Returning a stole to its rightful place

Task Force's David Lohman with the Rev. Scott Anderson.

By David Lohman, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Faith Work Coordinator

Hundreds filled the pews of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison, Wis., on Saturday, Oct. 8, as Scott Anderson was welcomed back into the ministry of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Read more here.

Scott was the first openly LGBT person ordained since the denomination removed its ordination ban earlier this year. Scott was originally ordained in 1983, but was forced out of the ministry when he was outed in 1990. In 1995, he was one of the first people to donate a stole what was to become the Shower of Stoles Project.

Scott wrote to us a couple of months ago with an unusual request. He told us about his upcoming re-ordination, and he asked if he could get his stole back. Yes, yes, yes!

So I was in Madison on Saturday and participated in that amazing, historic and profoundly moving day. It was one of the most rewarding moments of my work with the welcoming church movement.

Here are the remarks I made to the gathered throng as I formally returned Scott’s stole to him and hung it around his neck:

I bring you greetings from the Shower of Stoles Project, from my colleagues at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and from our dear friends at More Light Presbyterians, with whom we have worked so closely over the years.

The year was 1995 and Scott’s friend, the Rev. Martha Juillerat, was 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 people faithfully serving the Church in silence because, for them, the cost of living open, authentic lives was too high.

So she asked her LGBT clergy friends – some out, some in the closet – to borrow a stole.  She was hoping to gather a couple dozen, but word spread, and by the time the day came, she had received 80. Scott’s stole – this stole – was among them. And those 80 stoles were with her when she stood before her presbytery, made her statement and formally set aside her ordination.

Afterwards, word continued to spread, and those 80 stoles quickly took on a life of their own. They became the Shower of Stoles Project, a collection that now numbers over 1,150. The Shower of Stoles Project has become symbolic of the huge loss of leadership the church has suffered because of its own unjust policies. The stoles have been exhibited nearly 2,000 times in the years since. Scott’s stole and his story have been seen by countless numbers. And I firmly believe that these stoles have played a role in changing hearts and minds across this county, and they have helped get us to this joyous day.

In my work with the Shower of Stoles Project, I hold in my hands every day symbols of loss – lost ministry, lost calling, lost vocation. But today, for the first time in the history of the collection, a stole is being returned and in so doing, it is transformed from a symbol of loss into a symbol of hope – for that which once was lost is now found. So today we celebrate with Scott. But today is also a huge day in the life of the Church, for today the Church has begun to reclaim its soul.

‘O may our hearts and minds be open,
fling the church doors open wide.
May there be room enough for everyone inside,
for in God there is a welcome,
in God we all belong.
May that welcome be our song.’
– From “For All the Children
Words and music by David Lohman © 2007 Welcome Song Music
Listen to David sing “For All the Children” here:
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Scott, at that painful presbytery meeting over 20 years ago when you were forced out of the ministry, 30 members of your congregation stood with you in solidarity. Today, hundreds of us stand with you we restore this stole to its rightful place. Scott, to you and to your stole, welcome home!