Martha Lang, Episcopal deacon and M.Div. candidate, shared this with me after attending the churchwide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)in Minneapolis last month. With her permission I share it with you:
I will admit that I did not wish to go to worship. I had listened to the debates all morning. Those of us hoping for change in the rostering policies of the ELCA were heartened by the outcome of the voting of the first two questions before the delegates. However, when the first request for the ending of debate on the third item, that most relevant in the life of our family was voted down, my heart descended toward my stomach. The assembly debated right up to the time of worship. As we wandered down the hallway of the assembly suddenly my soul was awash in the sadness, frustration, pain that had gathered there over the last six years. The voices of those who had participated in my partner’s research, “The Missing Project,” echoed in my heart and soul. “Thank you for asking to hear my story”; “Thank you for what you are doing – I had felt like I had disappeared to the ELCA”; “Thank you for finding me and caring” – on and on the voices floated in and through me. All of a sudden anger welled up in me as I thought – but this vote will do nothing for those already led to the door, or silently slipped off of the rosters – or dismissed through curt letter. “This won’t take away all of the years of severing, rejection, self-isolation, self-silencing and self-spiritual mutilation and make everything suddenly be ok” I thought. “I don’t want to go and worship – I just feel like I want to grieve in some corner somewhere – and hold those before God who have been so hurt.” But, I also realized that my partner/spouse Vicki really wanted to go to the worship, and, as I was here to accompany her in this journey, that I needed to be with her in the worship service.
Vicki proceeded toward some people who were already, somehow not noticing their good-sized white buttons announcing their affiliation with CORE (Coalition for Reform), those against ELCA changes in policy to include gay and lesbian people in committed relationships on the ministerial rosters. I groaned inwardly and followed her into the pew and went further into myself. She began a conversation with the gentleman seated next to her by saying that being present in the worship services had been a blessing because she served as a chaplain in a care center. There are time constraints due to needing to physically move much of the population into the chapel, and then back to their rooms (with needed assistance) before it is time to help them move to into the dining hall. So, Vicki shared that she was relishing the richness and depth of the worship experience.
Her neighbor asked her how her residents would receive any possible changes within the ELCA. Vicki shared with him that the care center was hoping for change, for it meant that the Board of Directors could offer her a call. She explained to him that they had voted unanimously early last fall to call her as chaplain, but due to the current policy could call her only as an interim, as her rostering status was “on-leave-from-call; not-available-for-call” due to our relationship. She told him that she had gone to her bishop three years ago when we made the decision to join our lives together through a covenant ceremony in the Episcopal Church which I served as deacon, and was placed in that status. She shared that she had been serving the same nursing home at the time, and had stepped down from the position so as not to cause any waves there, and to pursue a research interest for a year. So, when the same position had come available last winter, she applied for it and was hired on a temporary basis.
Vicki’s CORE neighbor received this quietly, nodding as she spoke. Worship started and no more was said until it came time for communion. As we were preparing to go forward to receive communion, her neighbor held his worship folder before her and pointed to something in it – it was the notice that healing stations were available throughout the worship space, and that pastors were there who would pray and anoint for healing if any had desire for such. He quietly asked Vicki if she would go with him for that. She quickly said, “Yes.” He leaned over and said “would your partner go too?” Vicki turned to me and repeated his question. I was stunned, and at many levels wanted to say “NO WAY” – but found myself saying “Yes, of course.”
We each went forward to receive communion and I led the way back toward one of the healing stations. Vicki and her neighbor followed. I started to go forward when he quietly said “Can we all three go together to receive?” Tears came to my mind. All of the years of hearing of myself and my reality spoken about in terms of “sin” and “sinner”, “abomination”, and my faith, understanding of self, and very salvation called into question repeatedly by those who were of the same understanding of those who were a part of CORE and every other group similar to them in my own denomination and others, arose from my heart to be presented for healing. Tears flooded my eyes as the three of us – Vicki and I on the outside and her/our neighbor in the middle, locked with arms around one-another went forward to receive the prayer and anointing.
The pastor looked at the three of us standing there as one – and yet three – all bending our heads for the prayer; Vicki with her prayer shawl which denoted one praying for change, our new-found brother-in-Christ with his CORE button on, and me – tears running down my face. The pastor sucked in his breath, centered himself and began to say the prayer printed on the sheet before him. He anointed each of us individually, but I know there was but one anointing that day – each of our hearts bound into one brought together through the love of God and collectively kneeling at the foot of the cross of Christ through the guiding of the Holy Spirit.
I was the last to be anointed – and as I looked up at the pastor I thought I saw tears in his eyes. Maybe it was just those of my own that I saw – but I believe his were there, too.. The three of us walked back toward our seats with our arms around one another. What had happened was mysterious, painful, healing, freeing… a myriad of things were experienced in that one holy moment. None of the three of us was left untouched, nor the same as we were before that service. Truly the Holy Spirit helped to strip each of us in different ways from hurt, and fear, and understandings that had previously been held within each.
Vicki and our new-found brother have talked twice since that service. We hold him in prayer – and he us. What happened that day was powerful and a testament to the power of the love of God who heals, reconciles, and binds us together in spite of our differences. We truly were at the foot of the cross, kneeling, and being knit together in a new way that only our God, through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit can do. Thanks be to God.