Friday, May 13, 2011

After 33 years: Hallelujah, Amen


Today is a day to take a moment. Feel good. Celebrate. Last night during yet another emotionally exhausting Presbytery Council meeting, we got the word. The 87th Presbytery had voted yes. Overture 10A had won. The restrictive language of the constitution removed. The ban against ordination  of lgbtq folks over. Interim Executive  Presbyter Tony de la Rosa teared up a bit. This is my emancipation he said. 
The reporter from DNA Info has come to interview me. It’s a story that needs to be told.  We go into the sanctuary. Grace is back, her music filling the space. I point to the rainbow flag hanging over the balcony next to the Christian flag.  “That’s been there for 33 years,” I say. 
We go into Mc Alpin Hall, where Three Graces is rehearsing As It is in Heaven, the play about Shaker women. I tell the story. The 1978 General Assembly in San Diego. The fateful moment when the committee voted that yes, homosexuality was per se sin. The action that would ban unrepentant practicing homosexuals from ordination. (My friend Chris joked Practicing? I thought I was rather accomplished.) John Connor making the motion for a grandfather clause protecting those already ordained. My friend Richard Evans crying over coffee, saying,Well, I’m Welsh.  The Moderator inviting my friend Chris from my Yale days to pray for the Assembly, as if that somehow could soften taking away what God had already given. 
And how in September 1978, in Tulsa, Oklahoma where I worked, I would hear of a congregation in New York City that had passed a More Light statement declaring itself open to lgbtq people at every level of leadership. What a beacon of hope that was. The name was a reference to what John Robinson, spiritual leader of the pilgrims who founded the Plymouth Colony, said to the Pilgrims as  to the pilgrims as they set sail on the Mayflower.  Robinson had urged the pilgrims to be open to new religious teaching, and:
...if God should reveal anything to us by any other instrument of his, to be as ready to receive it, as ever we were to receive any truth by his Ministry. For he was very confident the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy Word.
No teacher yet had perfect knowledge of God, Robinson said:
"For though they were precious shining lights in their Times, yet God had not revealed his whole will to them; and were they now living," saith he, "they would be as ready and willing to embrace further light as that they had received."
How the  hymnwriter George Rawson (1807-1889) had used Robinson's speech as the basis of his hymn "We Limit Not the Truth of God," with the lyric:
We limit not the truth of God to our poor reach of mind --
By notions of our day and sect -- crude, partial, and confined
That universe, how much unknown! that ocean unexplored
For God hath yet more light and truth to break forth from the Word.
Eternal God, Incarnate Word, Spirit of flame and dove,
enlarge, expand all living souls to comprehend your love;
and help us all to seek your will with wiser powers conferred
O God, grant yet more light and truth to break forth from the Word.

The movement spread from congregation to conngregation  and across denominations throughout the country. I explained how that declaration brought lgbtq people from as far away as 40 miles to worship at a church where they felt welcome. Even as the Upper West Side Lesbian Gay Association had found a welcome place to meet at West-Park after having been turned down everywhere else. 
And so with the onset of the AIDS crisis, the congregation experienced the trauma of death. How one man restored the Tiffany window in honor of his partner, renaming it the Steven Window. How the God’s Love We Deliver meals on wheels program for persons living with AIDS was born in the West-Park kitchen. And how the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing, another ministry born at West-Park, would create the Michalski AIDS residence, named for former West-Park member Ben Michalski.
How the bitter merger fight of the mid-1990’s led to those who had supported the merger moving to Rutgers Church so that the legacy of the original More Light founders now belonged to two churches. How Rutgers and West-Park became the joint offices of the emerging organizing/advocacy/action group Presbyterian Welcome in 1996.  And how in 2003 at  the 25th anniversary of the More Light statement people gathered at West-Park from around the country and celebrated while Councilmember Gale Brewer read a proclamation from the city honoring West-Park for inspiring this movement and pioneering in gay marriages. 
Gay marriages. West-Park’s reputation as gay friendly and also bilingual led to us becoming a home for latino gay marriages.  Every year since I’ve been here I do half a dozen or so latin gay marriages, more women than men. Usually one Catholic, the other Pentecostal. Feeling marginalized from their latin community, their churches and even a white professional dominated lgbt community.  Until now, I’ve always had to explain that we Pressbyterians ultimately were no more welcoming. 
I told the reporter that was our legacy. She asked about today. I said that was our commitment to people at the margins. Immigrants. Homeless. Our support of the Saigon Grill workers. It’s our obligation to stay true to that call. 
Walking  back through the sanctuary, I look at the rainbow flag again. Thirty-three years, I say, a long journey. 

She takes a picture of me on the steps, holding one of the rainbow stoles knit by More Light members and worn at General Assemblies to show solidarity with those who could not be ordained. The last time she took my picture, we had just lost the landmarks fight. You’re not scowling, she says, you’re actually smiling.

Hallelujah. Amen.

actually smiling

(see story at dnainfo: )
* * * * 
Off to meet Ted and Mim to discuss legal issues, strategies.  An increasingly vulnerable situation.
Danelle has added a small arrangement of flowers to a glass on our desk. Grace’s music continues to come from the sanctuary. Feels comfortable. Like a home.
* * * *

Original More Light Statement

In September, 1978, West-Park Presbyterian Church became the first Presbyterian Church to openly welcome all persons of all sexual identities to fully participate in the life of the church, including ordained leadership. The Session adopted the following statement:

In harmony with the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church, West-Park Church affirms the civil rights of all person. Further, in keeping with our General Assembly’s guidelines, this community of faith welcomes as members homosexual persons who both seek and have found Christ’s love.

This local congregation will not select one particular element from a person’s total humanity as a basis for denying full participation and service in the body of Christ. Nor will this community of faith condemn or judge our brothers and sisters who declare their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and promise discipleship to Him. We affirm that in meeting each other in Christian love. God’s spirit frees us all to live and grow, liberated from the oppression invoked upon us by ourselves and others.

Within this context, West-Park Presbyterian Church reaches out to Christian and non-Christian homosexual persons with a ministry of support, caring and openness—a ministry in which the creative, liberating power of the Holy Spirit rules and guides.

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