Are There Any Others Out There?

We are grateful for this reflection on how far we’ve come from Rev. Robb Gwaltney, who was a seminary friend of David Sindt’s and has been serving the church for many years. He gives us a long perspective on our progress.

When I looked around the Exhibit Hall at the 1974 General Assembly in Louisville, it didn’t even cross my mind that at some point in my lifetime that as a denomination we would be in the position of considering what to do now that we have full inclusion in the church orders. At that moment I saw a lonely young man holding a sign that read “Are there any others out there.” I knew that man, David Sindt. We had been seminary classmates and I knew that he was asking if there were any other gays in the Presbyterian Church. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that the church could welcome all; it wasn’t that I didn’t believe that the church would welcome all; and it certainly wasn’t that I believed that the church shouldn’t welcome all. It was just that it seemed at that time an almost impossible dream.

Two years later when the Special Committee to Study Homosexuality was established it seemed like a new day was dawning. And then, in 1978 when that Special Committee reported, it really seemed like the sun was rising. And then the clouds rolled in. The recommendations of the Special Committee were set aside and the church made it clear that even though it formally issued words of welcome to gay men and lesbians to the congregations of the church, that same welcome did not extend to the ordained leadership of the Presbyterian Church.

My dad was Presbyterian minister and we lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, during my elementary and junior high years. I knew from personal experience what it meant to be an outcast. I was one of two non-Mormons in my grade school. I knew how to “pass.” I could go shopping and be treated like everybody else; but on Wednesday afternoon I didn’t attend “Primary” which was where the real relationships of my elementary school years were formed—because it was the religious education time that was set aside in the school when the Mormon kids went next door to the Ward (local church) for education and training. I walked home–alone. Then when I went to college, just a couple of years after the school desegregation decision of the Supreme Court, I was amazed at those in my class who didn’t understand the quest for equality by the blacks—and yet it felt so very familiar to me. And then I went to that General Assembly in Louisville and that plaintive question “is there anybody else out there” seemed so very real, so incredibly lonely, and so overwhelmingly moving.

I was incredibly blessed to be able to be at so many of the historic steps that our church took. I was at the San Diego Assembly when the Special Committee Report was presented. I was part of the Witherspoon Society when it was the only church organization to speak in favor of gay ordination and when we welcomed the Presbyterian Gay Caucus (later Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns) to share our booth at the General Assembly (because PGC wasn’t officially recognized, yet, by the General Assembly and so they couldn’t have a booth). I attended General Assemblies regularly until overtures were sent to the Presbyteries to overturn the gay exclusion clause from the Book of Order. I was not at the meeting of Twin Cities Presbytery when it was the final presbytery necessary to approve the removal of the clause, thus removing the exclusion from our official documents. But I waited impatiently until I heard that it was done. And I could hardly believe it. It finally was true. Our church really meant that “All Are Welcome.” My church really meant it. Thanks Be To God.

Rev. Robb Gwaltney served churches in Iowa and Minnesota before starting a new church development project in Denver that is now Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Englewood, CO. He was Coordinator of Facilities Development with the General Assembly Council, where his responsibilities were to coordinate the move of the General Assembly offices from New York and Atlanta to Louisville. After that project was completed, became the Coordinator for Finance and Budget in the General Assembly Council office, until leaving the national staff in 1992. He is honorably retired.