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May 18, 2015
Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!
Many people assume that serving a liberal congregation that is Open and Affirming means that everyone is excited to have lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (lgbt) people in their midst and that they are perfectly fine with an openly lesbian pastor. Not true. Every congregation, no matter how progressive, is a mix of people across the spectrum and learning to live peaceably with one another takes a great deal of work and intentionality. And a lot of grace from God!
A congregation I once served was a merged congregation of a larger progressive congregation and a smaller conservative congregation. The smaller group was not shy as the minority. These were faithful, dedicated Christians who had a deep commitment to their congregation. At the time of the merger, neither congregation was welcoming to lgbt people. When the time came for that discussion, it tended to be the remnant of the smaller congregation that was opposed to the decision to become Open and Affirming. Nevertheless, the whole congregation voted to cast its lot with those who were welcoming of lgbt persons and virtually no one left the congregation. The discernment process was respectful of all points of view and done in a spirit of prayer and calmness. It was, from those who went through it, a serious, difficult and joyful process.
Arriving several years later, however, I wasn’t sure how being out would play with those now older and more conservative folks. I knew they loved the church and would be polite, but I wondered how receptive they would be to me. It was a multi-staff congregation and so they could choose another pastor and ignore me. Not a soul did.
Early on I found myself at lunch at the home of the de facto leaders of the conservative congregation group, Bob and Cyrena, for a women’s luncheon and found myself seated between a couple of the elderly women from the conservative group. One was gracious and open; another was grumpy and as soon as she left everyone told me to ignore her. “She’s grumpy with everyone.” The couple hosted showed me their gardens, and we chatted long after everyone else left.
On more than one occasion, I had the opportunity to be with them or to have them thank me for a sermon or even enthusiastically embrace me after a worship service. Yet, if asked, they would have said becoming Open and Affirming was a mistake and that they wished the church had not have done it.
Time passed and eventually Cyrena passed away. Bob was very lonesome and declined over time. Toward the end of his life, I experienced a profound and moving experience as a pastor with him. It still touches me. Our church offered an anointing service on the first communion Sunday in Lent. This particular Sunday, I had an exceptionally long line for anointing. There were three of us anointing people and as the other two lines began to thin a few folks left my line. My line, however, remained long and at the very end of it was Bob, using a walker and patiently waiting. When he reached me I anointed him and as we prayed together we both wept as the whole congregation watched. Here we were – the confirmed anti-Open and Affirming, but faithful Christian and the pastor who happened to be lesbian. It was powerful for all of us.
I asked Bob once why they stayed, and his reply was very clear. “We were heard and we were respected. You don’t always get your way in church votes. It is our church. Why would we leave just because others voted another way?” What a voice of maturity and deep Christian faith. He always trusted that God knew what God was doing and that was enough for him. It allowed him to accept the pastoral ministry of this pastor. It allowed him and his compatriots to break bread, worship and serve with those they often disagreed with. It gave me hope that despite our differences, we can still be one in Christ. Instead of borders that couldn’t be breached, we found a way to cross the borders of difference and join together. It allowed us all to be the church.
The Rev. Anita L. Bradshaw, Ph.D. is currently Interim Senior Pastor of Lynnhurst Congregational United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is the author of Change and Conflict in Your Congregation (Even if You Hate Both) published by SkyLight Paths Publishing. She is a former Board member of the Alliance of Baptists (representing the UCC), and worked closely with AWAB and BPFNA on a project to revise Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth.