In 2014 marriage equality came both in the denomination I serve, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the state in which I live, Wisconsin. While my congregation had slowly but surely been talking about marriage and sexuality in one way or another for the previous 12-18 months, this convergence of opinions made the conversation even more important to our context. Now that same sex marriage was legal in Wisconsin, would our congregation be willing to host such weddings on our property? Continue reading
The session of the church I get to serve, First Presbyterian Church in Hudson, Wisconsin, met for a special meeting on Saturday morning, April 11, and something wonderful happened. About half way through a Spirit-filled 2 hour meeting the session voted unanimously that “At First Presbyterian Church of Hudson, WI requests for Session consideration of marriage will not be denied based upon sexual orientation.”
It wasn’t wonderful because we are the first church to take such a position. It wasn’t wonderful because we are the only church to have a unanimous vote. It was wonderful because we somehow got to this place in April that back in August none of us ever would have imagined. The whole session, even those who personally don’t believe that same sex marriage is part of God’s intention for creation, ultimately agree that same sex weddings could happen on our church property. We would not categorically prevent same sex couples from requesting a wedding, and most likely, looking at the make up of at least our current session, if a wedding was requested we would vote to allow it.
What made the unanimity of this vote such a surprise and blessing is that our congregation is not an “activist” congregation. This was in no way a slam dunk. We don’t have predictable opinions on the hot topics of the day. We definitely don’t advocate for any political or theological stances as a whole congregation. This is in part because we are true to our Upper Midwestern style of addressing differences. Which is to say, we don’t go looking for them; we definitely don’t highlight them. You might even say we consider avoidance a spiritual gift. It is also because the congregation I serve is a theologically diverse congregation with a theologically diverse session.
Of course, every congregation is in some sense theologically diverse, but for some that spectrum of diversity ranges from the moderate to an extreme, or maybe somewhat left of center to somewhat right. In our congregation of approximately 220 members the theological spectrum ranges from people who believe in dispensationalist views of the end times (think of the Left Behind series of books and movies) to people who are able to openly express questions about the veracity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. One of the ways we have stayed together, for better or for worse, is by not spending too much time on issues that might divide us.
But avoidance for any reason was not going to work on marriage equality. Shifts in church and culture were bringing the discussion of marriage equality closer to home. Even two years before marriage equality came to Wisconsin or the PC(USA) I began to look for resources that would help me lead this larger discussion. I was completely underwhelmed. None of the resources I found fit our reality. While I assumed we couldn’t possibly be the only church out there that wasn’t completely “pro” or “con,” in many ways it felt like we were alone as we moved through a season of discernment about same-sex marriage and our worship and ministry.
Most resources had a clear bias. They all seemed to argue for a particular outcome, either to help convince someone to change his or her mind or bolster an opinion already held. This didn’t seem helpful for a couple of reasons. First, I have rarely found it effective to try to teach someone into a new opinion with books, studies, or lectures. Second, I had became more and more certain as we had been having conversations about marriage and sexuality in our church for at least a year that our goal didn’t need to be getting everyone to agree; our goal needed to be to determine how we would live and behave as the church when we all don’t agree. My goal shifted from trying to get as close to unanimity as possibly to trying to nurture a culture in our church where participants are encouraged to faithfully interpret Scripture according to their understanding of the guidance of the Holy Spirit and live according to their faith-filled interpretation even when that interpretation differs from the interpretation of the person sitting next to them in the pew.
This shift was crucial for what ended up being a unanimous vote that will allow all marriage requests to be considered without discrimination, while also honoring the responsibility of individual session members to vote according to their discernment of the Spirit and will of God.
How I planned and carried out studies and discussions that moved us toward this vote will be shared in my next post.
In just over two weeks I will begin a sabbatical from my pastoral ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Hudson. The sermon countdown has begun (two more to write). The “To Do Before I Leave” list at the left is constantly being updated. I’m getting excited as I imagine what it will be like to have a summer full of weekends with my family instead of trying to squeeze our fun into the 12 hours we’re all awake on Saturday. At the same time nerves are starting to mount a little, too. Will the kids and I get along (enough) most days? Will I know what to do with myself when I’m not being a pastor? Will I miss the relationships in my life that are disrupted by this time away? Continue reading
It should not have been a surprise since that’s exactly what it looked like when I walked out the door on Sunday after worship and fellowship. These are what my mom calls “little ones out of big ones” – the scraps left over from the flames my daughter was diligently cutting out to help me get ready for an activity we were doing in worship. It’s a mess, and a mess that needs to be cleaned up, but it is by no means the biggest mess in my office right now. It also isn’t the mess that got my first attention today. Continue reading
There wasn’t a whole lot on the schedule for today which was good because my absence on this blog reflects how much has been on my calendar in recent weeks. I’m not worshiping at the altar of busy. Just stating a fact.
But anyway, there wasn’t a whole lot on the schedule for today except for two visits – one with a retiring pastor in my presbytery who had invited me to come take what I wanted off of his bookshelves, and another with one of the oldest members of the congregation I serve who had some music to share. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon, and in a sense both of these visits were about the same thing – telling and hearing stories.
A few weeks ago I found myself in the church sanctuary all alone. Now, that isn’t completely abnormal. I’m regularly running
into the worship space for one thing or another. Maybe I left my Book of Common Worship on the communion tableSunday, or more likely my son left his iPod under the chair. But this particularly afternoon I had wandered in for some completely different reason that is lost to me now, and instead of wandering right back out I sat down for a little while, in the middle of the sanctuary in the middle of a row in the middle of the day when I am not leading worship. I got stuck there — in a good way — for a while.