And a little bit of a participant, too.
Scott Anderson’s ordination took place on a glorious fall day in Madison. It’s warm and sunny, and the leaves are reaching the peak of fall color. On the street corner opposite Covenant Presbyterian Church, a small group of protestors led by people from Westboro Baptist Church, held their signs denouncing the ordination of LGBT people. Opposite them stood a larger group protesting the protestors. There were TV news trucks on the street as well.
Inside, there was joy, thanksgiving, and celebration. There was also acknowledgement that this event was not being celebrated by all Christians, or all Presbyterians, that there is division, and hurt.
As I sat there, I thought of all of those, including Scott, who have struggled over the last decades, people whose callings were denied; clergy who were forced to live a lie, and many who still do. I thought of the gay clergy I’ve known, those who have been able to serve openly and those who have not. I thought of all of those who have struggled in the ordination process with their sexuality and were not able to answer God’s call.
Perhaps the most poignant moment came when Scott received back the stole that had been given him by his first congregation, made by Hmong members of that congregation. It was a stole he sent to the “Shower of Stoles” project, a spontaneous effort begun when one Presbyterian minister was forced to give up her ordination. The stoles represent LGBT clergy or lay persons who have not been able to live out their call in the church. Now there are more than 1100 stoles in the project, but Scott’s is the first to return to its first owner. It’s a remarkable story. Scott is a remarkable man, full of love, grace, and humility.
At the moment of ordination, all clergy and elders were invited to come forward for the laying on of hands. It was a powerful moment. Sharing in the gift of the Holy Spirit, sharing in this historic ordination, the hands that reached out to touch the shoulders of the person in front of us, were also reaching out to heal a broken world, and a broken church. As we stood and prayed, I caught a glimpse of the congregation. It seemed like almost all of the pews were empty. Clergy from all over the country, from many denominations, participated in this laying on of hands.
As I sat, I wondered when I would be sitting in a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee, participating in the ordination of a LGBT person to the diaconate or priesthood. I pray for that day.