I’ve disagreed with the position of my denomination on the Ordination of gays and lesbians for over 30 years. I entered the fray back in 1979, when our Interim Associate pastor, the Rev. Donna Prickett, worked with the Committee of Five in response to charges against the Westminster, Buffalo church for declaring itself to be a “More Light” church. I was an Elder Commissioner from my home church, Kenmore Presbyterian, to the Presbytery of WNY. I learned so much from watching folks MUCH older than myself debating and challenging the system.
One of the reasons I remained Presbyterian – in spite of my frustration with the denomination’s stance on this issue – is because what I witnessed in the Elders and Ministers around me was an incredible grace that allowed for significant disagreement on an issue that still allowed for folks who were at odds to eat from the same Table. It was amazing! We disagree…. and yet we work together. THIS is a church that reflected what I believed was possible.
For thirty years I’ve served a church in various capacities – representing three different Presbyteries at Synod, and one at the GA level. I’ve worked as an Elder and Minister of Word and Sacrament on Presbytery committees – from Chairing the Polity and Review Committee in Genessee Valley to serving six long years on Elizabeth Presbytery’s COM. I’ve given blood, sweat and tears and have encouraged the congregations I’ve served to support the work of the PCUSA… even though I disagreed with our stance. Oh, I worked for that stance to change – and prayed and hoped – but I believed I still belonged alongside these brothers and sisters who disagreed with me.
A few weeks ago, that all changed.
A few short weeks ago, a vote was cast from the Twin Cities Presbytery which would ratify the work of July’s General Assembly (to which I was a Commissioner) which will allow individuals in same-sex relationships to be ordained.
My joy is tempered by the understanding that this decision will mean that several clergy (and the churches they’ve served) may work towards dividing the denomination into non-geographical Presbyteries that are aligned theologically.
I don’t understand. I can’t pretend to understand. I remained within this imperfect system for over 30 years, and worked hard on behalf of governing bodies for the good of the whole church (progressives, conservatives and all in-between) and the response from those who now find themselves in a place where they will be in a church with which they disagree… is to find ways for us to NOT gather at the same Table?
I realize that this difference has drained our resources and focused many of us from the real work of the Church. I’m ready for a time when more of my denomination’s energy can be focused on mission and evangelism, but this stings.
I’ve struggled for the last few weeks trying to determine WHY it hurts – and although not a perfect answer, I think it is because it feels as if I have been used. I’ve disagreed, but continued to serve because I believe in that grace that allows for folks to disagree to do so together. Now that the table has turned…. those who I’ve served with are interested in leaving? It’s as if what is being said is “I will work alongside you only as long as MY beliefs are the ones being honored.”
I’ve always known that folks interpreted scripture differently – and that part of our Call was to live with that tension and the understanding that “God alone is keeper of the conscience”. I’ve known about our differences – but I always made the assumption that we agreed on what it meant to be “church”, and specifically, what it meant to be Presbyterian.
Today, I’m not so sure.