News and Announcements
The Acceleration of the Promise
On a recent trip visiting churches in California, The Rev. Dr. Jane “Janie” Adams Spahr, founding minister evangelist of That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS) and I met with the Rev. Dr. Hampton “Hamp” Deck of the First Presbyterian Church of Vallejo, California. In a conversation about our work and spiritual lives, we each expressed the sense of a deep longing that seems to be churning just below the surface of, well, everything.
Janie and I recounted to Hamp how our meetings with so many folks ultimately turned to this discussion of “presence” so strong that it is almost palpable in our lives and everything around us. Hamp acknowledged that he knew this well, saying that a friend of his refers to “churning” as the “great ontological ache of our times.”
It made sense. The “ache” had little to do with pain as we refer to it in our daily lives, but more as “giving birth” within a universe that is anticipating a new hope, compassion, promise, and love. An advent, as in the time preceding birth of Jesus; a shifting swing of the eternal pendulum bringing us into an age of the possible in which we believe. It’s the promise we know so well; a promise that is held across many faith traditions; a promise of love accelerating, even in the midst of great sorrow and turmoil. Especially in a time of peril…
When I began this blog, I began it in response to a specific set of circumstances that had to do with churches leaving our denomination While some churches in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have found it necessary to leave the denomination because of differences, and while presbyteries have been trying to establish procedures for a “gracious separation” to deal with these painful separations, avoiding some some of the early rancor and litigation that surrounded division – even this scenario is changing. I can’t help in thinking that even in our better planned and “gracious” division that we are simultaneously shifting into a time that is calling us to a more “gracious union” not a terminus and farewell. And so, graciousunion.org was begun to try and talk about this and what it might mean and to discuss how the impact of how we gather and divide more broadly reflects our beliefs to one another and the world in which we witness.
None of this is to say that all the churches who plan to leave the denomination have done so or are going to change their mind. It is not to say that those things which caused the stir: differences in theology, women’s ordination, full inclusion of the folks who are LGBTQ, marriage equality, and more — are all resolved and those who remain of one mind. It is to suggest that we are approaching a newly-revived denomination as a result of these struggles and that the gifts of this revival, born through the sacrifices of many, is, in fact, providing us with an opportunity to come together in ways that have not been seen for a very long time, if ever before.
The acceleration of the great shifting is all around us and in everyone’s talking points, both within and without the denomination. “It’s happening so fast…” is usually part of the narrative, and yet these changes, like any other great reformation, have long been struggled for, long sacrificed for, and are now emerging on the shoulders of those who have carried us to this point. This movement of the Spirit truly comes out of those who have led us, lead us now, and will take us into the future; it is not a movement in free fall or on a path to self-destruction. Quite the opposite if viewed with a wider vision. It is, I think, the urgings of the Gospel that pulls us forward with the two greatest of the commandments and with a charge to stop the cynicism, arguing, fighting, legislative attacks, exclusionary practices and more. It is a call, I think, to stop the fighting and live into the commandments of love for God and one another; commandments that bring us together, witnessing to one another and the rest of the world that the ontological ache for which many have no words is real and an advent not an apocalypse.
All this, while trusting in God to give us enough room to love, truly love one another, making ours a witness that lives into a loving way forward, accelerating the belief and the promise that there can be peace among us. A peach which graciously brings us together and more deeply into service for all those to whom we are called to love.
Maybe it is because kids are closer to the love of their Maker or closer to the ground that they get this so easily. Hopefully, it is this and because they see it in the way of those who love them, learning love from them. Whatever it may be, Martin is right. We owe his memory and all those who will follow him and us the acceleration of the promise that what we are passing on will be better, safer, fully welcoming and a gracious and abundant reflection of the Love that began it all.
Ray Bagnuolo, National Chaplain; That All May Freely Serve
Please…your comments are welcome!
Audio at www.soundcloud.com/rbagnuolo
TAMFS Assist: Seeking resources for Friends who are Bisexual and Transgender
Hi Everyone -
- Send worship community names, links, references – anything that will make it possible for us to contact folks and build a relationship of helpfulness. Any information you have time to share about your referrals would be very helpful.
- If you are willing to be a contact to speak with folks who call, please let me know. Any contact information you provide will be held in confidence and not referred without first checking with you.
- Other suggestions about how we might better serve our sisters and brothers who are Bisexual and Transgender.
Lastly, we will share all the resources we develop – making them available to all our progressive partners in the church and any who would find it useful. However, your personal information will never be forwarded or posted without your written permission. Never.
Prayer and Presence and Boston
April 16, 2013
From Ray Bagnuolo’s posting at www.graciousunion.org
Gay Pastor: Prayer and Presence and Boston
The first time I heard the verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:17 in which Paul says, “…pray without ceasing.” I knew that was probably a good thing to do, but I couldn’t imagine how to do it. All the time? Praying?
This morning, as we awake to the tragedy in Boston of another senseless act of violence, as we fall to our knees literally or figuratively, again, praying for those whose families and friends stumble forward without their loved ones “who only went to see the marathon!” – and those who will need to live with the scars of yesterday’s acts of hatred for the rest of their lives – we pray. And, it seems that the spreading illness of violence and horrific events that keep coming closer and closer – are bringing us to a ceaseless time of prayer, without respite, not because of our diligence but because we need to pray ceaselessly in response to the frequency with which the unimaginable continues to become real.
It is the right response. Prayer works; I don’t really know how. But it does. And, I know that to pray is also to pause, moving closer to God, consciously entering into God’s presence. That is always good to do, even better in the company of others. Prayer and remembering we are in God’s presence heals us, those we pray for, and the world at large. It is always the right thing to do.
Prayer is an action in the best and most difficult of times and all in between. It leads us to help and to extend ourselves, being there for others in whatever ways we can. It is the most powerful of all our responses that we too often come to as a last resort. It is the place to begin and from which all that needs to be done follows. It is the language of Love that strengthens and guides, as it has been from the first time the heart cried. “God help me! God help us!” It is what makes our responses and actions prayers, in themselves.
And, it is never violent in its response.
In whatever ways we come to prayer today, for the victims, their families, their friends – for us all – let us pray without ceasing by living into the presence of God and this power of prayer. And then together, let us act accordingly, so that all that follows Is prayer without ceasing.
A More Gracious Union
On April 10, 2013, Ray Bagnuolo, TAMFS” National Chaplain launched a blog called: “A More Gracious Union.” The purpose of the blog is to talk about ways in which we can come together. The first post is called “Gay Pastor: We and Congress Must Act on Gun Violence.”
The blog can be found at www.graciousunion.org. Ray welcomes comments and invites others to submit posts about ways in which we in the PC(USA) and beyond can come together. To visit A More Gracious Union follow this link: www.graciousunion.org.
A New Vision for TAMFS
Saturday, February 23, 2013; Austin, Texas
We are truly blessed in the PC(USA) for these and other progressive organizations working tirelessly for a fully welcoming and inclusive church:
Presbyterian Promise in New England
Presbyterian Welcome in New York
Presbyterian Voices for Justice
More Light Presbyterians
That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS)
How good it is to have such witness and missions in the PC(USA) in these times!
In mid-year 2012, That All May Freely Serve began anew, continuing as a ministry of Downtown United Presbyterian Church (DUPC) in Rochester, NY. We agreed that the work of TAMFS was unfinished and an earlier decision to dissolve the organization was reversed. The TAMFS Board called me to serve as Evangelist and the Session of DUPC agreed to provide TAMFS with the home it has always known, in the church where it was born in March 1993.
TAMFS now moves ahead with a simple vision: to make sure that any time anyone in the PC(USA) who is LGBT/QQ* reaches out for help — that they will not be alone. Not only will we answer the call, literally, but through our network, we will quickly get folks to be with them. Building on a chaplaincy model integrated within a grass roots movement, we have created a plan that relies on the many thousands of those in the church who have lived through struggle to help others. Yes, we’re talking about being present (the ministry of presence) and passing on our experience, strength, and hope to our sisters and brothers, congregations, presbyteries, and the church in whatever way we can.
In December of last year, Janie and I spent a week in and around the Bay Area in San Francisco, visiting with churches, the LGBT/QQ community, allies, and supporters. We listened to folks, shared our ideas, and found powerful support for this effort. In the last few weeks, I have been with pastors, seminarians, congregations, and presbytery leadership in Austin, San Antonio, and Houston – listening to what folks need and sharing TAMFS’ mission with them. I have also had the chance to meet with PC(USA) leadership in Louisville on this trip and received very positive feedback on TAMFS’ plan to do what legislation and constitutional change alone cannot do.
As we go forward, we will keep everyone updated through this website and emails. If you would like to be on our email list, just send your information to gro.sfmatnull@yar. If you are interested in being part of the training we are planning to prepare “chaplains,” let me know, as well. And, your questions, ideas, or ways in which you would like to be involved in this pastoral care effort are truly welcome.
Remember, we have a toll free help and referral line: 1-877-TAMFS64 that you can post in bulletins or on your websites or share with others you think might need someone to talk to. We are excited about this call in which we all can serve, and we look forward to hearing from you.
So please, keep us in your prayers and think about becoming available in your area for the occasions when we need someone to help. Yes! We also welcome whatever financial support you can offer. Our projected budget for 2013 is $95,000, which includes my draw of $2,500/mos; an additional $3,500/mos in travel and related expenses; and $20,000 for mailings, materials, and costs related to building and maintaining a network to support the effort. We are keeping it simple, and appreciate whatever you can do to help.
Many thanks to everyone for everything you have done and are doing to make this church the radically loving and welcoming church we know it can be! We’ve come a long way…and we’ve only just begun, again!
Ray Bagnuolo, Evangelist
That All May Freely Serve
*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Queer and Questioning
Loving one another…so much.
December 21, 2012
I heard one of the reporters say that the horrific loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the worst act of terror and violence we have experienced as a nation since 9/11. I don’t know how we measure such things, but I understood what the reporter meant. I understood because of the deep familiar feelings both evoked: shock, sorrow, grief, the inability to process any of it, and the desire, powerless as it initially feels, to help and change things – to hope we can change things. To believe it: we can change things.
Like everyone else, I’ve been struggling with being part of a society that could get to the point where this could happen. What have we done wrong? Where have we lost, whatever we have lost? And as a minister, I’ve been struggling to respond to the same questions and more that others have of us who serve. One answer that comes easily is that more violence and more guns is not the answer.
From there, not so easy…
I remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and remember thinking that could never happen again, only to lose Robert and Martin a short time later.
I remember thinking after the murder of Matthew Shepard that no one could ever condone violence or homophobia again.
I remember the chaining and dragging death of James Byrd, Jr., sure that we would wake up to the inhumanity of racism, segregation, discrimination. Surely, after his death things would change.
And, I could add more…so could any of us. The prayer and hope we have is that out of tragedy some great change of heart and nation and world will come. Something will come of the pain and sorrow to honor those who suffered. Who continue to suffer…
The lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School have dulled me. It is the way of mourning, which I feel from this distance – far from being able to imagine the grief of the families and the community of Newtown during these days and those to come. We all now carry the loss of the children and adults with us. Distance, geographical or otherwise cannot be a balm to assuage our own sorrow. As hard as it may be to “stay close” in whatever ways we may – it is our responsibility to do so, or these lives lost will become part of what we once hoped for. That loss has already happened for the families. Let it not happen to us as a nation.
For many of us, this is a time when we remember the birth of a child who would live into and suffer his own great violence. As with so many traditions, the message he carried of peace, hope, resurrection, and a loving God was a radical one and a message that others sought to expunge, protecting their own interests and power. We face some of those same interests and powers now; those who seek to quiet what needs to be done, letting the news cycle add these lives to those too many lost before. Arming and protecting ourselves so that love becomes a quaint idea in an ever more violent world – is not an answer.
For me, this Christmas, especially, is a reminder that Jesus died loving us, knowing that he was loved, and promising the same to all of humanity. It occurs to me that the children and the lives lost in Newtown died loving, as well, filled with their joys and laughter, loving their families because they were loved by their families and their God. There is peace in that truth.
From there, we will all have to search our hearts about what we will do. As part of those seeking welcoming and inclusion in our church and this world for sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender – we know the violence and marginalization; we know the societal illnesses of others directed at us. We also know that our response has always been to love others, as difficult as that might be, to get to know one another, come together, and discover that what we share is greater than any of our differences. And it begins like that…
Whatever we may do to end the violence and change this society on broad local or national scales, whatever we may do to try and somehow honor the great loss of our family in Newtown and in countless other places, let us begin by loving each other. If there is reconciliation that has been put off – let it be embraced and healed. Let every prayer and act be an act of love and kindness. Even when we don’t get it right, the attempt itself is an act of love. From there, change will happen.
In our faith, we believe that God welcomes us home in the glory of true resurrection. We believe that all those who have left this world, however they have left this world, are embraced in Love and Joy and Wonder beyond our imaginings. They are now with the Child we remember at Christmas, helping us in a different way. A much needed way.
Let us ask God and them, in all the Love they are and all the ways we know God – to be with us and guide us this day and in all the days to come. We have much to do and we are not alone.
In this Spirit and embrace, with these thoughts, promises and more in our hearts, and loving you all…so very much,
Merry Christmas from us all.
Ray Bagnuolo, Minister Evangelist
That All May Freely Serve