Church Life, Life in the Manse

The place where you are standing

Then God said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” - Exodus 3:5 (NRSV)

Although the stay-at-home order in my county was lifted weeks ago, the church I attend continues to worship online. As a person with an autoimmune disease, a return to gatherings with anyone outside my family’s bubble will be as far off as the availability of a proven vaccine for Covid-19.

This feels hard for me, as it does for many, because I love going to worship. I have stood in church and felt the presence of God, and I have slipped off my shoes there because I knew we stood on holy ground. I have experienced the charge of the Spirit in a sanctuary full of singers, in the testimony of another, in shared confessions of sin, in vows of commitment, in stirring proclamation, in profound and potent silence.

Where is God still speaking to me? To us?

Of course, I know God speaks in places that are not church, and when I set aside my longing for what I cannot have right now, I think of Moses with his flock, drawn somehow beyond the wilderness to the mountain of God. The story doesn’t start at the burning bush. It starts with a God-given impulse to go farther than we might tend to go, to open ourselves up to go where God might be.

Where is God calling you today? Pay attention as you make your way. Be alert for the signs of Holy Presence. Turn aside and look. The place where you are standing may be holy ground.

O God of all that is good, draw us toward your ever-burning fire. Amen.

The view of the church from just outside our kitchen door.

I wrote this for the United Church of Christ’s Stillspeaking Daily Devotional.

LGBT, LGBTQ, Life in the Manse, Marriage Equality, Ministry, Orientation

Acceptance and Approval ~ Churches and LGBTQ People

Yesterday I was reading about Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, and his continuing effort to be in dialogue with evangelical Christian leaders about the acceptance of LGBTQ people in the church. He was invited to a conversation with Rev. Caleb Kaltenbach, an evangelical pastor whose parents split up because they were both gay. Kaltenbach has tried to find scriptural support for being okay with gay people generally, especially since that group includes his parents.

As a child, Mr. Kaltenbach attended a gay rights march with his mother, and he recalls protesters yelling that God condemned the marchers and throwing urine on them. (His book, “Messy Grace,” part memoir and part advice for pastors on ministering to gays, will be published this year.) He says evangelicals should welcome gay people with “acceptance, but not approval.” Openly gay couples attend his church, he said, but are not allowed to serve on the leadership board. (From the New York Times)

My bold there. I don’t understand why, in a world where there are so many, many, many churches in flavors both denominational and non-, a gay couple would freely choose a church where leadership is forbidden to them due to their relationship status. I wonder about the hurt feelings sustained when they have been around long enough to want to get more involved and discover they are not *that* welcome. In a world where even Tony Campolo is now encouraging churches to embrace and accept gay couples, I hope they know there are other choices.

It’s possible that queer couples who go to a church where they are not received as full members, where they are not allowed to serve in leadership roles, where their status as baptized members of the Body of Christ is somehow “less than,” feel they are on a mission from God. I know I sometimes feel that way, living in South Central Pennsylvania, which is not exactly the most progressive corner of the globe. There are days when it feels like my entire calling to this place is to be an ordinary queer on behalf of Jesus Christ, whether as the interim pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation a few towns over or as the wife of the female Senior Pastor at the Presbyterian Church USA congregation across the street. Every time I answer the door at the manse as her wife, I am representing. Every time I share a family anecdote in a sermon, I am representing. Every time I get home from church first and walk our puppy, and the Presbyterians stop over to pet him before they go home, I am representing.

Some days it feels so ordinary to be there in a church-owned house with my wife and our children that the only thing I stress about is whether the puppy will chew on something that belongs to the church rather than to us. Other days, it feels like I finally know what cross I was always intended to bear, a cross engraved with the words “Queer Christian.” It’s not a death sentence; rather it is a holy burden, and the work of my life, to be queer and faithful.

He says evangelicals should welcome gay people with “acceptance, but not approval.”

This sentence weighs on me. It’s essentially the opposite of the UCC’s category for welcoming churches, “Open and Affirming.” Despite my continuing concerns about whether my family is fully safe, much less accepted, here in South Central Pennsylvania, on the whole we have received an amazing and affirming reception in our churches. This is particularly true at my wife’s church, where she continues to do fruitful ministry, and I do a lot of the things any pastor’s wife might as a volunteer leader: I lead a women’s Bible Study, and I serve on the Fellowship Committee, and this morning I stood witness at a wedding.

I don’t know the experience or the point of view of the gay couples who attend churches like Kaltenbach’s. I do know the feeling of doing what you believe God calls you to do. I also know the experience of being rejected or, worse, ignored by people who will not meet my gaze because they cannot quite get to acceptance, much less to approval. My hope for the couples who bravely return to church each week is two-fold. First, may they know that there are plenty of churches, more all the time, where they and their gifts for leadership and service would be most welcome. Second, if they are choosing to work through it in response to a call from God, may the change of hearts happening in the world reach the places where they are now, and may they be able to see the change and know they were part of it. Perhaps this is the work of their life, too, to be queer and faithful, accepted and approved by God.


Life in the Manse, Prayers for Pastors

While Waiting (a prayer for pastors)


It’s Saturday morning, and I have a thousand things to do, but I am sitting without a book waiting to see a Physician’s Assistant who is at least 45 minutes behind.

At least.

I wonder how my congregation would like hearing that church will start late tomorrow because my schedule was thrown off?

  • I could be at the Fall Ball game (only a tenth of a mile down the road, but it started at 10, and this appointment was for 10:30, and now it’s 11:07). May The Boy forgive me.
  • I could be baking for the Stewardship reception tomorrow at my spouse’s church. I am already dressed for a funeral there this afternoon.
  • I could be writing an email to the two charming men whose wedding I will officiate at a museum on Tuesday morning, confirming the final decisions we made yesterday.
  • I could be pulling together a service for later that same day, when I will accompany a dear widow of 94 to the interment of her late husband at a far-off cemetery.

(11:24, my blood pressure is recorded. Progress!)

Among this weekend’s lifesavers.

In five days, between us, there are two funerals, two interments, two weddings, Sunday worship in two churches, various responsibilities unnamed here but well known to You, and we need clean clothes and meals and sleep and downtime to be a family.

  • We thank You for the Presbyterian pancake breakfast.
  • We thank You for the Eagle Scout who cuts the grass and cleans up the leaves at the manse.
  • We thank You for health insurance and a doctor with Saturday hours.
  • We thank You for Netflix and Chinese carry-out.
  • We thank You for the lives of those we give back to You in body and spirit and ask Your blessings on the ones who will join in marriage.
  • We thank You for all the wonderful places we could be and the places where we are, the blessed vitality of a life spent serving You, and the deep privilege of being present for others.
  • We –

Wait, here comes the P.A. (11:38.)

Thanks for listening, O Great Physician. I feel better. Amen.