(On October 8, 2011 the first out gay ruling elder was ordained in the PCUSA. In honor of that groundbreaking event, the Presbytery of Chicago celebrates being an inclusive and welcoming community with this article written by Rev. Beth Guzman. Beth is pastor of Morton Grove Community church.)
I sighed and rested my hands on the desk in front of me. I was in the rectory office at the Catholic Church at which I had worked for the last three years. It was another difficult day. “I have the same degree as a priest. I’ve worked for ten years in the ministry. When will I be treated as an equal?” I asked the parish secretary. (Parish secretaries often find themselves in the middle of these things.) She looked at me directly and said, “Never.” I knew that she was right.
It’s been a bit over a decade since our beloved denomination has ordained an LGBTQ+ pastor, but the truth of our involvement is more complicated than that. Even the truth of the first ordination of an openly LGBTQ+ pastor in October of 2011 was complicated; it wasn’t even Rev. Scott Anderson’s first ordination in our denomination. Rev. Anderson was first ordained in 1983, and then was forced to set his ordination aside in 1990 when he was outed by someone in his congregation. He was re-ordained in 2011 after pursuing his own calling against all odds, declaring a theological scruple, and fighting his way back into the fold. I am grateful to finally be ordained, and living out my full calling. But now that I am working in the trenches, I am recognizing how much work we have left to do.
The PC(USA) permits LGBTQ+ ordination but does not yet require it, so LGBTQ+ candidates have had a range of experiences in the process of ordination. They have had a range of experiences working in congregations. Many of us have had the task of supporting our churches as they decide whether or not to become More Light, officially welcoming the LGBTQ+ community as equals. This can be a heavy burden for us to bear. Those of us who are gender non-conforming or are people of color have double or triple the burden. So are we an affirming denomination? Yes and no. Or maybe, “not yet.”
Gratefully, as Christians, we have experience living in the now and not yet. We can continue to struggle for a better future while also enjoying our past gains. And while we may have a lot of work to do, I believe that our desire to become both anti-racist and affirming to the LGBTQ+ community is the key to our survival. It is our hook for evangelization; we don’t want to be the hypocrites that Jesus warned against.
No one can repeat to me, or to any Presbyterian, what the parish secretary said to me that day back in my former church. To be reformed and reforming means that we don’t get to say, “never.” We have the theological foundation and the denominational polity that supports LGBTQ+ ordination on the books. But we’re not yet done, not until every congregation is affirming. So that those who are already here and those who flee here from other denominations can enjoy the love of God, right now, and into the future.