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Here’s a Bit About My Journey. What’s Your Journey?

5/13

This week we took a step that has been thirty-seven years in the making.

As I wrote this past Tuesday, it has now become a certainty that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will allow the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members as elders, deacons and ministers.  With Twin Cities Presbytery passing Amendment 10A, the needed majority of 87 of the 173 presbyteries (regions across the USA) have ratified the General Assembly recommendation to remove the barriers in the church rules to ordination.  And we know now that on July 10, 2011, the revised requirements will go into effect.

It was thousands of individuals sharing their journeys that led us to this joyous moment.

Through the ongoing conversations series here on TimeToEmbrace, I have made it my goal to help readers get to know more about the journeys of many of the wonderful people I’ve met through this work.  Occasionally, but rarely, have I shared my own stories.

However, in this historic moment, I’d like to share a little about my personal journey in the hopes that it will inspire others to share theirs.

I grew up in the PCUSA. I enjoyed Sunday School, sitting by my Grandfather in worship, learning to pray, listening to great anthems by the choir and trying to follow the sermon every Sunday.  I took the promises I made at confirmation seriously. When violent protests against the war in Vietnam began at my college, I went to the University Church and found spiritual guidance.

I made the decision to go to seminary when I was a senior.  I knew that I did not want church to be just another organization or club I was part of.  I wanted my faith in the triune God to be the genesis of all my conduct as a human and a Christian.  Studying was what I knew best, so was a natural fit for this new quest. I applied to seminary to delve more deeply into my faith.

As I imagine is true for many, it was in seminary that I began paying attention to PCUSA church polity.  One of my friends and fellow seminarians, Chris, was a Presbyterian from California who came out as gay in our first semester. This was in 1973 mind you.  Chris was already in the process for ordination in the PCUSA and I got to know first hand Chris’s deep relationship with God in Jesus Christ and his rich gifts for ministry.

It was during this same time that New York Presbytery asked the General Assembly (GA) for guidance on how to proceed with a candidate for ordination who had informed them that he was gay.  After a committee studied the case for three years, the GA in 1978 overruled their work and voted that lesbian and gay Presbyterians were not eligible to be ordained.  What a blow this was!  And because of this rule, Chris and so many other qualified candidates were stopped in place.

A year prior to that ruling, in 1977, I was ordained in Pittsburgh.  I began participating in the debates and voting of Pittsburgh presbytery and right away, to me and to others, it looked like the presbytery was directing the commissioners to the 1978 GA on how to vote on gay and lesbian ordination.  This was a clear violation of our Presbyterian commitment to listen carefully to the discussion, listen for the whispering of the Holy Spirit and then vote.  So with others, I filed an objection to the conduct of my presbytery as it anticipated consideration of ordination of lesbian and gay candidates at GA.

In the end it didn’t change the outcome, but for me, this was really the beginning of my advocacy for full inclusion in the church.  And it was that advocacy that eventually led to the two trials for my presiding at the wedding of Nancy McConn and Brenda Cole and eventually the creation of my website and blog here at TimeToEmbrace.com. It also led to joining in the work of More Light Presbyterians.

Since seminary, it has been clear to me that if LGBT believers are unworthy to be ordained then no one is worthy to be ordained.  Judgment by my church against this one group of people has sent a signal to every person that the PCUSA chooses to judge rather than love and this judging stance toward LGBT people has belied our claim to witness to God’s love through Christ to everyone and anyone.  It is no wonder we have floundered during these years.

Since 1974 the integrity of the Gospel proclamation of the PCUSA has been compromised.  With the vote this week that Christian witness of my church home has been restored.  Just think of all those baptized today and the church they are being welcomed into – a church that puts no barrier up for them if they are called to serve their God and their church.  I am so proud to be a Presbyterian this week.

We all have a journey that brings us to this moment.  How about sharing yours?

Peace,
Reverend Janet Edwards
P.S. It’s been a raucous week so I did not have time for a video blog too. I do welcome your response to this piece by video and if you choose to do that, please post it in the comments. I will be back in that medium soon.

 

 


8 Responses
  • pennyjane hanson on May 14, 2011

    hi janet. well, i guess i’ll get it started by sharing my journey.

    the first half century went by relatively uneventful. i was raised in an atheist, military family and became an atheist military adult. the military was an excellent fit for me. i had no goals, no ambition and very little in the way of expectations for myself. nobody else had much in the way of expectations for me either, so all went pretty smoothly. all i really wanted out of life was to be invisible and the military structure made that quite possible.

    in my fifty-first year God chose, for reasons known only to Him, to reveal Himself to me through His Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ. it wasn’t that i was particularly unhappy…no expectations, no disappointments…or that i was seeking some change or anything…He just out of the blue whopped me upside the head with a two by four and changed everything. now, that’s when life got complicated for me.

    oh….during that first half century i did do one thing that worked out pretty well. i met, fell in love with and married my sweet annie. but…and i have again no idea of why i did…but i told her on our second date that i was transsexual and explained what that meant. i included that sexual relations with anyone was not within my ability…that i was attracted emotionally and intimately with women, but the sex part wouldn’t work. her love was so powerful and so unconditional that although she is a normal heterosexual woman, she could live with it. God works in very mysterious ways.

    at any rate…finding myself a christian with no understanding of what to do about it…i went looking. why did God do this? what does he want from a loser like me?

    just how does one go about being a christian once they have become one. wendy vanderzee was the only christian i was even aquainted with, she was the chaplain at hospice here in town and i’d met her when my beloved mother in law passed away.

    so i dropped by wendy’s office one day and told her what had happened to me and asked if she might have any advice. she told me i’d had an experience kind of like paul’s on the road to damasscus.

    who? on the road to where? at any rate, she jotted down the name of an evangelical preacher here in town and offered me a copy of the new testament, good news version.

    i took that book home and devoured it. i found myself turning off football games on the tv….too noisy, and leaving beers to get stale on the coffee table. after reading it cover to cover four or five times i began to just open it up at random places and wallow in phrases. the story of Jesus…the first thing i’d ever found in my life that made sense…and it made perfect sense.

    i started going to that evangelical church and doing bible studies…any and all i could find, to include the 6am wednesday morning men’s meeting at the church. just one year ago if someone had told me i could be dragged out of bed at four-thrity on a freezing, icy, snowing wednesday morning to go to a church and listen for the Word of God…i don’t think i could have even laughed at them…now i was eager to do just that! show me more and different perspectives…teach me! teach me! i couldn’t get enough, i went wherever someone was teaching at the moment. i was consumed with the need to learn. i was still a long way from practicing christianity but i was pouring down pauline milk by the gallons. that was the first time in my life i’d maintained an interest in anything for more than a day.

    it was the wednesday night bible study at the salvation army that first introduced me to service. now that made all kinds of sense to me. now i could see what being a christian might look like in everyday life…serving God by serving His creation. that was a big piece of the puzzle…how does one put her love and awe of God into practice. so i started taking baby steps into service…and life soon got all that much more complicated.

    the story of ananias and sapphira got into my head and i found it hard to put down. you might recall these are the folks who, at a time in the early church when people were selling everything and turning the proceeds over to the church, these two withheld a portion and lied about it. well, it seemed a little harsh to me that they were both struck dead, but the lesson was still taking form in my mind. the fact that they were treated so harshly for what i considered to be not that sinful caused me a great deal of consternation. this was a lesson God wanted me to learn and learn well, i could feel it! i decided that this was about gifts…about God giving us gifts and us not using them wisely and for His glory. about how we always want to maintain control, even when we know better. even when manna falls regularly and spoils quickly, we still want to bundle some up, figure a way to keep some for a rainy day.

    we think that God’s gifts to us are for us…we don’t easily see that His gifts are for dissemination among His creation. we all want a safety net, something stuck back. “oh ye of little faith” i heard Jesus say…and i answered “yes?”

    by His grace He didn’t treat me as He did those two…though i was guilty of commiting that particular sin repeatedly. i feel sad for them, and a little humbled for myself. but what all this did was make me take a good hard look at the many gifts i’d been given and take stock of just how i used them. it wasn’t a pretty sight. in fact it was humiliating. i could clearly see that God had blessed me with so much potential and i had squandered most of it away…i had been too lazy and too fearful to develop any of those gifts beyond just what i thought i needed to survive. in the great scheme of things, i was a taker, a user….a net deficit to God’s creation. that epifany will open your eyes.

    the very idea that God would look down upon me, His creation, and be ashamed of His work was almost too much to bear. i have brought shame upon God. i am standing right out here in public bringing shame on my God.

    as strange as it might sound, that epifany didn’t kill me, but informed me. informed my of my power. i have the power to bring shame on God. and the next step for one who lives though that guilt is to realize the opposite is also true…if i have the power to bring shame on God, then i also have the power to bring glory on Him.

    that’s the final straw…that’s when my whole world got turned upside down…again. i resolved that i would never again allow myself to bring shame on Him, and that i would find a way to bring Him glory.

    talk about upside down! i found that the first step in that process was to transition. that is, to stop living my life as a confused man and begin to live my life as the woman i am. a lot easier said than done. i most certainly did not have the courage to make such a move on my own…no doubt about it. i wasn’t even sure of the sanity of such a move, but i knew in my heart that i would never go anywhere until i stopped the lying, denying, hiding and invisibility.

    if one is going to proclaim God she must do it truthfully. it was only at the end…when all my courage failed me, when all my love and understanding were not enough, when the end was at hand…God took my fear away.

    i sold my piece of land and handed over the proceeds joyfully to the church. i shook my manna stash from the pouch and into the wind. with a laugh i jumped off the cliff and had no doubt that He would catch me. and catch me He did.

    lots of bad things happened when i transitioned…when i was laughing on my way down…maybe i thought God was just going to go ahead and take me to heaven. but, He didn’t. He left me here and He said, “now, young woman, buckle down and get it done.” all those bad things were dealt with…by prayer and by grace i evolved into the woman i am…and you know what? i love every minute of it. i don’t know where He is taking me, i just know that i have become a useful tool now. i’m not rusting away in the back of the shed somewhere…i actually think He carries me around in His pocket…kind of like a swiss army knife, not the best or most sophisticated tool he has…but a handy one…and one He has faith in, one that works!

    so, yes…bringing myself into harmony with myself has brought a whole me into harmony with God’s creation. i am a better person and i try so hard to become better everyday…not for my glory, but for His. i never, never want to experience that feeling again…that i am shaming Him. i may not have much but i will joyfully give it all!

    much love and hope. pj

  • JIm on May 15, 2011

    we voted to alienate thousands of faithful, longtime Presbyterians, who just happen to be the backbone of financial support for their congregations, for this?

  • pennyjane hanson on May 16, 2011

    good morning jim.

    for this?

    may i refer you to scripture: matt 23:18-19,

    “and you say, whoever swears by the alter is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath. you blind fools! for which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred?”

    for this indeed.

    much love and hope. pj

  • Janet Edwards on May 20, 2011

    Dear Jim,

    I am grateful for every person who takes the time to comment on Timetoembrace–thank you.

    Please say more.

    What is the “this” you are speaking of? Do you mean what I take as pj’s gracious sharing of herself when she has clearly met with hostility toward herself in other times and places, particularly in the church? Do you mean to add to that line of Christians who have failed to follow Jesus’ hospitality to the outcast?

    Correct me if I am wrong. I see in your remark a comparison between Presbyterians as if some are better than others. Is that what you mean to say?

    I hope it is clear to you that this site is meant to be a place for genuine dialogue. And my invitation to you to expand upon your comment here is genuine.

    Thank you in advance for your prayerful consideration to share more.

    Peace be with you, Janet

  • Janet Edwards on May 20, 2011

    Dear pj,

    Thank you so much for accepting my invitation to share some of your journey. You have given us all a precious gift. Your faith in Christ, your love for the PCUSA and your service to gay and trans youth are inspiring to me.

    And I have a question that comes from being a member for over 30 years of Pittsburgh Presbytery, rightly known as one of the most conservative presbyteries in the PCUSA for a good while. Whose responsibility is our anger or hurt sparked by the tinderbox that has been the PCUSA for 50 years at least?

    And I want to ask you one other question because I think you will have some real Christian wisdom to bring to the answer. What do we need to do to make 10A a turning point away from that tinderbox and toward the peaceable kingdom Christ desires for us?

    I am eager to receive your response.

    The peace of Christ be with you, Janet

  • pennyjane hanson on May 21, 2011

    good morning, dear janet.

    you might remember, earlier i told you that early next month i will be presenter at our fatih forum, the topic being exactly what you asked in your second question to me.

    i confess: the closer that time gets, the more i’m convinced that my presentation will begin and end with the very question. the experiences i’ve had here with total intransigence does not leave me hopeful, as i haven’t myself come up with any good ideas and haven’t heard any that resonate within me.

    i would welcome any ideas with an open mind and a grateful heart.

    your first question is only just a bit less complex for me. “whose responsibility is our anger?” i’m presuming, so correct me if i’m wrong, that you address this question to me not just for an answer but as encouragment to take a look at the anger i have expressed here of late in a different blog entry. but…i will make an attempt at an answer and an explanation.

    anger, i think, is a natural part of all of us. it’s an almost predictable product of chemical processes produced by certian interactions between cognition and spirit…an emotion, if you will. so, whose responsiblity is anger? in my opinion, God’s.

    that brings me to the second, and more relevant, part of your question as i understand it. whose responsibility is how we control and reflect our anger? who decides whether we use it for good, indifference or evil. in most cases, given good brain health, that would be the individual.

    anger isn’t always a bad thing, and expressing it…letting it out isn’t always a bad thing either. anger can be used as a catalyst for good…i can think of many examples of that in my own life. i can think of examples of Jesus expressing His anger in the gospels as well. i can’t imagine Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple without seeing in Him some anger. i hear anger in Jesus words in matt 23:13-36. this is a passage i think anyone who professes Jesus should keep marked and read often.

    in these places, Jesus was provoked to anger, expressed His anger and, at least for me, set an example. His example asks me to use my anger as a catalyist…not to bury it or sidestep it, but to use it as part of an explanation.

    the anger i expressed when bill called me “satan”, he did, you know…he said to me, personally, “get thee behind me satan.”, was not merely a spontaneous eruption of emotion…it was, at least to a point, considered. did i use good judgment when i decided to respond using my anger and hurt? maybe not. but, then again…it might be that sometimes putting a human face on what that kind of stuff does to the dignity of another human being might serve as an example to others who might resort to such curses. i admit, i don’t know.

    prior to that, i had been very careful to keep trying to build bill up, to keep him engaged…when he said that to me he ceased being a partner in conversation, but became someone i couldn’t take seriously, even if just for my own mental health. i have been called a lot of things by a lot of people, but being called satan by a christian is the most degrading, most vile insult i have ever endured.

    did i handle my anger well? no doubt, at best, i could have done a lot better. whose responsibility is it? ultimately mine and mine alone. i’ll add though, nothing in the world happens in a vacuum, all the conversants bear some responsibility for where a conversation might go.

    thank you for caring enough to ask these questions. they are provocative and that’s a blessing.

    much love and hope. pj

  • Janet Edwards on May 23, 2011

    Dear pj,

    What a helpful commentary on anger in answer to my question–thanks!!

    You confirm my own sense that anger (as are all emotions, in my experience)is a prayer. As I have come to understand it, anger cries out to God, “Something is really wrong here and needs to be made right!” I hope you see that this fits with what you are saying.

    And I agree completely with you that, having felt anger, we have choices about how and when we express it just as Jesus did. In Matthew 23 He lashes out; on the cross–where, we can imagine, there was some anger as a prayer–He chose not to say only, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

    What experience has taught me is that my anger is solely my responsibility. It is not the responsibility of the person I feel anger toward. What I mean is, I cannot expect them to take care of my anger. It is not their job to take care of my anger.

    The most important thing is to right what I feel is so wrong. And this impacts my expression of my anger because the goal of that expression (when I am at my best) is to right the wrong. The most helpful thing for me to do is to engage the other person in righting the wrong. And, as I am sure you see, expressing my anger may not contribute to achieving that goal.

    I cherish your thoughts on this. And I await your word on how 10A can lead us to fresh dynamics between us in the PCUSA.

    Peace, Janet

  • pennyjane hanson on May 29, 2011

    dear janet. i can’t say that i’m particularily proud of the way i handle my anger sometimes and i hope this doesn’t sound like i’m making excuses for what seems a weakness.

    i don’t know how true it is, but i learned…and it did seem to make some sense…that *depression* can be a symptom of anger turned inward. and that this can happen when we repress, or don’t express our anger.

    while both anger and depression can be most destructive, i think we have more options when it comes to dealing with anger. when a clincal depression gets ahold of us it can sap all our motivation to do anything…and it feeds on itself…chemically.

    my psychologist explained to like this to me one time: when we become depressed, we (unknowingly of course) start certain chemical reactions within ourselves. the longer we stay depressed the more these reactions become *institutionalized* (that’s my word, not hers…but it seems synonomous with the word she used and i can’t recall.) but, i think what she meant was that at some point, the body doesn’t even know or care if we have any reason to be depressed, it just keeps on doing what has become natural for it.

    with therapy, and sometimes certain medications, we can retrain the body, have it stop creating those reactions that keep us depressed. once we have done that, though, we are still subject to depression…so we have to be careful not to let it get another foothold in us.

    one way of doing that is to express, not repress, our anger. to sometimes allow ourselves a little righteous indignation.

    i spent over a half a century repressing my anger, just bottling it up and when it did overflow, it was directed inwardly. so, now, applying what i have learned in an effort to never again find myself in a deep clincical depression, i make a conscious effort to express my anger.

    i can do that now (obviously) but i have not yet learned to do it in the most appropriate times and places.

    please bear with me, i’m working on it.

    much love and hope. pj


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