May 15, 2012

Janie Spahr’s “rebuke”

Today is the day that our friend and co-founder Janie Spahr goes before the Presbytery of the Redwoods to be rebuked. She was charged — by one anonymous person, which is legal in our system — for celebrating the legal marriages of same-sex couples. The presbytery, the synod, and the General assembly permanent judicial commissions (church courts) all ruled against Janie. Janie has insisted all along that by officiating at these weddings was part of the pastoral care she gives; to not do so, to walk away and say “no” to these couples, would be reneging on her responsibilities as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament.*

Here’s “chapter and verse” from the PC(USA)’s Book of Order which, along with the Book of Confessions, comprises our constitution:


D-12.0100 Censures

D-12.0101 Degrees of Church Censure

The degrees of church censure are rebuke, rebuke with supervised rehabilitation, temporary exclusion from exercise of ordered ministry or membership, and removal from ordered ministry or membership.

D-12.0102 Rebuke

Rebuke is the lowest degree of censure for an offense and is completed when pronounced. (D-11.0403e) It consists of setting forth publicly the character of the offense, together with reproof, which shall be pronounced in the following or like form:

Whereas, you, (Name) ___ , have been found guilty of the offense(s) of ___ (here insert the offense), and by such offense(s) you have acted contrary to (the Scriptures and/or the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)); now, therefore, the Presbytery (or Session) of______, in the name and authority of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), expresses its condemnation of this offense, and rebukes you. You are enjoined to be more watchful and avoid such offense in the future. We urge you to use diligently the means of grace to the end that you may be more obedient to our Lord Jesus Christ.

This formal rebuke shall be followed by intercessory prayer to Almighty God.

We hold Janie, the couples, legal counsel, family, friends and other supporters in prayer. We also hold in prayer those who have opposed Janie, that their minds may be opened and that they may realize that they are saying no to love. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., proclaimed that “we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.'”


For more information go to Rev. Janie Spahr Charged (Again) by Presbyterian Church (Facebook) or Rev. Janie Spahr Trial Updates.


* Now called Teaching Elder in the PC(USA)

May 3, 2012

Janie Spahr Update: Redwoods Presbytery Meeting

The Stated Meeting of The Presbytery of the Redwoods will be held on Tuesday, May 15, 2012, at 10:00 a.m. The Permanent Judicial Commission’s report on the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams (Janie) Spahr’s GAPJC decision is scheduled for 11:15 a.m.

Summary of the Decision:

Same-sex marriages were sanctioned by the State of California from June 20, 2008, through November 4, 2008. During that time period Spahr performed wedding ceremonies for approximately sixteen same-sex couples.

In 2010, a prosecuting committee of the Presbytery brought charges against Spahr for officiating at these ceremonies and a three day trial was held before the PPJC in August of 2010. At the conclusion of the trial the PPJC found her guilty of three of the four charges, issued a Rebuke, and enjoined her “to avoid such offenses in the future.” The three charges read in salient part as follows:

  1. Committing the offense of representing that a same-sex ceremony was a marriage by performing a ceremony in which two women were married under the laws of the State of California and thereafter signing their Certificate of Marriage as the person solemnizing the marriage;
  2. Persisting in a pattern or practice of disobedience concerning an authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order, in that under the laws of the State of California, she represented that no fewer than fifteen such additional ceremonies she performed were marriages of persons of the same sex;
  3. Acting in violation of the authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order by failing to be governed by the polity of the PC(USA) in violation of her ordination vows.

The Legal Defense Team is asking the Presbytery to not rebuke Janie; in fact, to refuse to impose the censure.

There is a possibility Janie, the couples, and supporters will be given an opportunity to speak during the presbytery meeting.

Make plans to attend!

First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo
72 Kensington Road
San Anselmo, CA 94960
Follow Rev. Jane Spahr Trial Updates on Facebook.
May 1, 2012

Lisa Larges: Real Party in Interest

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.”

grey divider

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.
April 25, 2012

Something new is stirring

Only a few short months ago, That All May Freely Serve was making plans to end our ministry and find some appropriate ways to pass on our legacy.

Then, we got a note.

Our friend Ray Bagnuolo was feeling the deep tug of the Spirit to begin a ministry of healing and witness with the Presbyterian Church as together we seek to live in to a new constitutional era of welcome and inclusion.

Where fear remains, there needs to be reconciliation;

Where hope springs up there needs to be nurture.

Ray wondered whether there might be a place for him to begin such a ministry within That All May Freely Serve.

We listened.

We prayed.

“Yes,” we said.

We do not yet know how all of these things will unfold.

We do know that Ray envisions a ministry that is grassroots, simple, and integrated fully with the tapestry of our movement for fairness and full equality in the church.

We’re planning a Service of Remembering, Rejoicing and Renewal on June 10 to be held in Rochester to honor this transition.

And we’ll keep you posted as we go.

God continues to work and move among us.

May we listen well.

Lisa Larges
Minister Coordinator
That All May Freely Serve

December 9, 2011

An important letter to our supporters

This letter has gone out to the mailing list of our supporters,
and we want to share it with everyone who has supported our work in any way over the years.

December, 2011

Blessings of joy and love
be yours in this season of hope
and may our world know more of peace
in the new year ahead…

Dear friends,

As the Coordinating Team of the Board of That All May Freely Serve, we are writing to share with you the decision of the board to draw to a conclusion in the work in its current incarnation of That All May Freely Serve in the year ahead.

At our October meeting the board gathered around an oval table over dinner, and then under the wise gazes of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, whose portraits hang on the walls of our meeting space at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church. Together we prayed, carefully weighted each option before us, and then discerned to the best of our abilities the leading of the Holy Spirit for the way ahead.

What remains clear to each of us is that the work of creating a truly welcoming church for all is just beginning. The passage of Amendment 10-A makes it possible for all to serve, but, we are not yet at the point when all will freely serve without the impediment of prejudice, ignorance, or fear. The day is not yet here when any young LGBT person can walk in to a Presbyterian church and know that they will not be rejected because of who they are. We know that the day is not yet here when same gender and opposite gender couples may share equally in the blessings of marriage honored by both church and state. We know that the day is not yet here when presbyteries won’t attempt to make the way more difficult for LGBT candidates and when those same candidates will have a full and fair chance of being considered for positions in churches all across the country.

Nonetheless, the passage of Amendment 10-A provides a moment for us to step back and assess how best the work ahead may be carried out. We believe that this landmark moment in our church offers an opportunity to consolidate the efforts of our movement for full welcome in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We remain grateful for the work that so many will continue to do, especially More Light Presbyterians, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and Presbyterian Voices for Justice.

For the last nineteen years, the hallmark of That All May Freely Serve has been its ability to “person the issue” — to put faces and stories and the witness of faith to the abstractions of prejudice, fear and discrimination. This fundamental operating principle has led us to align ourselves with all who are on the margins and to do our work within the core values of honoring relationship, acting through integrity, seeking the leading of the Spirit and of making a place for all at the table of grace. We will work to insure that our legacy will live on. As a board we are considering options for how we might best do this, and we will keep you informed of specific decisions we make toward that end.

Lisa’s Call

Through her own discernment, and in consulting with our board, Lisa believes that she is being called to seek ministry elsewhere in the church or in her new home of Minneapolis. As she is being called away from That All May Freely Serve, it seemed to us that this decision provided a natural transition point for TAMFS. Lisa will continue on a full time basis until the end of 2011 and then as needed in the first half of 2012.

We realize–with a bit of irony–that even as a judicial action in the Presbyterian Church provided the spark for creating That All May Freely Serve, we will be winding up the formal work of That All May Freely Serve with another judicial action still in progress. The case involving Lisa’s ordination has been appealed back up the the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and we anticipate that it may be heard sometime this spring. We will continue to walk with Lisa through the ordination process and have some hope that it may be resolved even as we are concluding our work. Nonetheless, we are deeply disappointed by the way in which delaying actions of the court and further appeals from members of the San Francisco Presbytery have thus far thwarted our dream of ordaining Lisa to her work with us–a goal we have labored for since we first called Lisa ten years ago.

There is much yet to do, and it will take all of us to do it. We hope you will join us in rededicating yourself to creating a church where all will indeed FREELY serve. We rely on your generosity to bring That All May Freely Serve through this next transition, and extend our promise to you that your gifts will be used to ensure that our work, our values, and our commitment will live on in new forms. Thank you for sharing this journey with us. Blessings of joy and love be yours in this season of hope, and may our world know more of peace in the new year ahead.

With gratitude,
John DeHority, Mary Rees, Ed Saphar, and Rob White
Coordinating Team,
That All May Freely Serve National Board

October 18, 2011

WATCH has a dream for the church

I’m dreaming about
a church of sensitivity and openness
a church of healing and welcome.

I’m dreaming about
a community of friends that celebrates differences and diversity and variety,
a community that is forgiving, cherishing, wide open.

I dream of
women and men who minister life and laughter and love;
of men and women who minister healing and harmony and hope;
of women and men who minister to each other and minister to the crying needs of a world that hurts.

I dream against the rough climb still to come,
against expectation
against pessimism and despair;

I dream, I dream of the clear panorama of the vision of light
right at the top of the mountain.

October 17, 2011

Lisa Larges: National Going Out Day

Note: This is a few days late in the posting, but the message itself is timeless.

National Going Out Day
Scripture: Matthew 22:1-14

It’s the same architecture in Matthew and Luke—the banquet, the guests who make excuses, the gathering of the many until the hall is filled.

Luke’s version is the one with which we’re more familiar. Matthew’s is wedding banquet meets world of war craft. Sure, in Luke’s version, the banquet giver is justifiably insulted by the brazen excuses of the invited, but he doesn’t go all Terminator on them.

By the end of Matthew’s parable there are a lot of bodies on the floor, slaves murdered—someone didn’t get the don’t-shoot-the-messenger memo—villages razed, and finally, for good measure, one guest thrown into the outer darkness: Talk about a wardrobe malfunction!

In Luke it’s all about the eating. There are nineteen meals in Luke, 13 unique to Luke’s gospel alone. Luke is the Paula Deen of Gospel writers. So in Luke’s telling, the central compelling image in the parable is of that banquet hall overflowing with guests:

“The servant came back and reported this [the excuses of the invited] to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Here is the great fact of God’s hospitality, a sumptuous banquet for all the ill-fortuned, miss-begotten, down-trodden, of-no-account, disreputable, bedraggled, stinking, rowdy, joyous mass of teeming humanity.

Were we to play the game of Match the Reformer to the parable, we would give Luke’s great banquet parable to Luther, with all of his table talk and beer guzzling and four-part singing. The Matthew account is for us Calvinists.

In Matthew’s version of the parable, God’s hospitality is still a central concern, but see what a terrible serious thing it is. By Matthew’s telling, God’s hospitality is as much burden as blessing—Calvin would love that. Hospitality is God’s absolute prerogative and the consequences are dire for anyone who dares spurn God’s invitation. The Old Testament smiting God is back in town!

Within the structure of the Gospel, Matthew places this parable within a series of polemics against the Pharisees that will culminate in that great crescendo of condemnation in the next chapter; the one which begins “Woe to you Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. You yourselves do not go in, and when others try to enter you stop them,” and ends with the heartbreakingly plaintive: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Such fierceness is the mark of a new community straining to define itself. We hear the rancor of that family feud as Jewish, and now some gentile Christians claim their identity as something independent from, and even hostile to older schools of ardent religious conviction like that of the Pharisees.

So it is that the wedding feast is for the new community—a thing which looks altogether different than those first converts had imagined. For this reason, Matthew adds some detail about the role of the messenger. Here again, within the larger structure of the Gospel, we’re on our way to that final resounding imperative, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey everything that I have taught you.”

Just a few chapters back, in sending out his disciples Jesus has given them the helpful bit of advice, “If you enter a town and they do not receive you, leave that town and shake the dust from off your sandals.” But now, Jesus makes clear that they may be lucky to have the privilege of leaving at all. “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.”

The final and perhaps most striking difference between the Matthean and Lukan telling of the banquet parable is the interesting bit Matthew throws in at the end about the inappropriately attired wedding guest. Here again, whereas Luke’s straightforward telling emphasizes the unbounded hospitality of the divine, Matthew begins and ends the story with a warning to those who would disdain such generosity.

And now comes the painful part of today’s sermon, by which I ask you to recall 10th grade English class, and that day when you were forced to learn all those technical figures of speech designed to suck all the joy and spontaneity out of otherwise lovely free range poetry. Back there in the hazy corner of your brain do you happen to remember the term synecdoche? Alright, it’s a rhetorical question. Synecdoche is the literary device by which a part represents a whole, or a subset stands in for a broader category. In “give us this day our daily bread” bread stands in for food, for example. Well, it’s occurred to me more than once, as a lesbian and a Presbyterian, and someone who’s been advocating for fairness in our ordination standards, that we LGBTQ Presbyterians have introduced a kind of synecdochic error. We’ve let fairness in ordination standards stand in for true welcome. We’ve even let ordination of teaching elders stand in for ordination of all officers, belying the equality of all offices in our polity.

I know I risk sounding ungrateful, and nothing could be further from the truth. But I’m still longing for a church that takes seriously its collective and common pastoral duty of making tangible God’s hospitality even unto the furthest margin. I hope to be ordained—preferably before I retire—but what is my ordination, if still in some Presbyterian church, a young man leaves that Sunday night youth group, the virulent rhetoric of religiously fueled homophobia poisoning his soul, sits down in his bedroom, puts the gun in his mouth, and pulls the trigger? In just a few days, our church will ordain Scott Clark—someone whose call and gifts are so demonstrably evident; but what is the relative importance of that ordination if still, somewhere, some 18- or 19-year-old or altogether terribly young kid and his buddies, jacked up on beer and the Bible, assault one more transgender woman on the streets outside our church doors? That our church may now ordain publicly identified LGBT persons indeed does have both real and symbolic significance, but the real measure of that significance must be in whether the fact of LGBT ordination contributes to ending the violence perpetrated in the name of all of us—LGBTQ and straight alike—who call ourselves Christians.

Two days ago, when Scott Anderson, a beautiful gay man, put on that stole and thus ushered in a new era in the life of the Presbyterian Church, it meant a tremendous amount to all of us who have been working for just such a day. But what matters more than that one act of ordination are the thousand acts of pastoral care that you will offer: to the parents with the son who died of AIDS, to the young woman just coming out, to the same-gender couple who comes to you in all the vulnerability of love and offers you the great honor of officiating at their wedding, to the teenager figuring out that their own internal identity is different than the gender identity they present to the world. Fair ordination is great. Welcome is everything!

For the last two generations our church has enforced policies which rendered LGBT persons as ineligible for ordained office in our church; in so doing we dishonored the hospitality of God—and therein lies our sin and our shame. Throughout our history we have often yielded to the temptation of claiming for ourselves the power to determine who is in and who is not, when that prerogative is God’s alone. Jesus’ most stinging indictments are for just such offenses.

Our years of church fights over Biblical interpretation, theology, modernism, post-modernism, etc. provided all of us, LGBT and straight alike with a grand distraction from the difficult work of being a messenger. Church fights are exhausting and demoralizing, but going out to the margin, that’s terrifying.

Tomorrow is another National Coming Out Day, but for two generations now, LGBT folks have given the church the great gift of our coming out. We have told you our stories, made ourselves vulnerable in your presence, patiently answered insulting questions, waited while the church dithered, defended our understanding of Scripture, borne the prejudice and the misinformation, had our hearts broken, and hung in there.

Maybe instead what’s needed now is a National Going Out Day. Going out to those queer kids who know only that the church is at best hypocritical, and often hateful; then to all those who the church has marginalized; and then on to the very margins of the margin. Because the banquet is ready! It’s been ready all along, and all along, our only job has been to deliver the invitation!

  • Lisa Larges
    October, 2011
    San Anselmo, California
October 15, 2011

Lisa Larges: Wearing the Stole

In 1993 the Presbyterian’s General Assembly voted to call its members to engage in dialogue concerning human sexuality. The vote was in response to calls for the church to allow for the ordination of LGBT members as Deacons, Elders and Ministers. Presbyterians have a long, if not especially noble, history of studying, dialoguing, and forming special task forces instead of taking action. Maybe the call for three years of dialogue was one such delaying strategy, nonetheless, many Presbyterians—especially LGBT Presbyterians—took the mandate seriously.

Two such members were a pair of ministers and also a couple, Tammy Lindahl and Martha Juillerat. Both served in little churches in the Midwest. Before 1993 both went about all the duties of a pastor: visiting the sick, baptizing babies, preaching, folding the Sunday bulletin, watching out for those in need, all while living closeted lives. But, when the church called for dialogue, Martha and Tammy answered. They decided to put a face on an issue, and share their experience as ministers, Presbyterians, lesbians, and Christians. Often they would be invited to events that were more like debate and less like dialogue. “There came a time when I just couldn’t be called an abomination one more time,” I remember Martha saying.

There were threats made to revoke their ordination status, and far more serious threats on their lives. So in 1995, Martha chose to take the action of setting aside her ordination. She did so at a regular meeting of her local presbytery, a regional governing council of the Presbyterian Church.

As she did so, Martha wanted to make clear that she and Tammy were, in fact, two among many. Plenty of other LGBT Presbyterians were also quietly serving the church as ministers. Still others had either left the Presbyterian Church to serve as ministers in more open denominations or had left the ministry altogether. In this latter category was Scott Anderson, a thoughtful, quiet, button-down kind of guy who had been serving in California as a pastor until members of his congregation threatened to go public with their suspicion that he was gay. Instead, Scott—like Martha—set aside his ordination, and came out.

Just a few weeks before she was to set aside her ordination, Martha put out a call asking for current or former LGBT Presbyterian ministers to send her a liturgical stole (a symbol of ordination for ministers in our tradition) which she would place on the Communion Table in the sanctuary of the church where the Presbytery meeting was to be held. Remember, there were usenets and online bulletin boards and other such things way back in 1995, but largely the invitation spread by word-of-mouth. But spread it did, and 80 stoles arrived in Tammy and Martha’s mailbox in the first week or so. One of those stoles belonged to Scott Anderson. Now there are more than 1,000 stoles, and the collection includes other sacred objects from traditions which don’t use liturgical stoles. Since becoming part of the Institute for Welcoming Resources, the project has expanded to be interfaith, and represents more than 30 faith traditions from around the world.

Of course the point of recalling this history is simply, as the media has reported, to mark the historic moment that occurred on October 8, when Scott Anderson was ordained a second time as a Presbyterian minister and he put on the stole that the Shower of Stoles Project returned to him. It’s the first such time that the Stoles Project has returned a stole to a publicly identified LGBT person on the occasion of being formally recognized by their faith tradition.

Since the Presbyterian Church changed its policy to allow qualified LGB persons to be ordained to the offices of our church, there have been several ordination services, of which Scott’s was the first. Later on that same day, Steve Andrews was also ordained, and on October 16 Scott Clark will be ordained as well. If you’re wondering, the Presbyterians also ordains women, but it just so happens that with the ordination of Scott, Steve and Scott, three of the finest most gifted Presbyterian men now have taken on the responsibilities of serving the church.

It may happen that sometime in the future we might ordain a few mediocre LGBT folks—just as we’ve ordained some less-than-stellar straight folks over the years. But it just so happens that we’ve pretty much led with the best—three men who, though their gifts and skills and ministries differ widely, remarkably share the same manifest quality of profound gentleness. I mean, if you sat down next to any of these three, you would almost immediately feel as though a warm beam of compassion was shining directly on you. Or, at least that’s been my experience.

So, on behalf of LGBT folks everywhere, I’d like to be the first to say to my Presbyterian brothers and sisters, “You’re welcome!!! We’ve known all along what gifts of faith and skills for service we can offer, and we’re so glad you finally get to experience that firsthand through Scott, and Steve and Scott.”

And, since we began with a little foray into history, let’s end with another short history lesson. While Scott Anderson was indeed the first publicly identified LGBT individual to be ordained since the policy change that took place this past July, there have been five openly LGBT Presbyterians ordained as ministers before the rules changed. This came about because five courageous Presbyteries believed strongly in the calls of these five, and were willing to risk a judicial challenge by ordaining them. Among these are:

  • The Rev. Katie Morrison
  • The Rev. Mieke Vandersall
  • The Rev. Tanya Denley
  • The Rev. Ray Bagnuolo and
  • The Rev. Cheryl Pyrch

Now that we’ve opened the history file, there are many other stories we could tell—of the many, many Presbyterian LGBT Elders and Deacons (lay leaders in our church who are also ordained and whose ordination—in theory if not so much in practice—is understood to be equal to that of ministers) who served openly before the new rules, and of those who blazed a trail for all of us—but those are wonderful stories for another time.

August 8, 2011

Mardee Rightmyer: Lisa’s Twenty Five Years…

About five years ago Lisa asked me if I would preach for her ordination when the time came. Since then I have accumulated a thick file folder of sermon outlines as each affirmative “ready to receive a call” vote started my preparation for a sermon only to have it thwarted by another long and winding court process.

"23 Years Later"

An idea for the sermon I had hoped to be preaching in a month or so comes from an article by Eugene Peterson called “Twenty-Three Years… Persistently.” The prophet Jeremiah says “for twenty -three years… the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened” (Jer. 25:3). Peterson says “for twenty three years Jeremiah got up every morning and listened to God’s word. For twenty three years Jeremiah got up every morning and spoke God’s word to the people. And for twenty three years the people heard nothing.” Peterson then says that the key to this life is the word morning – a new day that gives the opportunity for surprise and creativity and God’s faithfulness.

Peterson concludes his article “the mark of a certain kind of genius is the ability and energy to keep returning to the same task relentlessly, imaginatively, curiously, for a lifetime… The same thing over and over, and yet it is never the same thing for each venture is resplendent with dazzling creativity.” Is this not Lisa to the core? Look at what she has done with her life as she has persistently listened for the word of God and spoken it regardless of the outcome. And look at the young adults who have been drawn into the church by this creativity in spite of church polity.

But perhaps it is for the recent PJC decision that I have been preparing rather than Lisa’s ordination sermon; Lisa learned this lesson long ago. This word is for me as I grapple with my deep yearning for justice for Lisa in the midst of the message that God is in control no matter how the people respond. May it sustain us in the coming year as we persistently wait for the church to catch up with God’s calling.

  • Mardee Rightmyer
    TAMFS Board Member
    (and dear friend of Lisa’s)
August 3, 2011

GAPJC Decisions

The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission’s rulings on the cases involving the ordinations of Scott Anderson and Lisa Larges were released yesterday.

Scott’s ordination was approved by the ruling in Caledonia et al v. Presbytery of John Knox. We at That All May Freely Serve love Scott, and we rejoice in this decision!

The ruling in the case of Parnell et al v. Presbytery of San Francisco was a bit more complicated, and — unfortunately — not as affirmative. The GAPJC remanded it to the Synod of the Pacific for clarification on two points having to do with scriptural and confessional arguments made by the plaintiffs. The decision did not deny Lisa’s ordination.

You can read Leslie Scanlon’s article in the Presbyterian Outlook for further information.

We hold our dear Lisa in prayer and stand alongside to support and love her. Despite this disappointment, we will always keep Dreaming of The Church That Can Be and working to make the Presbyterian Church (USA) one That All May Freely Serve.