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‘Go forth and be the church as you have received the church’

More Light Presbyterians offers an online worship service punctuated by the music of Flamy Grant

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Flamy Grant (Photo by Ash Perlberg)

LOUISVILLE — Nearly 50 people heard a message of hope and inclusion during More Light Presbyterians’ online worship service Sunday.

Flamy Grant, an award-winning singer, songwriter and drag queen from Asheville, North Carolina, recorded a pair of songs aired during worship: “Good Day” and “I Am Not Ashamed,” which includes these lyrics: “God is a storyteller/A lover composing a letter/And every word is hope and light and glory/This is the awesome endeavor/Justice that flows forever/But fear and shame will interrupt the story.”

“There is no better way to celebrate the fact we were created in the image of the divine than being unapologetically ourselves,” said the Rev. Claudia Aguilar Rubalcava, MLP’s director of engagement. “Both Pride and worship are acts of celebration and protest, remembrance and an enactment of a world where we all belong.”

Dr. Matt Webb, a music educator and member of MLP’s board of directors, led the musical offerings throughout the service, including Don Schlosser’s “Be Loved” and Mark A. Miller’s “Child of God” and “Welcome.”

Three people preached homilies, all of them either MLP board members or staff.

The Rev. Brooke Scott (Photo courtesy of Church on Main)

The Rev. Brooke Scott, who leads two worshiping communities, Church on Main and Seek Respite in New Castle Presbytery, preached on portions of Esther 3:1-11 and 4:1-17, accounts that depict Esther “working within the system to save her people,” Scott said.

If we had started earlier, we would have read about [Queen] Vashti,” Scott noted. While Vashti’s successor, Queen Esther, is seen by many “as more reserved and respectable,” that’s “a simplistic interpretation,” Scott said. “Both Vashti and Esther were brave and used different strategies to challenge oppression.” We “can say no and leave,” like Vashti did, “or use strategic advocacy” in the manner of Esther. “Both approaches require courage,” according to Scott.

The reading Scott used contains some of the most often-quoted words in the Hebrew Bible: “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for such a time as this.”

“Each of us has a role to play in this moment, whether it’s bold defiance or strategic advocacy,” Scott said. “We are also called to be courageous, even when such actions … put us at risk. Let us carry with us the courage and wisdom of Vashti and Esther … working tirelessly in all areas of life.”

Jesy Littlejohn, a ruling elder and the operations director at MLP, spoke on Psalm 27:1-2, 5, and 10-14.

Jesy Littlejohn (Photo courtesy of More Light Presbyterians)

For many people on the call, Littlejohn said, recent weeks have seen “a significant amount of Pride bashing, queer bashing and a total disregard for human dignity — and we are only one week into June. A fair amount of it is coming from this denomination, where many of us have come to find solace.”

Among the most heated of the conversations has been and will be over the so-called “Olympia Overture,” POL-01, “On Amending the Book of Order to Include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Among the Categories Against Which the Church Does Not Discriminate.” The overture from the Presbytery of Olympia will be taken up later this month during the 226th General Assembly.

“Several of us on this call have gone back and forth in dialogue, trying to have civil conversations with people” who oppose at least a portion of the overture, Littlejohn said. “My humanity as a queer person … is not up for question or debate. Our existence and divine right to love and be loved is not debatable.”

“Do not allow yourself to believe you are anything less than holy, anything less than God’s divine creation,” they said. “Do not let anyone convince you that you are a problem, or the problem. Our lives are not an inconvenience.”

Littlejohn quoted from “I Am Not Ashamed”: “Who wouldn’t chase after heaven when living feels like hell?/So they call you a name of derision/Instead of the one you were given/But please remember, your life is not their story to tell.”

The Rev. Avery Arden used Mark 3:20-21 and 31-35 as their preaching text.

The Rev. Avery Arden (Photo courtesy of More Light Presbyterians)

“Family is community, and queer people know this” better than most people, Arden said, at the same time expressing gratitude for “the work my mom’s put in to figure out what love and support really look like: giving your support right now and letting yourself learn along the way.”

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus “breaks in with a sharp, society-shaping question: Who is my family?” Arden noted. “He looks at those gathered and says, ‘These are my family, the family I choose, the family that chooses me, the family that helps me live into God’s will.’”

“What matters is our decision to stick with it, to be there for one another even before we fully understand,” they said. “That, and not blood, is what makes us kin.”

“Go forth and be the church as you have received the church,” Littlejohn said during the benediction. “Thanks be to God. Amen.”

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