I think back to that day and know that my parents, my pastor, and the congregation wanted the best for both of us; lives of grace and knowledge that in Christ we would find life abundant. I think back to that day and give thanks to God for it, for the strength that it still gives me, and for all that my home congregation taught me, for the ways that they showed me how to be a Christian and to discern God’s direction for my life. I think back to that day and doubt that anyone was thinking about what my sexual orientation would turn out to be, or my brother’s for that matter[MM1] . Christ’s love and seal on our lives was definitive, claimed, and expressed[MM2] . I would come to stand before that congregation many more times — to light the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve, to be Confirmed, to lead prayers and vesper services, to preach on Youth Sunday, to be ordained a Deacon.
I was baptized around the time that the debates about the ordination of faithful gay and lesbian Presbyterians began. My family was oblivious to those debates. No one that day had any idea the church would spend more than the next thirty years wrestling with this issue. No one had any idea that the children they were baptizing would grow up and identify themselves differently: one as a lesbian, the other as a heterosexual. No one had any idea the impact the church’s debate would have on my life and call to ordained ministry.
And no one could possibly have predicted the swell inside my heart that would come at our 218th General Assembly this past June. Everyone I talked to felt that that GA had caught the wind of the Spirit and something very exciting was taking place. I felt again the enormous trust and pride that I knew as a child. It was challenging — it always is — and rewarding. The conversation felt different, as did the exchange and the connections with people, and what the Assembly chose to do. It felt like the decades of debate and discernment and, yes, rancor and division, were coming to fruition. I had the hope that as a church we could listen to what the Assembly did — the spirit of it even more than the votes. I wondered: Could we, the presbyteries and congregations back home, away from the glow, be as open as they were?
The meeting in San Jose inspired in me anew the quest to really live out Christian fellowship in a deeper way. I want to know you. And I want you to know me. I want to hear your faith journey and to tell you mine.
I have faithfully accepted the votes of the GA over the years. I have worked, prayed, talked with others, and leaned heavily upon the Holy Spirit to get through years when I felt certain decisions like heavy weights on the backs of my lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters in Christ. And I will continue to do so. I have come to expect the same of you. Every time we have before us a vote from the GA, we have the opportunity to listen, pray, and act.
At times I have felt like quitting.
When I see people with enormous gifts of the Spirit tamped down, I cry. When I counsel people with clear gifts for a life as clergy as they cry and wonder in disbelief at how they are excluded, I am frustrated. And when I say goodbye to yet another person whose call to serve is too great to be put on hold as they leave our denomination, I get angry.[MM3] [MM4]
But I left San Jose with great hope — hope that the lives of all those who have put their ministerial gifts on hold could let go and take flight now. Hope that those who have comforted their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mentors and students, friends and partners, when they have found their call thwarted by the church, could now rejoice with them that the church would let them answer that call. Hope that in the debates and arguments and reasons and justifications offered up that everyone — everyone — would understand that we are dealing with real people in real lives and that every hand raised in yea or nay would really know the very real lives that rest in the balance.
MIEKE VANDERSALL is minister director of Presbyterian Welcome in New York, New York.