Monday, May 19, 1997
They were simple river stones. Unpolished.
But one by one, in a polished procession, more than 250 people gently laid them on a pristine tablecloth yesterday evening in a downtown Washington church in a symbolic protest of the new law of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) forbidding sexually active singles to assume ordained leadership roles.
The protest, preceded by a service and hearty words of opposition from area church leaders, was the most prominent local display of defiance by a loosely knit coalition of individuals and churches known as Stone Catchers.
The stones represented, in part, the grieving for what dissenters said were the intended targets of the law - gay men and women. The protesters, both gay and straight, came from eight Washington area churches to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, in the 1300 block of New York Avenue NW, to which President Lincoln once belonged.
"This amendment slams the church door in the faces of our own children, our sisters and brothers, our mothers and fathers, who have been raised and nurtured by us and with us in faith, and who are now, by this amendment, turned away because of their sexual orientation," the Rev. Madeline Jervis, pastor of Clarendon Presbyterian Church of Arlington, told supporters in the tree-lined, brick courtyard of the New York Avenue church before the service.
"I call on all churches to say 'no' to this rejection of our children and members of our family of faith."
The Rev. Bryant George, of the New York Avenue church, stepped up to the podium and said: "We dissent because the true purpose of this amendment is to exclude gays and lesbians from meaningful participation in the church. We believe this intent and act to be unchristian."
A congressional aide, who is a homosexual and an ordained deacon at the New York Avenue church, found the support heartening. "I would say 90 percent of the people here [tonight] are not gay," he said, speaking on the condition that his name not be used because his co-workers are unaware of his orientation. "This is a great first step. There's a lot of support, and it's all based in faith in Jesus."
He said he had thought of just quitting the church, but added: "I'm going to hold on. If they start going after my pastors or members of my church, then I'm out of here. I don't need these walls to have a relationship with God."
Mary Prothro, 75, a member of the church since 1969, said she was glad to show her support. "I'm concerned because we are excluding some of our most faithful members," she said. "They are grieving; they are hurt."
What will the outcome be? "We don't know at this point. Our future is uncertain," she said.
The opposition to the "Fidelity and Chastity Amendment" is spreading quickly, some congregants said, and the Stone Catchers are quickly building membership nationwide. They chose the name to symbolize their intention to catch the stones and prevent the intended target from being harmed.
In the last month, at least 50 churches nationwide have signed a "Covenant of Dissent" signaling their intention not to cooperate with the new law. Whatever the outcome, the Rev. Robert Craig, pastor of the New York Avenue church, said, "Our intention is to remain loyal Presbyterians."
But he said the protest will be vocal and persistent. "We're going to be a large and visible minority," he said. "We're trying to create a movement. It's just an untenable situation."