When Rev. Mieke Vandersall celebrates the marriages of same-gender couples, she isn't thinking about controversy, she's thinking about the gospel. At their weddings she proclaims the good news of the love that two people—who happen both to be women or men—have found in relationship with one another.
As a Presbyterian minister and out lesbian, couples who have been pushed away from the church are often thrilled to know that she will be their minister. Each time she stands as officiant and witness to the love of Jesus at a wedding she places herself at risk, for the Presbyterian Church (USA) does not yet celebrate same-sex marriage. But for Mieke it is a simple decision to follow her ordination vows and faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mieke will not turn them away because Jesus does not turn them away.
Last June, when Mieke was sent to the 220th General Assembly and asked to seek the mind of Christ, she could not do so without remembering the love she had witnessed in these couples' lives. Compelled by her pastoral relationships, she testified on the floor of the Assembly about her ministry. The Assembly failed to affirm that the covenant of marriage is a gift to both same- and different-gender couples, but we have not given up. It is only a matter of God's timing and our hard work.
Thursday she wrote to The Presbyterian Layman to further express why it is that she places herself on the line for the sake of the gospel. Read her letter about her ministry and a beautiful testimony from two women who had the joy of having Mieke officiate at their wedding:
In your July/August 2012 edition, you refer to the"declarations on the floor of the assembly by pastors who admitted toperforming gay weddings" that went unchallenged. I write as one of those pastors.
I write because I want to explain my past and ongoing Christian witness to LGBT communities. As an out, lesbian Presbyterian clergywoman, I have seen first-hand how deeply hurt LGBT folk can be by the church and I am in the unique position to try and heal some of that hurt and bring people into a life-giving relationship with God. I conduct extensive pre-marital counseling with each couple who comes to me and here is what one couple, Teresa and Gina, said after our work together:
“By the time we married we had been together 12 years. We've weathered big events in life like deaths in the family, rejections of us and the relationship by family and faith communities, and changes in employment.. We had been through it and had a strong relationship. Even so, our meetings with Mieke taught us more about ourselves both as individuals and as a couple. Our interactions with Mieke—including the homework she had us do and our discussions about it—led us to understand even more deeply what our relationship means to us and how the marriage would add to and possibly change that meaning. It was also obvious through the process that Mieke cared about us as people and wanted to see our relationship with the church begin to heal from the years of wounds we both felt administered in God's name. Her care helped both of us to find some peace and new approaches to reestablishing our faith.”
Their words really do speak for themselves. When I have people like these extraordinary women coming to me asking for me to bless their relationship and seal it in the form or marriage who am I to say no? Living in New York State where same-sex marriage is legal has provided me with the request of several couples who seek their wedding to be officiated by a Christian clergy person who will help them live into the vows they dare to take. I have experienced that nothing less than God has brought them to me as they challenge me to live into my ordination vow to: seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love my neighbors and work for the reconciliation of the world.
In Christ's Service, Rev. Mieke Vandersall Teaching Elder, Presbytery of New York City, Minister Director, Presbyterian Welcome