Westminster Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC Celebrates 30 Years of More Light

More Light Presbyterians congratulates Westminster Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC as they celebrate their 30th anniversary of More Light. On More Light Sunday, June 2, Westminster Presbyterian Church will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the congregation’s adoption of a prophetic “More Light” policy, going on record to actively oppose the denomination’s discriminatory practices regarding ordination of LGBTQ persons. The Rev. Dr. Jeanne MacKenzie, Pastor Emerita, will be the preacher for the day. Special music will be by members of Not What You Think (NWYT), an ensemble affiliated with the Lesbian & Gay Chorus of Washington, D.C.

View the celebration photoset:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/morelightpresbyterians/sets/72157633906080301/

Rev. MacKenzie was a young clergywoman in 1973 when she was responsible for organizing a General Assembly committee on the Roles of Men and Women in the Church. Rev. David Sindt asked Rev. MacKenzie if he, as a gay man, could join the committee. Rev. MacKenzie readily agreed. David Sindt is remembered for later holding up, on the floor of the General Assembly, a sign saying “IS ANYONE ELSE OUT THERE GAY?”

The General Assembly formed a task force to consider the issue of gay and lesbian ordination. The report of that task force, though welcoming to lesbians and gays, did not clarify the issue of ordination. A 1978 ruling prohibited the ordination of open LGBT persons, a policy that stood until 2011.

Back then, in 1978, West Park Presbyterian in NYC became the first Presbyterian congregation to use the “More Light” name and adopt a policy. “More Light” refers to a 1620 sermon of Pastor John Robinson to departing pilgrims: “the Lord has yet more truth and light to break forth out of His holy Word.” Several other congregations around the country committed to the principles adopted by West Park.

Rev. MacKenzie was called as Pastor to Westminster DC in 1980 (also the first woman to serve as a Pastor in the Presbytery). Two years later, a gay church officer, Robert Hettrick, urged the congregation to consider becoming a More Light church. Over several months, members met in homes to discuss the matter and the active participation of gay members raised the consciousness of all.

“For me, it was a privilege for me to know and work with David Sindt at two General Assemblies. His beautiful spirit and keen mind were an inspiration and made my commitment to gay (then) lgbtq (now) rights imperative. Becoming a More Light church enriched the congregation at Westminster – DC and I will never forget the lunch I had at the Eagle with Bob Hettrick when he introduced the thought that we might host our regional Presbyterians for Gay Concerns group. Our small group paved the way for Westminster to expand its hospitality. To me, today, More Light Presbyterians are the church – accepting, courageous and prophetic.” ~The Rev. Dr. Jeanne MacKenzie

It was May 16, 1983, when the congregation officially adopted a policy of full inclusion, the first Presbyterian congregation in Metro DC to do so, and the thirteenth Presbyterian church to join the national More Light Network. The church was instrumental in the formation of a local chapter of Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns and also in forming the local Open Doors chapter of More Light Presbyterians. So, from the early 80s and continuing with the church’s founding of Food and Friends in 1988, Westminster was a haven for LGBT persons, many of whom became part of a speakers’ bureau that would go out to other churches to share the message of inclusion and justice.

Now 30 years later, many congregations in Metro DC are open and inclusive. Westminster continues to celebrate the lives and unique spiritual gifts of LGBT members and friends. Dozens of gays and lesbians have served as officers of the church and the first transgender officer was ordained in 2009. The congregation hosted the first DC Trans Pride event in 2007 and again in 2011. Same-sex unions have been celebrated since those early years, leading to charges by the Presbytery. At the 2012 General Assembly, current Co-Pastor Ruth Hamilton, rose to publicly affirm her practice of celebrating same sex marriages. No charges have been brought.

“There has been so much progress made in the movement of justice for LGBTQ persons. Co-Pastor Brian Hamilton and I are truly privileged to serve a congregation that made such a prophetic witness in our city, presbytery, and denomination so many years ago. Justice does not happen without bold pioneers and prophetic actions. We give thanks to the Holy Spirit for this powerful work through Westminster and other risk-taking congregations. On June 2 will be celebrating not only the leadership of Rev. Dr. Jeanne MacKenzie, but the faithfulness of members who understood their calling.” ~Rev. Ruth Hamilton

Today Westminster continues to grow with an extremely diverse congregation in every sense of the word with programs that serve a wide range of community needs including the popular jazz and blues nights drawing hundreds of people weekly for great music, food, and community. This year the congregation celebrates its 160th anniversary as a congregation started on “the Island” in SW DC in 1853. As the mission statement says: this accepting, caring, risk-taking congregation continues to seek the message of God in people and places too long rejected and ignored. The congregation celebrates the justice that has been achieved and continues to work with others to end discrimination and stigma.

The public is invited to the special service on June 2 and the celebratory lunch to follow with more music by Not What You Think. “At the core of our ensemble is a shared belief that, as gay men and lesbians singing together, we have an opportunity and responsibility to effect change and to open hearts and minds.”

Details:

Event: 30th Anniversary of More Light Statement and Official LGBT Inclusion
Event Date: Sunday, June 2, 2013
Location: Westminster DC, 400 I Street SW, DC 20024
Contact: Rev. Ruth Hamilton, 202-641-8221, rwh@westminsterdc.org

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