Thunderous applause was heard from those attending the Covenant Network Luncheon on Monday. The reason, this is the first General Assembly since the removal of the constitutional provision banning gays and lesbians from being ordained as teaching elders, ruling elders, or deacons.

As the Rev. Deborah Block, a Covenant Network board member introduced the keynote speaker, she said, “It’s a relief to finally be able to say, ‘Give a round of applause for the Rev. Scott Anderson!’”

Anderson had set aside his ordination as a teaching elder in 1990 after a member of the congregation he served revealed that Anderson is gay. After the change in ordination standards— which removed the requirement that those called to ordained office (teaching elders, ruling elders, or deacons) are “to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness,” and replaced it with the requirement “to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-2.0104b)”—Anderson went through the ordination process a second time and was ordained by John Knox Presbytery on October 8, 2011.

Anderson thanked the attendees for their support. “I’ve had lots of interesting emails since my ordination last October,” he said. One of his favorites came from a 15-year-old Canadian who wrote, “Way to go Presbyterian dude!”

He went on to say, “Who could have imagined 10 years ago that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ would be repealed by a bipartisan vote in Congress?” Anderson also mentioned other milestones—the eight states that have legalized civil marriage for same-gender couples and a U.S. President expressing to the country how his views on marriage have evolved just months before a contentious election. “Who could have imagined this?” he asked.

“I speak of imagination because I believe there is a movement afoot in our world,” said Anderson. “The movement,” he continues, “is of God on a mission to heal, to reconcile, and to restore all of creation.” Anderson feels, “All of these unimaginables we are experiencing are signs of the nearness of God’s reign.”

Anderson continued, “The God we know in Jesus Christ is way ahead of us on a mission to heal, to reconcile, and to restore the whole creation. The challenge before us is this: will we have the courage and the imagination to join in?”

The Rev. Brian Ellison, pastor of Parkville Presbyterian Church in Parkville, Mo., was introduced as the new executive director of Covenant Network. Those gathered welcomed him with a standing ovation as he recognized his partner in the audience.

Ellison spoke about this is a time when the church wants to be inclusive. “It’s about helping the church deep down inside be what it wants to be.”