We love all of our work here at Presbyterian Welcome. The smiles that the Pride March brings to our faces, the honor of preaching in our member congregations, the joy of gathering monthly for worship at Not So Churchy, and the love we experience through our relationships with our friends and supporters is something for which we are truly grateful.
But there is little we look forward to more than our annual LGBTQ Inquirers and Candidates Retreat.
Just over a week ago a few dozen LGBTQ people seeking ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) gathered at a small retreat center in the woods of stunning North Georgia. With the peaks of the Appalachians in the distance, we welcomed each other in a unique space, a space where we could bring our full selves without fear of judgment, a space where we could rejoice in our gifts and callings to ministry, a space where we could feel the Spirit's presence as we discerned where she is leading us next.
"What We Need is Here: Storytelling for Change" was our theme this year. The first piece of the title is a reference to "What We Need is Here," a song by Amy McCreath that we sang each time we gathered together. The song is based on a poem entitled Wild Geese by Wendell Berry. It is simply a harmonized refrain of the words "What We Need is Here," a reminder that we who have been called have also been given what we need to live into that call. One of the gifts we have are our stories, which we know the power of as Christians by looking at the biblical witness, which tells the stories of those whom God has called.
We used two focus texts for our time together. The Reverend Mieke Vandersall preached on the story of Jonah's journey and the Reverend Scott Clark preached on the story of Hannah, who chose to stand up. In the midst of our worship together, we gathered regularly to be led by Alex McNeill, one of us seeking ordination, in learning to tell our stories. It was empowering to watch each of us walk to the front of the room or stand beneath a tree, gather our breath, and tell our truths.
After a weekend of laughing, roasting marshmallows, singing, listening, crying, and rejoicing together, we had to say goodbye until we will gather again next summer. We have returned to our work, seminaries, and churches, encouraged by our time together.
It is certainly an interesting time in the church to gather together as LGBTQ persons called to serve the church in ordained ministry. Since the ratification of Amendment 10-A we have had the joy of celebrating the ordinations of a couple people from our community. But many of us who are certified ready to receive a call (the final step in the PC(USA)'s ordination process), have had a difficult time finding congregations willing to call openly LGBTQ persons. The church still cannot be assumed to be a safe and welcoming place for LGBTQ people, which is why we keep doing the work we do. We are so grateful to the churches who have found and are finding it in their hearts to call children of God (that happen to be LGBTQ) to tend their flock.
We are already looking forward to next year’s retreat, the new and old faces it will bring, the stories of hope gathered over the year, and the ways in which God will change and grow us—the church—until we meet again.
Many thanks to those who contributted to make our time together possible:
Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary Central Presbyterian Church--Austin. TX Covenant Network of Presbyterians First Presbyterian Church--Passaic, NJ Fourth Avenue Presbyterian Church--Bay Ridge, NY More Light Presbyterians Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church--Cincinnati, OH North Decatur Presbyterian Church--Atlanta, GA Presbyterian Promise Presbyterian Rainbow Sausalito Presbyterian Church--Sausalito, CA Safe Space--Union Presbyterian Theological Seminary That All May Freely Serve--Michigan Trinity Presbyterian Church--University City, MO Westminster Presbyterian Church--Wooster, OH
photos courtesy of THEY bklyn