Dear Hesed friends,
With John's permission, I am asking that Virginia post his letter to the CPM requesting that, as gay man, he be removed from the roll of Candidates for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. His statement on the floor of presbytery on Saturday, June 27, 1998 was essentially the same. The church has lost another excellent candidate for ministry, who will bring the grace of Christ as he seeks to serve the church, most likely the United Church of Christ. I grieve for the Presbyterian Church, yet again.
Associate Professor of Church History
Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
To the Committee on Preparation for Ministry
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
It is with mixed emotions that I write you today to say thank you and good-bye.
First, I want to say thank you for your prayers and support along my faith journey as an inquirer and candidate in Mission Presbytery. This process of learning to listen for God's call for my life has been truly transformative, especially during the past year as I have worked as a Pastor Intern at First Presbyterian Church , Stillwater, Oklahoma.
When last I spoke with you, last year just prior to leaving for Oklahoma, we talked about how we in the Reformed tradition believe we hear the Word of God best in community. Though I understood the words intellectually then, I realize now that I did not trust the discernment of my many church friends and supporters, much less my own, concerning God's call for me to enter ordained ministry. I was filled with too many doubts and fears. I needed to go away to a completely unknown people (who also did not know me) so that I might trust them. I needed to subject myself to the refining fires of their judgment and see what would remain.
It has been one of the happiest surprises of my life to hear the church in Stillwater, who did not know me from Adam and so carried with them no biases on my behalf, to hear them call me pastor. Over the course of the past year with them, God has called forth and confirmed in me gifts of which I previously had only the most tentative awareness. God called and empowered me there to preach, to pray, to teach, to lead, to comfort, and to mourn with and for them as a pastor. However, perhaps God's most precious blessing to me through those people has been the gift of integrity. Through them, their affirmation in word and deed, I finally have come to be able to embrace my baptismal calling as a beloved child of God.
For encouraging me along the path that has brought me such joy and peace, I must say thank you; nevertheless, it is precisely because of this newfound gift that I also must tell you and the Presbyterian Church (USA) good-bye.
You see, though it is the Presbyterian Church that has nurtured me in my faith literally from the cradle, though it is the Presbyterian Church that has taught me all I know about God and about discerning God's call for my life, this same Presbyterian Church refuses to believe that I, as a gay man, am graciously created good in God's image and like all other such children of God can be called into the ordained Ministry of Word and Sacrament.
My homosexuality is no new discovery for me (I have known I am gay since my earliest adolescence), nor is it news to my family, my pastor, my friends, my professors, the Session at First Church, Stillwater, or any of my other mentors in faith who have supported me in this long journey toward ministry. What has been new this year is the realization that if I am to follow through on all that they--and you--have taught me about God's calling and live my life as a confession of my faith, then I must leave the denomination I love and find a new pasture where I may act out the freedom I have received in Christ Jesus in service to Christ's Church.
I have spent months, years in fact, in agony over this decision. I have sought the counsel of all those in my life whose faith I most admire. More importantly, though, I have asked God over and over again in prayer to guide me in the way He would have me go, and the answer remains the same: God has blessed me with gifts for the ordained ministry and with the divine ability to love another human being, and I must go where I am challenged and encouraged to nurture both just as my heterosexual colleagues are. Sadly the Presbyterian Church is not such a place, nor is it likely to be soon, as evidenced by the mistrust and fear of the last several years.
For this reason I request that you please remove me from the roll of candidates from the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament under care of Mission Presbytery. Though I deeply grieve the necessity to leave, I also rejoice in the freedom of spirit God has poured out on me as I have struggled to find he courage to make this decision. This process has been a point of grace for me, and I would like it to be for all those who supported me in the Presbyterian Church. To that end, I also ask that I be allowed to say just what I have said to you, thank you and good-bye, to the whole of Mission Presbytery at the June meeting in Kerrville. I believe they deserve and will appreciate the integrity of my actions, regardless of their particular opinions on this issue.
Our Presbyterian process of ecclesiastical oversight of candidates truly has worked for me. I am surer now of this than I have been of anything in my life: I must follow wherever God is leading me, perhaps to the United Church of Christ. Whatever happens, I trust in the gracious providence of God to bring me to a place of life where the Holy Spirit will continue to cultivate, bless, and use me for the benefit of the Church and the world.
May the God of hope continue to fill us all with joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Yours in Christ,
John R. Gage
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