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Issue Number 8
May 2002

Articles
FABulous!
Celebrate!
Youth Groups Meet Brian
Now what?
Reformation Sunday
We're Here
Film
Book
Calendar
Contact Us
Invitation
 

FABulous!!

Worship Space
TAMFS National Conference
Bagnuolo
As Janie would say…..it was a fabulous gathering - the annual TAMFS meeting held at the Stony Point Conference Center in New York on April 4th through 7th, 2002.

I had mixed emotions about going, only because I had been away from home too much the past few months. How could I justify to myself (and my cat) leaving again?!  But finally by Friday midday, and with encouragement from a close friend who had gone the day before, I realized I had to go. It wasn't that far away, and what did I have to lose?

By the time I arrived late afternoon, I KNEW it was the right decision. Seeing so many friends, seeing so many new faces, feeling the warmth of togetherness, feeling the spirit of inclusivity all around gives one a sense of euphoria and happiness. So many gathered to sing and praise God's inclusive love!

The group sessions during the day included networking, moving forward in light of the defeat of 01-A, political strategizing, to name a few. It was important to regroup, to focus our energies on the next steps of our struggle. However those sessions were not the highlights of the gathering for me. It was the worship services Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday morning – phenomenal, thought-provoking and filled with the Holy Spirit. It was Paula Larke's performance of music and words, of diatribes and mental memorabilia, so hilarious and joyful. It was Saturday night's play Love According to Luc, about a young Presbyterian seminarian who discovers she's a lesbian, touching us poignantly and realistically through music and laughter.

No regrets. Glad I went. It was worth it. Friends, music, worship, fellowship, singing God's praise, laughter, joy, networking, sunshine, good food, good vibes. It was all there.  One comes home revived by the experience. So let us go forth renewed by the spirit of God's inclusive love. Until we meet again.

Pat Wales


 

Celebrate! Service in the Church

Sunday, June 2

Presbyterian Promise invites you to gather with us in worship as a community devoted to Christ and to service in the church. Many of our members have demonstrated a faithful devotion to the life of the church and the welfare of its members, and we will lift those people up in honor. With special thanks we will honor the work of Barbara Hager, who will serve as a commissioner for the Presbytery of Southern New England at this year's General Assembly in Columbus.

Planned by our newest Board member, Sharon Fennema, a gifted singer and Yale Divinity student, the worship will be graced by music and the word and good fellowship. 

The worship will be at 4:00 p.m. on June 2 at First Presbyterian Church, New Haven. After worship, people are invited to share in a "lite" potluck of hors-d'oeuvres, salads and desserts at Dick and Craig's house, which is located a very short distance from the church. Please contact Dick with any questions at (203) 789-4311 or (203) 777-4579.

Dick Hasbany

Wilton and New Haven Youth Groups Meet Brian Cave

On April 12th, youth from the Wilton Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church of New Haven gathered for a special time with Brian Cave, sponsored by Presbyterian Promise.

Youngsters from the two churches, were joined by Elaine Shields of Wilton church and Presbyterian Promise, Angela Rowley of St. Matthew's Episcopal church, the New Haven church's Christian Educator, Sue Balakrishnan, Sunday School teacher and Elder Roger Cole, and Co-Pastor Maria LaSala. They gathered together at the Wilton church to meet each other and Brian
Brian Cave
Bagnuolo
Cave. Brian, an openly gay member of the Presbyterian Church USA, was invited to talk a bit about being gay and being faithful in the church.

After a supper of pizza, Brian and the gang got to know one another by sharing five things that were interesting about themselves. Sitting around the table was a left-handed person, right handed people, only children, a hearing impaired person, two seniors in high school, a sound engineer, one non swimmer, two horseback riders, a chemist, soccer players and lacrosse players ... and all were Presbyterians!

Then Brian, a member of the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church in New York City, shared his "coming out" story – the story of Brian's self acknowledgment of himself as a gay man, and also as a faithful Christian called to minister in the Presbyterian Church USA. Brian told about the conversations he had with God about whether or not he was gay, the hurt he experienced as he struggled with his sexuality, the strength he found in people who were members of the Presbyterian Church, and the joy he knows now as a child of God, created to be a homosexual, committed to living a life of faith.

Around the table, the youngsters sat and listened to this sometimes sad, sometimes funny, always believable story. They asked questions and shared stories from their own lives. They talked about how kids get stereotyped, how the language used to describe gay and lesbian people can sometimes be hurtful, how they struggle with what they think the Bible says about homosexuality.

The evening was full of new discoveries and old truths. All the youngsters and their adult companions agreed that another event should be held so that more young people can get together to talk about this issue facing the church.

Thanks to the Wilton Church for providing the space for our gathering and for providing the delicious treats. Thanks to Brian Cave for coming up from Manhattan to spend a Friday evening with us. Thanks to Presbyterian Promise for providing the financial support for the evening.

Maria LaSala


 

Now What?

Proposed amendment 01-A has been voted down by 126 of 173 presbyteries (even though perhaps 40% of the presbytery commissioners voted for it). Short of the extremely unexpected, we will be living with 'b' (that's G-6.0106b) for some time. What's much less clear is how we can live with it and what we should do about it.
  • Preparing his congregation for a study of what it means to be the church in relation to our gay and lesbian family members, a pastor reported attending a PFLAG meeting where, "Through their stories it became clearer to me that the one place in all of society that was the cause for the most pain and suffering, prejudice, misinformation, and frankly hatred, was the church."
The Presbyterian Coalition has issued a Strategic Vision endorsing the Confessing Church Movement, committing to a "drastic" restructuring of our denomination eliminating the voice and vote of specialized clergy, allowing churches which don't agree to leave with their property and affirming "the right of all Sessions to withhold/redirect their per capita assessment."
  • The Mount Auburn Presbyterian church in Cincinnati has declared its practice and intention to ordain and install GLBT officers and to marry same sex couples. Other churches have made similar statements of conscience and of dissent.
Very understandable resentment and anger abounds. Some call us to live in the ambiguity which results from rejecting a portion of the Book of Order, the contract under which we live as Presbyterians. Others commend exploring the ambiguity and uncertainty of the judicial interpretation of that Book.
  • The May 8 issue of The Presbyterian Outlook contains a meditation by Moderator Jack Rogers on Lincoln's Second Inaugural address. "People of good will on both sides must resist those who wish to set aside the Constitution and to destroy the church as we know it in order to put a church of their own creation in its place." Rogers urges both those who believe in full rights for gay and lesbian Presbyterians and those who support the Confessing Church movement to exercise restraint.
In such a charged atmosphere, caution may well be in order. It is exceedingly difficult to speak knowing that some will take offense no matter what you say. Much worse is saying something that delays justice.

No one is obliged to remain a Presbyterian. We become Presbyterians by a free act of conscience and retain the right to leave, recognizing that in leaving we may be giving up on something very important. In individual cases, surely, leaving has been and will continue to be necessary for personal and spiritual well-being.

But there are good reasons to stay:

  1. For many of us, the Presbyterian Church is our (often adoptive) family.
  2. Where else will we find a better opportunity to proclaim God's justice and love in Jesus Christ?
  3. There is hope!

1.  Family System

Through all the oceans of ink spilled in this debate I've seen little about family systems. At its simplest, Family Systems Theory is the recognition that individual health is dependent on the health of the individual's family. It is closely related to the Biblical 
Hartford's Welcome
Davis
understanding of shalom: an individual can not be at peace (faring well) unless the whole community is faring well. We love our neighbors as a command from God, but also because it is the best course for ourselves. The theory has implications for our situation as a church.

The PC USA is a family. Admittedly it is a very large one, and fragmented in many different ways. Still it is a family, complete with an annual reunion and many regional gatherings. The PC USA also has many of the classic dysfunctional family structures. There's the great big triangle between the right, left and center with each group alternately blaming and cajoling the others, hoping to gain advantage by playing them off against each other.

There is a high degree of cut off between various parts of our family. As the Rev. Jerry Andrews, of Chicago and then the Presbyterian Coalition's chair, commented in a November 2000 PC USA News report, "... I do think we've drifted apart for a whole generation. ... We've gone to different seminaries, read different books. We read 'The Book' differently. We talk to ourselves and we think we're 'the church.' We need to be remembering that we are colleagues in ministry ... and we need to know the truth about each others' beliefs." Like most dysfunctional systems, we have our undefined issue(s). We can't even make up our minds what we are fighting over. Is it human spirituality, Biblical interpretation, polity, morality or sex?

One major therapeutic tool of family systems is reconnecting with family. Go back, review the history, then talk to our parents in the faith and see what formed them. Why did they grow and develop as they did? This is not easy work. It often means asking people about things they are determined never to remember. It often means facing our own truths. But it can produce change and even healing.

As I understand it, the present PCUSA fight is fueled by the resentments of generations of unresolved conflicts. That's why we keep rehashing issues like Biblical literalism. That's why we doubt each other's intentions when we say "only!" (That's as in Jesus is the ONLY way.) That's even why we feel compelled/are called to go to our different seminaries and read our different books. That's why the evangelicals feel their faith is compromised when someone else wants to use different language – why they want to compel other people to use the 'right' language. And maybe even why 'we' others are so unable to work with the evangelicals.

The OP's – the other Presbyterians regardless of which side we're on – have suffered under the stings of numerous perceived losses and 'unnecessary' battles for obvious forms of justice. Re-imagining, Reproductive rights, feminist theology, Angela Davis, the anti-Vietnam-War movement, civil rights, women's ordination, the reimagining of divorce, Biblical Interpretation, Abolition/Civil War. The list of battles could go on, back at least to the struggles between the Scots and the Brits. Some occurred in the context of the traumas of two world wars and national depression. In our flailing around we have hurt each other deeply and often. The lesson of family systems theory is both we and our family will be healed sooner if we refuse to let go of each other, if we stay connected. To use religious language, if we stay in communion.

2.  Opportunity

But isn't it a lot simpler? God has called gay and lesbian people. Why are we Presbyterians defying God? Let's just live as God is leading us to live! How? Where?

Each extreme has been creating and defending its islands of relative purity for several generations. While the latest battle seemingly went to the reactionary evangelicals, they still fear a 'progressive tide' carrying all before it. They have retreated to the seeming safety of an almost private faith language. On the other hand, our eloquent statements have yet to prove persuasive. Only when in this 'big tent' church all are free to serve will we have let in more light.

There is little hospitality in isolation. That, perhaps, is the genius of Presbyterian polity. When we join, we acknowledge there is greater faithfulness in being part of a community than in the freedom of our individual consciences. [G-1.0301 - 2] When we become officers, we turn that commitment into a 'contract.' [G-14.0207 e] With all its injustice and imperfections, we accept the church community as better than living in isolation.

Some compromise is essential to integrity. How else do we confirm our faith except through the acceptance of others? We who have grown in Presbyterianism need Presbyterians to say our faith and our selves are welcome. That is why we need to remain committed to evangelizing the church. It is the opportunity before us. There are many ways to approach this work. Let us celebrate the diversity. But let us also note what works and what is less successful. Above all, let us refrain from attacking those whose love we need in the midst of our frustration at all the delay. For me, smiles are more persuasive than argument.

3.  Hope

On April 14th the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission released its ruling in the case of Wier vs. Fort Lauderdale: Second. The summary includes:
Specificity of Pleading: When a complaint alleges violation of a constitutional standard ... such allegations must assert factual allegations of how, when, where, and under what circumstances the person was self-acknowledging a practice which the Confessions call a sin.
Self-acknowledgment: The plain language of the Constitution clearly states that disqualified persons must have self-acknowledged the proscribed sin. Self-acknowledgment may come in many forms. In whatever form it may take, self-acknowledgment must be plain, palpable, and obvious and details of this must be alleged in the complaint.
Examination of Candidates for Ordination and/or Installation: The ordaining and installing governing body is in the best position to determine whether self-acknowledgment is plain, palpable, and obvious, based on its knowledge of the life and character of the candidate. If the governing body has reasonable cause for inquiry based on its knowledge of the life and character of the candidate, it has the positive obligation to make due inquiry and uphold all the standards for ordination and installation.
This may not even be the 'half a cookie' I've heard it called. But by excluding innuendo and judgment by category gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, as well as single, divorced and many other 'groups' of people receive protection and face improved opportunity. However partially and slowly, the system can work.

Wier is not the full and gracious welcome the church needs to extend. Its full implications will only appear over the course of time. But it appears there is increased space for building peace. As even a few more gay and lesbian people begin to serve more openly, the message of compassion, of acceptance, of shalom can spread. And in that proclamation of justice and love we may have hope.

Ralph Jones
Dick Hasbany and Barbara Hager
At TAMFS National Conference
Bagnuolo

Reformation Sunday Celebration!

Friends of Presbyterian Promise, Presbyterian Welcome and the Act of Conscience churches in Hudson River Presbytery will gather for a Reformation Sunday celebration on October 27th at South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry, New York at 3:00 p.m.  We will be honoring  the God of our consciences and the people and churches that have kept the reforming impulse alive and vibrant in this area.

In joy and thankfulness, we will join in a worship to offer support and encouragement to those individuals and congregations who have heeded their calls to God's service despite threats of discipline and invitations to leave the denomination.  We will honor the seminarians who continue to prepare for service, the lay folk who seek to serve as elders and deacons, and the congregations who make their welcome to all folk who profess faith in Jesus Christ no matter what their worldly condition.  Mark your calendars and plan to car pool down to Dobbs Ferry!

Letty Russell


 

We're here to Help!

Together we can do much more! Won't you join in the effort by contributing? Just as we're expanding program and moving toward hiring staff, our friends near and far are facing legal challenges. Hospitality has never been  more urgently needed. –– Don't forget to tell us how we should list your donation.

Film

QUESTIONING FAITH: Confessions Of A Seminarian documents the dramatic quest of filmmaker Macky Alston, a gay minister-in-training who is thrown into a crisis of faith when a close friend and fellow student dies of AIDS. Working as a hospital chaplain, he encounters an extraordinary group of people with tragic but inspirational stories.

In these troubled times, what's a young preacher to preach? After experiencing life at its most devastating, is it possible to believe in God? Why does one person find religion in the midst of chaos, while another loses it?

Debuting Thursday, June 27 (6:30-8:00 p.m. ET), the Cinemax Reel Life documentary Questioning Faith: Confessions of a Seminarian begins with the untimely death of Alston's seminary classmate Alan Rankin, challenging everything he was raised to believe about a loving and all-powerful god. Over the course of the film, he studies with cutting-edge theologians, works as a hospital chaplain, and talks to people wrestling with similar questions.

Traveling from Memphis to Maine, Alston encounters such individuals as:

  • Muslim Jamilla Abdul-Rahman, who, during brain surgery, saw angels who told her she would live and her children would not have to fend for themselves.
  • Liza Gottlieb, a straight-talking atheist and grandmother of Alston's life partner, who lived through the Russian Revolution and believes that anyone who believes in a supreme being is delusional.
  • Seminary doorman Hugo Hamburger, an Orthodox Jew whose faith was tested when he lost his entire family at Dachau.
  • Rev. Annie Ruth Powell, an African-American pastor and chaplain at Alston's theological school, who has lived with cancer for 15 years. She believes that each experience of suffering is another opportunity to connect with troubled people in her congregation.
  • Hazel Rankin, the mother of Alston's friend Alan, who died of AIDS. Her Southern Baptist church and family are uncomfortable with the subject.
  • Teenager Ahtoy Wonpat-Borja, who discovered herself through Buddhism after her father's recent suicide.
At stake for Alston is whether or not he has the faith to be a minister – but for everyone, the challenge is to weather the worst life has to offer, support each other regardless of belief, and affirm life in the face of tragedy.
Press Release


 

Book

"The most striking observation across the board was that middle class families offered qualified acceptance of their gay children, but in working class families, they offered total acceptance. They might not like the fact that their child was gay, but they are family, and that was most important." So says George Appleby, Southern Connecticut State University professor of social work and author of Working Class Gay and Bisexual Men (Harrington Press).

The book is a report on this understudied group based on over 100 interviews in a variety of English speaking countries. Among the findings -- all the individuals from an early age had a sense of being different, even when they could not identify the difference. Appleby found a high level of peer support and comfort with openness about their sexuality. "It shatters the myth that they would lose their friends if they come out."

Ralph Jones

 
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Dick Hasbany
Letty Russell
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Jack Hartwein-Sanchez
MLP liaison
Dan Blackford
Secretary
Ralph Jones
Treasurer

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That All May Freely Serve
More Light Presbyterians

    Calendar of Events

    1 June New Haven Pride Celebration – 
    Welcoming Churches of New Haven will have a table on the Green.
    2 June 2002
    4:00 PM
    Celebration of Service Sunday
    First Presbyterian, 704 Whitney Ave., New Haven
    Join us in a joyous, music-filled worship celebrating the service of members and friends of Presbyterian Promise. A potluck of hors-d'oeuvres, salads, and desserts will follow at Dick and Craig's, 195 Mill Rock Road, Hamden.
    15 June Providence Pride Celebration
    15 - 22 June 2002 General Assembly – Columbus Ohio
    Volunteers ARE needed.
    30 June 2002
    10:00 AM
    Heritage of Pride march in New York City
    Presbyterian Promise and Presbyterian Welcome (New York) will march together this year. (We'll march behind our banner.  Have you seen our banner? -- it's gorgeous.) This is a chance for us to proclaim to tens of thousands the good news that there are welcoming Presbyterian Churches in New York and Connecticut. It is also a wonderful chance to be in community and have fun with friends from Presbyterian Promise and Presbyterian Welcome. If you've never marched in such a parade, we know this will be a life-changing, delightful experience for you. Children are welcome to march with us. We will gather at 10:00 in a location to be announced.  For more information, call Dick Hasbany at (203) 777-4579 or (203) 789-4311.
    27 October 2002
    3:00 PM
    Reformation Sunday Celebration
    South Presbyterian Church, Dobbs Ferry NY
OUR 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.

Invitation

  • Share this newsletter with your friends.
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  • Write a story for the next issue.
  • Keep your experience of God's inclusive love before the leaders of your congregation.
  • Rejoice!