By Leland Spencer
Today is Tuesday, June 17, and this evening, in Hoover Auditorium at Lakeside, the East Ohio Conference will hold its annual service of ordination. For the first time in a decade, I won't be at the service. I feel sad about that. It is my favorite worship service, and it is the service where, in 1999, I felt a call to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. June 17 is the 9-year anniversary of that day, the most powerful experience in my spiritual journey.
On June 25, 2007, I went to the district office and told my district superintendent I was withdrawing from the candidacy process because I am gay. I had spent considerable hours in prayer and discernment--many of them in the meditation room of the Dewald Chapel at Mount Union College, where I was finishing my undergraduate experience--and I concluded that I needed to be fully United Methodist and fully honest about my sexual orientation in order to live the most authentic life possible as I grow in grace in my relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. I know that many faithful lesbian and gay United Methodists called to ordained ministry make other decisions, and while I respect and celebrate those persons and their decisions, I knew that withdrawing was the most faithful thing I could do.
So why won't I be in Hoover auditorium tonight? Maybe it's selfish, but I don't want to have that uncomfortable conversation over and over. I don't want to feel that I'm confessing the sin that isn't to every lay and clergy person in the East Ohio Conference who has expressed support for my call to ministry over the years. I don't want to spend another evening crying as I watch bishops place red stoles on the shoulders of the ordinands. Most of all, I cannot handle watching the powerful call at the end of the service, when the bishop invites people who feel called to ministry to come to the front and pray with members of the BOOM. I don't want to deal with the impact of thinking about each person, knowing how called each is, and wondering which calls the church will honor and which it will deny.
I know there will be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and questioning persons in the congregation tonight, and I wonder how they will feel when a liturgist affirms the ministry of all baptized persons in the life of the church. I also know there are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and questioning persons who won't be there tonight, perhaps because the church speaks of the call of all baptized persons in word but not in deed. I am among those persons absent, and I believe God grieves each seat left empty because of the church's homophobia.