I am thrilled to belong to Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, a warm and welcoming beacon of light in the very conservative Shenandoah Presbytery. I knew that SPC supported LGBTQ rights when I joined. My pastor, Randy Tremba, is the author of The Tremba Letter, which was used in an ad to help achieve ordination for LGBTQ people in 2012. I knew that SPC had spent many hours prayerfully discussing equality for LBTQ members and that the process was respectful and educational for all. Plus, we sing a lot! It is my kind of church!
As an advocate for the full inclusion of the LGBTQ community in all aspects of the PCUSA for the past ten years, I had left my work in the Baltimore Presbytery and was ready to start working for equality in Shenandoah. I was told that Shenandoah Presbytery had never voted to support LGBTQ rights and that it would be shocking if they ever did. I was also told it would not happen in my lifetime.
When the session at SPC appointed me the designated commissioner to attend the stated meetings, I was thrilled. I contacted the Interim Executive Presbyter in ShenPres, Roy Martin, and was delighted to find that he was a respectful and interested listener as we discussed Amendment 14F. His plan was to have two people on either side of the issue have a discussion about the amendment at the stated meeting that would occur before the meeting where we would actually vote on the amendment.
He found two teaching elders who were friends and who share a meal together once a week. They enjoy and respect each other’s company but they were on completely opposite sides of the issue of LGBTQ equality. As I watched these two men discuss and share their views and then answer questions at the meeting, I noted many heads nodding in agreement to a lot of what the minister who supported equal rights was saying. I also talked with many members of the presbytery who were supportive. I was told that many of them were afraid to share their support because they did not want to lose their jobs.
On the day that Shenandoah Presbytery was scheduled to vote on Amendment 14 F, I was sick with the flu. I called my pastor and suggested a fellow parishioner who I knew was supportive and a thoughtful speaker to go in my place. She was able to attend along with my pastor and an honorably retired minister. She was moved to speak at the gathering and here is what she said:
Judy York (Fellow Parishioner)
On Tuesday, my partner of 20 years, Sheila, and I have our first meeting with a wedding planner. No one is more excited about this than our three children.
We have been recognized as a family three times by the State of WV through second parent adoptions. And we have been recognized as a family before God and our community three times through the Sacrament of Baptism. But Sheila and I have waited to get married until we could do it in our State, in our church, with our pastor and the support and blessing of our church community.
Our uncle’s Caucasian grandfather fell in love with an African-American woman over 150 years ago. After the Civil War they slinked off to the northern tip of New York State to get married and live out their days amongst strangers. Sheila and I never wanted this for our life and our marriage.
On the way to school yesterday I told my kids why I would be missing my Valentine’s Day plans with the family to come here. My nine-year old lit up. “Momma,” he said, “Can I come? I want to vote too!” I smiled and patted his leg. But my eye was drawn to the rear view mirror, where I caught my seven-year-
old daughter in the back seat, head bowed and lip out. Her sadness began to get mixed into a sort of confused rage. “Why is this happening? Does this mean you are not going to have a wedding? I don’t understand.”
I am grateful for this event because it helped me open a deeper discussion with my kids over discrimination, why it happens, and what we can do about it. We had to cut the conversation short because they needed to get to school. Before she shut the car door, my daughter turned to me and said, “Can we talk about this more later? I would really like that.”
In December she saw her beloved Sunday school teacher marry his partner of over 30 years. She wants this for her two moms and for our family .I assured her our wedding would go on as planned. Our local church has spent the past decade
challenging ourselves to become more welcoming. The growth of our congregation, including young families, shows this.
This vote is not about our wedding, but about helping ensure that the people we commune with throughout the national church are afforded the same opportunity as us for years to come – to marry the person they love. To marry each other by exchanging mutual promises, witnessed by a teaching elder
who pronounces God’s blessing upon their union, in front of their community of faith who pledges to support the couple in upholding these promises.
I can tell you this… after twenty years in faithful relationship with Sheila I know we could not be as strong as a couple without our church community. This support makes our family stronger, our community stronger, and our world stronger.
I am so grateful to Judy for attending the meeting in my place and for being brave enough to stand up and share her personal story. There were many commissioners, including my pastor and the honorably retired pastor from our church, who spoke in support of equality. While there were some people who spoke against the amendment, when the vote was taken, the amendment was approved 99-79!
Shenandoah is now one of the presbyteries that have “flipped” from no to yes! I am very happy to be a part of this presbytery.
Written by Jeananne Stine, one of MLP’s Regional Coordinators for Ratifying 14f.