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Turning a Moment into a Movement

As many of you know, I’ve been traveling doing LGBTQ activism and anti-oppression / anti-racist work, both at the Mennonite Convention, USA and the Wild Goose Festival, respectively.  Following Wild Goose, I returned to Charlotte, NC en route to Detroit for the Christian Peacemakers Team World Congress.  It was a Monday (July 13th), and an historic Moral Monday / Forward Together March was happening in Winston-Salem.  I traveled there with my two activist companions, Holly Roach and Steve Knight.  We were joining a group of National Faith Leaders and Auburn Senior Fellows:  Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, Dr. Sharon Groves, and Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis.  Macky Alston of Auburn Media was also marching with us.

Rev. Dr. Barber is the architect of the Forward Together movement and president of the NAACP of North Carolina, and as National Faith Leaders, we gathered for prayer and reflection, then took place on the front line of the march.  We marched into the plaza, took place on the grass, listened to Yara Allen sing beautiful gospel songs, then some of the National Faith Leaders spoke and urged the state legislature to restore the voting rights act.  Jacqui Lewis sang a portion of a song that called for glory.

What struck me about my time both on the front line of this march and listening to all of the speakers is that the moment when speakers were fighting poverty and racism was also the moment where I realized this is a radically intersectional and interconnected movement.  I watched carefully, and there is (of course) room to analyze how the movement has materialized.  Suffice it to say, as an out and radically queerMestizaje, I stood with my black and brown kin, some from North Carolina and others from afar, and we re-imagined our future together.  We took a moment and turned it into a movement, together.  We stood together in the heat of Winston-Salem to take place against the oppression that has displaced black and brown bodies.  Isn’t this similar to the ways that MLP has sought to create change within the Presbyterian Church (USA)?!  We have taken place together, with differences?

With the passage of 14F and 10A, we still stand at the precipice of change.  We have seen incremental change, but let us not think this is only a moment.  We are part of a movement.  We are part of a movement for radical inclusion in the church, and a movement whose roots are anti-oppression, anti-racist, pro-labor, pro-LGBTQ, pro-women’s rights, anti-violence, and so forth.  We are at the precipice of change!  Let us lean into the moment as a movement that is becoming different at every turn.

For a video clip of the voting rights act march see this clip!

The Pittsburgh Presbytery 14F Vote: Participating in a Miracle

I followed Carol Chonoska (ruling elder commissioner from East Liberty Presbyterian Church, a CovNet church) and JoAnn Chonoska (Carol’s wife, married in Carol’s brother’s—Jeff Krehbiel—DC church when their marriage was legal there) into the large colonial New England style sanctuary of Bower Hill Presbyterian Church for the meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery on May 14, 2015 where we would vote on 14F, the overture to replace 4.9000, the section on marriage in the PCUSA Directory for Worship in the Book of Order.

I was on auto-pilot as I was dreading what was to come. I’ve been a member of Pittsburgh Presbytery since 1977 and not once in that time have we had a respectful, robust discussion in presbytery about any matter related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) people. We had never voted more than 37% yes on any overture sent from the General Assembly on G-6.0106b back in the day or 08-B and 10-A more recently.

Carol and JoAnn led me to a seat right on the aisle, one pew away from the two microphones marked “In Favor” and “Opposed” near the front of the church.

Those of us in favor of the motion had done some organizing in the months leading to the meeting. But it was not the standard Get Out The Vote work that was so very effective across the church this year. Experience had taught us here that it didn’t matter who showed up. We would be outnumbered. The debate would be limited to the minimum time set in the manual. Hurtful things said would beat us down. A voice vote would declare No. We would go home.

Still, as I say, we had done some things.

Carol and Senior Pastor Randy Bush at East Liberty Church stayed close to the preparations at the presbytery office for the vote. Lenore Williams, also a ruling elder at ELPC, is Moderator this year and they spoke often with her. Several things happened for the first time.

There was a Saturday informational gathering for the whole presbytery with the Executive Presbyter and Stated Clerk a few weeks before the meeting. There was a conference hour before presbytery with a panel to discuss pastoral needs in light of 14F going into effect in the PCUSA this month. Perhaps, most importantly, a written ballot was given to every voter as we registered. It would be a secret ballot. No one contested this in the meeting.

Rev. Vincent Kolb, pastor at Sixth Presbyterian Church (a More Light church), invited allies to a meeting in the late winter. They agreed to encourage a hand-full of presbytery members to speak in the debate who were not “the usual suspects” and who could tell a compelling story about LGBTQ people and marriage. Several of these did agree to speak in favor of the motion—more about that later.

At Community House Presbyterian Church (a More Light church), where I am a Parish Associate, we tried something new.

Through the CHPC Facebook page, we conducted a Facebook sponsored post program that reached 619,000 FB newsfeeds in the Pittsburgh area, inviting 254,000 people, tagged by FB as Presbyterian, Christian or the like, to go to HarmonyInChurch.com, a website full of posts on helping the church to live together in this post-14F world. It also has a link to the MLP Marriage Study Guide for downloading. 41,761 people took some kind of action (clicked, commented, linked, shared, etc.) in response to these posts. There’s a good chance many of the 35,000 Presbyterians in Pittsburgh Presbytery were among them.

And the pastor of Community House, Wayne Peck, sent the MLP Marriage Study Guide to every congregation in the presbytery, 140 of them, with a letter offering it as a gift: a resource to draw on when new situations would arise and to give all of us in presbytery a shared foundation for understanding the various points of view in the PCUSA in anticipation of our 14F debate. The hope was that the measured tone of the MLP Guide would model for us all the same spirit among us.

Only God knows what factored into the miracle we witnessed that afternoon in Bower Hill Church.

One of them had to be that our Pastor to the Presbytery, Sheldon Sorge, was forthright in his sermon during worship. Though our vote was not pivotal in the adoption of 14F, how we conducted our debate and vote mattered as a measure of how we live together in the Body of Christ now and into the future. He urged us to be mindful of gracious engagement.

When the Moderator asked for those wishing to speak in the debate to come to the microphones, four or five people lined up on each side in the center aisle. I found myself in line and raised my hand high to be recognized. “Madam Moderator,” I said, “A point of personal privilege. Even these lines at different mics already divide us. I ask that we have a moment to hug each other before we begin.” “Please,” she said and there was an audible gasp through the whole hall as we warmly reached across to the other line, hugging colleagues in ministry as friends.

There were parliamentary moves around the debate. A motion to call the question before we began was ruled out of order. When the 20 minutes allotted by the rules ended and one person was left to speak, the motion to extend debate was moved, seconded and passed. In my memory this was unprecedented. This was grace for us.

Every one of the speakers for 14F told a compelling story. For example, two leaders at Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community, a successful new church development now well established, shared how central Jack and Larry have been to their church, leading their meals ministry. Having been together for decades, they were astonished when Hot Metal welcomed them. The church had rejoiced in their marriage this past year and prayed with them just the day before when Jack died in the hospital with Larry at his side. They said, “Jack and Larry needed the church. The church needed Jack and Larry.” And we knew it was true.

I confess, I was too intent on keeping to my three minutes and breathing after I sat down—this was the first time in over a decade that I spoke in one of these debates–that I couldn’t pay close attention to the other speeches. I did feel that the ones against “clanged,” if you know what I mean. There were no stories. One friend has told me since that her eyes teared up twice during the pro-14F stories.

The ballots were marked, passed to the aisle and carried out to be counted. When I saw the Stated Clerk return to the front of the church I knew the outcome was known. She slipped the announcement in between items of business. “All the motions passed,” she said. (We voted that day on all the overtures except The Belhar Confession). Then she sat down. It took a moment for this to register. All the motions. . .that means 14F. . .14F must have passed. . .how could this possibly be?

There was stunned silence and the meeting when on. Before we adjourned, she gave the details: 122 Yes, 110 No, 3 Abstentions.

I will spare you my political analysis of how this could be. I prefer to sit in the mystery of the transforming miracle of Pittsburgh Presbytery voting Yes on 14F. I know there are those 110 who voted No and may have feelings similar to ones I have had through years of losing.

What’s most important to me is the way Pittsburgh Presbytery is joining what the Holy Spirit seems to be doing in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). What a joy to participate in that miracle!

This queer lay preacher has a unique take on the PC(USA)’s conflict over gay marriage

6th Pres14F is a sure success now, but the PC(USA) is nowhere near done struggling with what gay marriage means to the Church. This meditation is a new way to think about that conflict. About where the hurt is, why it’s there, what to do to help it, and what it is to be a queer Christian.

Listen to the audio here of when it was delivered during worship, or read the full transcript below.
Katherine Davoli is a neuroscientist and lay member of Sixth Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh where she co-chairs the More Light Committee. She identifies as a genderqueer lesbian and follower of Christ. Read more

Former MLP Blogger Got Inspiration For Book From LGBTQ Advocacy

MLP supporter and former MLP blogging team member Madeleine Mysko has a new book out from Bridle Path Press. Stone Harbor Bound is the story of Camille Pickett, who’s grieving the loss of her longtime partner, and also of the people she encounters in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, when she returns to her partner’s beloved beach town for the last time. In the book, Madeleine tells a story of loss and redemption, community and family, forgiveness and hope.

Hillary Moses Mohaupt: Camille Pickett, the protagonist of Stone Harbor Bound, is a lesbian and is grieving the loss of her partner. I’m curious about how this character came to you and how you, as a straight ally for LGBT rights, came to write her story?

Madeleine Mysko: Since the release of the novel, I’ve been braced for that question. I know that just because I’m straight I shouldn’t have to explain my choice of a lesbian protagonist, any more than just because I’m female I should have to explain my choice of a male. And yet I worry that some readers will think I chose Camille Pickett as a device to make a statement—because after all I have been outspoken in my support of LGBTQ rights and marriage equality, and I’ve served on the editorial board of More Light Presbyterians. The truth is, I can barely remember coming up with Camille. She wasn’t a character in any of my early short stories about Stone Harbor, but when I needed a strong character whose story line could intersect with and manage the others, suddenly there she was, taking over. Camille has her own problems, but I like that she’s the sort of person who’s naturally drawn to help others. A registered nurse and devoted “rescuer” was just the character I needed for this complicated plot—the irony being that who more than Camille in this novel needs rescuing? In the end, I think that Camille just happens to be a lesbian, in the way some people I know and admire just happen to be lesbians. Read more

MLP out in the World this Summer

More Light Presbyterians’ staff are often out in the world advocating for LGBTQ issues, preaching, teaching, and creating new contours of community that are supported by our intersectional commitments.  This summer, both Alex and Robyn are extremely busy, so you might have a chance to see them on the road!

Alex McNeillAlex’s Public Appearances

Sunday June 7, Preaching for MLP Sunday at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, Shepherdstown WV

Saturday June 13, Marching in DC Pride parade with MLP Open Doors Chapter

Sunday June 14, Preaching at Oaklands Presbyterian Church, Laurel, MD

Sunday June 19, Preaching at Second Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN

July 22-25 Equality Federation Summer Meeting, Charlotte, NC

Aug 31-Sept 3 Welcoming Church Program Leaders Meeting


Robyn Henderson-EspinozaRobyn’s Public Appearances

June 4-8, Seizing an Alternative International Whitehead Conference, Pomona College, Claremont, CA

June 16-20, The Summit: World Change Through Faith & Justice, Sojourners, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC

June 30-July 5, Pink Menno Gathering at the Mennonite Symposium, Kansas City, MO

July 8-12, Featured Speaker at Wild Goose Festival, Hot Springs, NC

July 17-19, Contemplative Activism Worship Leader, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Detroit, MI

The Future meets us Today

Romans 6: 1-14

1 What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness (justice). 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

 

More Light has been working for over 35 years for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender inclusion in the Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A) and in society. Alex McNeill was hired as the executive director of More Light almost two years ago. When he started in this role in 2013, General Assembly was just 9 months away where we were hoping to bring forward an amendment to the Book of Order that would update the description of marriage as between “two persons” and pass an authoritative interpretation to give ministers the ability to marry same sex couples in states where it is legal. It was a daunting task to be sure, but one of the the first things he heard when he began was that many outside of More Light thought the amendment to update the language of our Book of Order was too risky because it would need to be voted upon by a majority of the 171 Presbyteries if it should pass at General Assembly. Many people Alex spoke to were afraid that putting marriage equality to a national vote within the denomination spelled disaster. Quite simply, many thought that the vote within the presbyteries would contribute to more churches leaving the denomination or an outright schism.

To read anything about the future of the church these days mostly feels like reading the cardboard signs of your downtown doomsday prophet: Churches are in decline, millennials are leaving the church, the mainline establishment has rejected change, and our old historic buildings are crumbling around us. To many, it feels like the end of church times might be lurking just around the corner, finally catalyzed by the next church to shut its doors. However, these doomsday intonations are nothing new. Those of us who have been involved in the work for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender inclusion in our churches and in our denomination have heard from those that oppose LGBT inclusion for years that opening the doors to LGBT people in our churches might just be the event to usher in the end times. We’ve heard over and over again that LGBT inclusion is going to split our congregations or even destroy the Presbyterian Church, USA. Those that oppose LGBT inclusion are so afraid of the death of an institution they know, that they haven’t even considered what resurrection might be waiting for the church on the other side. Read more

Stories That Heal: Out of Order

Three years ago, I said “yes” to a British filmmaker who wanted to tell the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Presbyterians seeking a call or ordination within the PC(USA). In 2012, I said yes to sharing my my story of gender transition and of journeying towards ordination in the PC(USA) one year after Amendment 10A went into effect and the official barriers to ordination in the denomination had been removed. It was a moment in my own journey when I was just 3 months in to the medical part of my gender transition. My voice was starting to get deeper, and my face shape was changing a bit, but most people still saw me as female, including my Committee for the Preparation for Ministry. In this changed landscape following 10A I did not know how my CPM might receive the news of my transition, and I didn’t know how other openly LGBTQ candidates would be received by committees for the preparation for ministry, congregations seeking installed pastors, or by presbyteries certifying our call. All I knew is that sharing our stories, our calls and dedication to following Christ and staying within this denomination is a way to help the church see the gifts LGBTQ people bring to ministry.

In the three years since the documentary, Out of Order, began filming, our church and our culture have come a long way towards further legal recognitions of LGBTQ people and our families. HoweverI believe that we are at a very critical moment where we must translate polity change into the pews. For every LGBTQ person who has been called to serve a church in the PC(USA) in the past 3 years, there are many more who are still seeking a call or who have been told outright that their ministry might split the church.During my travels for More Light over the past year and a half, I have met folks from a vast number of churches that are hungry to put a face and a name to the issue of LGBTQ inclusion, they are eager to have conversations about what welcoming LGBTQ folks within the life and ministry of the congregation would look like, and are looking for a positive portrayal of LGBTQ people who want to serve the church. Many of these conversations have been happening in a one-on-one basis, but I believe Out of Order will offer the chance for that conversation to be much more widespread.

At long last, the filming for Out of Order is complete, and the journey to turn the footage into a film in the editing process begins. Just yesterday the crew released a trailer for Out of Order as part of their fundraising efforts to raise $21K in 21 days to be able to edit the film. Thus far all of the work on the film has been done pro-bono and out of the passion for telling these stories. However, the crew needs to raise funds to be able to edit the film, add color correction, sound mixing, and titles to submit the film to festivals and then debut the film to a wider audience in the spring of 2016. If you believe stories have the power to heal the church, then I invite you to watch the trailer (be on the look out for a cameo from my Mom and Dad!) and consider supporting the completion of this film in whatever way you can either through a financial gift or by sharing the trailer via your facebook or twitter. Click here to watch:igg.me/at/outoforder

Thank you for all the ways you have already shared story after story of why LGBTQ inclusion in the life of the church is vital to our mission as a body of Christ. My hope is that this film is one more way we can continue to shine more light into our communities!

Yours on the Journey,
Alex Patchin McNeill
Executive Director

More Light Sunday 2015

abundanceThe mission theme for this year’s More Light Sunday is:  abundance.

This year’s More Light Sunday is the first Sunday of June:  June 7th.  We use this Sunday to reflect on the past year and lean toward our future together to create a more robust welcome for LGBTQ persons within the Presbyterian Church (USA).

We have seen an overwhelming reality of abundance this year in the ratification campaign of 14F, the ways that marriage equality continues to grow across the nation, and the coalition work MLP is doing for intersectional justice.  We are working to continue to grow our table of justice-making and make certain that our deepest posture of welcome is one that is rooted in a sense of justice for all.  With that in mind, we’ve chosen the following text as a recommended preaching text for More Light Sunday and have included some songs that help illustrate an overwhelming sense of abundance.  Our hope is that your congregation will see these as a resource for celebrating the great achievements within the PC (USA) and our work together as faithful More Light Presbyterians.

  • Preaching text: Romans 8:12-25
  • Theme:  Abundance
  • Songs:
    • Great Is Thy Faithfulness
    • There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
    • How Great Thou Art
    • Here I Am Lord (is it I Lord?)
    • God of Grace and God of Glory
    • God of the Sparrow God of the Whale (how does the creature say Awe)
    • For Everyone Born (add the Methodist verse).

MLP brochure

National Day of Silence

DOS_2012_avery_stickerAdrienne Rich, from “Cartographies of Silence”

3.

The technology of silence
The rituals, the etiquette
the blurring of terms
silence not absence
of words or music or even
raw sounds
Silence can be a plan
rigorously executed
the blueprint to a life
It is a presence
it has a history a form
Do not confuse it
with any kind of absence

Romans 8: 26-27: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

I recently led a chapel event kicking off the Day of Silence[1] at a local Episcopal high school. I found it ironic that I was being asked to speak – for a few reasons. For one, well, I’m a talker. Big time. In high school, I had a group of friends bet me that I couldn’t keep quiet for two hours – the reward would have been a Blue Bell Rainbow Popsicle – quite possibly one of the best inventions of all time. Or, definitely the best frozen invention of all time. It’s like an all-in-one frozen adventure – you get layer after layer of tasty frozen goodness – all in one popsicle. If you, like me, have a hard time choosing your favorite flavor of popsicle, this treat is for you – because you don’t have to choose – every flavor is there. It’s like a frozen version of every-flavor jelly beans, but without all of the gross flavors that none of us want to eat. You start with cherry at the top, then orange, then lemon, then lime; and, well, you get the point.

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Making Space

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time a teenager asked me if they were going to hell.

LogoI’d been in my job as the Youth Programs Director at ROSMY for a few months, working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth, and was visiting a local high school’s gay-straight alliance to tell them about ROSMY. My goal was to let youth know about our support groups and our leadership program. And, I mentioned in passing that I had been to seminary and that I was in the process of becoming a pastor – so, the youth could talk to me if they had any questions about things they may have heard in the church.

Without realizing it, I had sold myself as someone who had the authority to answer questions about the state of their eternal souls.

While I believe without a doubt that people are not condemned to hell for their identity, I was totally taken off-guard by the question.

I wish I could say that this first time was the only time someone has asked me about hell. I wish I could say that I’m even surprised to hear it anymore.

To put that kind of question out there takes a lot of courage.

I know this because it’s a question I never had the courage to ask.

Like many queer youth today, I spent my high school years trying to navigate a system that was constructed for someone else. School dances were exclusively male-female couples, girls wore makeup and talked about their crushes, bathrooms and locker rooms were spaces where gender norms and expectations were reinforced. Though I never really felt like I was betraying any aspect of my identity by doing all of these things, it wasn’t until years after I graduated that I recognized how much the shame and fear I carried about my identity kept me moving forward – taking the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach to life. I thought that if I could try hard enough, work long enough, at being the right kind of girl, then eventually, I would be.

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