Rev. Lisa AndersonA message from Reverend Lisa Anderson, pastor of Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Moderator of the 184th General Assembly:

Nine years ago a very unexpected thing happened. After saying no four times to people in my presbytery, I agreed to be nominated for Moderator of our General Assembly. About this time on that Monday I began to read all of the texts, messages, emails and listen to voice mail messages from literally hundreds of people congratulating me for being elected. It was absolutely not expected. The emotions were all over the place. Gratitude for the confidence, joy that my completely supportive spouse, family and closest friends were around me, regret that my father missed out on this event that would have been special for him, anxiety that I would get it all wrong, excitement that the year was going to be full of new experiences and most of all awe that even when we do not expect it God opens doors we cannot resist walking through.

I said yes to my call to ministry at the Assembly that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the ordination of Louisa Woosley, the first ordination of a woman in the denomination. My call was clarified while listening to the voices of Mary Lin Hudson, Missy DeBerry and Donna Heflin. I said yes again to a call to serve the church as moderator on the 125th anniversary of that ordination and was inspired by the voices of Tiffany McClung, Deborah Matthews and women nearing ordination Whitney Brown, Anna Sweet and Ellen Hudson.

One of the messages that night was from a dear seminary friend, he included the usual good thoughts and prayer. But also a challenge. He brought to my attention the young people and many others in the church who are quietly suffering from marginalization and those clergy and laity who have felt forced to leave. He shared his journey of being gay in and out of the church and all of the pain and sorrow. I admit I had no idea how to help but I made a promise to be clear in places that I could about God’s love and acceptance of all people including those who are following their call to serve the church while they happen to be part of the LGBTQ+ community. I honestly confess that I was never bold enough. But beautiful conversations with people in moments of trust took place. These conversations and prayers together happened all over the denomination in the USA but also in Japan and Colombia, South America.

In the last presbyterial sermon as moderator, in my own presbytery, West TN, there was a sentence, “the church is called to acknowledge LGBTQ+ members who are serving as teachers, elders and clergy.” I expected the worst, but the chain of events that have now happened was not what I expected. In the moments following that sermon a lot of people avoided me, but one elder in his 70’s from a rural congregation came and thanked me and shared with tears in his eyes how he hurt for a grandchild who could not be honest in the very place that he should feel most comfortable, his church. The “Welcoming Cumberland Presbyterians” community of safety and support was born shortly after thanks to the courage and effective call to ministry of my friend who challenged me that night 9 years ago. Hundreds of Cumberland Presbyterians who are gay and those who are their friends and allies have a community of love and support during a time when the church is saying there is no right to claim a place in the church, the heritage, the confession that contains the theological foundation for faith. It has been a difficult nine years watching the pain of those who have had to sit through presbytery meetings and General Assembly meetings listening to fear mongering, lies and name calling. I am in a group of Cumberland Presbyterians who were told on the floor of our presbytery that the majority no longer wanted to be in fellowship with us, no longer wanted to work together to further the kingdom of God and no longer wanted to be in relationship as colleagues. It was devastating and we spoke against division but it was said to be too late.

I believe that there is a church that will survive even as we whittle away at it, tearing it apart one General Assembly at a time. I have great love for my church and for people who agree with me and those who disagree with me and remain in fellowship with me because we are called to do that. I am a friend and ally because I am called to be a friend and ally to all who are persecuted and pushed to the margins. I am a Cumberland Presbyterian and always will be.

LET US PRAY: Oh loving God, we come to you as Cumberland Presbyterians asking for wisdom and guidance during our General Assembly. As brothers, sisters and siblings travel, give them safety. As old friends reunite, give them joy. As new friends meet give them inspiration. As the sounds of praises ring out, accept it as sincere. As commissioners do their work, give them patience. As they meet, help them to listen to each other but to defer to your Spirit and offer the same grace you have shown them to each other. Jesus, embrace those who will be hurt by demands of conformity and words of exclusion, help them to know there is always welcome in you. Open minds, heal broken hearts and help us to know one family, one faith, one baptism. And in knowing, help us to accept that your call is a call to all of us. Amen.

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