On Sunday, April 15, Katie Ricks will become the first openly lesbian candidate ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) since the denomination opened ordination to LGBT candidates in July of last year. Three openly gay candidates have been ordained since the historic shift in policy. Ricks is the first openly lesbian candidate who has been approved for ordination. Ricks graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary in 2002. She has served as an Associate in Ministry for the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill for the last ten years. In March, Ricks was named one of the 13 religious women to watch by the Center for American Progress.
By Katie Ricks
This Sunday, I will be ordained as a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
While the service of ordination is special for all who are called by God into the work of ministry, mine is unique because I am the first out lesbian to be ordained in the PC(USA) since an historic policy shift last summer.
I’m very excited about what this moment means for my family and for my congregation. Yet, this is bigger than me, my congregation, or even the PC(USA). This is about all of us, and, more specifically, this is about God’s Love that holds ALL of us.
Ten years ago, when I graduated from seminary, no one knew whether the ordination of gay and lesbian people would ever become a reality in the PC(USA) in our lifetime. Now, after dozens of votes, thousands of heartfelt conversations, and countless prayers, my denomination has chosen a more welcoming path, and God has led my congregation to call me as one of its leaders. We are beginning to live into the church that God is calling us to be.
Faithful Presbyterians, who nurtured me in my life of faith, taught me about God’s abundant and unconditional love – a love that knows no limits, a love that compels God to continue to seek relationship with ALL of us,, a love that never leaves our side.
At the same time, I know that many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community have been hurt by the church. There are Christian communities who continue to teach an interpretation of God’s love that excludes some from God’s embrace. This causes real damage in our families and our lives.
I experienced this hurt myself when I began the ordination process over 13 years ago. The group of ministers and elders charged with supporting and guiding those exploring a call into ministry focused their examination of me on my identity as a lesbian, asking questions that were never asked of any straight candidates. They never asked me about my faith, my call, or my growth in the church. They never said to me: “Welcome home, we’re glad you’re here.”
At that point, and at others in my journey, I have wondered, “Would it be better for me to leave the Presbyterian Church?” and “Should I go somewhere where my call and service are fully accepted, now?”
Yet, again and again, God has continued to call me back.
After completing seminary and struggling with the ordination process, God called me to be an associate in ministry at the church I still serve today. This church welcomed me – not as a token, or as an anomaly, but simply for who I was.
Over the last ten years I have found a true home as part of this community. I have been supported in my covenantal relationship with my loving partner. I have experienced the birth (and continue to experience the life) of a child. I have held the hand of a person who was dying. I have witnessed a young person’s life transformed on a mission trip. I have heard children squeal with sheer delight as they rejoice, in their own way, about a faith community that loves them.
As was common in my time in seminary, I have also been able to engage in community with those who disagree with my interpretation of the Bible and openly oppose my ordination. Those relationships have surely been touched by God’s hands, as we have prayed together, shared stories of our families together, and sought to live out God’s mission in the world together. I have been surprised by the depth of the peace and joy and compassion that has surrounded and filled each of us as we have sought to live in God’s love together.
In February of this year, I reached the final stage of the ordination process. I stood before a regional body of ministers and elders who would vote on my fitness for ministry. And while similar on the surface, it couldn’t have been more different from those initial experiences. As I looked around, I recognized many familiar faces – some of whom I knew disagreed with me – but all of whom I have respected and loved for the ten years we have spent worshipping, serving, and living faithfully together.
After I read my statement of faith and answered a question from the examinations committee, there was only one question from the floor (I had anticipated a multitude of them). A pastor who identified himself as a conservative asked, “How do you read Scripture in a way that affirms same-sex relationships when the traditional understanding is against them?”
With a full heart, I answered with thoughts about what I have learned about the Word of God and ended with, “I believe that God is the creator of all things – seen and unseen. Nothing comes into being in the world without God’s breath flowing through it. I am confident that being gay is not a choice. And, because of that, I came to know that ‘coming out’ as a lesbian was a matter of claiming the person that God created me to be.”
After the meeting was over, that same pastor came up to me, gave me a hug, and told me how much he appreciated my answer. After almost a decade of serving in full time ministry, I was approved for ordination.
So what have I learned through this journey?
At each new step forward in the ordination process, I realized that the “goal” that I had achieved was not the most amazing thing that had happened. Rather, I learned to put my life into the hands of God. I learned to trust in a community of companions to guide and walk alongside me on this journey of faith. I learned that the Spirit works to heal broken places in the Body of Christ through conversations over coffee, joint lamentations about living with a toddler, and shared prayers in the comfort of one another’s offices.
I pray you will find the gift of a spiritual home that welcomes you with open arms, seeks to heal the broken places in your heart, and honors and encourages your call to serve – in whatever way God is leading you.
But most of all, I hope that all understand what I have always believed, that God’s love is all-inclusive and that you – just as you are – are Beloved. Together, we can be the church God is calling us to be.