Posted tagged ‘PCUSA’

Happy are they who lead from the back pews

March 18, 2015


Blessed are those whose names are unknown.

The voiceless ones

who were quiet, so their stories were never heard;
who were overwhelmed, so they couldn’t find the words;
who felt like others had more important songs to sing;
who shared their stories in less-public arenas.

Blessed are those who showed up.

The ones who did the countless behind-the-scenes work

who made the coffee and baked the cookies;
who folded the bulletins and served as ushers;
who stuffed envelopes and licked stamps;
and did all the other Martha chores
that those in the spotlight never even knew about.

Blessed are those who remained in the shadows.

Those who just couldn’t…

who lived in insurmountable unsafe places;
whose closet doors were nailed shut;
who yearned to live in the light;
who were isolated;
whose participation was a financial contribution
…or a prayer.

Blessed are those who moved on.

Those who needed to be elsewhere 

who were battered by the church;
in order to survive;
in order to more fully live;
so that they could find happiness.

Blessed are those who died on the journey.

Those who we knew
and those who we never got a chance to know.

And blessed are YOU.

Those who come next

the leaders (and the followers)
of this generation and beyond,
who find the next liberations
and who work for them to become reality.


GA 220: Intertwining our lives

June 27, 2012

But those who wait For Yhwh
find a renewed power:

they soar on eagles’ wings,
they run and don’t get weary,
they walk and never tire.

Isaiah 40:31
The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation
Priests for Equality

“Wait” in Isaiah 40:31 is the transliteration from the Hebrew qavah, which can mean to twist, to bind, to braid like a rope. This verse reveals the active nature of intertwining one’s life with the life of God. When this intertwining is being done, that person is made strong. Those who “wait” upon God—intertwine their lives with God’s—are made strong.

To “wait” for God can also be seen as the cultivating of an attitude of hope and patient expectation—the very definition of faith. Hebrew words often have multiple meanings. The verb qavah can also be a waiting for God to act, to bring vindication or to rescue the people from oppression; here, however, it is more a kind of quiet inaction: by waiting for God’s empower­ment instead of relying on one’s own resources, one receives an inexhaustible supply of strength.

How often do we in the church hear the words “I’m tired” or “we’re tired”? I remember at the last General Assembly in Minneapolis when the Committee on Marriage and Civil Unions report came to the plenary: almost immediately, a commissioner came to a microphone and proclaimed, “Friends, I’m tired: we’re tired,” followed by a motion to table everything that came out of that committee’s hard work throughout the week.

I wonder:
How often do the words “I’m tired: we’re tired” really mean
“I’m afraid: we’re afraid”?

What must it have felt like to have served on that committee to then have their work disregarded like that?

The Assembly then adjourned with prayer and the singing of John Bell’s hymn, “The Summons”:

  1. Will you come and follow me
    If I but call your name?
    Will you go where you don’t know
    And never be the same?
    Will you let my love be shown,
    Will you let my name be known,
    Will you let my life be grown
    In you and you in me?
  2. Will you leave yourself behind
    If I but call your name?
    Will you care for cruel and kind
    And never be the same?
    Will you risk the hostile stare
    Should your life attract or scare?
    Will you let me answer pray’r
    In you and you in me?
  3. Will you let the blinded see
    If I but call your name?
    Will you set the pris’ners free
    And never be the same?
    Will you kiss the leper clean,
    And do such as this unseen,
    And admit to what I mean
    In you and you in me?
  4. Will you love the ‘you’ you hide
    If I but call your name?
    Will you quell the fear inside
    And never be the same?
    Will you use the faith you’ve found
    To reshape the world around,
    Through my sight and touch and sound
    In you and you in me?
  5. Lord, your summons echoes true
    When you but call my name.
    Let me turn and follow you
    And never be the same.
    In your company I’ll go
    Where your love and footsteps show.

I wonder how many of the commissioners thought of those impacted by their refusal to deal with the issues before them—LGBT people and our relationships—as they sang the words, “will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?” Not many, I think.

That was pretty much it, and we all went home. On the way out the door I talked with a heartbroken minister who lives and serves in a state where same gender marriage is legal; she expressed her deep disappointment in what had taken place, saying “We need guidance from the denomination; we feel like we’re out here on our own.”

And so we wait. We wait for the start of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. Some are commissioners, some are advocates for overtures or AIs, some are behind-the-scenes workers or committee staff, some are observers. (I’ll be there as an observer and part of That All May Freely Serve.) As we wait, let’s all take some time to reflect on our lives being interwoven—braided together as one with God and with one another.

Janie Spahr GAPJC Appeal Notes

February 17, 2012

Since there is no transmission allowed from today’s General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission session I’m taking notes. These would otherwise be livetweet and Facebook updates, so I’ll just post — without any editing. 🙂

[Of course I have plenty of opinion (and snark) but I’ll share those separately.]

Rules, parties and charges have been explained beginning promptly at 1:30. Up to two hours has been allowed. GAPJC = General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (denominational “supreme court”)  Members are introducing themselves. Each synod (regional governing body) has one commissioner; there are 17 synods. One is absent, and no one has recused him- or herself.

Janie’s first co-counsel Sara Taylor* is up first. She’s talking about this case compared to the earlier one against Janie: the previous case involved holy unions, this time it includes legal civil marriages.

Reference to John Calvin Marriage Covenant of 1542, laying out the modern definition of marriage as background.

Sara served as counsel for the Rev. Jean Southard when she had similar charges filed against her.

In describing the marriages, Sara is introducing the couples who are here — and they are standing — and are telling the commission what marriage means to each of them.

Sara is now reminding the commission that the denomination has led the way in so many historical issues. So far this has not been the case with marriage. She is talking about the freedom of Teaching Elders to perform the duties of their roles as they are led by the Spirit.

We cannot legislate into being a standard based on a precident with completely different circumstances.

Co-counsel Scott Clark steps to the podium to continue. Describing the California Supreme Court decision in 2008 throwing out the prohibition of same sex couples to marry.

Couples wanting to marry legally turned to Janie as their pastor to officiate at their weddings. It was far more than the ceremony, but incorporating the pastor into this critical life transition time. Scott continues, outlining the mixed and “anguished decision” by Redwoods Presbytery in their verdict – that Janie did the right thing, but that it was narrowly against the Book of Order (church constitution). He describes the inconsistencies in the BoO.

Now Scott is talking about the movement in the civil realm, with seven states now having legal marriage and more to come, and how pastors are being prohibited from performing their pastoral duties to same sex couples.

Next up is JoAn Blackstone, counsel for the anonymous party who brought the charges against Janie. [Note: in listening to her in the past trials, I find her hard to follow.]

Blackstone holds that the version of the BoO that was in effect at the time of the “infraction” is what should be used in the commission’s discernment.

She next outlines an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) issued in which ministers are prohibited from participating in ceremonies purporting that holy unions, etc are substantively the same as marriages.

She continues to say that the prior Spahr decision can and should be used as a precident. She says that nothing has been changed by two General Assemblies since the 2008 Spahr decision, so it should hold.

We are bound by AIs until they are otherwise rescinded. We agree in our polity to go through the process of changing AIs. There is no restrictions on membership of LGBT people. However, this does not mean that everyone has access to everything in the church.

These were clearly ecclesiastical marriages in Rev. Spahr’s mind, but they were prohibited under the rules of our denomination. She is not free to perform the duties of a Teaching Elder as she perceives it and her conscience; she must follow the rules.

Scott Clark had only 15 seconds for rebuttal. 🙂

Time for Q&A.

Commissioner asks about marriage under California law and clergy standing. No disagreement that these are “absolutely legal” marriages.

Another commissioner asks about if Janie had participated in the services but not signed the certificates, would that be allowed. Blackstone says it depends on the kind of participation. Clark says it’s problematic: ecclesiastical marriage including pre-marital counseling, use of church property, etc, has been interpreted to be “the same as” but there is no clear-cut written standard. He refers to Janie’s requirement of a full year of premarital counseling as a faithful act. Taylor reminds the commission about the definition of Authoritative Interpretations in the Book of Order. Discussion of AIs, the constitution, and the fluidity of civil law.

Another commissioner asks Blackstone if there is any circumstance under which a PCUSA pastor could officiate at a marriage of a same sex couples. Not under the current definition. [Expansion that I lost. Sorry.]

Commissioner asks about marriages and man-and-woman language. Scott Clark refers them back to Blackstone’s argument. He continues that this section of the constitution is a beautiful theological narrative, not a legal, regulatory standard. The language was written before the current circumstances. Historically changes begin with church court decisions, and subsequently conversations and decisions take place at the General Assembly itself.

Question if the GAPJC can make a decision one way, why can’t they then decide another way? Blackstone says it’s possible but inconsistent.

Constitution vests discretion with the pastor, says Taylor.

Was there such a prohibition prior to the 2008 Spahr decision? Blackstone: no express prohibition.

Hearing is concluded with prayer by the moderator at 3:05pm.

The commission must deliberate on this and the other two cases they heard and render a decision. It gets mailed out, which means it will go out on Tuesday (Monday being Presidents Day). We will likely know on Wednesday.

Your faithful servant,

* Sara and her wife Sherry are one of the couples who were married by the Rev. Janie Spahr.

Bill Hopper follow-up (from his family)

December 18, 2011

Dear Friends of Bill (and Mollie) Hopper,

We are sorry to have to tell you that our father died this past Monday, December 12th, nine days before his 86th birthday on December 21st.

Many of you know that he had been suffering from COPD for several years, and often his breathing was quite difficult. He contracted pneumonia after he had been taken to the hospital for an unrelated health problem a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately he had seen each of his three daughters very recently. Laura and Katie were with him on Thanksgiving, Jane was able to see him for a couple of days after he was moved from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility, and Mary Ann and Mark arrived to see him the day before he died.

Our parents had many friends and we know that their friendships with all of you gave them great joy and comfort. Bill and Mollie loved to keep in touch with all of you and to visit (and be visited) whenever they could.

There will be a memorial service for our dad on Saturday, January 21st at 3:00 p.m. at Westminster Gardens in Duarte, California. There will also be a second memorial service at Louisville Seminary in early February when his ashes are interred with our mom’s in the seminary’s memorial garden.

In lieu of flowers, we would appreciate memorial gifts to any of three organizations that our dad valued very highly – Louisville Seminary, the overseas mission of the Presbyterian Church, or Westminster Gardens, the wonderful community where Bill and Mollie lived for 15 years following their retirement.

The addresses are listed below.

Thank you all very much for your friendship with our parents. They were always very grateful for the part that you played in their lives.  There is a recent photo of our mom and dad at the end of this email, with the photo file attached.

Mary Ann Kearns
Jane Adamson
Laura Hopper

Memorials may be sent to:

  • Louisville Seminary
    Mr. Dale Melton
    1044 Alta Vista Rd.
    Louisville, KY   40205
  • PC(USA)
    PO Box 643700
    Pittsburgh, PA   15264-3700
    make the check out to PC(USA) and write on the memo line E864015-World Missions
  • Westminster Gardens
    Judy Thorndyke
    1420 Santo Domingo Ave.
    Duarte, CA  91010

William H. Hopper, Jr. – 1925 – 2011
Mollie Brown Hopper – 1925 – 2010

Rooted and grounded in love, whether we like it or not

September 14, 2011

Ephesians 3:14-21

14 That is why I kneel before Abba God, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 And I pray that God, out of the riches of divine glory, will strengthen you inwardly with power through the working of the spirit. 17 May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, so that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 will be able to grasp fully the breadth, length, height and depth of Christ’s love and, with all God’s holy ones, 19 experience this love that surpasses all understanding, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 To God—whose power now at work in us can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine—21 to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, world without end! Amen.

The Inclusive Bible,
Priests for Equality

I am a sometimes elder-commissioner to the Presbytery of San Gabriel. In the Presbyterian Church (USA), elders are the lay leaders of the church, commissioned by the same ordination vows as those taken by members of the clergy. Teaching Elders and an equal number of Ruling Elders are voting members of the presbyteries, synods and the General Assembly of the PC(USA).

(Until very recently we called them Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, but now they’re called Teaching Elders — while elders are called Ruling Elders. This is actually a return to old nomenclature of the church.)

Anyway… I was sharing a little story with one of my friends there about an experience that I had at the 219th General Assembly in 2010:

I sat in the press section of the committee that was charged with issues pertaining to Marriage and Civil Unions — which is to say, “what do we do about the gays and lesbians who are getting married?” This was part of my work as web minister and social media coordinator of That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS), one of the inclusive church organizations of the denomination. I was sitting next to Jim Berkley of The IRD and the Presbyterian Layman during the session. The committee broke for lunch and everyone left; I too was preparing to leave when I got a phone call asking if I could do a little project during the lunch break. I agreed to do so. When people started filing back into the room, Jim Berkley took his seat. He made a remark to the effect that I must have found a quicker place for lunch than he had. I told him that I’d stayed there to work, skipping lunch. He then reached down to his briefcase on the floor, pulling out a Butterfinger and a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups — and he asked which one I’d rather have. I opted for the Peanut Butter Cups, and I thanked him.

Now, Mr. Berkley and I are at opposite ends of the theological spectrum; as far apart as two people could be. But God managed to find something that we had in common, and provide us with an opportunity to break bread (of sorts) together.

At the presbytery meeting yesterday we had a presentation and discussion of a “gracious dismissal” policy (which my fingers keep wanting to call “gracious dismal”) that will be voted on at a special meeting on September 27. There are several churches who have voted to leave our presbytery — but not the denomination — so this policy would not apply to them wanting to transfer, rather than to be dismissed. Nevertheless, it’s still a separation, something that is out of sync with the Apostle Paul’s “love that surpasses all understanding” he writes to the church at Ephesus about.

If some of the churches of the denomination choose to go other directions, opportunities such as the accidental (even if brief) friendship and communion that Jim Berkley and I were able to share will not arise. I admit that presbytery meetings and other such gatherings make me extremely cranky, I value diversity of all kinds. I have appreciated conversations with a conservative colleague who is also a cancer survivor. I honor the fact that another conservative serves as the president of the board of an organization that I love.

We are called by God to love one another as we love God. If God is our spiritual parent, then we are all siblings — whether we like it or not.

I haven’t decided how I will cast my vote, because I can’t see my way through to formulate other, better options. But one thing I am certain of is that God calls us to stay together and work on it as part of one family.

My One Minute Sermon

May 15, 2011

You have heard of the One Minute Manager, of course. Well, this isn’t about that. It’s about a one minute sermon.

A sermon in a mainline Christian church that only takes up one minute?
Whoever heard of such a thing!

Let me give you the context:

  1. This week the Presbyterian Church (USA) received the minimum number of votes required to ratify an amendment to the Book of Order part of the church’s constitution that has to do with the ordination of LGBT people (particularly those in relationships) as clergy and lay leaders (or more formally, Ministers of Word and Sacrament, Elders and Deacons); the old provision said no, the new provision says that local governing bodies (presbyteries) can ordain and install such ministers and churches can ordain and install such elders and deacons. It’s a return to the system that the denomination has had since the Reformation — that God calls and the person answers the call, and it is up to those who know the person best to affirm (or deny) that call. (The text of both is below if you’d like to read them.)
  2. I serve on the board of an organization dedicated to the full participation of LGBT persons in the church. This organization is called That All May Freely Serve. Because of actions by the denomination barring ministry by one person, The Rev. Dr. Jane Adams (Janie) Spahr, at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church of Rochester, New York, TAMFS is based at that church. Our board anticipated the date of passage of the new G.6-0106b and planned our Spring board meeting to coincide with this date. Fortunately, we were exactly right!
  3. Following our board meeting, we were invited to stay over and worship with DUPC on Sunday morning. Some of us (and other former board members and friends) were then invited to be worship participants. Since this is a momentous occasion — one that many of us have been working toward for many, many years — the church wanted to give us a chance to say a few of our own words, and not just be the ones to introduce different parts of the service of worship. Because there were so many of us, we were requested to keep our statements — our “sermons” — to one minute. (Most of us exceeded that, but … well, you know. The clock had to stop running when people cried tears of joy. More of these will be published on TAMFS’ Dreaming Church blog soon.)

Worship bulletin for today's service

Clearly my introduction of the context is longer than my one minute(ish) sermon itself, but I was the one who was asked to give the benediction.

Here it is:

It is so good to be among you this morning. I always appreciate being here in Rochester, and at this church, so deeply imbedded in progressive politics and religion for so long.

I come from a different place: from San Gabriel Presbytery, the presbytery that brought Amendment B to the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1996. As a matter of fact, the church that proposed Amendment B is in the town where my wife and I live, and the pastor of that church was the overture advocate for what became G.6-0106b at the Albuquerque General Assembly.

Over the years, some in San Gabriel Presbytery have brought charges against my little More Light church – one of only four in all of Southern California – for ordaining and installing publicly-identified gay or lesbian elders; some of these same people – Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Elders in our denomination – have been downright cruel, with the result being chasing the extremely gifted Katie Morrison out of the presbytery and, ultimately, to the UCC.

This past Tuesday night during our presbytery meeting, the expected vote result from the Presbytery of Twin Cities Area came to me and others who were monitoring Twitter and Facebook. Although there was no announcement at our meeting, word quickly passed through the room – with varied reactions, as you can imagine. This was just as our presbytery was debating Amendment 10-A.

I had prepared three two-minute floor speeches, but instead of standing in the line to deliver any of them, I listened to what other commissioners had to say. I was blessed by words from people like Jack Rogers and Dale Morgan, while I was cursed by words of some others.

Following the debate, in Presbyterian fashion, we prayed and then cast our written votes; we then adjourned for dinner. The results were announced following worship (which I don’t remember much of). Our moderator said, “Ladies and gentlemen, our tellers counted the ballots four times: the result was a tie, 92-92.”

In our system, a tie vote counts as a loss, but in my presbytery it was an unimaginable gain. Never before have we come close on an issue pertaining to same gender-loving people. Many have called it a miracle, and I can’t argue with them.

Despite the fact that it is a parliamentary “loss,” the lesson that I want to lift up going forward is that God has given us in San Gabriel Presbytery – and hopefully to the whole church – a reminder: that God loves each of us, and loves us equally. As Gene Peters says in The Message, Jesus said that we are to love God with all our passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and to love our neighbors as well as we do yourselves. This passage in Luke continues with Jesus describing “who is our neighbor” in the familiar story of the Good Samaritan, after which he concludes saying, “Go and do likewise.”

So this week, remembering that we are God’s face in the world for many people, let us go out and do likewise!


This was the question sent to the presbyteries by the 219th General Assembly.

Shall G6.0106b be amended by striking the current text and inserting new text in its place:
[Text to be deleted is shown with a strikethrough; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]
b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
b. Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

The case against the Rev. Jane Adams Spahr

March 24, 2011

NOTE: I am a member of the board of That All May Freely Serve, the organization co-founded by the Rev. Janie Spahr after another church court denied her call to serve at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York. I am also a legally-married-to-a-same-gender-spouse-in-California who was married in church in a service officiated by an ordained clergymember. It is impossible for me to be unbiased, and I make no apologies for that.

A lot happened today in the appeal of the verdict rendered last summer in the case of Presbytery of the Redwoods vsthe RevJane Adams Spahr.

I typically live-tweet or live-blog such events–something I did during the trial itself–but the (in my opinion) archaic policy of the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Pacific disallows the use of electronic communications of any kind while they are in session. Consequently, I was reduced to taking notes via pen-and-paper.

I will share what took place in today’s appeal, but I am making the very intentional choice tonight to not do so until after this body has rendered its verdict. Not that they will likely be reading (or be influenced by) the writing of a blogger who sat through the hearing, but you never know.

In the meantime, I have been thinking and praying about this case, about Janie and the myriad of charges that have been filed against her over the years. In so doing, I started where I often begin: with seeking a definition of the terms. So what is a trial? Here is what the dictionary says:



  1. Law:
    a. the examination before a judicial tribunal of the facts put in issue in a cause, often including issues of law as well as those of fact.
    b. the determination of a person’s guilt or innocence by due process of law.
  2. the act of trying, testing, or putting to the proof.
  3. test; proof.
  4. an attempt or effort to do something.
  5. a tentative or experimental action in order to as certain results; experiment.
  6. the state or position of a person or thing being tried or tested; probation.
  7. subjection to suffering or grievous experiences; a distressed or painful state: comfort in the hour of trial.
  8. an affliction or trouble.
  9. a trying, distressing, or annoying thing or person.
  10. Ceramics:
    a piece of ceramic material used to try the heat of a kiln and the progress of the firing of its contents.

Some of these definitions go far beyond what we most often think of in terms of charges being filed and the courtroom-type process to come up with a verdict; and some of those words are so appropriate. Trying, distressing or annoying. Affliction or trouble. Subjection to suffering or grievous experiences.

Hopefully, having friends and colleagues who love Janie with her today provided that “comfort in the hour of trial” listed among the descriptions as well.

Also today, as the opposing counsel presented her arguments, I had a scripture passage, a psalm, echoing through my head. This passage is the favorite of the father of one of the women who testified at Janie’s trial; it was a favorite of God’s glorious gadfly, the Rev. Howard B. Warren, as well.

Psalm 139

1 Yhwh, you’ve searched me,
and you know me.
2 You know if I am standing or sitting,
you read my thoughts from far away.
3 Whether I walk or lie down, you are watching;
you are intimate with all of my ways.
4 A word is not even on my tongue, Yhwh,
before you know what it is;
5 you hem me in, before and behind,
shielding me with your hand.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
a height my mind cannot reach!
7 Where could I run from your Spirit?
Where could I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you’re there;
if I make my bed in death, you’re already there.
9 I could fly away with wings made of dawn,
or make my home on the far side of the sea,
10 but even there your hand will guide me,
your mighty hand holding me fast.
11 If I say, “The darkness will hide me,
and night will be my only light,”
12 even darkness won’t be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day—
darkness and light are the same to you.
13 You created my inmost being
and stitched me together in my mother’s womb.
14 For all these mysteries I thank you—
for the wonder of myself,
for the wonder of your works—
my soul knows it well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
while I was being made in that secret place,
knitted together in the depths of the earth;
16 your eyes saw my body even there.
All of my days
were written in your book,
all of them planned
before even the first of them came to be.
17 How precious your thoughts are to me, O God!
How impossible to number them!
18 I could no more count them
than I could count the sand.
But suppose I could?
You would still be with me!
23 Examine me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts—
24 see if there is misdeed within me,
and guide me in the way that is eternal.

This is the framework of my thinking and my prayers until we hear from the PJC. I invite you to join in continuous prayer for love and justice until their verdict is issued.

Grace and peace,