I spent the last weekend in May on campus at UBC, at the General Meeting of the British Columbia Conference of the United Church of Canada. It was my privilege to chair the meeting and watch as the planning team’s conversation unfolded through the careful, wise and inspired leadership of many gifted folk engaged in the ministry of our church. Along with over 400 others, I learned a great deal about the ways we respond to God’s call in the United Church.
Our teachers were brought together, shaped and set in almost orchestral renderings of ‘practical theology’ by Reverend Janet Gear of the Vancouver School of Theology. Using story, testimony and song, they helped us understand, celebrate and uphold some of the more compelling theologies (ways of relating to and in God) of the United Church of Canada in British Columbia. For church folk it was a wonderful, enlivening, fascinating and uplifting way to spend our time together, and get the business done too!
As with all large group meetings, where inspiration takes place daily on the main stage, at table groups, or via twitter, facebook and Instagram, some of the deepest reflections took place almost casually, over breakfast, at coffee, or during late night conversations about theology as we live it in our communities. While I was part of many, a few stand out in sharp relief.
They were the quiet testimonies of three people who shared the way a theological interpretation of sexual orientation had seen them evicted from their faith communities. Lest we become too smug, one of them was sent packing from an earlier version of the United Church, at a time when we refused to ordain anyone who would not claim to be heterosexual. The others were folk who had been ministers in other denominations who were cast out because they were not heterosexual and refused to keep the information to themselves.
Besides being eternally grateful for the gifts brought to our church by so many who have been cast out by other churches, I wondered about another gift they bring us. The gift of example. Bright, wise, joyful, insistent, demanding, humble, dancing, poetic example. Women and men of enormous courage who compel me to reflect upon the great cost they’ve paid to announce the truth of their creation. What is my proclamation in this secular, often mystified, and not infrequently scornful culture?
Where their testimonies risked all and lost almost everything on the way to acceptance as ministers and new life in the United Church of Canada, what do I risk? What testimony do I make? What do I offer in my daily life that will bring others to understand that my faith and my church are bedrocks in my journey? How often do I proclaim the truth of God’s undying love? Outside of Sunday morning, who has heard me testify to that which lights my life and informs my activity?
In the United Church of Canada we struggle with vocal testimony. We are, generally, much happier serving food, providing clothing, supporting justice, and worshiping on Sundays. We tend to be a people summed up in the phrase “Preach the Gospel always, use words only if absolutely necessary.” But, in the light of my friend’s testimony and the cost they’ve paid, perhaps it is time I found words of my own, ways to proclaim the Gospel of love and the practical applications taught by one Jesus of Nazareth, one anointed in light.