What is your only comfort?

Urban God-talk for the church-o-phobic.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Of a Father's Love

I wrote this piece in July, but only just shared it with others recently. It was published in a college zine this past week prompting some friends to encourage me to post it for others to read, so here it is.

Of a Father’s Love

By Ann Kansfield

We walked along the route of the Boston Pride Parade as a family - my father and mother, my partner and myself. This was our first trip back to Massachusetts since Jen and I got married last summer. A lot has changed over the course of this year.

As a Minister of the Reformed Church in America, my father legally officiated at our wedding. Yet, within a few months, an uproar developed over his loving act of fatherly kindness. Our small, intimate wedding quickly became the source of outrage for many within our denomination. Almost immediately, people began to demand his resignation as President of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, the oldest seminary in the nation, and his removal as a professor of theology. Some even preached that he should be excommunicated for having performed the wedding.

In January, the Board of Trustees of the seminary decided not to renew his contract. Though at first they claimed the wedding had nothing to do with it, their spokesman Larry Williams later admitted that the board feared division among the school’s various constituencies. "It could have hurt the school if it divided people in our student body, if it divided our faculty, if it divided other people who support us."

After almost forty years of faithful service to the church, my father’s leadership was no longer wanted. His understanding of the Bible, his theological beliefs and his pastoral practices had crossed the line.

But, this summer, as we marched through the streets of Boston, I came to realize how much his kind of leadership is needed. Just before the parade, my Dad had been presented with the Pride Interfaith Coalition Award for 2005. In part, the plaque reads: "You have donned the mantle of a prophet, courageously risking your career to promote equal marriage.” All along the parade route we heard the grateful applause of thousands of people responding to the placards identifying what my Dad had done.

One man came up to me and said, "your dad is filling in where so many of our fathers haven't. He did what we all wish all our dads could do for us. He put his life on the line for you and in doing so he put his life on the line for people like me, too." Like this man, countless numbers of gay and lesbian people have been abandoned by their families and by their churches. I’m honored that my father might stand in for the many fathers who withhold their love from their lesbian and gay children.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, "If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you give it up for me, you will surely find it." My dad didn’t set out to be on a crusade. He was just doing what he thought was the right thing to do. He gave his life up, not just for his daughter, or for his family. He did it so that all people might feel welcomed by God. He did it so that God might be real and the church have integrity– not just those who fit into narrowly defined, socially acceptable patterns of living, but for everyone.

In June, a group of ministers and elders alleged my father’s action of officiating at my marriage was contrary to RCA beliefs, contradicted his ordination vows and violated the promise he made when installed into the office of Professor of Theology. The General Synod of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) voted by a 2-1 margin to find my father guilty of these charges at an ecclesiastical trial. His punishment included being dismissed from the Office of Professor and being suspended as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. Suspension means that he is no longer a minister, but he can become one again should he change his views to fall in line with the stated position of the denomination.

For the first time in his life, my brother is no longer the “son of a preacher man.” I cannot imagine what life will be like without hearing my father’s familiar cadence as he reads the communion liturgy. Our family’s entire life has been devoted to the church. It colors everything we talk about, think about, pray about.

My parents have returned to moving boxes and early retirement. They also return to a new life. They have taken on the role of speaking out for all families. Their new adventure has already taken them to some unlikely places like pride parades, distant churches, and lonely restaurants to have coffee with parents who wish they could accept their gay kids.

They're working hard now to fill the painful gaps left by and felt within the hearts of a lot of parents. I know that am blessed to have my parents as my own. But I am also blessed to be a part of a community which recognizes how special parents like mine are. They cheered along the parade route in Boston, not because they had to, but because they wanted to say "thank you."

And, so I say "thank you" along side all the others in Boston and in countless other places. Thank you for raising me with a love of God and of neighbor. Thank you for instructing me in the importance of relationships and commitments and marriage. Thank you for doing the right thing, for giving up your life on behalf of my partner, Jen, and myself and all others who wish to be married to the one they love. Thank you for risking your job, your reputation and your welfare so that others may experience equality.


At 6:11 PM, Blogger will smama said...

I had read the headlines... now I am so blessed to have read the story. Thank you for sharing this.

At 8:08 PM, Blogger reverendmother said...

God bless your father, and you.

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Emily said...

Thank you, I did not know this story. What an act of love and witness, in the truest sense of both words.

At 2:21 PM, Blogger LutheranChik said...

Your father is a prophet -- and is being treated just like one by the church establishment. Tell him "Thank you," from one more gay person who's garnered some extra hope and courage from his witness.

At 11:21 PM, Anonymous Mary Beth said...

Oh, Ann! This is amazing and beautiful. What a gift he is to you and to us, by example!

At 4:04 AM, Blogger see-through faith said...

I read your original story. It's good to be reminded :)

blessings on your dad. He's acted with courage and out of love.

At 5:07 PM, Blogger Sue said...

Your dad is a hero and a prophet. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.


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