Wednesday, November 1, 2017

For All the Saints

My thanks to West Hollywood UCC’s congregation and church council, its pastor Rev. Dan Smith and moderator Dr. George Lynch, for making my presence here possible!

Today I am with a St. Louis gathering of saints of varying faith communities who have worked hard and suffered long to make those communities more inclusive of lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender and intersex people, aptly named Rolling the Stone Away: Generations of Love and Justice. (Click on the link if you wish to see any of it live-streamed.)

I know or know of most of those whose leadership has helped the reformation of our faith communities into more welcoming places for LGBT membership, ministries, and marriages. Even traditions and denominations which have yet to see “more light” have become better at acceptance than they were.

As a result of our efforts and that of activists of the broader LGBT community, the culture, at least in the West, has made an enormous shift in how it views us.

This week many of us observe the 500th anniversary of the Reformation alongside All Saints Day. It’s important to remember that neither saints nor reformers are perfect people who “have it all together.” But they share a vision of our better selves, of our beloved selves, of our better and beloved communities.

Invited too to St. Louis are new activists who will carry us through generations to come. I have often said and written that movements are led by future generations.

During a Vietnam War protest on my college campus, one of the speakers railed against us, “Where were you when…” and then mentioned some earlier cause or demonstration. My friend and now Facebook friend, Lindsay Taylor, shouted back, “I was in the fifth grade!”

From 1977 to 1987, I served as founding director of the Lazarus Project, a first-of-its-kind ministry of reconciliation between the church and the LGBT community. During that decade we established the annual Lazarus Award, which was given to the often unrecognized and unheralded individuals bringing such reconciliation. It went to many obvious heroes and she-roes, including the Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson of MCC and the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr of the Presbyterian Church.

Years after I departed as director, the Lazarus board decided to award it to the former Presbyterian Stated Clerk, William P. Thompson, a controversial choice given his earlier opposition to LGBT ordination. I was asked to return to serve as emcee of the dinner. Though Thompson was being given the award because of his very public and courageous change of mind on the issue, feelings ran high among those unforgiving of his past opposition.

So I used Jesus’ parable of the laborers hired at different times of the day to work in a vineyard, yet given the same reward. It’s a parable about the nature of liberation.

“All those who supported welcoming gay people in the church in the 1950s, please stand or raise your hands,” I said. Then, “All those who supported it in the 1960s, please stand or raise your hands.” And on through the decades, till we reached the current decade, the 1990s, and, by then, everyone was standing or raising their hands. I concluded, “Just as the laborers who came at different times to work in the vineyard, we all came at different times to welcome LGBT people.” The point was we were all here now.

The gathering I am attending is a time for reunion and remembrance, reflection and thanksgiving, as well as passing the prophetic mantle on to those who will continue the reformation of our faith communities and of our world.  

As the sometimes missing verse of James Russell Lowell’s hymn “Once to Every One and Nation” goes: 
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

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