Guest Post: An Eyewitness Account of the First Openly Gay Presbyterian Ordination
Lauren Gallant Cochran is a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA) under the care of the Boston Presbytery. She is a recent graduate of Harvard Divinity School and is currently serving as the Director of Christian Formation at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin. Pictured here with her husband, Daniel.
“Reformed and always reforming” is not an empty slogan for the Presbyterian Church (USA)—we worship, govern, ordain, believe, and live by these words.
This past Saturday, I had the privilege of witnessing a part of Presbyterian history: the ordination of Scott Anderson—an openly gay man—at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison, Wis. Scott has been a member of Covenant for over eight years and serves as the executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches (WCC). As a direct result of the ‘always reforming’ Presbyterian Church, he now holds the same position, but he has been ordained and is supported by the PCUSA as a “Teaching Elder.”
This ordination was an emotionally and spiritually moving time of worship, to say the least. No matter our denomination (there were many present), race, gender, or sexual orientation, we rejoiced in the common belief that God loves and calls to God’s service all persons equally.
Because of Scott’s work with the WCC, many of those who came to the service were ordained clergy. During the ‘laying on of hands’—where Scott received the prayer and blessings for his ordained ministry—the invitation for all who were ordained to come and take part left the pews empty. Looking up to the front of the church to see 70 or more ministers of all different churches lay their hands on Scott and share their blessings was an overwhelming sight.
Equally moving was the return of Scott’s stole. Twenty years ago when Scott was stripped of his ordination by the PCUSA because of his sexuality, he donated his stole to an exhibit showcasing all the ministers that the PCUSA had lost under similar circumstances. On Saturday, his stole was removed from the travelling exhibit and returned to its proper place—around his shoulders. As the words “what once was lost shall now be found” echoed through the sanctuary, I know I was not the only one with tears streaming down my face.
As expected, protestors made their opposition to LGBT ordination known before the service. My first thought was, “Well you know your event is a big deal when Westboro Baptist shows up to protest,” but what troubled me more than their all-too-familiar-signs was to see other Presbyterians protesting against Scott’s ordination. It made me wonder in which ways we Presbyterians can live by “reformed and always reforming.”
I’m sure other Presbyterians nationwide are wondering the same thing that I am: How do I rightfully rejoice in the ordination LGBT persons and compassionately care and seek meaningful dialogue with our Presbyterian sisters and brothers who see no joy? The approach during Scott’s ordination was prayer. Many different people who spoke during the service mentioned the protesters outside, but not once in a negative way. All comments, thoughts, and prayers mentioned the continued effort for understanding and peace.
Hopefully someday Presbyterians will not be protesting other Presbyterians. Hopefully someday we can see each other equally, through the eyes of God, and recognize each other's talents in ministry. Those Presbyterians who protest now may reform later, and in the meantime, I will certainly continue to pray for peace and understanding.
The brief words Scott shared with me at the end of the service sum up the occasion with perfect simplicity: “It really is an amazing day.”