Dedication and Promise

by Ralph Jones
Hartford, CT -- Sunday, November 7, 6 PM. "Waiter, table for eight, please," was the improbable request at the only restaurant open in downtown Hartford - MacDonald’s. The faithful from the far corners of the Presbytery of Southern New England had been gathered by circumstance for a shared meal of Big Macs, french fries and cups of Coke. Shortly we adjourned to the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in Hartford where our numbers multiplied and the gifts of the spirit were abundant.

The occasion was a Service of Dedication - a service of witness, promise, dedication - and celebration. The story began long ago. Rev. Tom Otte served this presbytery for twenty-four years following his ordination by one of our predecessor presbyteries. His ministry took many forms, but always his home was open to those in need. Increasingly his ministry among us had included advocacy of and education about issues of justice and inclusion for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. This past March he was brutally killed.

We gathered to witness. Many churches observed this as All Saints Day. The Hartford sanctuary was filled with a hundred of the stoles collected by the Shower of Stoles Project "to give a voice to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people of faith from all over North America."

We gathered to promise. The urgency of Tom Otte's ministry has been transforming for many of us. It is being continued through the formation of Presbyterian Promise, a ministry formally announced and celebrated at this service.

We gathered to dedicate. Sarah and Timothy Otte joined us to present one of their father's liturgical stoles for dedication to the Stoles Project. Rev. Barbara Prasse read the biography.
 

TOM OTTE

1942 – 1999

Tom, our dear brother in Christ, was a gentle, compassionate man with a strong sense of justice and a delightful sense of humor. He was a man who loved his family deeply, a minister of the Word and Sacrament, committed to the church of Jesus Christ and that part of the Church of which he was a member – the Presbytery of Southern New England.

Tom was a man who knew about pain, his own and that of others – the pain which he brought to those he loved in accepting himself as a gay man, as well as the pain of rejection from the Church he sought to serve.

Tom used that pain to seek out others who, like him, were denied the full and free exercise of their ministry as baptized Christians. His pastoral concern coupled with his strong sense of justice led him to build within the Presbytery support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons.

His style was never confrontational. He sought to open the hearts and minds of people through personal testimony, prayer and gentle persuasion. He helped start a chapter of PLGC (meetings held at his and Wilma’s home) and shortly before his death helped to initiate the ministry of Presbyterian Promise in this Presbytery.

We give this stole donated by Tom’s family to the “Shower of Stoles” in gratitude for Tom’s grace-filled life and for his ministry among us, with the promise to continue working toward and praying for a just and open Presbyterian Church in which all may freely serve.

We love you Tom,

More Light Presbyterians of the Presbytery of Southern New England

November 7 1999

We joined to celebrate. The music of Elder Wayne Osborne, from First Presbyterian Church, Stamford and co-moderator of Presbyterian Promise, and Dianne Ney, organist at First Presbyterian Church, Hartford joined the energy and joy of the word shared by the Reverend Janie Spahr and the prayers of those gathered, led by the Reverend Letty Russell.
 

Virginia Davidson, Wayne Osborne and Janie Spahr after worship.

Among the evening’s special music was a new song, We've Heard a Promise, written for the occasion by Wayne Osborne. Delivered in a unique styling one might call white soul, the refrain is:
 

We’ve heard a promise.
Shout Hallelujah!
Trust in the word that we’ve heard.
God has called us.
Our God made us able.
God set us free to freely serve.

Presbyterian Promise is a new ministry, affiliated with That All May Freely Serve, which grew out of the need to continue Tom Otte's witness and ministry in this area. It is still in the formative stage, meeting with sessions and gathering supporters. Its announced mission is:
 
PresPromise logo

...to proclaim God's promise of justice and love in Jesus Christ by organizing inclusive and inquiring churches in the Presbytery of Southern New England into a community of mutual support for the empowerment of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered persons (GLBT), and for outreach, education, and Christian evangelism.
 
PRESBYTERIAN PROMISE believes the time has come to live out God's call to "love our neighbor as ourselves."  This is a call to an inclusive love that welcomes all people to God's table.  That invitation is central to the Gospel.  God calls us to embrace those who have been excluded or marginalized, to welcome them into the fold, and to honor their call and their desire to serve God. Presbyterian Promise is committed to a vision of a just and inclusive church.
 
We have seen our church exclude too many people, discriminate against too many God has called, and reject those who offer themselves as a living sacrifice to God.  In particular, for almost twenty years the Presbyterian Church (USA) lived with a policy of "definitive guidance" and since 1997 that policy has been translated into a constitutional amendment that in effect excludes any gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered persons from ordination to leadership positions within the Presbyterian Church (USA).  It is imperative the church reverse this situation and that we heed God's commandment to "love others as we love ourselves."


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