Further reflections on Scott Anderson Ordination

“It is about time,” said participants in gay man’s service

“Our purpose is to worship God and ordain Scott Anderson,” opened the ordination service this morning at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison, Wisconsin, part of John Knox Presbytery.

Approximately 325 people were in attendance including almost 20 individuals who participated in leading the service plus about 40 singers and bell-rings from the choirs of five area congregations.

The opening music was marked by joy and worshippers were encouraged to share their names with each other during the passing of the peace. Mark Achtemeier (member-at -large of John Knox Presbytery and former Professor of Theology at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary) gave the sermon titled “Springs in the Desert” drawing from Isaiah 49:8-10.

Like the newly liberated exiles who had not journeyed alone, Achtemeier acknowledged Anderson’s path and the shift his ordination marks in the experience of the church.  He called this the “fitting picture as the hope and promise contained in this day.”

In reference to Jesus’ assertion that wise interpretation of Scripture adds new treasure to old understanding (Matthew 13:52), Achtemeier cautioned that the new treasure celebrated today is not obvious to all.  Because many Christians defend the “long-term status quo” interpretation, this is an opportunity to witness God’s love in a time of disagreement. 

While he did not refer to Anderson’s orientation, he spoke of an essay written by Chely Wright detailing her devastating experience being an LGBT child in a place of worship.  Achtemeier hoped that Anderson’s ministry would be used by God to revive weary exiles and bring a healing hope to all of those who, like Wright, have experienced alienation.  “God has not forgotten these alienated children,” Achtemeier proclaimed, “May God make your ministry a life giving spring of water.”

Following the constitutional questions, Dale Chapin invited all present teaching and ruling elders to come forward for a laying on of hands.  Almost three-quarters of those in attendance accepted the invitation.  Had photography been permitted in the service, this overwhelming image of unity would be the picture accompanying this piece.  Following the prayer, the congregation responded with a lengthy period of standing applause and a smattering of cheering.

Anderson was then re-presented with the pulpit robe he had been given at his original ordination over 20 years ago. David Lohman (of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Minneapolis, MN) then presented him with one of the stoles from the “Shower of Stoles Project”, stating that the project’s collection of stoles reflected the loss of leadership the church has suffered because of its own unjust policies. 

Lisa Larges (candidate for the ministry of teaching elder) and Tricia Dykers Koenig (National Organizer of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians) offered the prayers of the people giving thanks for Anderson’s pastor’s heart and asking that the power of love be greater than the power of hate.


In the charge to the Wisconsin Council of Churches, the receiving congregation, Peg Chemberlin (Executive Director of the Minnesota Council of Churches and President of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA) asked for ongoing patience.  However, she implored that they not lapse in “leading the movement forward,” for their calling to ecumenism remains.


In closing, Anderson gave thanks to those who had supported him on his journey, notably his partner Ian MacAllister, and expressed gratitude for those who disagreed with today’s event but remained rooted in the knowledge that we are all one in Christ Jesus.


The atmosphere of the service reflected the celebration of change.  Phrases such as “it is about time” and “today is the day we have waited and prepared for” sounded a refrain.  Hymns, including “All Are Welcome” and “The Canticle of the Turning,” emphasized the themes of inclusion, justice, and change that permeated the service.


Prepared to maintain this atmosphere if need be, four police officers were stationed outside and an additional pair inside.  Representatives from Westboro Baptist church stood across the street holding signs in protest.  In response, members of a Madison Unitarian congregation stood at the street – between the church and the protestors – hoping to form a barrier of peace. 


Today’s service recognized the joy in God’s calling but also seemed to celebrate the change in a polity that has shown itself to have very divisive characteristics. Moving forward, how will today’s events affect the denomination?  How will differing opinions on ministerial leadership influence our identity as a connectional church? Much remains to be seen.