Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rev. Frank Schaefer, United Methodist Clergy and LGBTQ Advocate, visits the School of the Prophets

Today*, the Rev. Frank Schaefer visited Boston University School of Theology.  For those unfamiliar with Rev. Schaefer's story, this link offers a quick timeline.  In short, Rev. Schaefer officiated the marriage of his son to another man in 2007 in the state of Massachusetts, where the union was legal.  In 2013, charges were brought up against Rev. Schaefer as his actions had violated a law in the United Methodist Book of Discipline which states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, a law which Schaefer, as a United Methodist Clergy, was bound to uphold.  A trial ensued throughout much of 2013 which resulted in Rev. Schaefer's initial loss of credentials and then ultimate reinstatement.  However, his journey is not over as a Judiciary Appeal requires that he stand trial yet again in late October of 2014.

Rev. Schaefer has a presence about him that immediately draws you in, and he is an exceptionally gracious individual who felt humbled to be speaking from the pulpit that the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke from.  It seemed only fitting that we have yet another prophetic voice in that of Rev. Schaefer's echoing off the stone walls as his words washed over us.  Rev. Schaefer spoke of how we are ALL children of God and that we must draw the circle ever wider.  Using the scripture of Jonah and his desire to avoid delivering the message of destruction to the people of Nineveh, Rev. Schaefer paints the theological argument that what is occurring in Jonah is the recognition of the Jewish peoples finding God in all places; during the exile, after the destruction of the temple; and that the goal is to find a way to welcome all people to the place of worship; that Jonah is written from the faction which desired to welcome all of God's children.  Rev. Schaefer implored us, the Church, to recognize that we need to be careful of what we say and how we say it.  Rev. Schaefer warned against our being the voice of exclusion, of spreading a "terrible message which causes so much harm." The good news is, Schaefer shared, that God is a God of grace and forgiveness, God spared the people of Nineveh as they are "120,000 children who do not know their right hand from their left. 120,000 of my beloved children." Schaefer concluded in saying, "God is all about grace.  God is all about unconditional love toward all of God's beloved children. There are no special elect groups from among God's children, we are all God's beloved children.  We are called, as United Methodists, as Christians, as Muslims, and Jewish believers, as Buddhists, to draw the circle ever wider."

After Rev. Schaefer's sermon, the Seminary Singers performed, "Things That Never Die," an arrangement by Lee Dengler with text by Charles Dickens, found below. 

The pure the bright,
the beautiful that stirred our hearts in youth,
the impulses to wordless prayer.
The streams of love and truth,
 the longing after something lost,
the Spirit's yearning cry, the striving after better hopes.
These things can never die!

The timid hand stretched forth to aid another in their need.
A kindly word in grief's dark hour that proves a friend indeed!
A plea for mercy softly breathed when justice threatens high!
The sorrow of a contrite heart.
These things shall never die!

Let nothing pass! For every hand must find some work to do.
Lose not a chance to waken love!
Be firm and just and true,
so shall a light that cannot fade, beam on thee from on high.
And angel voices say to thee,
These things can never die!

The poetry in this piece resonated ever so with the words of Rev. Schaefer which still lingered in the room. 

In the evening, Rev. Schaefer, joined by his wife and his son, Tim, held an informal Question and Answer session hosted by the Dean's Office and Sacred Worth, the LGBTQ club at the School of Theology.  His moving testimony of his experience instantly had me feeling as if I were in the presence of someone and something truly amazing.  He shared his story about what brought he and his wife and children to the United States from Germany, his journey into ministry, and his decision to officiate his son's wedding.  It was apparent from the start of the discussion that Rev. Schaefer is a man of deep integrity, deep love for his family, and also deep faith.  He is able to hold all three in conjunction, there doesn't seem to be a "but" in the equation.  His truth and eloquence in sharing his beliefs and his experiences left many pausing in silence.

I won't share everything from the experience of the day, but it left me riding high.  Another student and I spoke the entire ride home on the T (until his stop) about LGBTQ rights and recognitions in various Christian denominations, and when I was off the T I placed a phone call to my beloved Oma and MommaB to share my experience.  I will likely never forget this experience, and I am grateful to the Boston University School of Theology for this wonderfully moving, enlightening, and deeply spiritual event. 

For now, I retire to dreams of equality, love, and drawing the circle ever wider.  Amen.

*It was still Tuesday when I began this post.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Let's go for round two!" she says...

People, namely my Gramma, have been hinting that I need to post a new blog update.  It HAS been several months (a summer hiatus) since I've posted, so I'll admit that there is room for an infusion of information.  So, here goes.

I'm in week two of classes and week three of my internship.  A great joy that I can share from my experiences thus far with year two of seminary is that as theological, historical, and philosophical concepts are no longer completely foreign, I am finding my readings not only easier to comprehend but also easier to get through.  The first year of seminary taught me about coping with massive amounts of reading, perpetual stress, and always feeling behind.  In year two, I've wisened up a bit about how to do readings more effecively and have a better understanding of "what really counts."  

I've noted with year two that, as of right now, my head is still very much above water, which means that I'm feeling in a place where I can deconstruct information more effectively.  It's not as much of a situation as, "Wait, that reading said what?" with the goal being understanding, but is instead more a situation of, "Wait, that reading said what?! Let's deconstruct this."  So much of last year was new that I felt I was frequently grasping at anything I could merely to hold on through another week, but this year I feel more prepared to say, "I take objection to _____ in this text.  Can we reframe this into a more positive vision?"  

My courses this fall are: 
Introduction to Christian Worship
From Jesus to Christ
Integration of Theology and Practice (with Contextual Education)
Introduction to Pastoral Care and Counseling

Three of my four courses are hitting upon exploration of church setting, self-care, and how we can be effective in ministry; I'll let you guess as to which three those are.  My fourth course explores the transition from the historical Jesus to the Christ we know in the Gospels.  

My Contextual Education experience is at the First Congregational Church of Reading in Reading, Ma (I specify because some assume I'm commuting to Reading, PA each week).  It is an absolutely wonderful congregation that I am delighted to be journeying in ministry with.  In my time there, approximately ten months, I'll be working to co-lead Confirmation class, I will do pastoral care visits, I will engage youth in the church in youth-group type events, I will hold adult spiritual nurturing events, and I will preach eight times between now and mid-May.  My supervisor has been exceptionally supportive in allowing me to craft an experience which will not only assist me in learning about the multiple facets of church ministry but will also enable me to use the skills I already know I have to assist the church through its journey in these months.  I am so incredibly excited to journey with them, even if for just a short while.

I'm setting this year before myself to be one of exploration and understanding.  I wish to look critically at my life and work consciously on developing healthy habits which will serve me well in ministry.  

Delightfully, I am participating again this year in Seminary Singers, a true joy of my experience here in seminary.  Not only has my involvement been a truly wonderful way to meet and get to know some of the students in the years ahead of me, but it has been a way for me to worship while leading.  With each performance in a Wednesday service, there is a time where our singing ceases to be 'simply singing' but instead becomes a moment where I can feel the Spirit moving within me.  It is, for me, a form of Sabbath, and the connections I have made with these great people will stay with me forever.

As I draw this to a close (classwork does await), I'll simply state that I would not be where I am without the wonderful people in my life who have helped to shape and guide me to this place.  I will refrain from listing names, but if you have ever had an encounter with me of any kind, you have in some way assisted in forming me into who I am today and who I will be tomorrow, and I thank you.