Putting It Out There

A few days ago, my friend Gerry Hill did something wonderful. I wrote about Gerry in my last post, describing his sincerity, integrity, and through-and-through Christianity. Right around the same time, Gerry posted on his own blog a decision he had come to: after decades of living with the hypocrisy of United Methodist acceptance/rejection of gay personhood, he was surrendering his orders.

This is huge. Becoming an elder of the United Methodist Church is akin to becoming a doctor. It took me ten years from the time I entered seminary until the Bishop finally laid hands on me, and considering I only stayed in ministry another four and a half years after that, that's not great value for preparation. Most elders, once they get to that point, stay with the profession a good deal longer than I did. Ordination is not just licensure; it's vocation, and even more than that, it's identity.

There are some elders who embody their ordination so deeply that, even if they keep it completely to themselves, people just know. Gerry is like that. I met him at the very beginning of his ministry, and he had a profound impact on me, to the extent that I would probably not have started on my own ordination track but for his presence in my life. The thought of Gerry not being ordained is jarringly dissonant to me--especially when I hold it up against my own continuing ordination.

Don't get me wrong, my own ordination does mean a lot to me. It took an enormous toll on me, bringing me and, to some extent, costing me my first marriage; plunging me into a cycle of depression and recovery; and keeping me sidelined, for seventeen years, from the profession that really is my vocation. I was already struggling with my faith when I entered seminary, and I continued to wrestle with it throughout my short career. I was lonely, insecure, terrified of losing everything for almost the entire time I was an active minister. In short, that piece of paper cost me more than anything I've ever done, or probably ever will do.

And yet, given all those struggles, given my obvious lack of a number of the "gifts and graces" of ministry (particularly in the area of being the social center of a congregation, but also in my commitment to transcending those inadequacies), I'm still ordained, and Gerry, the most natural pastor I've known, will shortly not be ordained. And he's doing it not because he has to--most pastors who either surrender their ordinations, or have them revoked, do so because they've broken covenant with sexual misconduct, embezzlement, or are shown to be grossly incompetent--but because the church has broken covenant with essential Christianity. By claiming to be fully accepting of sexual minorities while simultaneously refusing to admit them to the rites of marriage and ordination, the United Methodist Church has locked itself into a paradox that cannot be resolved within its current structure. Remaining ordained meant, to Gerry, tacit acceptance of this twisted doctrine, something he had never done, even though at the time of his ordination--as was the case for me, and every other elder of the United Methodist Church--he had sworn to believe and promised to uphold every doctrine of the church. Gerry gave up his orders because he was tired of living this lie.

I'm tired of it, too, and Gerry's example made me think hard about doing the same thing. I've also seen notes from colleagues who are staying in ministry, saying they are choosing to work for change from within the church. I'm not really inside the church anymore. I get the conference newsletter in my email, and once a year I report to a local church conference on my ministerial activity of the previous year--which lately has come down to one or two words, either "none" or "not much"--and that's it. I don't go to a Methodist church; in fact, since leaving my piano job at Parkrose UCC, I don't go to any church at all. My certificate of ordination gathers dust in the hall closet, and my alb and stoles have only come out of the bedroom closet once in the last five years, when I performed a wedding in Washington Park.

And that's why I'm not surrendering my orders just yet: I have decided to offer my services, for as long as I remain ordained, to any gay or lesbian couple wanting a public marriage ceremony with a genuine, fully-authorized ordained Methodist minister. I'm aware that such ceremonies are not yet legally binding in the state of Oregon, though I fully expect that to change once it again comes to a vote. I'm also aware that there are many active Methodist ministers who perform same-sex ceremonies, but do so in ways that grant them some form of deniability should anyone press charges against them. If these ceremonies were to be publicized, the ministers would find their careers on the line.

That's no longer a problem for me. In concrete terms, the stakes for me are low: I'm well-established in a secular career, and even in the event of loss of that work (as happened four years ago), I've developed my skills as a private music teacher and performer to the extent that I could replace a good portion of the lost income without having to resort to resuming ministerial activity.

So I'm putting it out there: if you're looking for someone to perform a same-gender wedding whose got some skills, I'm available. By the way, creating powerful worship experiences is one of the tasks of ministry for which no one ever doubted my gifts and graces, so you can be sure it'll be a well-crafted ceremony. I'm no publicity hound, but I will happily pose with you for any pictures you wish to take, and you may use my name on any social medium or publication.

You might think, upon reading this, that I just don't care about losing my ordination, which could very well be the result of such action. You'd be wrong. I don't run marathons anymore, but the finisher's medals that hang in the same closet where I keep my ordination certificate mean a lot to me. They represent months of preparation culminating in an ordeal that left me lame for weeks. And I did seven of them. In terms of pain and suffering, getting ordained dwarfs those accomplishments. I don't take the potential loss of it lightly.

The conclusion I came to, though, is that I want something good to come of that ordeal. I left ministry on a low note, feeling like I had nothing left to contribute. Today I believe there is, in fact, a way I can be useful, a way I can reach out to people in need and minister to them, providing a service for committed couples who wish to join their lives together in Christian marriage despite the cowardice and bigotry of the church to which they belong.

And if it leads to some kind of official action being taken, then maybe, just maybe, that could be one small part of the growing tide of resistance to the hide-boundedness of the church. If there is one thing the United Methodist Church--an institution that prides itself on its diversity and inclusiveness--hates, it's having to admit publicly that inclusive diversity only goes so far.

So it's out there. Have alb, will marry. Any takers?


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