No sermon from me this week, but….

So, why no sermon from me? Because I didn’t preach this weekend. Instead Heidi Ward filled the pulpit at my church. Heidi is a second-year seminarian, a student pastor, and in the discernment process for ordination in the UCC. She also happens to be the woman I am marrying this fall. So, you know, I’m partial to her.

This was Heidi’s first time preaching at my church, and our first time leading worship together. It was something that came up casually. Heidi asked if she could preach, and my folks said “sure”. It wasn’t a “political act” for us. There was no “agenda”. It was just Heidi giving me a week off from peaching. But I didn’t realize what a holy act that would be for us. But as we vested together, I began to understand how meaningful it all was, both for us as partners but also as LGBTQ people of faith. It’s something not many LGBTQ clergy ever have the chance to do.

I was not ordained in the United Church of Christ (UCC). I was originally ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I love the PCUSA, and they are making some movement on the inclusion of LGBTQ people, but two years ago I made the decision to leave and come to the UCC. I’ve known others who have left Methodist, Catholic, and Baptist churches to serve in the UCC. We haven’t come because the UCC is perfect (though I believe it’s pretty great). We’ve come in large part because it was the one place that would embrace us as who we are and embrace our families as well.

When I was single and a PCUSA minister considering leaving for the UCC I wavered a bit. I couldn’t decide whether to make the jump, or to stay and fight for full inclusion. My dad helped me to make my decision. He asked me, “You want a partner some day, right?” I said yes. He replied simply, “Well then it’s not fair to her to stay in a place where she won’t be respected.”

A year and a half after switching my ordination, I asked Heidi to marry me. Now we are planning a wedding and getting ready for a life together. A life that includes serving openly as a clergy couple. I’m acutely aware that had I stayed in the PCUSA I would now be navigating the still-uncertain rules about same-sex marriages in the Presbyterian Church. I’d be having to find a clergy member willing to marry us and a church willing to let us use the sanctuary. I’d be worried that my wedding could become a test case in a church judicial proceeding. The same would be true for a clergy member in many other denominations. Instead, Heidi and I have simply reserved her UCC church for our wedding date, and asked a UCC minister we both respect to officiate. We’ve invited many of our clergy friends. We are so thankful we can celebrate this day with our greater church community.

But as much as I’m looking forward to that day in November, I’m so aware that what happened last Sunday was even rarer. If you had asked me when I was ordained whether I’d ever be able to stand and lead worship in a church I pastored with my partner, I’d probably have told you no. But it turns out, in the end, that’s not as far-fetched as it seemed. For that I thank my congregation. And my denomination. And especially my partner. But most of all God, who is still speaking, and who is doing something new in the church. I pray more churches will listen to that still speaking voice, because I hope every LGBTQ couple, clergy or lay, gets to feel that kind of welcome at least once.

15 thoughts on “No sermon from me this week, but….

  1. How very sad for you both, that you are in the pulpit without even the pretense of following the risen Christ. And how tragic that the congregation entrusted to your care will never hear the Gospel.

    1. By the way, Michael, I see you are a Navy chaplain. I certainly hope you do not share the same grace-less attitude about the worth of gay children of God to the brave gay sailors and Marines under your spiritual care.

    2. Comments like these make me wonder how seriously we take the notion of the sovereignty of God. Seems to me that God is the only one capable of deciding who is “worthy” to preach the Good News. Why on earth God chose me to do so is well beyond my understanding, but I know it’s not beyond God’s understanding. If God can choose a wretch like me — a white, straight, sinful human being — then why is it so unfathomable that God can choose a gay person to share the Good News. After all, are they not children of God as well? Or are they somehow second class children of the Covenant?

      Seems to me that God can use all things (and people) for God’s purposes, and when we attempt to limit God’s ability we create an idol out of our own limited knowledge and understanding. I trust that God knows what God is doing and that God knows what’s in each of our hearts. Thankfully, God’s ability to accept is far superior than our limited abilities.

      Thankfully you are not the judge of Heath’s ministry, or mine for that matter. I’m sure you’d find something wrong with anybody who has a different view on this topic. Enjoy your golden calf, and follow that wherever it may lead.

  2. Emily embodies Christ to the point that he’s taken a restraining order out against her… that humor maybe lost on you Michael, so instead I’ll say, “Shame on you.”

  3. Michael,

    I’m secure in my relationship with the risen Christ, as is Emily. As also are the bodies of governance in our denomination (or in Emily’s case now two denominations) that have authorized her for ministry and approved me to move forward toward ordination. I’ve personally discipled multiple people to Jesus Christ. How very sad for YOU that you cannot see the grace of the Risen Christ in all of God’s children. Blessings to you in your life and ministry. I will pray that God opens your heart to see the pain your exclusion may cause in your own life and those you minister to.

    -Heidi

    1. By what or whose authority do you claim to represent the Christ of Scripture who clearly came to save all of us sinners, no matter how terrible the offense against God, but excused not one sin or sinner from God’s judgment. Based upon the message of the gospel of God’s gracious forgiving mercy, I humbly ask you both to repent of your sin of prideful creation of such a permissive God and your insistence upon proclaiming such a false Christ and savior! Dan McMillan pcusa pastor in Alabama.

      1. Dan,

        Respectfully, you don’t get to come into this space and demand I “repent of my sin”, and lay down my claim to a personal relationship with Christ. Just as I will have to face God one day, so too will you for your judgement, hate, and exclusion of all people. It is not up to me, or you to judge others hearts or personal relationships with the Living God. That mine happens to be one filled with grace rather than judgement is my truth. You don’t have to like it, but nor do you get to demand I renounce it. Have a nice day.

        Blessings,

        Heidi

      2. Well, I guess the original authority I would claim is Jesus Christ who called me to the ministry. But you could also say the PCUSA confirmed that authority when they ordained me. Specifically the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. Columbia Theological Seminary also affirmed it. I guess my question is this: Who gives you the authority to judge the love of two children of God as sinful? And even if you think it might be, shouldn’t God be doing the judging?

  4. Hey, Emily – we’ve lost touch since seminary, but I’m glad to read that you seem to be thriving. The UCC does sound like a better fit for you. It’s interesting to see how much “sadness” is named in these responses–both in Michael’s judgmental reaction, and all the judgmental reactions to him! Amid all this sadness, I just wanted to offer a joyful hello! Grace and peace to ya.

    Blessings, Barnabas

  5. You and Heidi are a blessing to your faith and a blessing to this world. You help me understand the love that Jesus has for the world.

    Thank You,

    Jenn

  6. “By what or whose authority do you claim to represent the Christ of Scripture who clearly came to save all of us sinners…” -Dan

    -Didn’t the Pharisees ask Jesus this same thing, over and over again? What did he say to them?

    “both in Michael’s judgmental reaction, and all the judgmental reactions to him!” -Barnabas
    -I would like to have an example, if you have one readily available.

    @Em: comment policies are helpful, as with moderation. I have it on my blog and I have had to enforce it quite often. You can check my blog for some ideas.

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