Time, as they say, is a river—not pausing, never waiting, and carrying us on. It’s time—or perhaps time’s emissary, timing—which has led me to decide not to pursue ordination to my current call, even as the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission upheld the Presbytery of San Francisco’s vote to approve my ordination to my work with That All May Freely Serve.
It’s been more than four years since the San Francisco Presbytery certified me as ready for a call, more than two and a half years since their vote to approve my ordination, and there have been six trials before the Synod and General Assembly Judicial Commissions since 2008. It’s been a full ten years since I first started working with TAMFS and began talking with the Presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry seeking to be ordained to this call.
Time goes on, even as we wait. Especially in the last two years, as we’ve waited for the judicial process to work itself out, circumstances in my own life have changed.
When I first became a candidate for ministry, I was fresh out of college and on my way to seminary at the age of 22. A few years later, I graduated from San Francisco Theological Seminary, and then, somehow, lots of wonderful years in the Bay Area—26 in fact—slid by. Just in the past few years, I’ve been feeling that primal tug to be near my family. My parents, now in their 80s, are doing great, but at some point you begin to realize just how precious time is.
I kept putting off a move back to Minnesota as the judicial process wound its meandering way up and down the judicatory levels. But, by the fall of 2011, a confluence of circumstances made the time for moving right, and I came home to be near my wonderful mom and dad, my totally awesome sister and her likewise awesome family. We kept our official TAMFS office in the Bay Area, and I carried on my work from my new Minnesota digs.
In the months that followed my move, it has become clear to me through lots of prayer and reflection that my own call with That All May Freely Serve is coming to a natural end. The passage of Amendment 10-A opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for TAMFS and our movement to continue to strengthen our welcoming church. TAMFS is discerning a new way forward that will be more streamlined and grassroots driven. I’m incredibly excited about these changes, proud of the discernment process that our board has committed to, and humbled by the mysterious workings of the wily Spirit. I don’t know what it is yet that I am being called to, only that this call is ending, and I’ve come to this decision while the case against San Francisco Presbytery has proceeded back up to the General Assembly PJC.
Even as the PJC has now ruled to let stand the presbytery’s vote to approve my ordination, being ordained to this call now would require meeting with the COM of the San Francisco Presbytery, approval at a stated meeting of the presbytery of a commission and date, and planning a service back in the Bay Area—adding at least several more months on to the process. This additional time, my recent move, and my sense of God’s call away from TAMFS has led me not to go forward for ordination at this time but to seek a new call.
Just to be clear, this is my own personal decision. The TAMFS board has been incredibly gracious and loving, willing to move mountains so that I might be ordained to this ministry and also deeply respectful of my decision. What’s more, I can’t begin to say how deeply moving and humbling it has been to hear from so many kind friends of how much they are hoping that I should be ordained. The blessings of community that have surrounded me in this process have been simply unfathomable. I can only thank you all for your prayers and to appeal to you for your continued patience!
The PJC’s decision affirms once again the principle that such decisions as ordination are best lodged with the council with the most knowledge and direct oversight of the person being considered. We can trust one another to do this, even as we know we do not always decide perfectly. Since we adopted a new constitution and opened up the process to fully consider the calls of qualified gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members, our church has been blessed to see four extraordinarily gifted and faithful Presbyterians ordained as Teaching Elders. By God’s providence we are now blessed by the ministries of the Rev. Scott Anderson, the Rev. Scott Clark, the Rev. Paul Mowry, and the Rev. Katie Ricks. I hope that the PJC’s decision will give presbyteries that much more confidence to fairly consider each candidate who comes before them.
San Francisco is a divided presbytery, full of what we might politely call “big personalities” of every theological stripe, and yet I’ve only been treated with great respect and graciousness, even by those who voted not to approve my ordination. They’ve also hung in there through a long judicial process. I am very thankful for this, and also thankful for the counsel that has represented the presbytery through lo these many hearings.
My friend and mentor Janie Spahr has counseled many LGBT folks like me struggling with the questions of whether to stay in the church, whether to pursue a call in our church, or come out to their congregation. The question she will ask is, “Are you willing to be curriculum for the church?”
All of the ups-and-downs and ins-and-outs of this long judicial process have been part of what it means to be curriculum for the church. We have to learn together, and we don’t seem to learn well in the abstract. And I can’t say that it’s been anything but a privilege to do this work. At the same time, even as I understand in a deep way that the whole of this journey, and the good work of being “curriculum” has been a part of my sense of calling, this judicial process has also been personally painful. The many delays, and the waiting, have exacted a cost. There’s a kind of spiritual pain here that I’m still figuring out. Suffice it to say that our judicial process, as necessary as it may be, is hard on everyone, from the commissioners to the legal counsels on both sides, to the individuals whose lives are directly affected.
But we believe in a God who is the redeemer of time, and we strive for that equanimity of thanksgiving that Paul speaks of and practiced in his own life. “Gratitude in good times,” Calvin said, “patience in adversity, and [most of all] a wonderful security respecting the future.”
Real Party in Interest (legal definition)
A real party in interest is the person or entity whose rights are involved and stands to gain from a lawsuit or petition even though the plaintiff who filed suit is someone else, often called a “nominal” plaintiff. It is the person who will be entitled to benefits of a court action if successful; one who is actually and substantially interested in the subject matter, as opposed to one who has only a nominal, formal, or technical interest in or connection with it. It may be broadly defined as someone who may be adversely affected by the relief sought or the person or entity entitled to the benefits if the action is successful.