to www.lcmmadison.org/giving.

This article was written by UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication student, Emma Conway.