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Issue Number 13
November 2003

Articles
...involved?
... Make A Right
The Inner Voice of Love
It's A Movement
Money
Calendar
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Conflict over ordination standards: 
Why should congregations get involved?

On September 24, 2003, The Brick Presbyterian Church in the City of New York was host to a Presbyterian Welcome event. Those in attendance were able to hear Barbara Wheeler, President of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, answer the question to be posed to congregations - "Why get involved?" According to Ms. Wheeler, congregations would be wise to get involved in the conflict in the national church over ordination of GLBT people of faith for the following reasons.
  1. Because they (congregations) don't have a choice. National issues eventually come to congregations. It's better to be prepared. Tension in congregations limits growth, and there is more tension in a congregation that is unprepared to deal with a conflict that is thrust upon them. Therefore, it is in the congregation's self-interest to become involved and learn about the issue.
  2. People are getting hurt and the church bears that responsibility. Our religion plays a part in prejudice and hate. Only acts between same-sex partners are "itemized" in the Book of Order as a sinful act. Our church (national) influences opinion outside the church, and whether someone will discriminate or be violent towards gay people.
  3. There is a high rate of suicide among GLBT youth. They reach a level of despair that comes in part from hearing that "even God thinks there is something wrong with me." This is only part of the hurt referred to above.
  4. Even if individuals and congregations aren't saying much about this issue, the church (national) IS speaking on behalf of all: those on their side, opposed, and undecided.
  5. What about our efforts at "Don't ask, Don't tell"? We (sessions, etc.) may not be asking about sexual orientation, but GLBT are telling.
  6. The world is pleading for peace. If the church can't get along, how is the rest of the world expected to get along? The issue of full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people into the life of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is the presenting issue for a deeper problem/question: How do we live together as a community of faith when we disagree on important issues?
All you congregations out there - don't wait to get involved! Presbyterian Promise wants to hear from you. Is your congregation interested in learning more about this issue? We would like to talk with you and visit you.  We invite you to share your questions, concerns, thoughts and prayers. We need everyone to be involved, no matter your current theological position on this issue.
Cheryl Molina


 

When Two Wrongs Make A Right

Resisting clerical collusion.  On October 17th The Rev. Kathleen McTigue and the Unitarian Society of New Haven hosted an ecumenical worship service celebrating same-sex couples and their families and welcoming clergy from the community who had agreed to perform weddings for opposite and same gender couples alike, but no longer to sign any marriage licenses. This pledge, in which both Shannon Clarkson and I participated as UCC and PCUSA clergy respectively, is a new stage in the continuing struggle to welcome all people as couples and families regardless of sexual orientation.

It picks up on the suggestion Ralph Jones described at the end of his article, "Civics and Faith," in the August 2003 Presbyterian Promise News. He cites the Rev. Hal Porter urging that the church blessing be separated from the civil ceremony carried out at your local city hall. It is also part of an ecumenical movement that began in 2000 in response to an article in a UUA journal by Rev. David Patee. He said:

I came to the awareness that the willingness of clergy to assist with legalizing marriage ceremonies carries grave repercussions. The seemingly neutral act of signing a marriage license actually represents a silent collusion with the state's position to extend the many privileges and benefits of marriage to only certain couples-heterosexual couples. [UUWORLD, May-June, 2003, 43]
Advocating for same-sex marriage is only one of many ways of witnessing to God's welcome, but it is one that is very much in the news and in our hearts these days. In fact, another ecumenical forum, sponsored by Welcoming Congregations in New Haven, Project Orange and Love Makes a Family, entitled Should Marriage = Love? is scheduled for November 16th at Church of the Redeemer in New Haven. Refusing to sign marriage licenses is an important step for clergy and congregations to consider because it may be a way in which two wrongs make a right. The use of clergy by the state to regulate marriage would be put in question so that we would ask what part religion should play in blessing a couple. The denial of marriage ceremonies in the church to same gender couples would also be confronted as we seek to understand what marriage is all about.

Marriage as Civil Union.  The Protestant churches have acknowledged that marriage is a civil union since the reformation. Both Luther and Calvin saw it as a responsibility of the state. This is also the present position of the G.A. of the PCUSA. In 1991 it voted to allow the performance of Holy Unions as long as they were determined to be not the same as a marriage. In 1996 the GA voted to urge the U.S. government to give full civil rights to lesbian and gay couples by providing all the civil rights of married couples. This dualistic approach of the church is hardly credible and, as Jim Anderson has pointed out, the result is to say that the policy of the PCUSA is "Full civil rights - just don't use THE WORD [marriage]!" [GA on Holy Unions, www.mlp.org/resources/hu96.htm].

Since the Supreme Court decision on June 26, 2003, the nation has been ever more divided over whether a further step will happen as states consider changes like those in Vermont and Canada, and the President joins the Vatican in trying to stem the tide by being "strongly committed to protecting and defending the sanctity of marriage." As many people have pointed out, the media and society in general are well beyond protecting the sanctity of marriage with "Sex in the City," "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," and so on. Refusing to sign marriage licenses when conducting weddings can be a first step in confronting secular and religious hypocrisy while being advocates for the civil rights of all people as the PCUSA urges. Such a move frees us to work for justice without, at the same time, reinforcing injustice for those denied licenses.

Covenant Blessings.  Sometimes it seems that the desire of queer folk to get married is "counter cultural" in that it seeks to uphold covenant commitments and the importance of partnership. Perhaps there is a word for us here. Christian perspective on the meaning of marriage has changed over the centuries in response to different needs. Yet there has been a continuing religious aspect of marriage that has to do with the covenant of the two partners and their blessing by God. Relinquishing the claim to being civil servants of the state allows us to focus on the ways in which all holy unions can be blessed by God and to right the second wrong of a two class system of "holy unions" and "real marriages."

The focus of our theology and our liturgies could then be on partnering relationships that are open to God's power of love and transformation. Such a focus would allow us all to work together to design a covenant blessing service that acknowledges the presence of God, the congregation and the couple. Some of the things we would need to consider in this transformation are:

  1. The liturgy is a dialogue with God in which the covenant or promise of love and trust is made by the couple to one another and before God.
  2. The blessing is from God. The clergy may or might not have been acting for the state, but they are not acting in place of God. Their role in counseling and preparation is more as a mid-wife who helps the new partnership come to life, and a celebrant and witness at the service.
  3. The people gather with the clergy so that together they can share with the couple in the dialogue with God, and support the promises made.
  4. The liturgy needs to be created by the couple with help from others so that the blessing is true for them, evoking both a memory of faith and imagination about the future of the partnering relationship that is being blessed.
Much theological reflection is needed to transform our liturgies into covenant blessings, not the least of which is a long hard look at the meaning of covenant.  Perhaps this new look will help the wrongs of our present practices become a right. Along the way, the pressure to separate civil unions and covenant blessings, and the witness of the many queer folk to the meaning of partnership may lead us on a path that is a blessing for us all!
Letty M. Russell


 

The Inner Voice of Love:
A Retreat Focusing on the Spiritual Life

When Yale Divinity School gay and lesbian seminarians proposed sharing the costs to bring Chris Glaser to Connecticut in September at the anniversary of Henri Nouwen's death, Presbyterian Promise acted quickly. Chris's books of meditations on the spiritual life, especially focusing on spiritual issues and practices of lesbian and gay Christians, have been a unique and rich source of comfort for many people around the country. Denied ordination because of his sexual orientation, Chris has created a ministry and personally evolved as an ever more skillful and profound retreat leader.

The retreat itself was quite a wonderful experience. It didn't hurt that September 20 turned out to be a magnificently sunny and warm fall day, and that the Sanctuary at Shepardfields, where we held the retreat, was a spot of rural tranquility. It was the prefect setting for people to "retreat," to be away and with themselves, each other, and God.
 
Focusing on the Spirit...
A view from the retreat center
Dan Blackford

But, more important than the weather and the setting were those who came. They came from as far away as Boston and Rhode Island, and a friend from Presbyterian Welcome (in New York City) was on his way to be with us, only to be turned back by a massive traffic jam in the Bronx. We were lay and clergy, gay and non-gay, and because we deliberately reached out to lesbian and gay folk beyond our own churches, we were Catholic, Unitarian, Episcopalian, as well as Presbyterian. Some of us had clearly been well cared for by our churches, and some of us, just as clearly, had been reviled. I remember the lesbian who seemed haunted by memories of her fundamentalist church and its rejection of her and her partner and their children. Her story and her presence reminded me that this work that Chris does, and that Presbyterian Promise strives to do, is not trivial or peripheral – it is central to our work as Christians. It is an attempt to embody the promise of love, not ours, but God's. I pray that our lesbian friend heard a new message there at Shepardfields.

What I find most fun about doing the work of reconciliation is the surprise and pleasure people describe experiencing. A non-gay elder from a church in our presbytery shared after the retreat something I found touching and profound. She was attentive during the day, even intent.  Something seemed to be going on. Later in a phone conversation, she described a kind of discovery – how, in such a setting with lesbians and gay men and clergy and herself, it all seemed so – easy – natural – comfortable, communal. Indeed, exactly. It is just that, and beautiful as well. Paul reminded the Galatians that "there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28) It seemed that day to be true. We were still, we felt loved, and we felt, and feel grateful.

Dick Hasbany


 

The Inner Voice of Love 
Meditations to Go: My Thoughts on Chris Glaser's Retreat.

I was not sure I would be able to attend the Chris Glaser retreat on September 20. My dear friend Mark had been planning a visit from Houston, and there was a chance the visit would coincide with Chris's workshop. But life happens, and Mark arrived the weekend prior to the retreat. During his visit, before services, I saw him reading a small book. "What's that?" I asked. Mark turned the cover toward me. The Word is Out, Daily Reflections on the Bible for Lesbians and Gay Men, by Chris Glaser. I stammered, "He's doing a retreat through Presbyterian Promise next week." Mark's response was to the point. "You're going, right?" Praise the Lord.

The last retreat I remember attending was some 20+ years ago as a member of my hometown church's youth fellowship. Retreats were synonymous with sleeping bags, s'mores, sing-a-longs, smooching under the stars and sneaking cigs after midnight. Seeing as this was a one-day retreat, I looked forward to the sing-a-longs.

Chris quickly made it clear we wouldn't be doing the sing-a-longs as I knew them. He quickly told us what we were there for – to leave the hustle and bustle of the "real world" back on Route 9 and relax in a tranquil setting. Our group of 20 or so seemed to welcome the chance to unwind from a hectic summer. We were here to stop, reflect, praise, breathe, and share. The peaceful and inviting tone of Shepardfields helped us ready ourselves to do these things, but Chris's soothing meditations and affirmations brought it together.

He began to guide us through "the three imperatives of the spiritual life," based on his study with Henri Nouwen: "Be Still!" "Be Loved!" "Be Grateful!"
 

Table Hospitality
Dan Blackford

Be still – stop. The imperative tells us to make the effort to put what is going on in our lives outside ourselves and look within. We cannot hear the inner voice of love if we are dealing with the madness that surrounds us. With that in mind, we moved onto the other imperatives. "Be Loved!" allowed us literally to feel the power of God's love. Small groups were given the chance to use selected Biblical affirmations, lay hands on one another to embody the strength of God's caring and support. Feeling deeply empowered by these affirmations, we moved on to the third imperative, "Be Grateful!" in which we are reminded to give thanks and praise. We wrapped up the day by "holding, lifting, and drinking the cup," a brief worship in which we were reminded to look forward with hope. As we shared thoughts of the day and dreams for the future, I shared one of my favorite Psalms: "I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth." (Psalm 34, King James Version)

The meditation, affirmation, communing, and fellowship with good Christians was wonderful. I was uplifted and revived. But I realize that all is futile if we don't continue enjoying and sharing the teachings of the day – listening and sharing the inner voice of love.

Keith Rhoden
First Presbyterian Church, Hartford


 

It's A Movement:
A Report on National Activities

As we welcome Cliff Frasier back from six month's incarceration for an act of nonviolent civil protest, the question might be this: For what would you spend six months in prison? Or this: Remember the last time you were really angry. Thinking back now, what were the values you hold to that were being disrespected?

As the national liaison board of TAMFS plans for their annual retreat just before Thanksgiving, they are asking such questions to help clarify the core values of That All May Freely Serve. Consultant, friend and advocate, Rebecca Reyes, now a social worker at the Medical Center of Duke University, will lead the group in exercises to name our core values, and explore how we might more effectively match our work to those values. As we continue to engage with More Light Presbyterians in deep conversation about closer collaboration and possible merger, we have found it essential to begin by naming those things that matter most to our organizational life together. You will be able to read a report on our discoveries at www.TAMFS.org.

Here are a few of the ways we've been living out some of our values and some plans for how we will better live into them in the months ahead:

It Starts At the Grassroots

This fall Janie and I had the rare pleasure of traveling together on two occasions! With Ginny Davidson we traveled all through Michigan, as TAMFS-Michigan celebrated with fall gatherings throughout the state. In October we traveled to Pittsburgh, where local advocates are stirring things up in incredible ways, on to New York to honor the life and witness of our dear friend Irene Zvonik, and finally to Bates college in Maine, to talk with students and with friends and supporters from Down East.

In the winter and spring, I will visit all of our TAMFS regions, including visits with Presbyterian Promise and Presbyterian Welcome. With Michael Adee and Martha Juillerat, Janie will be circuit riding in the Midwest again in 2004.

It's a Movement, not an Institution

Friend and Co-moderator emerita of That All May Freely Serve, Ginny Davidson, is fond of saying that we're here not to create an institution, but to change the institution of the Presbyterian Church. Because we recognize that TAMFS is part of a movement and not an "institution" we continue to discern with More Light Presbyterians the wisdom of the spirit to create models of organizing that better fit the needs of our constituents, and better promote our common mission. Throughout our TAMFS regions, new and creative initiatives have been launched to respond to the expressed need for closer collaboration between all of our advocacy organizations.

Working Together

TAMFS and many of our regions were well represented at the annual conference of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians. Our board and staff are deeply committed to working together with all progressive partner organizations in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. To that end we've brought together the co-moderators of MLP, TAMFS, and Cov Net for conversation in Chicago this fall. The board members of all the progressive organizations met for dinner and conversation at the recent Covenant Network Conference. Our staff members are regularly in contact with each other.

Inviting the Church to do Justice

In September, the Presbytery of Baltimore voted to send to the General Assembly an overture to delete G-6.0106b from our Book of Order, and several presbyteries have since concurred in that request. Other presbyteries are considering sending overtures which will remove the "authoritative interpretations", the biased rulings that predate G-6.0106b, and also preclude the full participation of GLBT persons in the life of our church. TAMFS is committed at all times, in all ways, together with our allies and you to challenge all barriers to God's full welcome in our denomination.

Equipping Ourselves for the Journey

Please mark on your calendars the dates May 23-26 which will be the time of our first MLP, TAMFS, and Shower of Stoles Conference in Kansas City. A wonderful group is planning this event, and information about registration will be posted soon at www.TAMFS.org.
Lisa Larges
Regional Coordinator, TAMFS National


 

Money

We've said very little about money – fundraising – in this Newsletter. We won't start now.  It's very simple.

From our beginning, we've seen the need to hire a person to do outreach and education, to provide a point of contact and focus for our ministry. We have developed a job description and reviewed a personnel policy. Everything is ready to begin the search.

BUT.... The board has said we will not go forward until we can guarantee at least a year's half-time salary. That means we need to raise another $10,000. It needs to happen soon to keep this ministry, our ministry (your ministry and mine) on course.

Right now we're working to put together a matching challenge for our year-end campaign. Soon you'll receive a letter inviting your contribution and support. Or, if you want to avoid the year end rush, use this form  – your contribution will be counted toward the match. Please be generous.

Ralph Jones


 

Calendar

16 November 2003
4 - 5:30 PM
"Should Marriage = Love" Forum
Church of the Redeemer, UCC 
(corner of Whitney Ave. & Cold Spring St., New Haven)
Welcoming Congregations of New Haven, Project Orange, and Love Makes a Family invite you to an educational forum for discussion and to hear some faith-based arguments for same-sex marriage, as well as denominational updates and news from the legislative front in New Haven and Connecticut.
1 Feburary 2004
3 - 5:30 PM
3rd Annual Meeting of Presbyterian Promise
First Presbyterian Church, Hartford CT
7 February 2004
PSNE meets at Weathersfield CT Congregational Church
23-26 May 2004
First MLP, TAMFS, and Shower of Stoles Conference – Kansas City, Missouri
26 June 2004
216th General Assembly convenes in Richmond VA

 

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More Light Presbyterians 

     
     
    OUR MISSION STATEMENT 
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    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.
Visit us at
Crossroads Presbyterian Church, Waterford CT (860) 442-3693
First Presbyterian – Hartford, Hartford CT (860) 246-2224
First Presbyterian – New Haven, New Haven CT (203) 562-5664
Providence Presbyterian Church, Providence RI (401) 861-1136
Wilton Presbyterian Church, Wilton CT (203) 762-5514

…working to extend the hospitality of Christ to all God's children….