Presbyterian Promise Comes Out



The history and development of Presbyterian Promise is, like most stories, a story of people. It's about how people have grown in self understanding and in their understanding of each other. It's a story of pilgrimage, a story of growth in faith.

There is a vast literature -- artistic as well as psychological and sociological -- about how people's identities develop. It doesn't happen overnight. Recognizing and coming to terms with our sexuality is a major part of our developing our identity. It is always part of the work of adolescence. This is true for all people of all sexual orientations. People discover their own truths over time, and those discoveries change and motivate them.

What follows are some of the public events around which these personal stories have developed....

June 1996
208th General Assembly sends Proposed Amendment 96-B to the Presbyteries:
Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a live in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage of a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
9 November 1996
Tri-Presbytery gathering of PLGC (Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns), a predecessor of MLP (More Light Presbyterians). Held in Northampton MA and organized by Rev. Tom Otte, in retrospect this was a defining event. Rev. Clark Chamberlain, Stated Clerk of the Synod of the Sun and a dissenting member of the General Assembly PJC which issued the decision in the case blocking Rev. Janie Spahr's installation at Rochester: Downtown United Church, was the guest presenter. 

Tom led worship at this event. He gathered us in a circle. Coming out has been called a sacrament. Coming out is a process - a process first of self-discovery, which may lead to self-affirmation and then to self-sharing. During his "Reflections," Tom spoke of his years of therapy - years leading to his becoming a therapist and counselor. He shared his agony and his realization that he was gay. He spoke of the challenges this presented to himself and his family. He spoke of his deep passion and anger that he should have to defend his very being from those who defined him as 'the spawn of the devil.' This anger drove much of what he did in the coming months.... 

As part of that worship Tom had us read Psalm 73, as interpreted by Derrick Kikuchi.



Surely God is good to gays and lesbians,
To those who are pure in heart.
but as for me, my feet came close to stumbling;
My steps had almost slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogance of those who strike against us.
For they feel no pain and they continue to prosper.
They suffer no ills and are never the target of bigotry.
Therefore they wear a necklace of pride;
And a garment of violence covers them.
The imaginations of their hearts run amok.
They mock and freely oppress.
They speak with self righteousness.
They set their mouths against God's invitation to all
And their tongues parade through the earth.

Therefore, even as we gather together in peace,
And find a place to be spiritually nourished,
I still find myself asking "Does God know? How is this part of God's plan?"
For look ... those who hate us have increased in power and wealth.
Surely I have kept my heart pure in vain,
And restrained my anger for nothing,
For I am beaten every day and scorned every morning.

But even as I say "I should lash out against my oppressors"
I am troubled as I contemplate this.
Until I finally enter the sanctuary of God.
For there, I am able to perceive the truth.

Surely my oppressors are on slippery ground
And they set themselves up for their own destruction.
How quickly they can be brought down.
They are utterly swept away by their own perceived terrors.
Like a dream when one awakes, your truth reduces their power to nothing.
When I was of bitter and pierced heart,
I was unable to feel or think.
I struck out like an animal.
Even then, you were with me.
You have taken my hand and guided me in your wisdom.
Your receive me in your love.

You define heaven and all that is good on earth.
I may physically weaken and become disheartened,
But God is my constant source of strength.
Behold, those far from God will perish
And those without faith will be destroyed.
For me, I need to concentrate on being close to God,
and making God my refuge.
And tell all about God's good works.

Interpretation by Derrick Kikuchi
8 March 1997
After a process of reflection, extending over three successive meetings, the Presbytery of Southern New England votes against 96-B (85 for, 106 against). During this debate, Wayne Osborne comes out to the presbytery because Tom told him, "someone needs to say to them I'm gay."
6 April 1997
Presbyterian Welcome formed at Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City. Tom Otte invites Pat Wales and Ralph Jones to accompany him as representatives from Southern New England.
At that meeting, John Rhodes presents an analysis showing that a change of 32 commissioner votes spread across 11 presbyteries would have defeated 'b'.
20 May 1997
Session of Stamford: First church declares a scruple, "tak[ing] exception to Amendment B because it violates our informed conscience, faith and interpretation of our obligations...."
June 1997
A majority of the presbyteries having approved, 96-B becomes G-6.0106b in the Book of Order.
20 June 1997
209th General Assembly sends Proposed Amendment 97-A to the Presbyteries:
Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture and instructed by the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to demonstrate fidelity and integrity in marriage or singleness and in all relationships of life. Candidates for office shall acknowledge their own sinfulness, their need for repentance, and their reliance on the grace and mercy of God to fulfill the duties of their office.
28 October 1997
Tom Otte's wife, Wilma dies.
7 March 1998
Amendment A (97-A) defeated.
17 May 1998
Stamford: First congregation elects Elder Wayne Osborne to a second term in office.
27 May 1998
Session examined Wayne and other Elders and Deacons elect and approved them for installation.
3 June 1998
Complainants MAIRI HAIR and JAMES McCALLUM obtain a Stay of Enforcement of the Installation of Wayne. The case begins. 
October 1998
Tom Otte resigns his position as pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Holyoke MA. He had come out to the session and felt he should not continue there.
13 November 1998
Presbytery of Southern New England votes to not consider the request from the session of the New Haven: First church that it concur with the Milwaukee Presbytery overture to strike G-6.0106b.
10 January 1999
Meeting of More Light Presbyterians of Southern New England. Tom Otte, impatiently urges us forward to get organized and get the light visible.
26 February 1999
Trial by Permanent Judicial Commission of Presbytery of Southern New England of Session of Stamford: First church for voting to install Elder Wayne Osborne to a second term. According to a report in The Hartford Courant:
Osborne, 38, admitted being in a same-sex relationship but had refused to disclose whether it was sexual. The church court ruled that there was no evidence Osborne had engaged in homosexual acts, which would bar him from office.
During a recess, one of the TV reporters asked if there were any gay Presbyterian ministers present who would speak about the issues of the trial. Tom Otte said, "You can speak to me." This was the first time he had publicly identified himself as gay.
4 March 1999
No words can adequately describe the effect of the events on March 4 on the lives of Tom's friends.
The Hartford Courant

Friday, March 5

Presbyterian Minister Brutally Slain
A Presbyterian minister who counseled the grief-stricken and sought a place for gays and lesbians in the church was stabbed to death in his condominium on Charter Oak Place Thursday morning.

The body of the Rev. Thomas E. Otte, brother of popular Hartford restaurant owner Timothy Otte, was found with multiple stab wounds by a neighbor in this close-knit enclave of well-to-do homeowners and middle- and working-class renters on the edge of downtown. Richard Huber, chairman of Aetna Inc., lives next door to the crime scene.

Close friends confirmed the victim was Otte, 56, a pastoral counselor for 25 years in Hartford. Detectives said privately they believed it was Otte and that family members were expected to make a positive identification today at the chief state medical examiner's office in Farmington.

Timothy Otte, owner of Timothy's restaurant on Zion Street near Trinity College, and other family members were notified by police Thursday and told to expect the worst. A woman who answered the door at Timothy Otte's West Hartford home said the family was awaiting more information from police and would have no comment.

Sgt. Norberto A. Huertas said the victim appeared to know his attacker. Detectives Thursday morning learned there may have been a loud commotion in Otte's condo several hours before a neighbor saw the door ajar at 7:15 a.m., peered inside and found the body. The neighbor dialed 911.

"This is a bad one," a veteran police officer said after viewing the scene.

Detectives were trying to determine if someone had been living with or visiting Otte, whose wife, Wilma Otte, died of cancer in 1997. Detectives were also exploring whether Otte, former owner of a boarding house on Girard Avenue, was counseling people at the Charter Oak Place condo.

Otte was active with Presbyterians for Gay and Lesbian Concerns and with "More Light" churches, a national movement of Presbyterian churches to welcome gays and lesbians into congregations.

He was an interested observer last Friday in Hamden at the ecclesiastical trial of the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford, which was accused of violating church law by electing an openly gay elder to its governing board.

Huertas said detectives have not established a motive for the killing.

Otte in recent years had split his time between Hartford, where he worked as a self-employed pastoral counselor, and Holyoke, Mass., where he was part-time pastor of First Presbyterian Church for seven years before resigning last year.

His friends struggled with their grief Thursday, and for the first time since he was ordained in 1974, Otte could not be there for them.

Ernie Brodeur recalled meeting Otte at Hartford's First Presbyterian Church in Hartford in the 1980s, where Otte was an unpaid associate pastor.

"Twenty-four years ago, my son committed suicide," Brodeur said. "Reverend Otte was very compassionate in treating my wife and I, and helping us through it. He had an uncanny ability to understand your grief and say the right thing. This is a hard one to take."

Otte, a 1972 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, worked as a counselor and chaplain at various institutions, including the Hartford Correctional Center, Hartford Hospital and Trinity Episcopal Church in Hartford. He also was supervisor of lay ministries for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford in the mid-1980s.

"He had quite a varied ministry in his life, and he has meant a lot to people around here," said Sharon Mackwell, executive director of the Interfaith Refugee Ministry in New Haven.

Until several years ago, Otte had worked part time for the refugee program, recruiting people to sponsor refugees.

Kathleen Davis, co-director of clinical pastoral education at Hartford Hospital, said Otte "had a lot of energy and a lot of creativity, and he had his hand in a lot of things."

The Hartford Courant

Man Charged In Death Of City Minister

This story ran in the Courant March 7, 1999
Hartford police arrested a 27- year old city resident Saturday in the stabbing death Thursday of the Rev. Thomas E. Otte.

Felix Pagan, whom police described as a friend of the Presbyterian minister, was charged with one count of murder. Held in lieu of $1 million bail, he is scheduled to appear Monday in Hartford Superior Court.

Police Sgt. Norberto A. Huertas said Pagan, a felon, was arrested at 2 p.m. at his South End residence. Police on Saturday night were seeking a warrant to search the premises, he said.

Huertas said police are still interviewing witnesses and further arrests are possible.

Court records show that Pagan has been convicted of assault, robbery, larceny and burglary charges.

Police investigators learned that Otte, 56, and Pagan had a heated argument that turned deadly in the minister's Charter Oak Place condominium.

A large knife that Pagan allegedly used to repeatedly stab and slash Otte was found at the crime scene, Huertas said.

5 March 1999
PJC of PSNE issues decision approving the action of the Stamford: First session. This decision and those of the subsequent appeals can be found here.
7 March 1999
Memorial Service for Tom Otte at First Congregational Church, Hartford CT. A tearful, cathartic event with hundreds present. Most of us gained new insight into how intense, loving, active, effective and diverse Tom's ministry had been.
Memorial gifts, directed by the family to More Light Presbyterians of Southern New England, provide the initial funding for our ministry.
8-11 April 1999
Wayne Osborne attends That All May Freely Serve national conference in Rochester, NY. On his return, he inspires us to consider the evangelist model. The formation of Presbyterian Welcome in New York is an inspiring model.

Over the next few months, at various meetings with various guests, Presbyterian Promise develops. 

  • At a meeting at Wayne and Greg's, we develop the heart of the mission statement: 
    • Presbyterian Promise ...Furthering the covenant of God's inclusive love.
  • Greg Price develops our logo and color theme.
  • We develop a plan for implementation.
3 July 1999
At a picnic meeting of More Light Presbyterians of Southern New England, the following Statement and Plan was adopted. Presbyterian Promise officially came into being.
Presbyterian Promise

Mission Statement

"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, and for outreach, education, and Christian evangelism."
1. Form an independent board made up of at least 9 members. Each member will serve a term of 3 years in three classes, serving no more than 2 consecutive terms. Each supporting/contributing church should have at least one representative on the board. MLP SNE shall appoint the first board and continue on the board with two representatives.

Board members should be willing and committed to fulfilling the following responsibilities.

Board Responsibilities:
a. The election of officers which include Moderator, Vice-moderator, Secretary, and Treasurer (Executive Committee).
b. The oversight of the Executive Committee.
c. The approval of the annual budget.
d. The selection of the ENC (Evangelist Nominating Committee) as necessary.
e. The selection of a Nominating Committee for the election of Board Members and Officers by the Board.
f. The approval and oversight of the Evangelist.
g. Meetings at least twice a year or as called by the moderator or by any two board members.
h. The creation of Bylaws and incorporation as necessary.
i. Fund raising.

Executive Committee Responsibilities:
a. Administration of the day to day operations.
b. Monthly meetings or as necessary.
c. Monthly reports to the Board.
d. Annual budget preparation and implementation.
e. Annual report preparation.
f. Other duties as necessary.

2. Locate Presbyterian Churches within the Presbytery of Southern New England who will be supporting/contributing churches and who will consider serving as the financial agent.
3. Create an Evangelist Job Description.
4. July - August 1999.  Send letters to at least six churches/sessions/pastors regarding the formation of P.P.
5. August - September 1999.  Print brochure and mailing material. 
6. September - October 1999.  Have a financial agent.
7. November 7, 1999.  Janie Spahr here.
8. April 2000.  Begin the Presbyterian Promise newsletter.
9. July 2000.  Hire an evangelist.

We will serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ together.
We will worship together.
We will proclaim the promise of God's justice and inclusive love.
We believe faith has no meaning apart from action. 
We believe when we discover our mission our church will grow.
We will advocate for the full inclusion of GLBT persons.
We will be active in evangelism.
We believe evangelism is a long-term commitment. 
We believe Jesus is our evangelist role model. 
We will build up and support the local church.

(1.) Be committed to the mission of Presbyterian Promise, 
(2.) Help build new relationships with Churches, between Churches, and people, 
(3.) Commit to expanding the network of More Light, 
(4.) Be equipped to proclaim the cause of God's justice and inclusive love, 
(5.) Create new resources, 
(6.) Help push through our denial (e.g. "Our church doesn't need this.  We don't have a problem.  We had a discussion on this three years ago, etc."), 
(7.) Help us take away the fear of being involved in the movement and the "danger" of ordaining GLBT people, 
(8.) Help us and others move toward participation, 
(9.) And help us all move toward being fearless in the fight for social justice.

We ask supporting/contributing churches to be a part of this ministry through their prayer, their time, their advocacy, their enthusiasm, and their financial support, and we ask each supporting/contributing church to nominate a representative from their church to serve on the Board of Presbyterian Promise. 

In turn, we commit to reaching out to GLBT persons in this Presbytery. We will encourage their participation within the local church. We will work with the upcoming Unity in our Diversity Conference and we will provide and assist with future educational programs, information of GLBT concern on both local and national levels, and we will visit with sessions/pastors/churches on a regular basis. We will be available for additional and particular GLBT needs within the local church.

7 November 1999
Service of Dedication at Hartford: First. In the company of many friends and hundreds of stoles from the Shower of Stoles project, Presbyterian Promise was announced publicly. We dedicated, with the help of his family, one of Tom's stoles to the Shower of Stoles. Rev. Janie Spahr preached. Elder Wayne Osborne sang. A story about this event is at:  Dedication and Promise
The Presbyterian Promise brochure, designed by Greg Price, is distributed at this service.
5 March 2000
Janie Spahr, Ginny Davidson and Presbyterian Promise meet with interested elders from the New Haven: First, Wilton, Stamford and New Caanan churches.
24-26 March 2000
That All May Freely Serve National Conference. Wayne Osborne, Greg Price, Craig Machado, Dick Hasbany, David Lewicki, Ralph Jones, Pat Wales, Howard Taylor, Belinda Phillips, Bill Goettler, Maria LaSala attend for Presbyterian Promise. See reports in the first newsletter, linked below.
19 April 2000
Presbyterian Promise unofficial web page first posted for comment.
Check it out!
May 2000
Presbyterian Promise News premiere issue is published -- only a month behind schedule!.
July 2000
Presbyterian Promise News Issue Number 2 is published.
September 2000
Presbyterian Promise invites sessions to ask the Presbytery of Southern New England to concur with the Northern New England overture 00-13 to delete G-6.0106b from the Book of Order.
The story continues on our News pages.