by Bishop Bill Gohl
I was stunned.
Does anyone still say that? "Blacks?" The rich diversity of our African descent community reduced to the color of one’s skin. Does that still happen in the Church? Unfortunately, it does.
At St. John, Linthicum, thankfully, that was not the case. A few years ago, St. John (a largely homogeneous Anglo community) recognized the gifts of a candidate for ordained ministry who was assisting their senior pastor on a part-time basis. Pastor Meheret Caruthers was called by that congregation because the people of St. John recognized that Pastor Caruthers had gifts that aligned with their congregation’s mission and needs. Her gifts complement her colleague, Pastor Mike McQuaid’s gifts, too.
The Rev. Linda Fernandez, an Episcopal priest serving, under Called to Common Mission, as pastor of Bethany, Brunswick, recounted part of her journey with me and a few others after John Auger and I met with the Frederick Conference rostered leaders. After testing her vocation in a diocese where the bishop didn’t approve of ordained women, Pastor Fernandez was presented by a more sympathetic bishop to a congregation who said "no women" too. The bishop presented a panel of candidates which included three men and Pastor Fernandez; he appealed to the congregation to interview Pastor Fernandez even if just "for practice."
I suspect you can guess what happened. The congregation recognized, despite their preconceived notions, that God had called them and Pastor Fernandez together as pastor and people to exercise their gifts together for what was a fruitful season of ministry together.
One of our congregations that has struggled in these last years is St. Stephen, Wilmington. Thankfully, after a rich interim time, St. Stephen has emerged with renewed strength and vitality; still fragile in size and resources, this is a congregation with a heart for mission.
Earlier this month, I was at one of St. Stephen's neighbors, St. Philip, dedicating their new facilities. Friends and family from across Delaware and beyond came to join in the celebration. One such guest was a senior member from St. Stephen, who was extolling the good work that their pastor of two months, Pastor Jason Churchill, has been doing among them. From his fine preaching to the ways he brokers hope, this woman was so grateful for the new life she senses at St. Stephen with her new pastor. “And,” she said proudly, "he and his husband are just wonderful!"
"Bishop, I know you are new, but I want to be clear. When you send us a new pastor: no blacks, no women, no gays."
I was stunned. And then I was angry.
"Then no pastor," I said. "Obviously there is work still to be done in the interim time at your church."
It was a difficult and contentious conversation. Finally, one of the others stepped up and suggested that "not everyone felt that way." We agreed that further conversation was needed – and we will have that, but Church, beloved Church, I want to be clear: your synod staff and I will work hard with you to discern with whom God is calling you to share ministry, but in this church, we have rostered leaders. There are no separate rosters for people of color, women, or the LGBTQ community. When we recognize that, God might just surprise us with a partnership we never could have imagined.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." – Galatians 5:1, 13-14
We’re on the way together,