I stopped regularly attending church the Sunday after Easter in 2009. I had tried diligently to find a church community to invest in after graduating from seminary in May 2008. My partner and I moved to a new city that summer, but finding a new church community after working in one I loved dearly was proving difficult. The summer of 2008 also marked a significant turning point in the life of the Presbyterian Church as well. The amendment G6-0106.B was defeated at the General Assembly and the work to ratify its defeat nationwide had begun.
You see, all through seminary and during my ordination process, I was told by more than a few well-intentioned people that it was a rare possibility LGBT people would be able to be ordained in my lifetime. I am only now coming to grips with how much that prediction weighed upon my psyche. Even though I was a cradle Presbyterian, I was so scared to invest in the Presbyterian Church. I fled to a non-Presbyterian seminary, I didn’t take courses specifically required for ordination, and I didn’t complete my pastoral counseling requirement. Instead, in case it was necessary, I tried to set myself up to enter a PhD program or transfer to the United Church of Christ. I had my escape routes all planned out just in case that yawning tunnel of despair really didn’t have a light at the end.
Yet there was something else. I stayed committed to my Presbyterian ordination process. I was stalled out as an inquirer with no real hope of moving forward, but I couldn’t shake the sense that I needed to stay despite the uncertainty of the law ever changing.
A few weeks before Advent in 2008, I started attending a local PC(USA) church in my new community. It was shortly after my hometown Presbytery made a miraculous flip from affirming restrictions against LGBT ordination to voting against them. This was a huge victory, and filled with something like hope, I went back to church. However, during Lent slowly the hope started to go away as 40 days wore on. By Easter it was clear: discrimination would stay in the Book of Order. Hope had died and I didn’t know how it would be resurrected again. The Sunday after Easter 2009 marked my last at that local church. My heart had become like a stone I didn’t know how to roll away.
In the nearly three years since, I have been on a journey myself. Having hit a spiritual and personal rock bottom, I did everything but follow my personal and professional calling. It took me three years to follow the star in the East back to myself. I started by working for the 10A ratification campaign to help the church to reflect God’s heart, and then undertaking this gender transition to help change me to reflect God’s calling for my life.
It is fitting that Epiphany this past Sunday was the first time I returned to that local PC(USA) congregation I briefly attended three years ago. Before I walked in, I prayed to God to soften my heart, which had been hardened by the despair and disappointment over the past seven years during my ordination process. I prayed because I wanted to be ready to love and accept a new church family again.
During the passing of the peace, the minister of the congregation walked among the throngs of people hugging and greeting one another to my pew towards the back of the sanctuary. He clasped my hand in his and told me, “Welcome back, Alex.”
You can learn more about Alex McNeill at our MLP Movement Authors page.