Saturday, April 21, 2012

Entranced, Endorsed, Approved, and...

Hey Taste and See Readers,
This week I am sharing a reflection from Tyler Rasmussen. I asked Tyler if he would be willing to write on his experience of getting a call, which is something that affected a significant population of the seminary community as we watched our friend struggle. He has written the following article and I think this is an important life story which presents the challenges of being called to ministry, some harsh realities that still linger, the support of LSTC community, and the work of God at the end, or beginning, of it all. I am grateful for Tyler's words and willingness to share this story on the Taste and See LSTC page.

"When it came time for assignment, I have no idea what happened. Sometimes, the process doesn’t always go according to plan. In the summer of 2011, it had been two years since the churchwide vote to ordain people in publically accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships (PALMS). After talking with a few bishops who said they had promised congregations they would know if they received the paperwork of non-straight clergy and that they wanted to know if a first call candidate fit that category, I decided, unwise though it may be, that I would put on my paperwork, “I have the hope of entering a relationship with someone of the same or opposite gender.” I always figured this church should know what they are getting into, and if they don’t want me, they don’t want me. As best I can, I do not want the pain and depression of being in the closet ever again. Alas, fall assignment time came around, and I reverted to my home synod, who had no place for any first call candidates, much less ones who weren’t straight. It turned out that there was no place in this church for me at that time, solely because of my sexuality. To put it in the blunt terms I was told over the phone, “You reverted because you’re gay.”

Those were rough days; I cried a lot. I wasn’t naive, but I had hoped this church had grown to a point where there were a number of ministries ready and willing, even if still tentative, to receive pastor regardless of sexuality. I had generally given up the hope of small town (>5000) ministry because of my sexuality, but there had to be open congregations somewhere out there. It seemed, however, all my brothers and sisters who had spent years on the Extraordinary Ministry roster had filled those positions. Sincere blessings to them, but there are so many of us coming up that I have no idea how we will all find a call. Then, a week after assignment, a bishop made the remark that gay people need to be prepared to wait a long time, because it has been 35 years and we are still having a hard time placing women in ministry. BAM! There was my answer.

I was heartbroken by the bishops who made it sound hopeless. No hard feelings toward any bishop – I know it is tough to be leading this church, and this issue hasn’t made it any easier – but there’s hope; I know there’s hope. As brutally honest as I hope my first call bishop is with me, I hope she is able to be my pastor and helping me to live into the hope of faith, because it crumbled that day.

I was also heartbroken as I heard a number of my fellow seminarians start talking about alternative careers if ministry doesn’t work out. God had called you, my brothers and sisters, and if God has called, the Spirit has to have a place for you, right? It was hard for me to give an affirmative answer to that question for many days, so I understood exactly why they were putting alternative careers in their corner pockets.

Feeling hopeless and hung out to die, I searched for any word of promise I could find in our recent social statement or the revision of “Vision and Expectations” that this church gave for people in places like me when things go wrong due to sexuality. Beautifully, in “Vision and Expectations” I found a promise to people in PALMS relationships, a promise “to find a way for [these people] to serve as rostered leaders of this church.” Sadly, I am a single gay/bisexual man. I do not have a partner, and this church made no promises to me because single people weren’t supposed to be a problem. I love my church, and after all those years leading up to the social statement, I have no idea how we missed this.

My fellow seminarians were also searching for words of promise. On the day the remark was made about how long it may take to place gays in ministry, the whole community was hurt. I had “Preaching John” class that afternoon, my friends preaching that day quickly modified their sermons to give hope to those of us who were consumed by tears. Within a month, I had heard twenty sermons detailing the hope and love Christ gives us, even when our church can’t. So much Gospel – this community is blessed to be able to care for those in it in such a powerful way – and I still craved more.

I can admit to preaching sermons to myself; I think those sermons, when done with the community still clearly in mind, are the best because I am not satisfied until I hear a gospel that truly satisfies my longing heart. A month and a half after assignment crashed into a wall, I found myself preaching one of those sermons, using the text of the master who gave his servants talents. Reflecting on Christ as the worthless servant who brought back the buried talent (for the image of the one who came to serve can surely be found in the servant in any parable), I said, “As I look at this talent, God keeps calling to my mind all the times I’ve felt buried in my life only to have Jesus bring me out of the ground into a life I never imagined. What will Jesus bring out of the ground this time?”

I don’t quite have a full answer to that question yet, but there have been good hints. I finally came out to my father, as difficult and painful as that was. I went through assignment a second time, and my new bishop says I should have paperwork for a congregation in my hands by the end of the month. Moreover, because I did not get a call following the fall assignment, I was able to move home after my brother broke both his legs to help support the family and fill in his shoes in the family business while he spends the year healing. Icing on the cake: I get to spend a lot more time than I would have gotten with my 8-month-old nephew. Whatever God had in mind when the doors of this church were closed to calling me in the fall, it seems like the ideas were good ones, even if the it hurt like hell for a while."

Thank you and God bless you in your call to ministry, Tyler.
Until Next Friday!

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