June 29, 2011
Montclair Presbyterian Church
My plan was to have written all about Family Camp this week, but after my sermon last Sunday, I have changed my mind. I’ll write about Family Camp next time! Last Sunday we celebrated More Light Sunday in Celebration. Under Duke Robinson’s leadership, our Montclair Church voted in 1988 to become a More Light Congregation which meant we would work for the full inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people into the Presbyterian Church (USA). You have ebbed and flowed over the years in terms of how active you have been in that work, but your commitment has held firm.
One of the lectionary texts for last Sunday was the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. It’s a horrible text and I didn’t do it much justice in terms of trying to explain what in creation it actually means. I used it in my sermon because I believe many very conservative Christian parents have felt justified in sacrificing their LGBT children on the altar of God. I asked the question, “What are we doing as a congregation to put an end to these sacrifices?” The other lectionary text I used was the one from Matthew 10 where Jesus encourages his disciples to welcome all and to give a cup of cold water to the “least of these.” The question I asked was, “Is it enough to set up a water cooler in the back of the sanctuary and tell people who come through our doors to help themselves to water? Or, are we actually called to walk out these doors and find those who are thirsty and then hand them a cup of water?”
The sermon generated some interesting discussion following the service. More than one person said it doesn’t seem right to reach out specifically to LGBT persons when we are called to reach out to everyone. “Why would we target some people and not others in our outreach?” was the question. Another person said, “I cringe every time we talk about welcoming everyone. We don’t really want to welcome everyone. Do we really want to welcome staunch Republicans or Tea Party members? Do we really want to welcome people who hate entire groups of people? We don’t want those people here so why do we talk about welcoming everyone?” As I talked with one person, she shared her fears with me about becoming a “gay” church. She is not the first person who has shared that fear with me. Part of what I said in my sermon is that as we go through our Mission Study in the next year, we will need to discern whether we are going to intentionally reach out to LGBT folks or not. What I encouraged the congregation to do is to either be hot or cold but not lukewarm when it comes to LGBT welcome and outreach.
When I stood up to preach last Sunday I was uncharacteristically emotional. Kim Rankin sang an amazing song that brought my heart right up into my throat before the sermon. In addition, I have sat with many LGBT friends and listened to their horrific church stories. I have also had personal experience with exclusion, as has our entire family. Not only have I been excluded from various pastoral positions, but when JE and I were first together, we attended a Presbyterian Church with our daughters for almost 3 years. I did some preaching for them and occasionally assisted with communion. When JE and I were engaged, we naturally wanted to be married in that church. They told us we couldn’t be married there because it would cause too much upset in the congregation and might open them to disciplinary action. We were stunned and incredibly hurt. JE hasn’t been back to that church and it took her 3 more years before she would attend any church again. That particular church would describe themselves as open and welcoming. Since that time, they have become even more so and I suspect if we were to ask to get married there today they might allow it. The point is that we were told we were welcome and we believed them. The harm was in the restriction put on that welcome.
Why should we reach out to LGBT people any more than to anyone else? The Christian tide is definitely strongly against LGBT folks. Many have been swept up in its Tsunami and they would have drowned had they not removed themselves from the water. Churches that are open and accepting and welcoming are few and far between. Imagine an ocean with a few scattered and small islands here and there and while you are afraid of drowning, you are equally afraid that the islands that appear as though they could save your life might actually be filled with wild animals who could rip you to pieces, limb by limb. Perhaps that sounds far too dramatic but for those who have experienced life in the church that way, it’s probably not dramatic enough. So if we are one of those islands, are we going to wait for people to wash up on our shores half-dead? Or, are we going to search the horizon for those who are fighting for their lives and extend a life-line to them?
When I was the pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church in El Cerrito, we received a revitalization grant and used part of the grant money to create a brochure about who we were and part of the brochure listed specific groups to whom we wanted to reach out. One day one of the women in the congregation who was self-described as “the most liberal person here” came storming into the office. She wanted to speak to me immediately. When I came out of my office she said, “Why am I not welcome here anymore? Why don’t you want me here?” I was stunned and had no idea what she was talking about until I saw the brochure gripped tightly in her hand. She flung it on to the desk and said, “You have listed all these people you want to come here and I am nowhere in this list. You are telling me you don’t want me here.” After she calmed down I patiently explained that wasn’t true at all. I looked at her and said, “When have you ever walked into a church and not been welcome?” She couldn’t think of a time. I said, “You are a white, upper middle class, educated, straight woman. You can go into almost any church in this country and feel welcome. The people we have listed on that brochure are people who are not welcome and who, in fact, have suffered indignities at the hands of Christian churches. Of course we want you here. The assumption we are making in that brochure is that you wouldn’t think twice about walking through our doors but the people we have named in our brochure are people who need to be invited and assured.” I am not sure I convinced her that day because I think part of her fear was that if all of the people listed in the brochure came to our church, it would be different and she might not be in the majority anymore.
What about our fear that if we specifically reach out to LGBT people, we might become a gay church? On the one hand, I can’t help but think, “Wow, would we be lucky or what?” On the other hand, I think we need to examine our fear. Montclair Presbyterian Church will never be a “Gay Only” church because most of you are straight and you’re here to stay! So, part of the fear is that we would become a majority Gay church. What would happen if that occurred? Some of you who are straight might feel in the minority and that might feel odd. One person was courageous enough to voice concerns to me about how we don’t want to be associated with some of the sexual deviance that exists in the gay community. I appreciated that deep honesty because that was a difficult fear to voice. My response to that is that one of the ways the gay community is bullied is through the attention on sexual behavior. The person voiced specifically the concern about S and M and the leather community. While I understand the concern, I also pointed out that we may have a number of straight people in the congregation who engage in the same sexual activities but we would never know it because it ends up not being exposed in the same way. (Side Rant: How many stories have you heard from women who have been seriously harmed because they were molested by a straight man, maybe their father, uncle or grandfather? How many times have we heard about gross clergy misconduct in congregations by straight male clergy?) For some reason, it’s news if a gay person engages in kinky things but not news if it’s a straight person who engages in the same behaviors. We had a situation in the San Francisco Presbytery years ago that involved a Montclair member who was gay and had some of his sexual life exposed in a case of what I would call basic revenge. He served on a committee that approves candidates for ordination and when a particular candidate was denied ordination, she got a lawyer and the lawyer was able to find “dirt” on the Montclair member and exposed it as a way to get the ruling about the candidate’s ordination overturned. The attempt failed, but the Montclair member was greatly harmed in the process. At Presbytery meetings I have heard sexual questions asked of gay candidates and ministers that would make your head spin. Those same questions are not asked of straight people. What are your fears? Or what do you have to add to the conversation?
My hope is that we can talk openly about our fears and about how our congregation is called or not called in the war against gay people in the church. If we are truly going to move toward radical hospitality, we need to be clear about what we think and believe and how we feel.
Daily I continue to give thanks for each one of you,
The Church Office will be closed on Monday, July 4th for the Holiday. The office will re-open on Tuesday, July 5th.
Rev. Beth will be recuperating from being the speaker at Family Camp from June 30-July 3. She will be on vacation from July 5 to July 16 and back in Celebration on July 17.
Our Guest Preacher while Rev. Beth is away on vacation is Dr. Carol Miles. Dr. Miles is the former Executive Director of Westminster House in Berkeley and taught preaching at different seminaries prior to her call to Westminster House. She has taught several Adult Education classes for us and is marvelous!
- Children: The children will join us in celebration this first Sunday of the month. The summer church school class begins the following Sunday. I will be on vacation spending time with my children and grandchildren from July 7-19.
- AIDS Walk: Only 18 days until the AIDS walk! You can register, raise money, and even come along… even if you don’t want to walk 6 miles! =) We’ll have a big Presbyterian table there, with folks from other churches. Join us at http://www.aidswalk.net/sanfran/takeaction/register.html and use the group “Presbyterians Fighting AIDS.” We’ll meet at the church parking lot that morning at 8:30 to carpool over.
THANK YOU ALL: Thank you to our MPC Family from the Neely/Hampton families for the many cards, notes, and words of support regarding the death of Sheryl’s father.
SUMMER SCHEDULE FOR CONTACT: For the summer, Contact will be published bi-weekly. In September it will go back to weekly publications.The next deadline will be Tuesday, July12, at 3pm.
WEDNESDAY BIBLE STUDY: The Wednesday Bible Study will be on hiatus for the month of July. It will resume on August 10th.
BOOK DEPOT NEWS: The Book Depot will be closed this Sunday, July 3, but we plan to be back in business the following Sunday, July 10.
MPC PHOTOS NEEDED! The MPC Tech Team is looking for images to include on our church website (www.mpcfamily.org). If you’ve taken photos during Celebration or at any MPC event and think they’d look good on our site, please email them to us at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org. If possible, please include a caption or short description. Please send any questions to email@example.com. Thanks for helping us make the site the best it can be!
THREE SUMMER COURSES: Sign-ups will be on June 26 and July 3 during family hour or contact the conveners.
Course title: “Four Provocative Plays on Ethical Dilemmas”
Time and Place: Four Sundays in July: 10, 17, 24, 31;
8:30 am to 9:45; Room #10.
Convener: Phil Reagan, firstname.lastname@example.org, 510-842-8191.
Course title: “Native Gardens: History and Uses for Local Plants”
Time and Place: Two Saturdays in August: 6 & 13.
10-12 am; Thornhill Room.
Convener: Paula Moseley, email@example.com, 510-339-8570.
Course title: Computers, Digital Photos, and The Internet for Everyone
Time and Place: Six Tuesdays in August: 16, 23, 30, and September 6, 13, 20.
2:30 to 4:00 pm; Thornhill Room.
Convener: Phil at firstname.lastname@example.org
PRIME TIME: Art and Soul. Tom Debley is in retirement but he actively pursues his avocation – photography. He finds in it an art form, a spiritual path that helps him to explore the mystery that is the universe by taking time to embrace moments of simple grace. “Photography is a spiritual journey.” Tom is past president of N. California Council of Camera Clubs and the Alameda Photographic Society. He has earned numerous honors and his work has been exhibited in various venues including the Commonwealth Club of California. Tom is also Co-Chair of the Art Gang and has had some of his work exhibited in Room 10. Join us for this stimulating and thoughtful presentation. Ask questions and have coffee with friends on Wednesday, July 20, from 10 am – 11:30 am, in the Thornhill Room.
FAITH TRIO FALL ART EXHIBITION: The Faith Trio enthusiastically invites all artists among MPC’s members and friends to contribute to a fall exhibition sponsored by our three congregations. The deadline for submissions is July 25, 2011. For details, contact Greg Schwinn (email@example.com), MPC’s Art Gang co-chair and its coordinator for the exhibit; for general ones, contact Jean Mudge (Jeanmudge@comcast.net), MPC’s Faith Trio chair. Click here for submission information, http://www.iccnc.org/articlePage.php?Call-To-Artists-Interfaith-Art-Exhibit-Diverse-Visions-of-Harmony-158.
PLEASE KEEP IN YOUR PRAYERS THIS WEEK:
The External Giving Committee as they finalize the grant selection
For those who are going through life changes this summer
For those who are traveling this summer
For Cindy Gullikson’s mom who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer
For families who are struggling with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
For Cliff King who is on a work trip to Gabon in Africa
For Rob Wilkins who is traveling to Thailand
For Mariah Carray as she goes to Washington D.C. for a leadership event
DEADLINES: To submit announcements for the bulletin and Contact, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for Contact is every other Tuesday at 3 pm, starting June 28th and the deadline for the bulletin is Wednesdays at 12 pm. This is a change for all of us, so let’s try to remind each other!
MONTCLAIR PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
5701 Thornhill Drive, Oakland, California 94611, (510)339-1131
Office Hours: Monday – Friday, 9:00am-4:30pm
Rev. Beth Buckingham-Brown, Office hours Monday-Wednesday, 10:00-3:00 pm
Susan Hunn, Associate for Education: Office hours, Tuesday-Thursday, 9:30-2:30 pm
Sherrill Figuera: Administrative Assistant, Office hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30-4:30 pm
Talitha Phillips: Associate for Congregational Care and Life
Kim Rankin: Music Director
Marcia Roy: Organist
Gil & Maria Chiguila: Caretakers
Rev. John Hadsell: Theologian in Residence
Rev. Kathy Ray: Parish Associate