Presbyterian Church in America

A Crowd Of Witnesses

by Rev . Chris Glaser

From the outside, and our need to simplify, especially in the media, key figures seem to be responsible for movements. Sometimes they are suffering scapegoats and sacrificial lambs, sometimes charismatic leaders and compassionate saints.

But from my vantage perspective of more than four decades devoted to the LGBT movement, I repeatedly realized that our movement is a collective and mutual inspiration. Perhaps that is why we have achieved relatively so much so quickly—plus the fact that we and our allies are in every family and neighborhood, every race and culture, condition and class, every vocation, business, and organization, of every political and religious stripe.

That realization was confirmed once again by last week’s ingathering of some eighty souls of the LGBT movement in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. at the church’s conference center in Stony Point, New York.

The denomination’s presbyteries have recently approved a constitutional change permitting same-gender marriage, and we had every reason to celebrate.

Thanks to the organizational skills of That All May Freely Serve’s current evangelist, Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, and a host of volunteers, a major contribution from a pastor as well as donations from others, and the enthusiastic hospitality of Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase and their staff as well as the volunteers of the center’s multi-faith community (which included a three-tiered wedding cake and the tastiest and healthiest food I’ve enjoyed at any retreat or hotel facility), Rock Stars and Prophets: Generations of Justice and Love will be remembered not only as a historic event, but one that was healing and hopeful and just plain fun.

Of course TAMFS’s founding evangelist, the Rev. Janie Spahr, and its former Regional Partnership Coordinator, the Rev. Lisa Larges and later Minister Coordinator, the should-be-Rev. Lisa Larges, were also responsible for the event’s success. And I will remember it as the place of my fourth ordination, thanks to the Rev. Katie Morrison, who, along with Ray, were the first openly lesbian/gay persons to be ordained by their respective presbyteries years before the prohibition on LGBT ordination was lifted.

Rev. Laurene Lafontaine, who recently reclaimed her calling as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church, passed to Katie a beautiful, needlepoint stole created in 1993 by the late Louise Thompson for the first openly LGBT person to be ordained in the denomination.

Spontaneously, Katie decided the needlepoint stole should go to me, and she led the gathering in a blessing of my ministry with the laying on of hands.

I had approached the four-day gathering eagerly but with reservations, fearing what feelings might arise. During the planning, I urged that everyone who attended should hear from everyone there. I spoke on a panel of activists from the early days of our movement, and the next morning took my turn for a brief videotaped interview conducted by Warren Cooper, a gentle and kindly videographer. As I left the taping, involuntary tears came to my eyes.

Now, as I stumbled toward Katie, those tears returned, and I had a sense of unreality. At a time when I might feel vindication, I instead felt stunned and unworthy. I looked in Katie’s smiling face as people gathered around and laid hands on me. She then led us in a blessing.

My first ordination was as an elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Van Nuys, California, in 1972. I had almost walked out, because the interim pastor mistakenly used the old questions for ordination that included the “infallibility” of scriptures.

But I stayed, privately assenting only that the Bible served as God’s word to me, the newer version of the ordination vows.

My second ordination was a surprise, at the hands of the annual LGBT retreatants at Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in Pennsylvania, led by the Rev. Darlene Garner, a fellow speaker, and now, three decades later, the Elder who oversees MCC’s Emerging Ministries that includes this blog!

My third ordination came in 2005 when I served as interim pastor of Christ Covenant MCC of Decatur, Georgia. The MCC Moderator, my friend, the Rev. Nancy Wilson, gave the sermon and led the ceremony, and several of the people at last week’s gathering came from afar to participate. In giving me the charge, the Rev. Erin Swenson had encouraged me to “dance with the one who brung you,” in other words, serve faithfully within MCC, whose polity allows my dual affiliation as a Presbyterian. I was taken by surprise when the gathering offered a prolonged ovation.

As I look at the photo took of my fourth ordination, I am pleased to see very little of me in the picture.

Instead you see all the people around me, reaching out their hands in blessing, representing all those who have shaped my soul throughout my life, including those who have passed on.

I am grateful for such a crowd of witnesses!

Originally published by Chris Glaser; Photo via James Rowe