45464"While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days." Acts 10
It's been one heckuva week for my church.
On Friday, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted in assembly to remove the ban on non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy and rostered lay ministers. Quite the step, and while I was pretty sure it was going to be taken, I was still amazed at the prospect once it happened.
I still don't really know what to think or say. On the one hand, I'm overjoyed that many friends in whom I've seen great gifts for ministry might now be able to take up the burden and blessing of official, recognized ministry under the auspices of the ELCA. On the other hand, it wasn't so long ago that I regretfully stood against this very change, and many of my friends still do, knowing full well that it is a painful stance, but feeling captive to their interpretation of scripture and bound in conscience to remain faithful to what they read in God's word.
This is not to say that gay and lesbian ministers and those who support them are any less bound, or that they value scripture any less, or that all of us who feel the time for change has come are completely comfortable with the implications. There's a very real possibility that I may be asked to preside over a service of blessing for a same-sex couple in the near future, and I'm not sure I'm ready for that. Not to mention that liturgically we have scant resources for such a thing (and, no, this is not an invitation for everyone to post links to resources in my comments).
I've heard of one pastor who has already vowed that his church will withhold financial support from any synodical or churchwide units. While it's certainly that congregation's perogative to do so, I'm disappointed in the pastor's desire to punish and revenge himself on the church; far better to leave, in my opinion, than to stay in a denomination for the sake of retribution alone. But I'm only one pastor in this cavalcade of sinners we call the ELCA, and unlike most, my community is dependent upon grants from Synods and the Churchwide organization, so you might argue that my viewpoint is decidedly slanted anyway. Take my opinions on it for what you will.
My blogging friend Songbird posted about being on a "Discomfortable Edge." I think that's where I'm at right now. Thinking and feeling as though a course of action is right doesn't mean the road is smooth, and many of us make decisions at crossroads but watch with some degree of anxiety as the road not taken fades into the distance. Some of those most troubled by this decision are already planning to leave the ELCA, but some are wavering, and I would hope the ELCA can still be their church in spite of our disagreements. As our Presiding Bishop so beautifully said after the votes had been cast, "We meet one another finally -- not in our agreements or our disagreements -- but at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ."
I do believe the Spirit is doing a new thing in our church, and I wonder if Peter and the disciples felt the same discomfort we do as the Spirit's outpouring was revealed in Caesarea all those generations ago. Just yesterday those of us who preach from the Revised Common Lectionary heard Peter's confession from John 6: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Not a comfortable confession. Not a confession of dedication, but rather of desperation: a confession that acknowledges we cannot hope to know where the words of eternal life will take us next. But Peter and the disciples remained as faithful as they could be: this, I believe, is our calling today. God be with us all.
Grace & peace,
The artwork is "The Coming of the Holy Spirit" by artist He Qi.