It was ten years ago that I became an advocate for LGBTQ equality in the PCUSA. I was Clerk of Session at Govans Presbyterian in Baltimore, Maryland, which had been a More Light Church for several decades. Our beloved pastor of 27 years, Jack Sharp, had retired and we had been through a very difficult interim period of two years before calling a new pastor.
At our first session meeting with our new pastor, Tom Harris, he told us that if the Maryland State Legislature approved marriage equality he would be willing to perform weddings for LGBTQ couples and that we needed to know what that meant for our church. He went on to explain about the possibilities of judicial action, losing control of our church and him losing his ordination and I thought “Oh, no, no. We just got this guy. We are not going to lose him” and I said “All we have to do is change the words in the Directory of Worship from ‘man and woman’ to ‘two people’” and that launched my journey.
Rev. Don Stroud of That All May Freely Serve did the work of adapting the parts of the Directory of Worship about marriage from ‘man and woman’ to ‘two people’. This was to be an overture to General Assembly. Tom wrote the rationale. It was approved by our Session, which led to a process of discernment in the Baltimore Presbytery and, happily, the Overture was approved.
I attended my first PCUSA General Assembly in San Jose, CA in 2008. I was the overture advocate for what was called the ‘Baltimore Overture’. I presented before the Committee on Polity. They voted not to approve the overture but they developed a statement saying that the PCUSA needed to study the issue of equal marriage. There was a motion to approve my overture on the plenary floor and it was very exciting to watch the number of people that spoke in support of our overture. However, it did not pass.
I have attended every GA since then. I was an overture advocate for marriage equality in 2010 and 2012. By 2014, my responsibilities as a member of the Executive Board of More Light Presbyterians kept me from serving as an OA but what a thrill it was to be at the Plenary Session and watch those amazing votes happen, all in support of LGBTQ equality and marriage!!!
Working as a regional coordinator to support the ratification of Amendment 14F is the culmination of a journey I began ten years ago. Throughout this journey, I have meant brilliant, amazing people and learned so much from all of them. My passion for LGBTQ equality has become stronger every year. It has been wonderful to share that passion with so many others as we work for the ratification of this historic amendment.
I am no longer a member of the Baltimore Presbytery but am now at Shenandoah, a Presbytery that has been known for its’ conservative views. I was thrilled when Shenandoah voted to support 14F with a total of 99 yes to 79 no! My pastor at Shepherdstown PC is also a passionate supporter of LGBTQ equality. I would like to close this blog with his testimony from the Presbytery gathering which I am sure helped win the vote:
Randy Tremba (Pastor)
In the late 19th century infant baptism was a divisive issue among Christians. Many argued that only believer baptism was valid. Mark Twain, an erstwhile Presbyterian, was once asked if he believed in infant baptism. To which he replied: Believe in it? Hell! I’ve seen it.
When I’m asked if I believe in same sex marriage I can make the same reply. Not only have I seen it but in accordance with the laws of West bygod Virginia (of all places) and by the authority of the GA of PCUSA, I have witnessed and blessed two such marriages in the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church this past December.
Even without the sanction of the state or the blessing of the church those couples lived faithfully together in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow for years, in one case 25 years—and I can guess there are such people in most of our churches. Over my 40 years of ministry with the Shepherdstown Church I have officiated some 200 weddings—none more joyous, beautiful or holy than those two. The blessings continue to rebound in the larger Shepherdstown community as a testimony to a welcoming church.
I am so grateful the GA authoritative interpretation ruling allowed me to officiate those marriages. I wish all ministers in our beloved church might have the same choice to say YES.
So, onward and upward, faithful Presbyterians who welcome everyone in all aspects of the church! You are making my and many, many others dreams come true!