A Remembrance: 30th Anniversary of the First Extraordinary Ordinations – January 20, 1990

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By Rev. Steve Harms

These are highlights from the joyous liturgy ordaining Ruth, Phyllis and Jeff many years ago.  Context:  The ELCA was two years old; 10,000 men had died in San Francisco from AIDS in the previous decade; and SF Lutheran Clergy claimed our theological heritage to follow the inspiration and authority of the Holy Spirit to call and ordain God’s candidates.  St. Paulus hosted us, nearly 1,000 people attended.  I worked with a Liturgy Team to design the ordination.  

 

30 Drummers from the Sons of Orpheus (founder Bruce Silverman) lined the entrance steps.  As people arrived they passed through this ‘Loving Gauntlet’ charged with a primal energy that nothing will be the same once you enter here.  The drummers led the Processional with approximately 80 clergy participating, 65 of them Lutherans.

 

A Litany of Defrocked Clergy preceded the Processional naming 30 clergy defrocked or prevented from serving the church for being gay. A powerful moment of grieving

 

We had asked Bishop Krister Stendahl to preach because of his international reputation as a forward thinking theological scholar.  Unfortunately, his schedule did not permit. Therefore Jeff and I asked that he send a Reflection about the Meaning of this Ordination and that served as our New Testament Epistle.  This epistle became the document that outraged the 65 bishops of the ELCA and it brought contention for years.  They publicly demanded by what authority do you speak for our church – since Stendahl was a Swedish Bishop who had taught at Harvard.

 

A Gospel Processional proceeded down the center aisle of this Gothic Church where Rev. Jack Schiemann proclaimed the Gospel.  As he began, the fog of San Francisco broke for a moment and the sun shone brilliantly through the stain glass windows on Jack, crucifer and acolytes.  This classic sunlit illumination of the Gospel was happily savored by many.  Drummers enthusiastically took the procession back to their places as I danced Rev. Carter Heyward to the pulpit.  Having climbed the steps she arrived in the elevated pulpit and the drummers dramatically stopped.  She let out a gasped shriek and said, “I’ve never begun preaching like this before!

 

The Ordination Rite began with Jim Lawson dancing a Fire Dance.  Grasping flames from the Fire Stick he was carrying he cast flames upon each of the candidates sitting in the front row.  We continued with the traditional Ordination Rite lead by Rev. John Frykman of First United and Rev. Jim DeLange of St. Francis whose congregations were both expelled from the ELCA for issuing their calls to ministry.  Many years later they were reinstated.

 

The culminating Greeting of Peace was a moment of pure ecstasy with the whole congregation blessing and dancing to the drumming.  A richness of Spirit that could never be contained.

 

The Eucharist Prayer included this memorable line, “You have made us giddy with the freedom of laughter and joy”.  Ruth, Phyllis and Jeff shared the Benediction.

 

For our Recession the Thurifer (incense bearer) had tied long rainbow ribbons to the thurible.  He was a member of Grace Cathedral (Episcopal high church) who was shocked and delighted by the joy and depth of the liturgy.  I gave him the nod to begin the Recession and as he passed by me he said, ” This occasion warrants Queen Anne’s”.  Swinging the thurible in circles over his head with rainbow ribbons flying in all directions he led everyone down the center aisle. 

And with immense joy the whole congregation came out.

Rev. Steve Harms (he/him/his) Senior Pastor at Peace Lutheran in Danville, CA.  Former President of the Interfaith Council. Founder of Ruah Drama Ministry.