Simplified: In recent months, Sioux Falls has seen several new resources for the LGBTQ+ community, including the state's first-ever LGBTQ+ Christian ministry – Shepherd's Table.
Why it matters
- South Dakota's political and cultural landscape has historically been unfriendly to LGBTQ+ folks, and that can be particularly true in church communities. Shepherd's Table founder Rev. Sawyer Vanden Heuvel said he's seen and experienced it firsthand as a gay man.
- This month, Vanden Heuvel hosted the first-ever Shepherd's Table event at the Prism Community Center – another new resource and gathering space for LGBTQ+ communities. More than 100 people showed up to sing carols, decorate cookies and find fellowship.
- The hope moving forward is to create a "dinner church" model, very similar to how early Christians gathered around tables, shared a meal and spread the gospel, Vanden Heuvel said. Jesus broke bread with all sorts of people, he added, and Shepherd's Table intends to do the same.
"Seeing how the gospel has been weaponized against people or to marginalize people – that's not the gospel then," Vanden Heuvel said. "The gospel means good news. And the good news is that Jesus came for all people and to give salvation to all people with no exclusions."
Tell me more about Shepherd's Table
The name serves a dual purpose of recognizing the scriptural role of Jesus as a shepherd who goes out and finds lost sheep, Vanden Heuvel said.
- It's also remembering Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, who was killed for being gay in a brutal attack in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998.
Vanden Heuvel first started building the Shepherd's Table ministry in 2021 after seeing the responses written in a prayer request box at the Sioux Falls Pride event.
"The repetitive theme that kept coming up from people was like, 'I haven’t lost my faith, but I don’t know where I fit in,'" Vanden Heuvel said.
In the last year, while also completing seminary himself, Vanden Heuvel went through the process to get Shepherd's Table approved and officially recognized as a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
Tell me more about the Prism Community Center
The Prism Community Center opened in October with funding help from the Los Angeles chapter of wayOUT organization.
The center is not only a safe space for LGBTQ+ people to gather and host events, but it also holds the offices for The Transformation Project, a nonprofit focused on empowering transgender people in South Dakota.
- The center has hosted a number of events so far, and the hope is to open for regular drop-in hours starting in January, said Susan Williams, founder and executive director of The Transformation Project.
It was a natural partnership to hold the first Shepherd's Table event at the center, Williams added, noting that she knows firsthand the challenge of wanting to keep your faith but feeling alienated from a church community. She said she and her family were displaced from their church when her son came out as transgender.
- What's important about Shepherd's Table, she said, is that it's not just "welcoming" of LGBTQ+ people.
"This is for you," Williams said. "We're not just welcoming. We're welcoming and affirming."
How can I support the work of these organizations?
You can follow the journey and support Shepherd's Table here.
You can learn more about the Prism Community Center and support the Transformation Project here.