To the members of Presbytery del Cristo,

Greetings to all of you in the name of Jesus Christ! May the One who loves and holds the Church be with us, now and always.

I’m writing to offer my thoughts to you with regards to the proposed amendments which will come before our Presbytery next week. Passions are high and perhaps we’re coming to this meeting with anxiety and with the singular goal of ensuring that “our side” wins. But I’m praying that what marks our conversation would be a desire to listen deeply for what the Spirit is saying to the Cumberland Church and that we would accept the gift and receive the risk of a real conversation. This means listening to our brothers and sisters in Christ with curiosity and generosity, allowing our hearts to soften towards each other. This means speaking out of our deepest Christian convictions, yes, but also with the humility which understands that we can never, in ourselves, have the “full” picture.

Thankfully, that’s God’s job and God is more than gracious to invite us to move forward, in spite of our limited visions, long-held assumptions, and fears. As we’re together, I pray that we’d be given a heart of humility before the One whose ways are not our ways and whose vision far exceeds our own. So, what is the invitation? What is the door the Spirit wishes to blow open so that we might live as a more resurrected Church? What of our own assumptions needs upending and refining so that we might live into this vision? Can we begin to imagine LGBTQ Christians fully integrated and fully flourishing in our congregations, not as a sign of moral and spiritual “decline,” but as a sign that God, through the Spirit, is breaking down walls in the Church?

I didn’t start out believing this, but the more I read Scripture (and let Scripture “read” me), I see God lovingly confront us “insiders” with the wideness of His mercy to gather those “outsiders” into the Body of Christ. It’s astoundingly gracious. It’s as if God in Christ is constantly confounding us with the reach of His love, especially as it includes those we’ve been taught to see as “unclean.” That is how I read the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10. By everything they’ve been taught, they—a Jew and a Gentile—have no business sharing the same space. For Peter, his separation from Cornelius is a sign of his community’s holiness before God, a tradition which was generations in the making. Which is why it takes three repeated visions before Peter will even consider entering Cornelius’ house. But God is exceedingly patient and Peter is—eventually—receptive and, upon entering the house, what Peter sees is an outpouring of the Spirit upon these Gentiles, people whom he can no longer regard as “unclean.” Now, they belong! Now, their fellowship together is a signal that God is free to break old boundaries and bring forth further resurrection in the Church.

For the rest of Acts, the Jew-Gentile relationship will prove to be challenging—as newness always is—but, after the encounter in Acts 10, the Church was never the same. This story is often titled, “the conversion of Cornelius”, but it is just as fitting to call this “the conversion of Peter.” In truth, Peter and Cornelius need each other and the Spirit’s fresh wind blowing them towards each other to experience the power of God’s ongoing transformation. Both of these men, and later, their communities, get to discover that God is the God of radical and surprising welcome.

Are we, as Cumberland Presbyterians, being given a similar invitation? Are we being lovingly called into a wider vision of God’s Kingdom? If so, what might it mean to receive a group of people who have experienced painful exclusion from the Church and be entrusted with their stories? What might communion with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters mean for our own transformation, as well as theirs? Though I grew up with a more traditional understanding of sexuality and marriage, I’ve also been witness in my own extended family, pastoral ministry, and current congregation, to some wonderful people who identify as gay. Their lives have been a gift to me and to the Church, a beautiful sign that Christ is still gathering a diverse people together.

“Welcome one another,” the Apostle Paul says in Romans, “just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” May we, who have known Christ’s lavish welcome be extensions of this same welcome to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and to one another.

In Christ,

Pastor Sharon Huey

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