A monthly update from World Mission, a ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency
The Mission Matters column addresses the impact of Presbyterian mission in the world and the issues that affect mission co-workers, the people we walk alongside and assist in service to God, and our partners around the globe.
August 2019 — Called, sent, loved and chosen
Rev. Ashley McFaul-Erwin
Community Outreach Pastor, Setauket Presbyterian Church
Young Adult Volunteer, Nashville (2011–12)
I am writing this reflection as I sit in the manse of Setauket Presbyterian Church on Long Island, New York, where my wife and I have lived since July 2019.
My New York home is 3,126 miles from my hometown in Northern Ireland and 950 miles from Tennessee — the place I have called home for the past eight years.
This wild and holy calling of ministry and discipleship brought me across the Atlantic Ocean through a year of service as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV).
During the spring of 2010, it was more painful for me to stay in the closet than to come out and risk the rejection of my faith community. I knew that by coming out, the door to ordination (and nowadays membership) in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland would be closed. It was in the midst of pain and grief that the Spirit called me to Tennessee — not somewhere one would expect a lesbian pastor-in-training to find healing.
On a particularly dark and lonely night in Northern Ireland, I googled “gay Presbyterians.” This led me to the website of More Light Presbyterians, and then to the website of Second Presbyterian, Nashville. I sat at my computer and wept. These tears were no longer the tears of fear, but of relief. It was through Second Presbyterian’s website that I found out about the YAV program, and on Aug. 17, 2011, I found myself sitting on a plane heading for the U.S.
When I moved to Nashville, in a sense I was running away. People said to me, “It is cowardly to run away from things.” I disagree. When you are being hurt, when you cannot be yourself, sometimes the most courageous move can be to run, to run from death to life. As I ran, the Spirit of God was at work in ways I could never have imagined.
Much has happened through my YAV journey in Nashville: I completed my MDiv at Vanderbilt Divinity School; met the wonderful Erica, whom I married in 2015; and on Sept. 1, 2018, I was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — the first openly queer person to be ordained by the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee.
Nashville was the place I found so much healing, and I am excited to embark on this next phase of ministry on Long Island, as the community outreach pastor at Setauket Presbyterian Church.
The story of Jacob’s wrestling match in Genesis describes well my journey thus far. I have wrestled with the church and God, but mostly with myself. As a queer person of faith, who grew up with the idea that my sexuality was incompatible with the faith, I carried a lot of shame (and let’s face it, I still carry some). Jacob had a history of pretending to be someone else, a concept I am familiar with. When Jacob is down by the river, the sun is rising, and the one with whom he has wrestled says, “What is your name?” For someone who has hidden their true identity, this question calls Jacob to finally be himself, to be honest, and not to fear. In the words of author Rob Bell, “He’s struggled and he’s been broken and he’s done pretending. He isn’t trying to be Esau or anyone else; Jacob has wrestled and overcome. Jacob is ready to be Jacob.”1 In recent years God has been saying to me, “Ashley, are you ready to be Ashley? Stop hearkening back to the people who rejected you. Stop giving them power. Be here in the present moment with me. Look at how we can work together when you choose to create. We’ve got work to do. You might still have a limp, but you’ve got a greater blessing. So, let’s get to work.”
As we walk through life, may we know that we are called, sent, loved and chosen in the fullness of who we are. Friends, may we hold together our blessedness and our limping, knowing that wherever we are called, we are not alone. We are held in the embrace of the communal God, so may we get to work in witnessing to the image of God in all people.
During the last week in August, the incoming 2019–20 YAV class will gather at Stony Point Conference Center for a week of orientation before arriving at their respective YAV sites. Please hold staff, volunteers and the communities that welcome them in prayer.
Rob Bell, Nooma video: Name, 2007.