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We’re on the Edge of Glory

Alex McNeill
I am writing you this week feeling like we are sitting at the intersection of two worlds, one full of possibility to truly live into the calling God gave us for a more inclusive world, the other our still present reality full of mourning and hurt and pain of dreams deferred. Perhaps I’m feeling this most acutely because I’m writing to you from an airport, a literal intersection of multiple worlds, having spent a lot of time on the road these past few weeks. Today I am preparing to fly to Austin, TX for the ordination of John Russell Stanger, our MLP conference preacher and minister for advocacy and education at Presbyterian Welcome. John will be the first openly gay person ordained as a minister in Mission Presbytery. This weekend will be a fabulous celebration of a gifted minister whom God has called to service and for the community that affirms his calling.
 
Just seven years ago, the now Rev. Karen Thompson became the first openly gay Candidate for Ministry in Mission Presbytery, but her approval for candidacy was overturned by the highest court in the PC(USA) and she sadly left the denomination. She is now a minister at the Metropolitan Community Church of Austin and will be present at John’s ordination service to offer the prayer of confession and affirmation, to “close the circle” of the path that she began and John fulfills within that Presbytery. This weekend, two worlds intersect to create a new beginning where pain and hurt can give way to hope and promise. 
 
As I travel to participate in that service, I’m holding in my heart two reports that came out this week on how churches that left the PC(USA) are faring and trends on churches operating within a wider scope of Christianity. 
 
The first was a study published in the Presbyterian Outlook of the membership trends of 85 congregations that have left the PC(USA) to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church since 2008. Often congregations that are leaving the denomination claim that they will be “better off in another denomination” as one reason for their exit. Mike Cole, general presbyter of New Covenant Presbytery based in Houston, TX, wondered what 'better off' meant and decided to investigate. After surveying the membership data of 20% of the congregations in the EPC, he has concluded that, before leaving the PC(USA) the average membership losses of these 85 congregations was around 2%, however “during and following their departures to the EPC, their membership losses skyrocketed to 16%.” Only 4 congregations out of 85 showed an increase in membership in 2011-2012. This means: “switching denominations does not reverse or even slow membership losses. In fact, the process of departure appears to accelerate membership losses.” I’m still reeling from the findings of this data. I’m sure many of you have borne witness to the deep fear and strain the threat of churches leaving the denomination has put into many leaders within the PC(USA). Often this threat is the reason more Presbyteries don’t follow their hearts to open LGBTQ welcome wider when they first sense their calling to do so. The findings of this data indicate that while churches who leave the denomination do represent a significant loss to the overall unity of the PC(USA), leaving isn’t a magic bullet for those congregations to suddenly spring to new life once they do.
 
Lastly, David Briggs from the Huffington Post reported on new data from the National Congregations Study conducted by a sociologist at Duke University. The findings confirm what we have witnessed, across the board acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ persons in ministry and in the life of congregations has increased by leaps and bounds. Since the last survey in 2006, in the areas of leadership, membership, and visibility congregations reported a 10% increase across all three. Additionally as LGBTQ people have increased in presence in our congregations, so have our congregations gotten steadily more racially diverse as well. This shatters the myth that all faith groups oppose LGBTQ rights or welcome, and the more pernicious falsehood that non-white Christians do not support LGBTQ people. Hopefully most of us already knew this but having data to support it is always helpful.
 
Friends, this is what a crossroads looks like. This is a peculiar moment in the history of the already and the not yet. My hope, as I am about to board my flight, is that we continue to fly steadily onward, neither denying the world-changing, gut-wrenching, life-altering courage it took us to get here, nor underestimating the promise of the world we are beginning to glimpse and claim. I’m so grateful to be on this journey with you. All aboard?

Yours on the journey,
Alex Signature
Alex Patchin McNeill
Executive Director

Never Forget: Transgender Day of Remembrance 2013

Janet Mock
“When I was 16 years old, I went on my very first date. I was young and cute and had blonde streaks I copied from one of Destiny’s Child’s early videos. Adrian was tall and lanky and the color of fresh sugar cookies. He was the first man to ever ask me out.” In a letter of blessings to her 16-year-old self for Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), prominent transgender writer and activist Janet Mock remembers this moment in the early days of her transition.

“Like any other first date, Adrian didn’t really see the girl he was hoping to woo.”


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Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) Unite invites you to 
join us for an online Transgender Day of Remembrance observance

Sunday, November 17, 2013
9pm Eastern / 8pm Central / 7pm Mountain / 6pm Pacific


Exile

Donna Riley
On my homeward commute in DC, as I change from metro to bus, I pass by the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, on the corner of 16th and Eye St NW. There is a large banner proclaiming the words of Jeremiah 29:11:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This scripture, hanging larger than life above me, broke into my workday, and stirred something deep within me. This is a passage I committed to memory while still in middle school, attending summer camp at Forest Home. It has stuck with me, taking on deeper layers of meaning with each passing year of my life. Having left Washington thirteen years ago for New England, returning this spring has felt very much like a return from exile. 


One Gay Man Sees Trans Rights as More Fundamental

Antony Hebblethwaite
I was born in Queen Victoria hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa. The doctor slapped a gender into my body and told my mother, “You have a boy.” In South Africa during apartheid, where even homosexuality was criminalized, there were only two possible outcomes for gender: “boy” or “girl.” What I could not have understood as a child was that all kinds of other roles would grow out of being labeled a “boy.” I started learning at a very young age that “boys” were actually not allowed to be like “girls.”


$32.14 for Food for a Week in Washington, D.C.

SNAPThe average food stamp allowance in the District of Columbia is $32.14 per week. Donna Riley, one of MLP’s movement authors, is taking up the PC(USA)’s SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge and eating on $32.14 next week in D.C., November 17-23. Joining her is movement author and MLP staff member Antony Hebblethwaite who will be eating on $34.86 next week in Chicago, the average food stamp benefit in Illinois.


We will add comments to this post next week as we journey through the PC(USA)'s SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge and incorporate a discussion of economic and racial inequality in the LGBTQ community.

The Call to Knit (or Crochet) and Pray our Way to the GA

Sergius and Bacchus
Once more, the season for knitting and praying our way to the PC (USA) General Assembly is upon us. It is time for us to get the Redheart Mexicana yarn, pull out the needles or crochet hook, and pray for justice with each stitch, asking others to join us...

Since the focus in Detroit will be upon overtures regarding marriage, MLP is adding an additional wrinkle to the rainbow witness at this assembly. St. Sergius and St. Bacchus were early church martyrs who were Roman soldiers in Syria. According to the historian, John Boswell, they were united in an official church liturgy of their time. Perhaps we can agree: today, we would recognize their love and commitment as marriage. A mosaic preserved in a Syrian church portrays them wearing identical rings.


We just added a new crochet pattern for circular rainbow scarves!

Building An Inclusive Church

BuildingAnInclusiveChurch
What if our welcome to LGBTQ people sparked a renewal of our entire community’s faith life?

The Building an Inclusive Church trainings help you design and implement a process for your congregation to publicly and intentionally welcome people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. Building an Inclusive Church equips you with ways to create dialogue, deepening relationships throughout the congregation rather than sparking debate and division.

Upcoming training opportunities:
  • Jan. 31 - Feb. 1, 2014, Lenexa, KS (Kansas City Area)
  • Feb. 21-22, 2014, Columbus, OH
  • Feb. 28-March 1, 2014, Cleveland, OH

Let Us Pray for You

Please let us be part of your support and let us know how we might help. One way is to let us pray for you. We invite you to send your prayer requests to us and be counted in the weekly offering of joys and concerns. You may email these requests to prayers@mlp.org.

God,
of all the vast varieties of humankind,

Help us to move beyond
the exclusiveness
of an either / or mentality
to the inclusiveness
of an all and every
way of thinking.

Move us beyond binary definitions
to the mystery and complexity of
Your infinite creativity
and creation.

As we pause to remember those
senselessly
Murdered
because of their
all encompassing humanity
open hearts that need to hear
souls that need to know
and minds that need to see
that there are
no limits
to You
nor Your creation.

A Prayer by Vickey Gibbs.

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