News from AllianceQ: October 2019

Transition

Mark Johnston, as he steps down from the position of Executive Director of AllianceQ’s Open & Affirming Ministry program, reflects on our past and the future.

My first experience with GLAD – back then we were the Gay Lesbian and Affirming Disciples Alliance – was the Indianapolis General Assembly in 1989. I did not know that this was GLAD’s first visible presence among the Disciples. I did not know what a General Assembly would look like. I knew the Alliance only through our newsletter Crossbeams. I knew none of the history of past secret meetings and carefully laid out plans. (You can read about the first 20 years of our history here.) I knew nobody who was part of the Alliance. Then Allen Harris showed up at the housing where I was staying to provide rides to the Pre-Assembly Event, and my history with the Alliance began.

At that Pre-Event I met Laurie Rudel. Debra Peevey. Carol Blakley. Randy Palmer. David Nickel. Chuck Carpenter. Judith Hoch Wray. Nancy Brink, and many others whom, I fear if I attempt a complete list, I’ll leave so many off. And over the years, so many others who deserve to be named.

That year we gathered outside the Assembly hall as people came and went and we sang “We Are a Gentle Angry People” to introduce ourselves to the church.

That week in 1989, everything was new to me. And how it would have surprised me to be told that, thirty years later, I would be standing in front of the 2019 Alliance General Assembly Banquet as the outgoing Executive Director of the AllianceQ Open & Affirming Ministry Program thanking you for the blessings I have received from you, my church, these 30 years.

And what a 30 years it has been.

At the first couple of Assemblies I attended, 89, 91, 93, the Alliance Booth was frequently met with surprise and dismay that we were even there. There was much incomprehension, people couldn’t believe our clear signage nor allow themselves to understand that we really were the Gay Lesbian and Affirming Disciples Alliance, and then, once they did, many felt it their job to tell us that we shouldn’t be there.

And, 1991. Tulsa. To those of us who were there, need I say more? Michael Kinnamon, beloved theology professor, candidate for General Minister and President, had listed his GLAD membership among his other activities in the church. Long story, I’ll keep it short. The only time in the history of the DOC that a GMP nomination was not confirmed by the Assembly. It felt like utter rejection and defeat. Yet, not to give away the spoilers: at our General Assembly just four years ago, Michael spoke to the Alliance about how that moment became a movement of the Spirit for the good of the church. This was the beginning, he told us, of his public advocacy for LGBTQ people, or in his words, “God ‘smoked me out,’ forced me to be accountable for what I believed but had never had the occasion or the courage to say in public.”

Yes, in 1991, the church was forced to face the fact that this movement for wholeness was not welcoming all, not even all of its own children.

The first three or four Assemblies that I attended included a booth from Disciples Renewal or later the Disciples Heritage Society. At that time, the layout of the exhibit hall often put us next to each other, or across the aisle from each other. The most anti-LGBTQ group in the church right next door. Fun times! I remember one moment when someone from Disciple Renewal came to our booth and started taking pictures, saying quite clearly that he meant to take these pictures home to show people “what is really going on in the church.” The comment from our booth? (Randy Palmer, was it you? or was it you, Jon Lacey?) “Good – there’s a teenager in their church who needs to know that we exist!”

Disciples Heritage Society has come, and gone, and is around again today working to convince our churches to leave the DOC and our movement for wholeness in a broken world. There is still work to do.

In those early years, our exhibit booth was a place where people questioned our right to be there and told us we don’t belong. It was also a place where LGBTQ and affirming people in the church could gather and meet each other and find refuge. And, not so many years later, I remember someone coming to the booth and saying “Oh good, I found you! I need some of your resources for my church.” People were seeking us out, not pushing us away: a corner had been turned.

And I have seen the Alliance turn corners too. There was the year we named that GLAD had to explicitly include bisexual and transgender people too. No, we didn’t change our name until several years after that. Yes, the Alliance, too, did – and does – have work to do to name, accept, and affirm all of our own.

I am proud that the Alliance today has a council that understands the work still to be done, work to include all people: people of all races, all ethnicities, all genders, all abilities, all people. There is yet more welcome, more inclusion, more wholeness ahead for the Alliance and for the Christian Church.

And, I am proud to be part of a church that, at this year’s General Assembly, with no argument against, voted to follow the way of Jesus for immigrants who hunger and need shelter, and voted to increase the church’s understanding and welcome of transgender people. It is yet another moment when our movement for wholeness took another step on the journey of welcoming and including all.

My involvement with the Alliance grew over the years: staffing the booth at Assemblies year after year, being a member of the Open & Affirming Steering Committee, a term on the Council and serving as Moderator, publishing the newsletter monthly for 4 years as the Communications Team, maintaining the membership database for I don’t know how long. And, after volunteering for 24 years, I accepted the call to be Executive Director of the Open & Affirming Ministry Program for the past 6 years.

I have followed this path and this call for the passion that arises in me when, hearing another “it gets better” story, tears well up, and for the passion that arises when I’m reminded of the horrid statistics about suicide and trauma that are experienced today by our LGBTQ youth. I can’t watch “it gets better” videos because all I angrily think is “it never should be so bad in the first place!”

I am also here because this Alliance, embedded in this Christian Church as a movement for wholeness, has given to me the hope and given to me the self respect to stand firm.

At the General Assembly this year in Des Moines we celebrated 40 years of AllianceQ’s history. The Alliance also honored me for my 6 years as Executive Director and a total of 30 years of involvement in the Alliance. Yet, it wasn’t about 6 years or 30 years of me. Our celebration at the banquet wasn’t just about 40 years of Alliance history. Our celebration is about the history of our church coming to understand more and more every day that no theological test, no communion token, can be allowed to bar anyone from the table and from the communion of the church.

The work of the Alliance has never been mine. It has always been yours: you, the church, you as a member of the Alliance, you as a member of your O&A congregation, you as a member of your congregation striving to open its doors wider: doing the work to welcome all. In the midst of this work, my time with the Alliance has been a gift from you to me: you have taught me that I too am welcome. From you, I have learned to say “if I don’t believe that you are welcome, how do I know that I am?” You have taught me to welcome all. You have taught me to welcome myself.

I think about the many ways that you have supported me and AllianceQ and I look towards the future. I think about the ways you have supported the Alliance with your spirit, your talent, your prayers, your time, and your treasure. It was six and a half years ago that I called 200 members of the Alliance and asked for money so that the Alliance could call me to this position, and so many of you gave. I was grateful for every amount, be it a $5 one time gift or an ongoing gift of hundreds of dollars per month.

This month we announce that the Alliance has called Melissa Guthrie Loy to be the Executive Director and Minister of AllianceQ. And I hope you’ve noticed: her job description is larger than mine. While I have focused on O&A work, the new call is not to the O&A Ministry Program alone. Yes, with the support of your time and talent – I’m looking at you, members of our Regional O&A Teams, members of our Pastoral Care and Education Team, members of our Regional Chapters – we have accomplished much more than one person or one council can accomplish, and we will continue to live into the larger call of our mission.

Our mission: to build a just and inclusive church where all are welcome to the table, where all are welcome to the full life and leadership of the church; – our mission calls us to so much more. More justice work. More work coordinated with our allies at Reconciliation, at Convocation, at Obra Hispana, and at NAPAD, and more work coordinated with our allies at DJAN and DPF and Disciples Public Presence.

Of course, our growing understanding of and commitment to our mission requires more of all of us, our time and talent, and treasure.

If I have failed at anything during the past 6 years, near the top of the list is that I haven’t often enough asked for your financial support of the Alliance. Along with your time, your prayers, your talents, the Alliance needs your financial contributions. We don’t have a cash reserve nor any large foundation grant to depend upon. We are not funded by the General Church in any way. We depend upon your ongoing contributions.

This month, I step away from the position of Executive Director of the Open & Affirming Ministry Program and I step into the position of Open & Affirming Trainer. I will still be around to ensure that my knowledge is not lost to the Alliance.

And as Melissa steps into her new role she needs to know that you, too, will be with her, your time, your talent, your prayers, and your treasure.

I am confident that Melissa will do a wonderful job, guiding the Alliance as it invests more into the mission to build a just and inclusive Christian Church. So, as I step down from this position, I ask you too commit of your resources. Time and talent, Melissa will certainly need. Today I ask you: will you commit to getting on our website and giving us a monthly or quarterly pledge towards the future of the Alliance and in honor of Melissa? Can you give us $100 every month? Every quarter? $25? Can you increase your current giving by 10%? more? You can contribute here.

I thank you for all that you have given me: the relationships across our church, the welcome I have received, and the support you have given me and the Alliance, the work you have done to further our mission to build an inclusive church.

Thank you for the time, talent, prayers, and treasure that make it possible, together, to accomplish our mission: to build a church that welcomes all, to build a just and inclusive church where people of all gender expressions and sexual orientations are welcome at the table, to build a church where, every day, we understand that there’s yet another new neighbor to include in the all that means all.