The Appeal for Grace
David Weiss, April 11, 2012
An unfolding series of reflections in Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest. (You’ve been warned.) And, please, subscribe!
Here it is, short and sweet: I want to help Grace Community United Church of Christ here in St. Paul, and so I’m making all of you an offer. For every copy of my book, To the Tune of a Welcoming God, that I sell from now through May 31st I will donate $5 to Grace. If you live here in St. Paul you can buy copies directly from me. Otherwise you can order them off my website using PayPal. In either case, if you want the book to be a gift to someone else, I’ll sign it for them and ship it to them; just be sure to give me the shipping info.
If you’re not familiar with my book yet, this is a great opportunity to pick up a copy. If you already own a copy, this is a great chance to send one as a gift to someone else.
Now let me tell you why I’m doing this.
Grace Community UCC is a precious rarity: a predominately African American congregation that is open and affirming to LGBT persons. Their pastor, the Rev. Oliver White, never set out to become a “gay rights activist”; my impression is that he still doesn’t see himself like that. But after facing fire hoses strong enough to rip his clothing during the civil rights struggle, he knows something deep in his bones about the struggle for justice.
So in 2005 he joined the UCC national synod in voting to endorse marriage equality for same-sex couples. And it has cost him dearly. Many of his parishioners simply couldn’t agree with his stand, so his congregation has shrunk. On the other hand, some fifty-plus parishioners have accompanied Rev. White in a courageous journey toward the fullness of freedom that lays somewhere on the far side of their present wilderness. I cannot offer them much, but then, when God provided the Hebrews with manna for their own wilderness sojourn, it was never much, only just enough.
If this were all of the story, it would be more than enough to justify my plea. But there is one more piece. A piece that tugs at my heart and makes this all very personal.
Many of you know that over the years, as a father, I’ve seen my access to my daughter, Susanna, shredded by the Wisconsin Family Court system. That’s a whole other story, but about five years ago, a young female attorney believed in me when the whole system tore me apart. She did not win a great victory for me, but she worked tirelessly to empower me as a self-advocate and eventually worked pro bono to file an (unsuccessful) appeal on my behalf. Of all the persons whose paths I’ve crossed in the Wisconsin Family Court system, Anne is the one person who saw me and valued me as a father. The one person.
About ten weeks ago—right as Black History Month began—Anne adopted Amira, a gorgeous newborn African American baby girl. Anne knows that, living in rural Wisconsin, Amira will not grow up surrounded by African American people. So, determined to be the best mother she can be, Anne wrote to me asking if I might recommend a welcoming congregation in the Twin Cities were Amira could see herself—her heritage, her culture, her beauty—reflected around her. Anne’s question led me to discover the story of Grace Community. And I, in turn, led Anne to make her way, as a single white mom, to Grace Community UCC on Easter Sunday, where she and Amira were welcomed warmly with many, many hugs.
When I learned of her decision to attend Grace, I wrote to her: “It is so true that love for our children inspires, stretches, and challenges us to be more than we are otherwise capable of. I am convinced that resurrection is less about what happened to Jesus’ body and more about happens to our bodies each day of our lives: it is the challenge of living with a fierce tenacity for justice and with a gentle touch for love. Tomorrow morning [Easter Day] I will think of you and Amira, and I will remember how very real resurrection is.”
So, beyond the courage of Rev. White and his small flock of wilderness wanderers, I am also moved by the courage of Anne. She believed in me years ago when no one else did. And because this congregation matters so much to her—and to Amira—today, I ask that you let it matter for you, too.
Here is a final image. Back in April 2001, Anita Hill was ordained to be a pastor at St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church (SPR) here in St. Paul. I was teaching at Luther College, down in Decorah, Iowa, at the time. Fred Phelps, infamous for his “God Hates Fags” protests, came from Kansas with a handful of his followers and a sampling of his ugly banners to keep vigil on the morning of her installation. I came from Iowa, with 35 Luther College students in three college vans, to worship in solidarity with SPR. We brought with us a beautiful banner created by a student of mine, Tara Smith. The banner featured Anita’s bright red ordination stole entwined by a green garland bursting with blooms, and it carried these words from Zechariah 8:23 – “We have heard that God is with you, and so we want to share in your destiny.”
“We have heard that God is with you, and so we want to share in your destiny.” Zechariah 8:23
Please consider a book purchase as a way to affirm these words for Grace Community UCC. Your purchase lengthens the reach of my work, which is more important than ever these days. And it supports the ministry of Grace Community UCC, which is just as important. Each book will be signed by me and come with a simple cardstock bookmark that will commemorate “The Appeal for Grace.”
As they say, “Operators are standing by. Call now to order your copy.”
Thanks so much for reading.
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David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more at http://www.tothetune.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”