Clergy column: The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Sichta

Special to the HeraldApril 12, 2014 

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the annual Sunday when churches distribute palm fronds and sing songs that include the ancient Hebrew word "Hosanna." A word which, loosely translated, means "pray," rescue," even "save."

We need to re-think Hosanna. We need to re-translate it, too. To mean "change." Because that's what's supposed to happen when you pray, are rescued, or are somehow, by someone or something, saved.

Change is constant. Change is necessary. Change is good. Because change includes -- and requires -- re-examination.

Change is best when it brings about a change of conscience. Failure to change despite overwhelming facts to the contrary, particularly when one remains silent in the face of bigotry, constitutes consent.

We don't start out as bigots. We learn. And once well learned, we don't like to be reminded, just in case -- despite overwhelming facts to the contrary -- we need internal permission to return to the past.

Fifty years ago, we didn't associate gay rights with civil rights, nor did we associate those rights with marriage equality. We do now.

One hundred years ago, we didn't associate a woman's right to vote as a civil right. We do now.

One hundred and fifty years ago, we didn't associate freedom from slavery as a civil right. We certainly do now.

Fifty years from now, the rights of LGBT people will be so ingrained in our society that we will wonder what all the commotion was about -- if we wonder at all, since we'll probably have convinced ourselves, by then, that the barriers and delays we created to prevent such things were done by people other than ourselves.

But that is the future and the past. We live in the "right now."

Right now, we are called -- in the face of overwhelming facts -- to let go of our bigotry and help each other bring about change that includes LGBT people.

Right now, in our church, we have voted to become what is known as an Open & Affirming Congregation. That means our members have issued a public (note: not a private; a public) covenant of welcome to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identifies and gender expressions into the full life and ministry of our church. In other words, to welcome and celebrate everyone exactly the way God made them.

Even before we took our vote, our church was already the home of the only LGBT youth group in all of Manatee County, an organization called PRISM Youth Initiative . One week before our vote, PRISM organized, obtained local sponsorships, gained permission from local governments for, and held the first-ever Manatee County Pride Festival. on Riverwalk in downtown Bradenton and attended by more than 1,500 people. It was incredible. And inclusive. And open. And affirming. The way we are all called to be.

In late spring, two of our members who have shared their lives together for more than 20 years will solemnize their relationship by celebrating a commitment ceremony at our church, to which all our members are being invited. It will be the first time our church will have celebrated relationships in this way. (Did I mention these two fine members of our church are gay?) And their commitment will be blessed and shared by people who now wonder what all the commotion is about.

Through each of these happy and important turns of events, we have learned that the sky didn't fall, the ocean didn't rise and lightning didn't strike. If anything, we learned as we went through our changes that we were not alone.

That's the magic trick of bigots, you know: Convincing you not just that you are wrong but that you are alone. Convincing you to get along by going along.

We learned we were not alone when our congregation voted to become Open & Affirming and when the Manatee County Pride Festival was attended by more than 1,500 people, and our blessed couple won't feel alone on the day of their commitment ceremony (and, on that day in the future that will surely come, when they will be legally able to obtain a marriage license in all 50 states). And in each and every instance, we know to a certainty of faith that we are involved in effecting change that will make

our grandchildren proud.

We have also proudly learned there is no going back. We have learned, in the words of Rev. Frank Schaefer, the United Methodist Church Minister who was recently defrocked for going from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts to legally officiate the marriage ceremony for his son and his son's partner, during his closing statement at his heresy trial: "I cannot go back to being a silent supporter. I must continue to be in ministry with all people and speak for LBGT people. Members of the jury, before you decide my penalty, you need to know I wear this rainbow stole as a visible sign that this is who I am called to be."

We have changed and are constantly changing in ways that become blessings to God's world and to each other, where everyone is able to be part of the diverse future God, and the ever-evolving Christ, calls us to embrace. Not 50 years ago or 50 years in the future, but right now.


The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Sichta, Senior Pastor of the Congregational United Church of Christ at Bradenton.

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