Post Author: Stephanie Sorge
(continued from August’s column) The pastor then informed me that the Session felt that they were unable at this point to move me on to Candidacy, and felt that I lacked some “clarity” and showed “confusion” about the Biblical witness. I asked what would happen if, in 6 months or a year, I still had the same answers for them. They said, “Well, you can imagine that the Session’s response would be the same.”
I was totally knocked out. This was a Sunday afternoon, and I had a Tuesday morning meeting with the CPM. In the meantime, phone lines were buzzing between the Pastor and EP, CPM chair, and me and my dad. I was hurt and in shock. This meeting and the Session’s actions had ripped open old wounds and poured in new salt.
I spoke to the CPM chair, and since the CPM meeting was already scheduled and it was time for an annual consultation regardless, we went on with that meeting. I went in and had a completely different meeting, talking about my experiences, learning, and my sense of call to ministry. We touched on the issue just enough for me to affirm what I had told the Session – that I would abide by the Constitution of the PC(USA). They asked me to leave the room, and 5 minutes later, the chair came back out and informed me that the CPM was going to enthusiastically recommend me to move onto Candidacy at the next Presbytery meeting, three months away.
So now we were in a position with a conflicting recommendation of the Session and the CPM, and I was caught in the middle. The Executive Presbyter was wonderful. He arranged for a Session meeting with the CPM chair and himself to talk to the Session about what happened, what their role in the process was at this point, and to clear some things up. I don’t think there is a simple answer to what happened between me and the Session. One person came out and said for him it was a money issue. He didn’t want to see me get any “church money” from scholarship funds from a trust established primarily for that purpose by a couple in the church who had passed away. There seemed to be some hard feelings over the fact that I hadn’t been active in the youth group while I was in high school. For other people it was a witch hunt to purify the church, and since I was at that point almost 27 and (gasp) still single, maybe there were some concerns about my own… ahem… leanings. At any rate, at this special meeting, the Session voted not only to sustain their original recommendation, but also to say “not now, not ever” for me, and to ask the EP to talk to me about moving my membership. I spoke to the EP, and he felt that, while I could fight this, ultimately the best thing for me to do would be to move my membership. The CPM chair’s church was willing to open their arms and accept me as a member.
In all of this I was talking with my classmate who was also under care of this church. Unlike me she had been a very active member, for over twenty years, many of which she served as an Elder. She had also gone for her consultation that summer, also after General Assembly. Her consultation was scheduled as a called Session meeting fifteen minutes before the start of worship one Sunday, and she went through with no problem and no questions about homosexuality at all. She was horrified by what happened with me, and had for a few years been very concerned with the direction of the church, and so the two of us ended up moving our membership together to this other church in the Presbytery. In the meantime, over the course of these months, I never once heard from the pastor or anyone on the Session about any of this, despite their desire to “shepherd” me through the process more closely.
We moved our memberships, and at the next Presbytery meeting, we were accepted and enrolled as Candidates, members of a different church but in the same Presbytery. It was all a horrible ordeal. Once again, I questioned my call to ministry and whether I could or should be a leader in the church. Thankfully I had amazing support and affirmation from my Seminary friends, from the Presbytery leadership, from faculty and administration, and from my Field Education church and supervisors, all praying for me, and urging me, in the words of one of my supervisors, to “Stand your ground.” The fact that this particular supervisor and I didn’t share the same theological or ideological views was also a source of great encouragement for me.
Once I was enrolled as a Candidate, the process was entirely different. I had wonderful support from the Presbytery leadership and great encouragement. I was still very hurt by the experience, but strengthened by it as well. Thankfully my call process while searching for a church was a much more positive experience all around. The conversations with churches focused on call, ministry, gifts, and talents, rather than on theological litmus tests.
Of course we know “that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” This certainly did produce endurance, character, and even hope. Ironically, one result of this ordeal is that I experienced just a taste of what many of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers who have been called to ministry have faced and continue to face, making me even more sympathetic to the pain of this kind of injustice. I think that many of our denominational “hoops” en route to ordination serve an important purpose of helping to clarify and discern God’s call individually and in a community of faith. But our systems are still human, our councils and committees are still comprised of humans. Our call systems are often perfect examples of both the need for and presence of God’s divine grace.
Stephanie is grateful to serve alongside and be cared for by the saints of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Her two boys love going to church, where they know beyond doubt that they are loved and welcomed.