More Light Presbyterians hold national conference in Louisville

‘Abundant inclusion’ theme brings hundreds for worship and discussion on LGBTQ issues

September 22, 2015

The Rev. Ilene Dunn delivers the pastoral prayer at the More Light Presbyterian National Conference opening worship.

The Rev. Ilene Dunn delivers the pastoral prayer at the More Light Presbyterian National Conference opening worship. —Scott O'Neill

LOUISVILLE

Adorned with red, green, purple, yellow and blue paraments that spanned the sanctuary chapel, Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky., hosted more than 100 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community this past weekend for the More Light Presbyterians National Conference.

The More Light movement dates back to 1978 when the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly voted that gays and lesbians should be welcomed into membership but not ordained as deacons, elders and pastors. Congregations dissatisfied with excluding an entire class of people from leadership began adopting resolutions that proclaimed gay and lesbian people should be included in Church leadership; these congregations became known as More Light churches.

The meeting kicked off Friday with opening worship led by More Light Executive Director Alex McNeill. In his sermon, McNeill spoke of the group’s history, saying that initially, their hopes were simple: to confront the silence on the issue of homosexuality, to challenge isolation and create a sense of community that transcends mistreatment by congregations.

After last year’s marriage amendment was passed, allowing pastors to marry same-sex couples, the hope that congregations could expand their welcome of LGBTQ individuals became more imaginable. McNeill referred to Paul’s letter in Romans 8: 24-25; “If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.”

McNeill says that after the previous 30 years, watching the advancement and affirmation of rights afforded LGBTQ persons over the recent three years has felt like watching progress at the speed of light.

Despite advances, ongoing abuse continues in the LGBTQ community. Forty percent of LGBTQ individuals experience homelessness, either kicked out of their family or unable to acquire or hold jobs due to their identity. The plenary session, held the next morning and titled “A Queer Church Beyond Inclusion,” attempted to answer ‘what’s next?’ for a group that has an abundance of possibilities, according to McNeill.

The three workshop leaders, McNeill; Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, More Light’s Director of Communications; and John Russell Stanger, Executive Director of Parity; each shared personal stories of struggle to generate further conversation between participants broken up into small groups.

McNeill’s story of “coming out” as Alex to his congregation begged the question: why is inclusion important to you and the church? Responses included:

  • Being able to live in your calling to God,
  • Inclusion must be ‘intentional’ not accidental, and
  • If it’s not good for everybody it’s not good for anybody.

Henderson-Espinoza spoke of growing up in the Baptist tradition and her struggle to be ordained. Self-identified as neither lesbian nor gay, but queer, her church leaders felt she needed more spiritual formation because they couldn’t identify with her in a way they could understand. She ultimately left the church that kept “saying no and failing me.” Her question to the group centered on how inclusion- only limits God’s abundance. Responses included;

  • Focusing on inclusion alone sends a “mission accomplished” message rather than seeing all that’s possible for the future,
  • Some churches welcome you into their space as long as it continues to look and operate like their space, and
  • We need to break beyond traditional thinking behind adolescent development, which labels and categorizes things in a binary manner.

Stanger talked about growing up in a hyper-masculine Texas ranching culture and was severely uncomfortable as a Young Adult Volunteer in India. Holding hands between the same gender is seen as normal in that culture, and something friends would do routinely on the way to the movies, tea or breakfast. He asked the group to consider thinking beyond inclusion and what new things might the spirit be calling one toward? Responses included:

  • Having a reciprocal relationship with God that includes humility, accountability and openness,
  • Be open to God’s mystery, and
  • Acknowledging that the whole church is on a journey and as people are invited in its important to focus on the journey.

For more information about More Light Presbyterians, please visit www.mlp.org