Category Archives: Books

Book review, Christian fiction, christian book review

Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand

Sergeant Holmen and Sergeant Heald

Sgt Holmen and Sgt Heald 1970

Forty-five years ago this month, I was in transition. I was leaving a line company of infantry in Vietnam where we slept under the stars in the mud and amongst the critters for the life of a LRRP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) that would offer a barracks and hot meals but also hair-raising scouting missions into hostile territory. Even after this lengthy passage of time, I’m not sure of the wisdom of that decision, but it was what it was.

This spring, during a California book tour, I visited my best friend from those long-ago days, and we discovered that time has stood still for our relationship–we jumped straightaway into discussion of religion, politics, sex, and all the philosophical musings and questioning that we first experienced as young men on late nights in the barracks as the sun was setting on the tumultuous sixties.

G-pa Holmen and G-pa Heald

G-pa Holmen and G-pa Heald 2014

A few years ago, I wrote several short stories based upon my army experience–some of you may have read the compilation entitled Prowl– and my recent visit with Gary inspired me to finish that project. Thus, I have edited and revised those stories, woven them together, and added some new material. All this is to say that I am pleased to announce that Gonna Stick My Sword in the Golden Sand: A Vietnam Soldier’s Story has just been released.

The title comes from a stanza of the gospel traditional, Down by the Riverside, with its refrain–“Ain’t gonna study war no more.” I would like to think that there are echoes of earlier classics of war fiction. Like The Red Badge of Courage, Golden Sand recreates the fear of the soldier facing battle; like All Quiet on the Western Front, Golden Sand confronts the banality of war for the weary soldier.

Golden Sand coverGolden Sand is a bold, dark, and intense retelling of the Vietnam experience through the eyes of an army scout, the point man on a camouflaged and face-painted four-man LRRP team inserted by helicopter into remote and unfriendly territory to search for “Charlie,” the North Vietnamese soldiers who travelled the mountain gullies of the Ho Chi Minh trail. Golden Sand is less about patriotism and heroism than about the gut-wrenching reality for the Vietnam combat soldiers who are celebrated for simply doing their best to get by, not as superheroes, but as young men who often acted heroically but sometimes foolishly in circumstances not of their own choosing. One reviewer of an earlier short story commented, “The bond and the folly of immortal combat ring loud and clear from the page, and the story’s told with all the realism, language and pathos of experience.” The mood of Golden Sand is dark and somber rather than triumphalistic: a hauntingly honest and brutally true retelling rather than a glorification of the Vietnam experience.

Others commented after reading the short stories:

Gripping stories, unquestionably authentic, well written.

You read along on everyday books, then open one of these up and its like being smacked in the head. They just open up and tell it to you like it is. I love it.

The tension in the individual stories leaps off the page but the author manages an injection of black humour.

This story is a page-turner, the reader will not be left bored or yawning.

Characters and place come to life with the words, dialog is pitch perfect, and there are haunting comments I’ll remember long after the story’s done.

Click here if you’d like an autographed copy, or go to Amazon.com for either a print paperback or eBook. For $0.99, you can download an individual chapter on Amazon to check it out. Here’s the list of chapter titles:

Eleven Bravo

Humping

Here Comes Charlie

Cat Quiet

Whiskey in the Rain

Chasing After Wind

Elijah Fire

Donut Dollies

Down by the Riverside

Cast of characters: Guy Erwin

At the 2009 ELCA Church Wide Assembly, two notable measures passed. The first was a social statement on human sexuality, and the second was a revision in ministry policies that recognized and supported gay and lesbian relationships and welcomed such partners into the pulpit. The vote on the social statement came first, following a tornado in the vicinity of the Minneapolis Convention Center.

By late afternoon, the sun peeked out, and the voting members picked up their electronic voting devices, ready to vote. Professor Guy Erwin of California Lutheran University was a laity voting member from the Southwest California Synod. He was returning from a bathroom break when he heard the call to vote. He hustled back into the plenary hall and settled into his seat just as the presiding bishop said, “push one for yes, two for no.”

Out of 1,045 registered, 1,014 were present. To reach the constitutionally mandated 2/3 of voters present and voting, the social statement would need 676 affirmative votes. The vote totals appeared first on the monitor of the presiding bishop. With a quizzical look on his face, he turned to his parliamentarian for guidance, and then he announced, “the Social Statement is adopted,” as the totals flashed on the big screens. There were precisely 676 votes for the measure. Not a single vote to spare. Every single aye voter could legitimately claim to have cast the deciding vote; for Dr. Erwin and his sprint from the men’s room, that seemed especially true. Guy Erwin

Guy Erwin was born in Oklahoma with roots in the Osage tribe of Native Americans. His life in the church would be that of a scholar and academic. While studying at Harvard, the history of Luther and the Reformation led him to the Lutheran Campus Ministry and the Lutheran Church. Later, while undertaking graduate studies at Yale, he considered ordination within the Lutheran Church of America shortly before its merger into the ELCA, but more studies intervened–at Tubingen and Leipzig in Germany. Upon his return from Europe, the ELCA had been formed, and the newly created Vision and Expectations stood as a barrier to his call to ordained ministry. In 1994, he met his life partner, Rob Flynn, and Dr. Erwin assumed that was the end of his prospects for ordination. Dr. Erwin continued his career as an academic, settling in at California Lutheran University (CLU) by 2000 where he has served as a faculty leader.

But, following the revision to ministry policies that the church wide assembly enacted later in the week, Dr. Erwin’s path to ordination opened up. On May 11, 2011, he was ordained by Bishop Dean W. Nelson of the Southwest California Synod, who said,

We are humbled and thankful to God for the privilege of receiving Dr. R. Guy Erwin onto the roster of ordained pastors of the Southwest California Synod. We have been blessed by Guy’s ministry for over a decade, for in addition to teaching at California Lutheran University, Guy has been the Bible study leader and/or presenter at our Bishop’s Colloquy for rostered leaders, at our Synod Assembly, and at our Synod’s Equipping Leaders for Mission School. During that same period, he has also been a preacher and teacher at several of our Synod’s congregations.

Two years later, on May 31, 2013, Rev. Dr. Erwin allowed his name to go forward during the Synod election of a new bishop to succeed Bishop Nelson. He made it past the first couple rounds in the ecclesiastical ballot process, and he was one of the seven remaining candidates called upon to address the plenary and then one of three to participate in a question and answer session. Emily Eastwood, the executive director of ReconcilingWorks, offered this eyewitness account:

A little nervous before he gave his opening speech, once at the microphone and speaking, he relaxed and told a bit of his story. He talked about Rob. The assembly listened silently in rapt attention, no chatting, no coughing or shuffling of papers. He did what he needed to do. He was completely authentic. From that point forward he was in his element, the teacher and pastor. He seemed to have fun with every question in the Q&A session, especially the one asking about how he would handle ministry to LGBT people. You should have seen his face. What a softball question. He responded with care for those who might be at different points in the conversation on LGBT inclusion. His answer was full of grace and the love of Christ. At that moment, he was the bishop, and most everyone knew it.

As the final vote tally was announced, Erwin sat with head bowed with partner Rob leaning in close. The weight of the moment was upon each of them. The call was clear and so was his commitment.

The crowd went wild. There was hardly a dry eye in the house. The assembly had elected the best candidate, he happened to be gay and Native American and a PhD., one of the world’s best known Luther scholars, and a very good pastor.

Emily Eastwood is a battle-scarred warrior. She has been active in LC/NA for over thirty years, the last decade as its leader. As the assembly applauded, she sobbed.

I cried. I cried as I had not in a long time, surprised by how much pent up hope there was in me for this historic moment. I know how to lose, but even now winning takes me by surprise.

Where to buy the book

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This is the last installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)

2011 Scott Anderson (first gay Presbyterian to be ordained following policy change)

2011 Amy DeLong (out, partnered Methodist minister on trial)

Cast of Characters: Amy DeLong

As I turned to my conversation partner he immediately said to me, “Amy, tell me about the most important thing in your life.” I wanted to tell him about Val, but I couldn’t. I wanted to tell him about her children whom we were raising together, but I couldn’t. So I talked about my cat. Now aside from looking profoundly superficial – the most pathetic part was that I didn’t have a cat at the time. My life and my loves had been reduced to telling make-believe stories about a cat I didn’t have.

Amy DeLong and Val Zellmer

So says Methodist clergywoman Amy DeLong who eloquently states the case for honesty in spite of potential consequences, and she now self-describes as an “out, partnered lesbian and United Methodist minister.” Her honesty resulted in an ecclesiastical trial in Wisconsin in 2011 that was the first in the current wave of Methodist clergy trials that may have brought the church to a tipping point in the Methodist journey toward full inclusion. In particular, Rev. Amy and her partner, Val Zellmer, were honest in registering under Wisconsin’s domestic partnership law, and Amy honestly noted that she officiated at a covenant ceremony of a lesbian couple when she filed an annual report of her clergy activity.

Reluctantly, Bishop Linda Lee pressed ecclesiastical charges. Several trial prosecutors were appointed and subsequently resigned, and the trial process barely moved forward until the seasoned inquisitor of the gatekeepers, Thomas Lambrecht, became trial prosecutor. With an angular face and a disarming cant of his head to the right, Lambrecht had become inquisitor general on behalf of Good News (an organization of conservative Methodists) years earlier, and his guiding hand remains behind many of the ongoing Methodist trials. Finally, in June, 2011, the trial convened in a small church in Kaukauna, halfway between Green Bay and Oshkosh in East-central Wisconsin. Despite the isolation, the national press followed the trial closely.

The clergy jury acquitted Rev. DeLong of the charge of being a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” because prosecutor Lambrecht’s clumsy attempt to prove genital contact failed but convicted her of the second charge of officiating at the holy union ceremony of the lesbian couple. Indeed, the couple testified on Rev. DeLong’s behalf during the trial. Then, the jury did something radical in the imposition of a penalty. Rev. DeLong was merely to spend a purposeful twenty day suspension discerning whether or not she would develop recommendations for the church on how better to deal with clergy conflict.

She accepted the challenge of writing the recommendations.

The paper was a year in process and resulted from collaborative meetings (four of them) between Pastor DeLong, Bishop Lee, District Superintendent and complainant Rev. Jorge Luis Mayorga, Board of Ordained Ministry chair Rev. Richard Strait, and Pastor Wesley White, who served at Pastor DeLong’s request. It was presented to the Wisconsin Annual Conference in June, 2012. Her eleven page document is a tour de force for the cause of LGBT inclusion that indicts the church, its leaders, and its membership for a lack of courage. Her argumentation is summarized in the words of Dr. King, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” and the concept of “weeping executioners” that “describe those who express concern for the oppressed, but will not leave their place in the hierarchy of oppression.

Earlier that spring, Rev. DeLong had become the de facto leader of the gays, lesbians, and allies that engaged in direct action ecclesiastical disobedience by moving to the center of the plenary floor at General Conference 2012 and refusing to leave. Rev. Amy negotiated an agreement that allowed a gay man to offer the opening prayer for the afternoon session, and the president of the Council of Bishops, Rosemarie Wenner, began the session with an acknowledgement that harm had been done to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people during the Conference, which had once again failed to remove onerous LGBT policy provisions from the Book of Discipline. Rev. DeLong continues to advocate directly with Methodist leadership—the Council of Bishops last fall and soon with the Connectional Table, and her activities may be followed at Love Prevails website.

Rev. Amy has been an invaluable source and fact-checker for Queer Clergy, and she has offered this blurb for the book’s back cover.

Holmen has captured in detail our fervent belief in the grace of God and the gospelstrength of our cause. I am grateful that this narrative of our risk-taking saints and sages is preserved under one cover.

Where to buy the book

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This is the latest installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)

2011 Scott Anderson (first gay Presbyterian to be ordained following policy change)

Cast of characters: Scott Anderson

In the late eighties, Bethany Presbyterian of Sacramento was a bustling, thriving congregation. Because of the congregation’s strong, service-oriented presence in the community, Bethany would soon receive the Ecumenical Service Award presented by the General Assembly. Rev. Scott Anderson, their head pastor, was an integral part of their successful ministries.

But then he was outed.

He chose to resign to avoid the “scorn,” “derision,” and an “enormous backlash” that would split the congregation, and he assumed he would merely fight a losing battle that would end with his defrocking anyway. Anderson would later reflect:

Getting outed at Bethany was both the best and worst moment of my life. On the one hand, it was so freeing and empowering to finally be honest about the truth of who I am. On the other hand, it forced me to step away from my passion. The gay issue had never been part of my ministry at Bethany; it hadn’t played any role at all in our conversations there. When out of the blue it became the conversation, I thought it best if I voluntarily resigned from Bethany. I didn’t want the tumult caused by my staying to ultimately prove disruptive to the life of the church.

This background, together with Anderson’s service as a leader of More Light Presbyterians in the nineties, is merely prologue. Though he willingly relinquished his pastoral call in 1990, he would fight vigorously for clergy reinstatement a decade and a half later.

It would be a matter of scruple.

But before jumping to that story, more prologue is necessary. The Presbyterian Adopting Act of 1729 established the right of dissent from non-essentials for clergy and clergy candidates.

And in Case any Minister of this Synod or any Candidate for the Ministry shall have any Scruple with respect to any Article or Articles of sd. Confession or Catechisms, he shall at the Time of making his sd. Declaration declare his Sentiments to the Presbytery or Synod, who shall notwithstanding admit him to ye Exercise of Ministry within our Bounds and to Ministerial Communion if the Synod or Presbytery shall judge his scruple or mistake to be only about articles not Essential and necessary in Doctrine, Worship, or Government.

The right of dissent was re-affirmed in the 1920s in the Fundamentalist-Modernist debate that birthed the term “fundamentalism.” A special commission became known as the “Swearingen Commission,” and their 1927 report affirmed freedom of conscience, recycling the “scruple” of the Adopting Act of 1729. Furthermore, the Commission held that it was not the business of General Assembly to legislate beforehand what was essential and what was not. Such decisions should be left to specific cases and the presbyteries that performed the examination of candidates.

As the new millennium dawned, Scott Anderson had moved to Wisconsin and served as executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, and he was an active participant in the affairs of the John Knox Presbytery. He was appointed to a blue ribbon panel, a theological task force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church (PUP). After four and a half years of discernment, their report was submitted to the church and adopted by the General Assembly in 2006. A critical insight of the PUP report was the reaffirmation of the legacy of the scruple applicable to the fidelity and chastity requirement for ordination. The PUP Report used the term “departure” instead of “scruple,” but the principle of freedom of conscience remained. Though conservatives “wanted to paint this as a new and dangerous innovation,” it was merely a restatement of Presbyterian principles dating to 1729 and reaffirmed by the Swearingen Commission in 1927.

Anderson himself was the first to test the waters, soon joined by Lisa Larges, and the next few years would witness back-and-forth legislative and judicial wrangling over their candidacies for ordination, despite their sexuality, based upon their dissent from the restrictive policy known as the “fidelity and chastity” requirement. Their respective presbyteries affirmed their candidacies, which then became entangled in the thicket of Presbyterian jurisprudence. While their cases were pending before the Presbyterian “Supreme Court,” the General Assembly rescinded the onerous restriction on LGBT ordination, which was ratified by the presbyteries by the summer of 2011. The pending judicial cases had become moot, and they were dismissed, but they had helped to sway Presbyterian opinion.

On October 8, 2011, the scene shifted to the Covenant Presbyterian Church of Madison, Wisconsin. Outside, a hundred or more LGBT supporters waved rainbow flags to counter the hateful clown show of the Westboro Baptist Church. Inside the sanctuary, a stole returned to its proper place. In 1995, Anderson had offered his ministerial stole, given to him as a gift after his first year of service at Bethany in Sacramento, to the Shower of Stoles project. It was one of over a thousand that had toured the country and appeared at important gatherings.

“Today, for the first time in the life of this collection, a stole is being returned, and in so doing, it is transformed from a symbol of loss to a symbol of hope,” said David Lohman, of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the director of the Shower of Stoles.

Rev. Scott AndersonWith the stole draped around his neck, Rev. Scott Anderson beamed as he was presented to the crowd of over three hundred. The assembly rose to its feet and began sustained clapping that broke into cheers and shouts. Twenty years after losing access to the pulpit in Sacramento, Rev. Scott Anderson had his homecoming to the ordained ministry. He was the first fruits, the first out gay to be ordained under the new Presbyterian policy. Others would soon follow him into the pulpit.

The book is now available!

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This is the latest installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)

California, here I come

Here’s my itinerary for a week-long speaking and book signing tour out west. Presumably, weather won’t interfere like it did for my recent Chicago tour.

Old First Presbyterian San Francisco

The tour starts with a visit to a historic congregation in the heart of San Francisco. Organized in 1849, Old First claims to be the oldest Protestant congregation in California. Pam Byers, formerly executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and a congregational elder, is handling the arrangements. I’ll be there Monday, March 31, at 7:30 pm.

Pacific School of Religion Berkeley

On Tuesday, I’ll cross the Bay to Berkeley and climb “Holy Hill” to the Pacific School of Religion where I’ll be hosted by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Ministry and Religion (CLGS). CLGS will soon enter its fifteenth year of “creative scholarship on the interrelations of religion and sexuality / sexual orientation.” I’ll speak in the Bade Museum beginning at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, April 1.

St. Mark Presbyterian Newport Beach

After midweek visits with seldom-seen family and friends, I’ll start a busy weekend in greater LA with a book signing event on Friday, April 4, at 7:00 pm. St. Mark is a thriving, 50-year-old suburban congregation that retains a heart for mission.

Bethel Lutheran Church Los Angeles

For a congregation that features Sanctuary Yoga and Sanctuary Hula, an author book signing may be a bit tame. I’ll visit Bethel on Saturday, April 5, at 7:00 pm.

Claremont United Church of Christ

I’ll preach at both services on Sunday morning, April 6 with informal book discussions after each service. This congregation dates to the nineteenth century when it was the only Protestant church in this college town nestled beneath the San Gabriel Mountains on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County. Many of the parishioners are residents of Pilgrim Place “an intellectually/theologically stimulating, ecologically sensitive, personally active environment.”

Claremont United Methodist Church

I’ll move across town for a Sunday afternoon 2:30 event hosted by the local reconciling community. Several of my contacts recommended this congregation as an appropriate venue because of its strong record of support for the LGBT community.

Cast of characters: Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler

Ordained a Lutheran pastor in 1989, Rev. Bradley Schmeling stayed home in Ohio for his first call to parish ministry, but then he migrated to Atlanta where he served in a collegiate setting in the Chapel of Emory University. By the time he sought a parish ministry call to St. John’s Lutheran of Atlanta in 2000, both the congregation and his bishop knew of his sexual orientation. The bishop allowed the call process to proceed forward since Rev. Schmeling was celibate, which was in conformity with ELCA ministry policies then in place. Furthermore, Rev. Schmeling promised to advise the bishop if that status ever changed.

Brad-and-DarinIt did. In 2005, Pastor Schmeling fell in love with another ELCA clergyman, Rev. Darin Easler, the pastor of a Zumbrota, Minnesota parish. In 2006, Easler joined Schmeling in Atlanta. Later, when Rev. Easler requested an extension of his “on leave from call” status, he was summarily removed from the clergy roster according to a form letter he received from the ELCA. Meanwhile, Pastor Schmeling fulfilled his earlier promise to his bishop and advised of his relationship change, and his bishop felt obligated to bring charges against him.

Following a six-day trial in January, 2007, a fourteen page decision was issued in February. By a 7 to 5 vote, disciplinary committee members (jurors) held that Pastor Schmeling was precluded from the ordained ministry of the church by virtue of ELCA ministry policies, and the majority stated that they felt compelled to so find. But, the committee was nearly unanimous in declaring that the ministry policy and related disciplinary rules were “at least bad policy, and may very well violate the constitution and bylaws of this church.” “The law is a ass, an idiot,” implied the committee, joining Dickens’ Mr. Bumble, and their written opinion called on synods to memorialize the next church wide assembly in 2007 seeking policy change. Though Pastor Schmeling was removed from the ELCA clergy roster, he continued to serve at St. Johns; the congregation stood in solidarity with their pastor, and the bishop refused to pursue any action against the congregation.

Though the policies weren’t changed in 2007, the race was nearly won. Like a hurdler carefully pacing his steps leading to the last hurdle, the church prepared itself for the dash to the finish line at the church wide assembly in 2009. A moratorium on further ecclesiastical trials based on sexual orientation was put in place, and the task force working on a long-in-process social statement on human sexuality was also tasked with formulating a recommendation for ministry policy change.

Here is a snippet from my book, Queer Clergy, that recounts the scene during the climactic vote at the 2009 assembly, and the picture is of pastors Schmeling and Easler in attendance at the assembly:

The motion to end debate and call the question succeeded on the third try, and the hall hushed as Bishop Hanson invited a prearranged member to lead in prayer. And then came the electronic vote; “push one for yes, two for no,” intoned the bishop. Seen only by him, the tally appeared on the Bishop’s monitor; he hesitated for a moment, and then said, “when the results appear on the big screen, please do not respond with clapping or cheering but with prayer.”

559 yes, 451 no.

Easler and Schmeling at CWA09No one was surprised, but the moment had arrived. Gays and lesbians would soon be allowed into the pulpits and altars of their church to serve as ordained, rostered, ministers of word and sacrament. To be host as well as guest. Openly and honestly. Recognized and supported. The reaction among a thousand voting members and another thousand observers was muted. The plenary hall was suddenly sacred space, and the quiet interrupted only by weeping and the murmur of prayer. By twos and threes and fours and fives, the children of God huddled together in tears and prayer.

Rev. Schmeling and Rev. Easler were the first clergy to benefit from the revised ministry policies, and with a stroke of the pen, they were added back onto the ELCA clergy roster on May 4, 2010. In June, 2012, Pastor Schmeling was called to be senior pastor to a “high steeple” church, Gloria Dei, the largest congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Pastor Easler serves as chaplain to a large Methodist retirement community in Minneapolis.

 

The book is now available!

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This is the latest installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

Cast of Characters: Pastors Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud

In 2004, a pair of Methodist trials sandwiched the General Conference and an intervening Judicial Council decision. Clergywomen Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud had earlier come out to their congregations and conferences, one on the West coast and one on the East, not so much as acts of ecclesiastical disobedience but because “I could no longer live the life of a closeted lesbian clergyperson (Dammann), and “not telling the whole truth about myself has been holding me back in my faith (Stroud).” For each woman, it was a matter of personal integrity.

The West coast trial of Rev. Dammann came first. On March 17, 2004, Rev. Dammann had her day in court before a jury of her clergy peers. The trial would play out in the pages of the secular press and in daily, sometimes hourly, news releases from the UMC news service that were posted to the UMC website. The issue before the court was whether Pastor Dammann was guilty of “practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings.” A few days before the trial, she had married Meredith Savage, her partner of nine years.

An early witness required assistance to take the stand; blind and retired, Dr. Robert Walker had served in parish ministry and also had chaired the Board of Ordained Ministries when Karen Dammann went through the process years earlier. The crowd murmured when Dr. Walker testified that his own ministry was “incompatible with Christian teachings” because he was blind. He referred to Leviticus 21 that decreed that a blind man should not be a priest (not allowed to approach God). The onlookers snickered when he added that the Levitical law-code also prohibited clergy “broken-footedness” because defense counsel Rev. Robert Ward happened to be hobbled with a splint on his foot. So it went for three days. The prosecution essentially relied on Pastor Dammann’s own acknowledgement of her sexuality and relationship status.

On the third day, the jurors began deliberations; after an evening adjournment the deliberations continued the next day (Saturday). For hours the press and the public waited. Dammann, Savage, and their five-year old son prayed in the sanctuary, and supporters milled about in quiet conversation. Finally, at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, the jury verdict was announced. Nine of the thirteen jurors were required to convict, but the prosecution didn’t even get a single vote for conviction; instead, there were eleven votes for acquittal with two abstentions.

The outcry was immediate. Many bishops harrumphed.

“A clear sign of rebellion,” said the statement of Georgia Bishops Lindsey Davis and Mike Watson.

“Incomprehensible that a clergy jury can place itself above the law,” said North Carolina Bishop Marion Edwards.

“A serious challenge to the order of the church,” said Central Pennsylvania Bishop Neil Irons.

Emotions hadn’t yet cooled when the 2004 General Conference convened in Pittsburgh a mere month after the Dammann jury nullification verdict. For the gatekeepers, the General Conference provided the means to circumvent the rule that jury acquittals were not appealable. They would ask the Judicial Council for a declaratory judgment to interpret the decision of the trial court.

In a sleight of hand that would make an impartial jurist cringe, the “Supreme Court” accepted jurisdiction and rendered lip service to the principle that the “Judicial Council has no authority to review the findings of that trial court” before proceeding to gut the decision of any import. The Judicial Council stifled the jury verdict and suffocated Dammann under the weight of doublespeak: “[this decision does] not address the case of the Reverend Karen T. Dammann. This decision shall be applied only prospectively … [but] a bishop may not appoint one who has been found by a trial court to be a self-avowed, practicing homosexual.”

Since clergy appointments are made annually, Pastor Dammann was effectively barred from future ministry. It was also a clear warning to the bishops of the church–a shot across the bow of the episcopate– enforce the rules of good order and kowtow to the company line. As a dissenting opinion claimed, it was also a consolidation of authority in the national church at the expense of individual annual conferences. The traditional prerogative of annual conferences to ordain, appoint, and oversee clergy had been effectively usurped by the General Conference.

The Rev. Stroud trial began on December 1, 2004. Three days earlier, on Sunday evening, November 28, 2004, Pastor Stroud celebrated the eucharist with her congregation. The mood was solemn under the pall of the Judicial Council Decision and General Conference actions of the previous summer. Many were aware that this would probably be the last time Pastor Stroud would have authority as minister of word and sacrament. As she began the communion liturgy, she stumbled on the words, then regrouped, “This could potentially be the last time, and I do it wrong!” The congregation laughed, and she continued, “Rejoice …”

Pastor Stroud’s partner, Chris Paige, was there at her side, and both sets of parents attended the trial to offer support. Chris’ mother, Carolyn Paige, wrote of the trial proceedings at Camp Innabah in eastern Pennsylvania:

Camp staff shuttled jurors and family members up the hill to the camp gymnasium, which served as the courtroom. When it wasn’t raining, we walked. Chris and Beth walked, too. Cameras clicked whenever they came up the hill because the press was out in force. Along with Alan and Susan Raymond, who were producing the PBS documentary “The Congregation,” there were reporters from CNN, the Associated Press, United Methodist Church news, local newspapers and TV stations. Whenever we came out of the gym, there were likely to be six TV vans, that many video cameras, and a dozen microphones. The press seemed confounded by Beth’s attitude; they could not understand her not being angry and belligerent.

Many in our church families shared the pain of this trial. I was honored to wear a rainbow stole that had been worn by an observer at Rev. Karen T. Dammann’s trial earlier in the year. Many of the camp staff and other church staff, while upholding the required neutrality, were privately supportive. I was drawn to a woman who worked in the church. She could not show her support publicly. She could not express the pain she felt publicly either. I could. And so I cried for her.*

With jury instructions that left little wriggle room, the jury still barely convicted Pastor Stroud by a vote of 7-6 and stripped her of her clergy credentials. Subsequent appeals did not change the result. The rigidity of the UMC’s actions the previous summer had proved to be unyielding. Pastor Stroud’s congregation immediately re-hired her as a lay minister, and she continued as before but not as celebrant of the sacraments. She remained so employed for nearly four years before she returned to academia to seek a teaching career.

*Reprinted with permission of the author, Carolyn Paige, on the website of Christian Feminism Today, http://www.eewc.com/BookReviews/church-trial/

The book is now available!

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This is the latest installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

Cast of Characters: Gene Robinson

Gene Robinson portraitIf readers of this blog series of biographical snippets of the iconic pilgrims who led the journey toward full inclusion know only one name, it would undoubtedly be Bishop Gene Robinson, consecrated as the bishop of the New Hampshire Episcopal Diocese in 2003. For this brief taste of the Gene Robinson story, we will sample the spicy few days in Minneapolis when bishop-elect Robinson’s fate was on the plate-then off-then on again.

As with several other significant waypoints along the journey, the 2003 General Convention that approved his election occurred on the banks of the Mississippi River in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. It was in Minnesota that the Episcopalians convened in 1976 and revised canon law to allow women to be ordained to all levels of ministry; it was here that Christian feminists gathered for a Re-Imaging Conference in 1993 that rattled the mainline denominations; it was here that the Lutherans convened for their 2009 Church Wide Assembly and revised ministry policies to allow partnered gays and lesbians to be ordained; and it was here that the Presbyterians voted in General Assembly 2010 to do the same. There were numerous lesser signposts staked in Minnesota as well, and this was the homeland of more than a few pilgrims encountered in the book. There must be something in the Minnesota water.

Episcopalians elect their own bishops in diocesan conventions. However, the elections must be ratified by the national church, which is usually nothing more than a rubber-stamp approval. Because the New Hampshire Diocese elected Gene Robinson just a short time before the scheduled triennial General Convention, it would be the bishops and deputies who would gather in Minneapolis in the summer of 2003 who would have the last word. July in Minnesota is splendid, and the freezing blizzards of January are merely a test of character for the thousands of Minnesotans whose reward is to wet a fish line or take a dip in the sky-blue waters of midsummer. Yah, sure, you betcha.

Gene Robinson was a candidate running for office with a well-oiled campaign. His supporters roamed the hallways sporting buttons that said “Ask Me About Gene.” Robinson himself wore one that said, “I AM Gene” as he chatted and greeted all comers with a friendly grin and firm handshake. Partner Mark followed closely, appearing a bit self-conscious, and a burly security man with a crew cut kept a close watch.

A standing-room only audience followed Robinson’s speech before a committee considering the consecration of bishops. Many more clustered around the closed-circuit TV monitors in adjacent rooms. Part of Robinson’s task, now and continuing throughout the convention, would be a rebuttal of lies put out by his adversaries. He had not abandoned his wife and children, and they said so in highly supportive terms (his relationship with Mark Andrews began a couple of years after the divorce). Robinson’s twenty-one year old daughter appeared in person and read aloud a statement prepared by her mother, which demonstrated her continuing high regard for the man who had once been her husband.

Our lives together both married and divorced have been examples of how to deal with difficult decisions with grace, love, integrity, and honour. He is worthy of your affirmation. His charisma will draw in many more people to the church than will leave due to his sexuality. He will be a truly great bishop.

The House of Deputies voted first, and Robinson was easily approved by roughly a two to one majority.

Before the House of Bishops’ vote the following day, which was likely to be dicey anyway, the scent of scandal wafted out of the opponent’s headquarters with an allegation that placed Robinson’s ordination in serious jeopardy. A different allegation that arrived by email had to be dealt with first.

The first allegation developed from an email sent by a TV viewer back in New England who had been watching a news report of the proceedings. A man claimed he had been touched inappropriately by Bishop-elect Robinson at a regional church gathering years earlier. Even the normally reliable Episcopal News Service was swept up in the emotion of the moment, falsely reporting that “a Vermont man sent an e-mail to bishops accusing Robinson of fondling him” (emphasis added). The unfortunate word choice was a sensationalist misstatement–the email made no such claim, and the man quickly backed off when he was contacted by the bishop assigned to investigate. The alleged “touching” of years earlier turned out to be entirely innocuous. In a crowded conference room, Robinson had passed the man and stopped briefly to exchange a greeting. In doing so, Robinson had grasped the man’s upper arm and patted him on the back.

Shocking. Objection overruled.

The second allegation was even more titillating. Robinson was connected to pornographic websites, according to a “portly, red-faced pseudo journalist addicted to conspiracy theories and running his own raucously partisan conservative website.” During his fifteen minutes of fame, the man strutted around the convention media center, gleefully sputtering, “I have found the smoking gun. We got him!” The accuser’s last name was Virtue. You can’t make this stuff up.

Mr. David Virtue was part of the gatekeeping organization, the American Anglican Council (AAC). It had been the AAC chairman who first alerted church authorities to the allegations of Mr. Virtue. ”I think the bishops in considering his worthiness would want to weigh that,” the chairman said as he bounced around the convention press center, hoping that substance would back up the flimsy allegation, even while sanctimoniously claiming otherwise.

Supporters were stunned. Bishop Samuel G. Candler of the Diocese of Atlanta had spoken passionately on behalf of Rev. Robinson, but he admitted that he was shaken by the allegation.

Detractors smugly asserted, “we told you so.” Rev. Donald Armstrong of Colorado Springs, an opponent of Robinson, claimed that the allegation about pornography was entirely predictable because of Robinson’s disordered sexuality, and he suggested that Robinson ought to withdraw his candidacy.

The investigation into the pornographic website complaint revealed no connection to Robinson whatsoever. It was a “six degrees of separation” claim run amok. The questionable link had been placed on an organization’s website long after Robinson was no longer involved with the organization. The guilt-by-association smear tactic of unvirtuous Mr. Virtue failed. The investigator reported to his fellow bishops that there was ”no necessity to pursue” either complaint further. Objection overruled.

Gene Robinson consecrationWhen the Bishops finally conducted their own vote a day late, Robinson’s ordination to the episcopate was approved by nearly sixty per cent. Perhaps a vote or two swung in favor of Bishop-elect Robinson due to the underhanded tactics of the gatekeepers. Robinson was consecrated as New Hampshire bishop later that fall, but that festive event is another story.

The book is now available!

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This is the latest installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book.

Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

Cast of Characters: Anita Hill

Pastor Anita HillWith a childhood background in Louisiana Roman Catholicism and then Mississippi Methodism, Anita Hill’s faith matured in Ann Arbor, Michigan. While attending a Lutheran Campus Ministry Bible study on homosexuality, she became a Lutheran who sensed a call to ministry and advocacy. She became active in the fledgling LGBT group, Lutherans Concerned, and she was elected co-chair in 1980. By 1983, she had been called to serve with Wingspan Ministry, an LGBT outreach of St. Paul Reformation in St. Paul, Minnesota. That same year, St. Paul-Ref became one of the first two Lutheran congregations to join the welcoming church movement as Reconciling in Christ congregations (Ross Merkel’s Oakland congregation was the other).

In the 1990s, she enrolled at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, an ecumenical seminary affiliated with the UCC, even as she continued as Pastoral Minister at St. Paul-Ref. During her time at United, she received awards for her scholarship and her service. During this period she also met her life partner, Janelle Bussert, and they were blessed in a service at St. Paul-Ref in 1996, followed by a dance in the freshly-painted church basement that lasted for hours, “there were a few elders who sat up past their bedtime watching people of the same gender dance.”

Hill graduated from United Seminary in 2000 and pursued ELCA ordination through regular synod channels. The St. Paul Area Synod bishop at the time was Mark Hanson, soon to be elected to be the ELCA presiding bishop. St. Paul-Ref asked the synod, which in turn asked the ELCA Church Council, for an exception to the current guidelines. Their request was rejected. Following a unanimous vote by the St. Paul-Ref congregation (176-0), Hill and the congregation decided to pursue ordination outside the normal procedures, following the example of the two San Francisco congregations in 1990. Those two congregations had been expelled by the ELCA. In fact, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart had been members of St. Paul-Ref at that time, and it was Anita Hill who suggested they pursue the San Francisco call.

Through the auspices of the predecessor organizations of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM), Hill was ordained extra ordinem in 2001. The ordination was moved to the nearby facilities of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer that would be better able to handle the anticipated throng. A thousand or more swelled the old sanctuary on Saturday, April 27th, including more than two hundred clergy–Lutherans, of course, but also Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Baptists, a rabbi, and a Buddhist monk–and three Lutheran bishops: Swedish bishop and Harvard professor Krister Stendahl, sitting bishop Paul Egertson, and retired bishop Lowell Erdahl. Bishop Egertson was forced to resign because of his involvement in Hill’s ordination. On the other hand, contrasted with the expulsions of the San Francisco congregations following ecclesiastical trials 10 years earlier, St. Paul-Ref received a tepid tap on the wrist.

Pastor Hill became the poster Lutheran lesbian. In the Lutheran legislative wrangling in the biennial assemblies leading up to the momentous policy changes in 2009, Pastor Hill was a highly-visible face of the Lutheran LGBT community. At the 2005 Churchwide Assembly, a resolution to allow Hill to speak to the plenary failed. Hill and a hundred others risked the wrath of their church by marching to the front of the dais and refusing to leave. If the plenary was to talk about them, even as they refused to talk with them, at least they would see the faces of the objects of their discussions.

After the church made a 180 degree policy shift in 2009, Hill was welcomed onto the roster of ELCA clergy in a festive Rite of Reception on September 10, 2010. The Rite also included Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart who had returned to the Twin Cities by then and served as hospice chaplains. The entire procession of bishops, active and retired, and countless clergy filed in through four stanzas of the hymn and more before all had reached their place, and then the first presiding bishop of the ELCA, Herbert Chilstrom, led the congregation in halting voice and failing eyesight in a litany of confession, which included a confession of the sins of the church toward gays and lesbians.

As preaching minister Barbara Lundblad moved to the center of the congregation to read the gospel message, the congregation joined the choir in the refrain of the gospel anthem:

My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.

Hill Bussert weddingSince then, Pastor Hill has left pastoral ministry and accepted a position as regional director of ReconcilingWorks. At the 2013 Twin Cities Pride parade, I stood next to her and asked whether she and Janelle would be married now that Minnesota had passed marriage equality. “Yes, but probably very low key,” she said, but it would turn out to be more than that. On November 10, 2013, they were married in a joint wedding with their friends Jodi Barry and Jenny Mason.

 

The book is now available!

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This is the latest installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book.

Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

Cast of Characters: Walter Righter

Rt. Rev. Walter Righter had ably served as bishop of the Iowa Episcopal Diocese for sixteen years, and in 1988 at age 65 he had earned voluntary retirement. Little did the combat veteran of the WWII Battle of the Bulge know that his most significant contribution in conflict would come a decade later.

First came the call from the bishop of the Diocese of Newark, Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong. Righter was persuaded to join the diocese in 1989 as Spong’s lieutenant, his assistant bishop, but only for a few more years. Spong’s reputation as an outspoken progressive didn’t scare him off; he was moving in that direction himself. At the General Convention of 1979, the “height of homophobia” according to Dr. Louie Crew of Integrity, Bishop Righter had voted with the majority in the House of Bishops in rejecting an LGBT-friendly task force recommendation and resolving, “it is not appropriate for this Church to ordain a practicing homosexual.” At that time, he was certainly not with the bishops who filed a “Statement of Conscience” in dissent. However, a decade later, he was willing to stand with Spong who lit a fire in the Episcopal Church by publicly ordaining an openly gay man just before Christmas in 1989. Bishop Spong had to take care not to trip over the TV cables for the broadcast of the ordination ceremony, which was looped as lead story on CNN every half hour.

As Spong dodged barbs and arrows during 1990, another gay man requested ordination. Better to let Walter do it, in a quiet, private ceremony, Spong and Righter decided. Late in the year, assistant Bishop Righter ordained Barry Stopfel, a partnered gay man, to the diaconate, a non-sacerdotal role that was often a steppingstone to ordination as a priest. Indeed, the following year, Bishop Spong himself ordained Stopfel to the priesthood. About that time, Bishop Righter retired for good.

Four years later in 1995, Episcopal gatekeepers feared that the walls were about to be breached; it was time for a last stand, much like the Germans’ counterattack against the onslaught of the allies in what history has labeled the Battle of the Bulge. With unintended irony, their target would be a survivor of the original Battle of the Bulge. For only the second time in the entire history of the Episcopal Church in America, an Episcopal bishop would be charged with heresy, and Bishop Walter Righter would be the accused, based upon his 1990 ordination of Barry Stopfel.

Why the assistant and not the ringleader? Perhaps for reasons of the statute of limitations. The gatekeepers planned to go after Spong after first dispatching his lieutenant.

“This is ridiculous … It is harassment … not of me, but of the church,” Bishop Richter said when informed of the presentment against him, a formal charge of heresy filed by ten fellow bishops.

On May 18th, 1995 Bishop Righter’s counsel filed his answer, and his supporting brief framed the issue in the broadest possible terms: that the core doctrines of the church did not preclude LGBT ordination. If the conservatives wanted a test case to determine once and for all whether the church could or would ordain LGBT candidates, Bishop Righter and his allies would welcome a frontal attack.

Much like its civil counterpart, the ecclesiastical trial would involve precise, formal procedures. Much like the chronology of a civil trial, the heresy proceedings against Bishop Righter would be drawn out. More than a year would elapse after the filing of charges and still Bishop Righter had not had his day in court.

On February 27, 1996, the latest in a series of pre-trial hearings took place at the Wilmington Cathedral of Hartford, Connecticut. At issue was the central defense argument that mere resolutions, such as the 1979 resolution, were not equivalent to the core doctrines of the church. Local and national press swarmed about the Cathedral, but when the parties and the judges began to meander through the thicket of Episcopal canon law, the mood turned quiet and solemn, with occasional snatches of humor, as often is the case in the verbal jousting of skilled lawyers.

Sitting in the overflow crowd, Barry Stopfel and Will Leckie, partners for eleven years, watched with greater interest than the others. It was Stopfel’s ordination nearly six years earlier and his relationship with Leckie that had triggered the charges against Bishop Righter. Stopfel willingly addressed the press, noting that he and Leckie had decided to sacrifice privacy in order to put their faces on the case, to remove it from abstraction to the personal:

At first I was hesitant to make myself… so visible. But more and more I thought: I want to put a face on this abstract concept. So Will and I just decided the price we were going to pay was to do that.

As in a civil trial, the court adjourned and took the matter under advisement. Both sides were to present further written argument, and a decision was not expected soon.

Nearly three months later, on May 16, 1996, the court announced its decision based upon a 7-1 vote of the sitting judges. Bishop Cabell Tennis of Delaware, a lawyer and member of the court, read a summary of the decision to a breathless crowd. Behind him, a stained glass depiction of the last supper seemed to suggest that Jesus was looking over his shoulder. When Bishop Tennis read that there was “no core doctrine prohibiting the ordination of a non-celibate, homosexual person living in a faithful and committed sexual relationship with a person of the same sex,” the crowd exhaled. The case was over and ordination of LGBT candidates had been countenanced by the highest Episcopal court; unless and until a General Convention would adopt canon law to the contrary, the law of the Episcopal landscape was now settled.

Dr. Louie Crew, who had been on the frontlines from the beginning, had the last word:

After twenty years of struggle, with many tears and prayers, a great moral victory had been won.

Assistant Bishop Walter Righter, drafted into the fray, had his moment in history.

The book is now available!

Well, sort of. It is in and out of availability on Amazon, but it is available directly from the publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook and other epub format devices.

This is the latest installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book.

Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)