Memorial Day Sunday 2012 was a historic day at our church, Highland Baptist of Louisville.
Why? We ordained someone to the ministry.
"So what?" you say. "Churches do that all the time."
True, they do. This was a little different, though. A local advocacy group (not the church) issues a press release; perhaps the headline will capture why it was historic:
"Highland Baptist Church Ordains Openly Gay Minister"
Yes we did, and gladly. Make the jump to learn more, and to celebrate with us.
I'll never forget the Sunday that Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard first came to Highland. We have been a church open to gays for many years, and have a large number of LGBT persons in the church. We long ago stopped seeing homosexuality as anything unusual.
Still, when Bojangles entered the sanctuary that Sunday, he did cause something of a sensation. After all, not everyone comes to church in a purple suit -- with matching shoes. And a hat.
I remember some of the gay people were put off by the whole thing. It was almost like he wanted to challenge us, to see if we were really all that accepting.
We came to find out, though, that that wasn't what Bojangles was about at all. In fact, over the past two years we have learned that Maurice Blanchard is a sincere, caring, gracious, love-filled follower of Christ. He suffered in his early life because of who he is, and wants to bring love and acceptance to other LGBT persons in our community.
When he first approached the church about being ordained, though, there was a pause. Was he ready for that? Were WE ready for that? Yes, we have gays in the church, and we've had gays on staff, and we've welcomed same-sex partners into the church, and we've dedicated their children just like anyone else -- but ordination is another level, isn't it?
Or IS it? Bojanges' request forced us to think about that. We finally decided to do three things:
- Support him as he started a new ministry called True Colors that would reach out to LGBT persons in the name of the church.
- Have him work with the associate pastor (my wife) for mentoring in ministry as he grew the True Colors ministry and as he continued his education at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary.
- Bring the question before the church for study and discussion.
We discussed it. And studied it. And discussed it some more. (It's what we do.)
Earlier this year, Bojangles reapplied for ordination. We followed the standard process -- we appointed an ordination council that met with Bojangles to hear his life story and rationale for being ordained. The council took their recommendations to the deacons, who heard and endorsed it. Then in our most recent quarterly business meeting, the motion was made to ordain Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard to the ministry.
It passed unanimously.
Followed by a standing ovation.
So, this past Sunday, a process that began over two years ago culminated in a service of ordination in our sanctuary, attended by church members, professors from Louisville Pres, and friends of Bojangles and of True Colors. There were hymns, and prayers, and the charge to the candidate. There was a gift of an Atlanta Braves baseball. (Bojangles is a huge baseball fan.)
And one more moment I have to mention.
Families can be funny things, no matter gay or straight. As far as I know, Bojangles' parents have been supportive all along. Still, I wondered, before the service, who from his family would attend.
Imagine the moment, then, when his father -- also ordained, and serving a local church as a counselor -- came to the pulpit to lead a responsive blessing for Bojangles. For a moment, he just stood there, looking down at his son. Then he smiled and said, "What you won't do to get a baseball."
After the laughter died down, his father led us in the blessing, and I'm not sure there were too many dry eyes in the house by the time he finished.
It was a special day. A tender day. And yes, historic.
But for us, it wasn't about making history. It was, simply, a time to celebrate one of our own, as he begins the lifelong journey into ministering to, and caring for, all of God's children.
We don't think of Bojangles as a "gay minister" -- no, for us he's just "minister."