When my wife and I spent our summer vacation volunteering at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh, we were called “church geeks.” I guess it’s true. After attending morning worship at my own congregation, St. Barnabas Lutheran of Plymouth, Minnesota, I drove into downtown Minneapolis Sunday afternoon to attend the ordination of Daniel Vigilante at Westminster Presbyterian.
The Southwest edge of downtown Minneapolis boasts a number of high steeple churches that date to the nineteenth century and whose pews have often been occupied by the Minneapolis aristocracy but whose kitchens have offered soup to the poor and homeless: the Roman Catholic Basilica of St. Mary, Central Lutheran, St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist, Plymouth Congregational Church, and … Westminster Presbyterian.
The ornate sanctuary of Westminster today witnessed a first in Minnesota—the ordination of an out gay man as a Presbyterian teaching elder—which is what the Presbyterians call their ministers of word and sacrament. From the comments of an impressive array of speakers, it was obvious that Dan Vigilante is an especially gifted man who is finally allowed to answer his call to the ministry nearly a decade after graduating from Princeton seminary. Since graduation, the New Jersey native has mostly served as director of ministries for youth and young adults at St. Mark Presbyterian Church of Newport Beach, California. The retired moderator of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, Rev. Dr. Gary Collins, spoke with great respect and affection for Vigilante and his service in Southern California. Here’s a picture of Dan from the website of St. Mark.
Rev. Brian Ellison, whose tenure as executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians is barely a year old, offered a stirring sermon. The Covenant Network as an institution is unique to the Presbyterian Church. Other progressive denominations have long had LGBT advocacy organizations, but they have mostly consisted of gays, lesbians, and a few straight allies operating on the periphery of their denomination. More Light Presbyterians was and is such an organization, but near the end of the twentieth century, the Covenant Network was founded by leaders of the Presbyterian establishment to promote progressive causes and especially LGBT inclusion. When well-heeled allies joined the gay and lesbian pilgrims on the journey toward full inclusion, momentum swelled.
The Twin Cities Presbytery boasts a distinctive history regarding LGBT ordination. Rev. David Bailey Sindt was ordained in this Presbytery before he came out at the 1973 General Assembly (national) by standing on a chair and holding up a sign asking, “Is anyone else out there gay?” More Light Presbyterians remembers that moment as the birth of their movement. In the early ‘90s, St. Olaf grad Lisa Larges sought ordination in this Presbytery, and when she came out to her candidacy committee, the presbytery supported her; only a decision by the Presbyterian ecclesiastical courts prevented her ordination. Toward the end of the century after the General Assembly passed onerous legislation regarding gays and lesbians, the Twin Cities Presbytery issued a formal apology to the gay community and also promised defiance of the policy.
Coincidentally, this Presbytery also played a double role regarding the national church’s decision to allow out gays and lesbians to be ordained. First, the Presbytery hosted the 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis that passed enabling legislation, which required ratification by the 173 presbyteries spread across the country. As the presbyteries voted one by one, it became clear that the measure would be ratified, and with one more affirmative vote needed for ratification (with twenty or so presbyteries yet to vote), it was the Twin Cities Presbytery that cast the decisive vote on May 10, 2011.
Welcome Teaching Elder, Rev. Daniel Vigilante. Godspeed.