The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force applauds the historic ordination of Scott Anderson set for tomorrow in Madison, Wis. He will become the first openly gay minister ordained by the Presbyterian Church (USA) since the denomination amended its constitution this year to eliminate official barriers to the ordination of people based on their sexual orientation. He was ordained 21 years earlier, but was forced out of the ministry after his sexual orientation was made public.
At what promises to be an emotional moment during his ordination, Anderson will receive the pastor’s stole he wore at his last church in California. He had donated it to the Shower of Stoles Project, now under the care of the Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources. David Lohman, the Task Force’s faith work coordinator who oversees the collection, will be present at Anderson’s ordination to formally return his stole and hang it around his neck.
“So much of my work with the Shower of Stoles Project involves holding in my hands every day symbols of loss — loss of ministry, loss of vocation, loss of calling,” says David Lohman, faith work coordinator at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “But at Scott Anderson’s ordination this weekend, for the first time in the history of the collection, a stole will be returned to its rightful place. His stole has been transformed into a symbol of hope — that which was once lost is now found. It’s profoundly moving.”
The Task Force through its Institute for Welcoming Resources works closely with More Light Presbyterians, along with other mainline Protestant denominations who comprise the leadership of the welcoming church movement, to help make changes in church policy such as this one possible.
The Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources, with welcoming church leaders, sponsored the Believe Out Loud Power Summit last fall where organizers and trainers worked together with 500 participants to lift up and further develop best organizing practices for policy change in both political-based and faith-based organizations. This coalition demonstrated a deep commitment to liberation and full equality in all realms of society.
In 1995, Anderson’s friend, the Rev. Martha Juillerat was similarly being forced out of the Presbyterian ministry for being an out lesbian. But before leaving the church, she wanted to do something symbolic to show that she was only one of countless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people serving the church in silence because the cost of living authentic, open lives was too high.
So she asked her LGBT clergy friends if she could borrow a stole to have with her as she stood before her Presbytery to set aside her ordination. She was hoping to gather a couple dozen stoles, but by the time that day came around, she had received 80. Anderson’s stole was among them. And those 80 stoles were with her when she stood before her presbytery to make her statement and formally set aside her ordination.
Those eighty stoles quickly took on a life of their own — they became the Shower of Stoles project, a collection that now numbers more than 1,150. They have been exhibited over 2,000 times in the years since, and they have become symbolic of the huge loss of leadership the church has suffered because of its own unjust policies. The religious leaders represented by this collection have served in 32 denominations and faith traditions, in six countries, and on three continents. Each stole contains the story of a LGBT person who is active in the life and leadership of their faith community. Anderson’s stole and his story have been seen by countless people. These stoles have played a profound role in changing hearts and minds, and it has helped get us to this joyous day.