By Ethel Hornbeck, Director of Spiritual Formation
More Light Presbyterians is happy to welcome Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, our first welcoming and affirming More Light Church in West Virginia. Rev. Randall Tremba serves as pastor.
The Shepherdstown Church is a relatively small (but growing) church in a small (and growing) town with a small (and growing) college above the Potomac River in eastern West Virginia. The college town culture has allowed us to be more diverse and progressive in outlook compared with other churches in the surrounding area. We have tried to be open and inclusive as we have discerned our way forward, through all these many years of the larger church’s various disagreements on how to treat various sexual orientations.
Our journey into the More Light family has been a long but intentional one, fueled by lots and lots of conversation, study, patience and prayer. As a church with a history of being open and welcoming, we began our explorations almost immediately after the ordination restrictions were put into the Book of Order in 1997. At that time, we consulted experts and held educational events covering various topics, including science, scripture and theology. In late 2001, our usual nominating process resulted in the nomination to the office of deacon of a woman, who was a long time, faithful member of the church. She also happened to be a lesbian. After a careful review of the Bible, the Book of Order, and Book of Confessions the session unanimously approved her ordination in February 2001. This was understood to be an act of faithfulness to our foundational documents, not one of defiance.
In 2005, we undertook a 6-week series entitled “Spirituality, Sexuality and the Church,” which combined many hours of storytelling with study. More recently, we held several community wide gatherings, featuring music, readings and personal testimonies, to lament the church’s rejection of LGBT persons and celebrate their presence in our community (“Lovefest 2011”) and to promote full equality for all persons, in housing, employment and marriage (“Peacefest 2013”). All the while, our congregation has continued to grow in size, diversity and vitality; recently we’ve enjoyed a noticeable increase in participation by younger people, and those from the college, as word of welcome has been getting around.
This past December, with the 2014 GA looming large, we engaged another in depth conversation around the topic of marriage equality, exploring marriage in scripture, theology, history, and law. It turned out to be both informative as well as transformative.
Somewhere in the midst of this latest conversation, the rainbow scarves started showing up. Individuals, and different groups (including our Presbyterian Women’s Circle), listening to our conversations, started knitting quietly. Then not so quietly. Today, we have become a rainbow scarf knitting factory. It seemed like a visible sign that the time might be right to explore formal association with More Light Presbyterians.
On February 15, our session discussed affiliation. After careful deliberation, and some impassioned testimony especially from the session’s youngest member about how vital inclusion is to the future of church, our Session voted unanimously to join forces with MLP.
Rev. Randall Tremba was installed as pastor of the Shepherdstown Church July 1976. He is a graduate of Wheaton College (BA, 1969), Fuller Theological Seminary (M. Div., 1973) and Princeton Theological Seminary (D. Min., 1992). He is married to Paula and has three children (Jonah, Nathanael and Amanda) and two dogs.
During the campaign to ratify the General Assembly amendment to remove barriers to the ordination of openly LGBTQ candidates for ministry, Rev. Tremba shared Shepherdstown’s journey of affirmation and welcome of LGBTQ people in the Presbyterian Outlook and in a personal interview. We are so grateful for this important witness that helped lead to opening up ordination in our denomination for LGBTQ candidates.