Issue Number 15
Presbyterian Promise welcomes and rejoices in Rev. Vandersall's call and her ministry. We look forward to welcoming her insight and humor as we pursue the same kind of work in Southern New England.
Save the Date
our second Spiritual Retreat
at First Pres, Stamford with Presbyterian Welcome.
Excerpted e-mail from GAHi Folks,
I got up Thursday morning (June 24) at 3 AM. Arrived in Richmond eleven hours and 550 miles later. I helped set up the Shower of Stoles booth (bless Martha, she managed once again to bring my stole as one of the ones to be displayed). I have three different badges to wear this year, Brown "Observer," Gold "Exhibitor" and Green "Press." ...
My first opportunity to hear the moderatorial candidates speak was the Covenant Network commissioner convocation dinner. Later they appeared at the Witherspoon Society's commissioner orientation meeting. The three are:
Saturday morning was taken up with the "Seeking Peace, Unity, and Purity: The Theological Task Force at Midpoint" presentation a four hour-long affair. I was impressed with the way it was run, the explanations of what they have been doing, the sharing of their process through having the individuals in attendance spending time in discussion groups talking about some of the very questions the Task Force has been considering. Sad to say however, in my opinion, and I pray I am proven wrong, too much expectation and hope is being placed on the report from the Task Force. I had an interesting conservation with the minister commissioner from Gretna, LA (that's in the greater New Orleans area, my home town). He had an interesting way of explaining the problem with the process. He asks, "how can you take a journey with someone with any chance of ending up where you want to be, if you cannot agree on the starting point?" Right now the issue that is not being discussed is that there are different understandings of the Bible, different approaches to the lessons in the Bible, different beliefs in how the Bible should be a part of our daily lives. With such differences in our starting points, how can we ever manage to travel together?
Saturday's highlight was the election of the new moderator. From the nomination speeches, I could sense energy around Rick's nomination. Every year the Q&A period has decided the election. David seemed tense and visibly uncomfortable with the Q&A process. K. C. was folksy, but just couldn't catch a break. Rick was at ease during the whole process, and handled all the questions with the best grace. When one questioner asked if the church had been spending too much time and energy splitting polity hairs, Rick smiled and stated, "Simply put - yes." and then sat down. David and K. C. felt that they had to expound their answers out but following Rick's quick answer, they ended up looking awkward.
An out theological seminary advisory delegate asked the question, "What would you advise to a GLBT youth who has felt called to attend seminary and seek ordination?" David gave an answer that was not positive for it did not hold out hope for ordination but expressed the opinion that the education would still be useful. K. C. said he couldn't advise the individual to invest the time and energy to attend when their desired result would not be available. Rick smiled and answered that his life showed that attending seminary might just show that your call wasn't for ordination, but that if it was, to have patience, work with us and think about all the other ways you can currently work with and within the church. Most importantly, have patience with 'us.'
The Assembly took a first step into a new generation of leadership. Rick won on the second ballot, having received 47% of the vote on the first ballot. The expected conservative core, which is usually 30% of those in attendance, voted for David. On the second ballot, it was K. C. who lost the votes that put Rick over the top.
The opening worship of the 216th General Assembly was held in the Richmond Sports Coliseum. More Light Presbyterians (MLP), That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS) and their allies held their annual witness outside the coliseum, singing, praying and holding up signs for everyone entering to read. It is always interesting for me to observe the reactions to this witness of those entering. There are those who are puzzled, curious, intrigued. There are those who don't want to be confronted, who are enraged, angered and disgusted. The parents who are trying to explain what is happening and the ones who are explaining to those who don't know what is happening. And then there are those who are happy to see the witness, who are supporters, who smile, sing along, wave and are so glad to see us there.
The Welcoming Presbyterians' National Worship Service, organized and presented by MLP, TAMFS and the Shower of Stoles (a.k.a. the Three Sisters), was held in a hotel meeting room made spiritual by a beautiful display from the Shower of Stoles, wonderful music, and an opening procession that set the table for those gathered. What is special about this service for me is that almost everyone participating/presenting in the service is GLBT. Most are people I've known now for a number of years. Some are ones I've just met. Some have given up their ordinations in the PC (USA) and are now doing other work. Some have moved to other churches while others have stayed despite the limitations. Some are youth and seminary students who hope to follow their calls.
Perhaps it was because of all that I have been through this year. Perhaps
it was the messages, the music, the prayers. Perhaps it was the level of
joy, of celebration, of hope that so many felt in that room. Perhaps it
was all of the above but when I took communion and then took the opportunity
to dip my fingers in the bowl of water that was offered for us, feeling
the need to mark my forehead with the sign of the cross I broke down
in tears. I felt so much inside: grief, joy, sorrow, sadness, loss, fear,
wonder, excitement, being a part and yet apart, being a friend and yet
a stranger, alone while surrounded by friends, wanting to be inside and
yet knowing that I must be outside, wanting to say so much and yet being
silenced. This is the power of worship for me at GA. Worship that will
surprise you, for while each service is for many, be it the thousands in
the opening service or the hundred in the welcoming service, the hundreds
in the daily service or the dozen in the evening prayer groups, somewhere,
sometime it will be a service just for you. All of the hustle and bustle,
all of the schedules and deadlines, all of the agendas, all of the aches,
just drop away, are forgotten, and you find yourself letting your walls
down and the Holy Sprit in.
This year, while looking through my lens and around the room, I saw something that took me by surprise, and which I am still trying to process. I observed that some of the individuals that testified against allowing ordination and their supporters, in particular some of the ministers that spoke, were displaying physical pain or anguish as those in favor of ordination spoke. I have read some of the conservative writings where the authors described feeling that they and their faith were being assaulted by those advocating for ordination; that they were under attack. I admit that I thought that this was a rhetorical position. After all, I am the one that has personally experienced verbal assault and having beer cans thrown from a moving car because of my orientation. I and my peers haven't done the same in return so in my mind I couldn't believe that they were experiencing the same feelings I have. And yet the pain on their faces was so plain to see. Usually, I feel - hope - that I can put myself in the other person's place in order to understand their position. In this instance I find that I cannot. I suspect it is because I cannot see beyond the pain I feel, a pain that is re-enforced by the very words these self-same people have just spoken. I obviously have some work to do around this issue.
The committee did not recommend the overtures calling for the removal of G-6.0106b (a.k.a.: Amendment B) from the Book of Order. They did approve, by a close vote of 35 to 30, a resolution calling for the GA to issue a new Authoritative Interpretation of all the Definitive Guidance and AIs issued up till Amendment B was passed that pertain to the issue of GLBT ordination. [....if only the full assembly had accepted this recommendation.]
Until I get back home, take care.
or been down so long it looks like up to meI went to Richmond and the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to coordinate the That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS) booth along with Mardee Rightmyer from Atlanta. The booth was clumped at the far right of the exhibition hall with our liberal allies, More Light Presbyterians, The Shower of Stoles, The Voices of Sophia, The Witherspoon Society, and the Covenant Network. I had a wonderful time at GA. Our work for justice is great work and it seemed as if something good might be blowing in the sultry Virginia winds.
The Assembly again did refuse to lift the barriers that keep LGBT Presbyterians from serving the church in ordained positions. You probably already know the story: The Committee on Church Orders and Ministry proposed that the Authoritative Interpretation regarding "homosexual persons," adopted in 1978 and reaffirmed several times, should no longer bind sessions and presbyteries. (The Advisory Committee on the Constitution has said that both G-6.0106b and the authoritative interpretation need to be overturned to clear the way for the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians.) A minority report was substituted for the committee's recommendation, however, during debate by the full assembly. It would retain the interpretation during the current period of "discernment" under the leadership of its Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church (TTF). The minority report won on the floor by a vote of 259 to 255 50.3 percent to 49.6 percent. That's a squeaker.
The Assembly also refused to consider overtures deleting Book of Order section G-6.0106b, which requires candidates for ministry to observe "fidelity in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness." The sentiment again is to wait till the Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity makes its report at the 217th GA in 2006.
There had been differences among friends about how to proceed in moving the church toward inclusive justice and welcome. The Covenant Network was resolutely behind the Western Reserve Overture [proposal] that would, by a vote of the 216th Assembly's commissioners, have taken the force away from the current authoritative interpretation. This is what the Committee on Orders and Ministry recommended to the assembly.
The coalition of organizations now dubbed Welcoming Presbyterians felt that justice cannot wait. TAMFS, MLP, and other friends, felt that overtures from Baltimore and Detroit were preferable because they would have ended the ban on ordination by eliminating section G-6.0106b from the Book of Order and changing the status of the authoritative interpretation. (The Presbytery of Southern New England, by the way, concurred with both the Baltimore Overture and one from Western New York that would have rewritten G-6.0106b).
Rev. Janie Spahr summed the matter up after the close floor vote: "Some day the church will do justice toward God's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. This is not a matter of whether, but when. The tragedy is how many more people will leave the church in the meantime. For those who deny us ordination, this is just another issue. For us, it is our lives."
It is our lives, and our friends. At the Welcoming Presbyterians Conference in Kansas City in May, I found conversations spontaneously stopping midstream when someone's name came up who was not present because they no longer were Presbyterian nor wanted to attend a Presbyterian gathering. And as I sit here now, I think of two seminarians, talented, creative, and committed to the faith, who have begun that wasteful new Presbyterian process of biding their time looking for something to do that honors their call but doesn't involve ordination. Will the church have lost them by 2006?
Well, that is speculation. This is a report, and I have to report that something seemed to be blowing in the wind in Richmond. Note this: The General Assembly approved a commissioners' resolution asking the Presbyterian Board of Pensions (BOP) to explore the feasibility of making the same benefits provided to married couples available to domestic partners in long-term committed relationships, including same-sex relationships. The commissioners voted 328 to 173 in favor of the resolution, which came from John Rhodes, Presbytery of New York City, and William Dummer, Presbytery of Milwaukee. The rationale filed with it said such benefits, "which married couples in our society take for granted, are routinely denied to same-sex couples in long-term relationships." Note also these things: Covenant Network recently released a powerful booklet called Far From Home, which details the stories of many fine persons who have had to leave the denomination in order to carry out their ministries. At GA, the Covenant Network premiered another powerful piece, the video Turning Points, which tells four stories of LGBT folk, where they've experienced rejection and where they've found welcome. Turning Points is powerful it's a wonderful new tool for our work, and I hope that we make sure it is seen in our churches here in Southern New England.
But maybe the most heartening development in that week and a half in the South came when commissioners showed the courage to try something new, to commit to mission beyond our walls and beyond our current malaise around authority and sexuality. By electing Rick Ufford-Chase as moderator, the 216th General Assembly seemed to affirm ministries of justice for the marginalized. Ufford-Chase defeated two very capable minister candidates, Dave McKecknie from a large church in Houston, and K. C. Ptomey, from a theologically diverse large church in Nashville. McKechnie and Ptomey talked about steering a moderate course that would hold the church together in the midst of fractious conflict. Ufford-Chase talked about finding ways for the church to minister to a fractious world.
Rick communicates primarily by telling stories, stories about his work on the border in Arizona and Texas, and in Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. They are stories of "illegals" caught in a world changing through globalism and ever increasing paranoia. His stories asked us how our faith directs us to respond to this crisis of national inequality and human desperation. When you think about the past few years in our denomination, it is worth pondering, isn't it Ufford-Chase winning? And his election was no squeaker, either.
The morning following his election, the new moderator asked to meet with some Welcoming Presbyterian leaders. Later in the week, after we lost the Authoritative Interpretation vote, he and his vice moderator, Jean Marie Peacock, stood with us in a service of lamentation and rededication. By his words and actions, Ufford-Chase challenged and excited the church in Richmond, and challenges us as we prepare for the next two years of our work. We who have been witnessing to a church that has embraced literalism and fear when it might have embraced courage and love, we too cannot escape his call to broaden our work for justice. We are called on to find new and more expansive ways to live out our desire to include and empower the marginalized. It almost seems as if we have been fated to be inspired by this young, new moderator, and challenged to be in the closest kind of ministry with him.
The young people of FPC brought rich and thoughtful engagement to the complicated issues under the rubric of sexuality. When we split into small groups, David and the Junior High School students focused on stereotypes and myths, identifying and defining the main labels of sexual identity (LGBT and Straight). They discussed how these identities become manifest in our lives. The Senior High students and Jenna talked about how faith can inform a holistic sense of sexuality, including sexual identity, relationship building and decision-making. In both groups, the young people showed a deep interest in the ways their faith and sexuality can intersect and did not shy from the harder questions such intersection poses. A particularly striking moment was the senior high students' response to the question of what God wants for us in our relationships. Their answer: loving partnerships of mutual respect and mutual happiness, faithful to each other and faithful to God. Throughout the night, these vibrant Christian youth proved how deeply they can think about healthy sexuality and how crucial it is to continue this Christian conversation in church and at home.
It was a great joy to witness the commitment of Presbyterian Promise and First Presbyterian Church of New Haven as the young people of the church continue to think faithfully about their sexuality. The supportive presence of the youth group leaders and Rev. Maria LaSala communicated that church is a safe, appropriate, and important place to think about relationships and sexuality.
For more information about hosting such workshops for your church or youth group, please contact Presbyterian Promise.
The retreat will run from around 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Lunch is included in the fee. Watch for more details, but put October 2 on your calendars and plan to register early. Click here for registration and directions.
A note about Rev. Cari Jackson: For more than 20 years, Rev. Cari has worked in corporate, religious, and community settings to create spaces in which individuals can cultivate wholeness in their lives. Rev. Cari has served as interim pastor at Union Theological Seminary and assistant worship coordinator at The Riverside Church. Rev. Cari is the author of The Gift to Listen, The Courage to Hear (Augsburg Books, 2003). Cari received a Master of Divinity degree (Union Theological Seminary), a Juris Doctor degree (University of Maryland School of Law), and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Sociology (Oberlin College). She is a Ph.D. student in Christian Social Ethics (Drew University).
Hartford's Pride celebration will be September 18th in Bushnell Park..
Please join us!!!
Paul has been an effective advocate Detroit has sent justice overtures to General Assembly for two consecutive years. He has deep Presbyterian roots. His father has been a member of Detroit Presbytery for 45 years. Others in his family are also Presbyterian Ministers of Word and Sacrament. We celebrate his speaking truth to privilege even as we lament the sorrow and loss he has so eloquently shared.
E-mail: PresbyPromise@att.net or call Ralph Jones at 203.248.7386
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