A while back we thought we would start collecting stories from members of congreations who have a GLBTI Minister.
Here are the first two of many more we hope to gather.
Some years ago our church appointed a female minister with a same sex partner. This caused some in the church to question many things they about which they had not previously been concerned: their faith, the validity of the appointment in terms of their understanding of what the Bible said about gay people, the validity of the processes used and it caused some to express their anger that the church could make such an appointment. For a number this appointment meant that they would leave the church immediately and attend more “Christian” or fundamentalist churches. A few stayed and proceeded to have long protracted discussions with the Minister about what “God” expected her to do. And many others stayed to open their hearts and minds and broaden their beliefs in the light of what this Woman of God was about, what she believed and how she acted as the spiritual leader of their church. I was one of the latter and this story is about what I found out about her and myself.
My first ‘positive’ was the reaction of the Joint Nominating Committee to this person who was their nomination. They were aware that some may not be ready for the appointment even though the church had previously been through a discussion about the meaning of inclusion, acceptance and justice for all. Praying about their decision and reviewing the attributes they believed best suited her to the position; eventually they resolved that she was the best person for the position.
I had reservations too as I was unsure that we were ready to appoint a gay minister as the spiritual leader of our church. I reviewed the processes the committee had used and especially the thoughtful prayer which had led them to the conviction that she had the intellectual capacity, insight, strong spiritual beliefs, creativity, dedication and the capacity to lead our congregation positively and well on the journey we needed to take.
The first few weeks were good as we all sized each other up and I found that our new minister had spiritual understandings and beliefs which I shared and yet challenged me. I found she was sensitive and understanding but not backwards in challenging and seeking others’ views. Her messages within services were balanced between posing questions for discussion and providing information and interpretation. Above all she was very Biblical but not in a literal sense which pleased me. I felt comfortable with her as she met my spiritual needs through her services of worship; she had a good sense of humour and was most creative.
I found myself thinking about what those who had left the church were missing and wishing that they would come back and give her a chance. However, that hasn’t happened, those who left seem to have left for good. I began to feel somewhat betrayed because they just didn’t give God a chance to enable them to see her skills and abilities in leading others to Christ and to deepen their spiritual beliefs.
Our Minister’s sexual preference hasn’t been an issue. She is open about her situation but she doesn’t flaunt it, which may have been a concern for people at the beginning of our journey. She naturally shares the issues from the conferences she attends involving Gay and Lesbian Christians which enables us to be aware of what is happening in this area of the wider church.
I believe that our congregation has come to accept our Minister for who she is – a warm, inclusive human being who, like all of us, is trying to make sense of this world with its conflicting messages, beliefs and actions. She demonstrates her profound Christian convictions every time we meet which have no observable limitations of preference or bias whether they be sexual, racial or political. She is a great Minister of the Word because that is clearly her focus and priority and I am glad that she has come into our congregation to lead and bear witness.
I have grown as a person during the whole process. I believe that my understanding of inclusivity, acceptance and justice has broadened and deepened, as has my faith and I look forward to growing further. I thank God for sending our minister to us and for helping us all to grow as a consequence. I pray for the others who couldn’t accept or be part of the journey for I believe they have lost an opportunity for growth too.
I received a telephone call the other day asking me if I would consider putting some words together about the appointment of my church’s Minister. Whilst I did not hesitate to say ‘yes,’ I then started to think about what I was going to write. With little guidance and direction I decided to leave it up to God to help me compose my thoughts and feelings about this event in my spiritual journey.
At the time I did not fully appreciate the potential conflict and unrest in the congregation this decision could generate. This may be because I was still a religious passenger on a bus journey to somewhere undefined and I was happy to watch the changing scenery from my comfortable seat. The decision to appoint a new Minister who may be slightly different to the norm (whatever the norm is) seemed like a great idea and it never crossed my mind that other members of the congregation would struggle so hard to welcoming the change with open arms and hearts.
My religious upbringing was through the traditional Catholic and Church of England. Thankfully, neither left me with closed, stereotypical thinking about people or religion. When I saw and heard of the potential new Minister’s background, life experiences and recommendations there was no doubt in my mind that this was a great opportunity for me to learn and develop my understanding of the love of God. I never hesitated to vote ‘yes’ for this new breath of life and saw only the positive side of welcoming this exciting and vibrant new person into our community.
My voice was one of many who were full of support, but uncertainty, confusion and opposition were also bubbling below the surface of the congregation. Initially, I found this difficult to comprehend from a community of Christians who are taught to welcome and love all of God’s people. However, we are human and sometimes our past builds walls of fear and uncertainty that become too hard for us to pull down due to our lack of strength or faith. The successful appointment of our new Minister led to a small number of our congregation leaving our church. Maybe they were unable to adjust to the change or not prepared to wait and see if their views were unfounded.
For me, it has been a great enlightenment and a positive challenge to my spiritual development. I have only seen the love and nourishment of the congregation grow over the months and a new path of faith laid out before us to follow and explore. I appreciate that the journey has not been easy for our Minister – not only having to deal with the trials and tribulations of the church community, but also gaining acceptance and working towards a level playing field in all society.
These life struggles help shape who we are and demonstrate to one another the importance of our faith and belief. I can only say ‘My New Minister’ has helped me get off the bus and challenged me to become an active part of the changing scenery of our church and wider community.