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Sunday was a day God made. For certain, today was awesome. We woke in San Anselmo, in our home, visited with some friends and family; always a blessing. But the highlight, and indeed, the reason for our trip home, was to witness my dear friend, Scott Clark, became Rev. Scott Clark, a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church, one of the first out gay people to become ordained in the church.
Scott is a remarkable, wonderful human being. I met him 6 years ago, when I walked into the first year Hebrew class at the San Francisco Theological Seminary, the year before I started rabbinic school. I was like a fish out of water, the only non-Presbyterian in the room, the only person who had not participated in the previous week’s orientation. Scott welcomed me and encouraged me to sit with him. We started to talk, and friendship flowered. We became study partners, and his welcoming was only a small part of his grace and kindness: over the years, he has proven over and over to be a mensch.
Early on, we discussed the likelihood that he would become ordained, given the church’s attitude toward people who are gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender. He wasn’t sure it would happen, but he was hopeful. He explained the politics of the issue.
And as time went on, he used his lawyer skills to defend Rev. Janie Spahr, who has taken it upon herself to challenge the church to fulfill its own ideals by acknowledging that all people are created in God’s image, and created to love, by conducting Presbyterian weddings of gay and lesbian couples. While they continue to lose in the PC-USA governance structure, as she described today, when he defends her before the courts, he invites and challenges, challenges and invites. And indeed, when he appeared before the Presbytery on his way to ordination, the opposing counsel in these court cases spoke on his behalf , describing a man with such grace – and gentlemanliness.
I was there to witness my friend because a minister, but I was also there as witness to one of the first such ordinations – history made before my eyes, as walls came tumbling down – and as Janie said – today God won.
The service was all about love, justice and grace. Tears flowed freely, shouts of “Amen” accompanied the speakers, and we heard how Scott’s “home church” in Birmingham, Alabama was one of the churches to which Rev. Martin Luther King wrote the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, and how his church opened their doors when asked. And how when Janie, after watching Scott preach to them during her trial days about his now husband, Jeff (and partner of many many years) and his relationship –the women of the congregation referred to the two of them as “our boys” in a term of endearment.
And Scott’s closing benediction is one I hope to borrow in years ahead – the gist: that we have enough discomfort to notice when things aren’t right; enough anger to fuel the passion to make the change necessary; enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference.
The similarities and differences between this service and a Jewish service, between the words spoken and sung today and Jewish words were striking, informative and lovely. I read Isaiah 56:1-8 in Hebrew – which includes the important verses about “My house (of prayer) is a house for all people” – gay, lesbian, widowed, with disabilities, Jewish, Christian, straight, male, female, etc. Someone (or more than one person) spoke about each individual person having their own special call from God – just as I spoke over the High Holy Days of each of us having our reason for being on earth right now – the answer to specific question, that not one of us is wasted.
I loved that communion really looks so much like a kiddush – using what appears to be challah and wine…(although if the Last Supper was a seder, it wouldn’t have been challah, but matzah), and I was glad that Scott and I were on the same page, that I was not going to take communion, so he didn’t offer it. I love “passing the peace” – greeting people with the simple words, “Peace be unto you” with a smile and handshake of genuine, if brief caring. It is similar to making sure we each greet each other and welcome each other to build community.
I love the act of laying on hands to someone receiving blessing: virtually the entire church had come forward to touch someone who was touching someone who was touching Scott: because we are a nation of priests…it is clearly a transfer of energy.
It was a beautiful service from beginning to end and I was blessed to be there. And I am blessed to have Scott in my life. I hope to bring him to Tahoe to preach: he is eloquent and moving and makes you think; he and I have discussed a “pulpit exchange” with me coming to the Seminary to preach one Monday. Amen to that.