So Far, So Good

Normally, the early business of an assembly consists of rather dry procedural housekeeping details that only a parliamentarian could love. Not so at this assembly.

On Monday night, during the first business session, when the adoption of procedures and rules came up on the agenda, the kid gloves came off for the first time.

First, though, some quick background details. Adoption of a church social statement, such as the sexuality statement being considered here in Minneapolis, requires a 2/3 "super majority vote" in order to pass. That's in the constitution and can't be changed without a lot of trouble. Other business, such as the recommended changes to ministry policy, which are also being considered here, require only a "simple majority," or 50% + 1.

Well, the debate on Moday night centered around changing the voting rules only for ministry policies. Opponents of changing church policy to enable partnered gay and lesbian church professionals, which includes pastors, to serve as rostered (official) leaders of the church desperately attempted to change the vote requirement from a simple majority to a super majority. This parliamentary move would almost certainly doom the legislation, making change impossible.

Voices were passionalte on both sides of the 2 hour debate. Those in favor of keeping the simple majority argued that it only took a 50% vote to decide against allowing partnered gay and lesbian professionals to serve in the church in the first place, so it's only right that we should allow a 50% vote to change the policy to allow full inclusivity now. Those in favor of requiring a super majority vote argued that since there is no unity in opinion in the ELCA on the subject, and because of the "gravity of the issue," only a 2/3 vote would be appropriate. Eventually, however, we won the day, and on the motion to require a super majority vote on ministry policy changes, the vote was 57% against.

This is great news for supporters of full inclusion, and considering the numbers of the vote, there is great hope now among us that the changes to ministry policies will pass when they come up for vote on, perhaps, Friday.

This, as you know, directly affects Grace, as we have a pastor who is excluded from serving on the official ELCA roster because of the existing policy. And there are a heartbreaking number of stories which are even tougher to hear than Pasotr Lura's.

We have met so many seminary sturdents and graduates here who suffer from this exclusion. I spoke to a young man this morning, a seminary student, who told me that when he recently came out to his congregation, he was asked to leave the church. Our Graceful Engagemet trainer is a seminary grad who is serving the church in a low-paying, lay position. She can find no other work. And I spoke with the mother of another seminary grad ( she is, ironically, the wife of an ELCA pastor) who is simply waiting for a call that will never come if policy is not changed. She cries at the injustice and the pain of it for her child.

Pasor Lura came to us, you remember, as an ELM (Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries) candidate. ELM is a sponsoring body for LGBT persons who will accept extraordinary calls from churches, like Grace, who are willing to buck the ELCA rules and call an unrostered person. We did it. It can be done. But it is a sacrifice for the pastor because it is not an official, ELCA sanctioned call.

Do you know that, despite our local bishop's sensitivity on the subject, he must send mail to her under the title, "Ms. Lura Groen"? Do you know that she cannot vote at church meetings? Do you know that we are listed on our local synod's website as currently being without a pastor?

Can you imagine how difficult this must be? Granted, our pastor has not let this slow her down in the least, but it still hurts. And it is clear that some pastors are simply not willing to take her chosen route at all. And they hurt, too. They all want to serve in the ELCA -- the church they love, the church that nurtured them as children, the church that willingly educated them to be qualified pastors, the church to which they feel called. It is for all of these people, for all of the Ms. and Mr. near-pastors out there, that we work this week.

We walk the halls, talking to voting members about the issues. We sit next to them at meals, sharing our personal stories and putting a real, live face on the debate. We train, we sing, we pray, we support one another in this tiring work. And at the end of long, exhausting days, we fall into our beds for a few hours of sleep, feeling vulnerable and afraid, but recalling the words of Bishop Hanson in his opening sermon, "Fear can make us turned inward, immobilized, withdrawn from engagement in God's mission -- mere shadows of what God created us to be. Fear can make us obsessively protective of what we have, and reactively distrustful of others. Fear nurtures the suspicion and cynicism that lead us to act in ways that are mean-spirited and downright anti-neighborly. Fear can drive us to make demands of others for our own security rather than faith making us ready to serve others with confidence and humility. Fear can drive us to false certainties rather than be ready to explore questions that, when addresses faithfully, can embolden our witness, release our imaginations, deepen our faith, and strengthen our courage."

It is hard not to live in fear right now. What if all of our work comes to nothing? What if what we believe to be God's justice is overturned? It is, indeed, hard not to be afraid.

But we stand in the certainty of God's love and grace, in the certainty of the open and welcoming witness of the life of Jesus, and in the certainty of the wisdom, comfort, and direction that is offered by the Holy Spirit.

No matter what happens here in Minneapolis, we can be absolutely certain of these things. Even if the road ahead of us is going to be longer and more difficult that we would wish for, we can still be certain of these things.

It is this certainty that brings deep, restful sleep at the end of an exhausting day, and the energy to get up and start all over again in the morning.

Laura B

Later today (hopefully): the results of the Sexuality Statement vote!

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