Dan Roth

Ruling Elder, Ordained September 2007. 

When I was a kid I remember playing hide and seek with my brothers and other friends in the neighborhood. I grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas surrounded by trees and wooded areas, so I would find a place where the leaves and branches would hide me. When the seeker passed by it would take all of my energy to stay completely still and control my breathing so as not to be detected. Even though the seeker was the one moving, hiding was by far the more difficult activity. The lesson was clear: hiding requires a lot of energy.

By high school I had long given up on the game of hide and seek. I started attending Federated Church in Placerville, California, where the local Methodist and Presbyterian congregations had joined together once the population had fallen following the Gold Rush. I loved the youth group. I made the decision to be baptized and to join the church. It was also in high school that I began to consciously realize that I was different than the other kids. I had crushes on other boys in my class, but I didn’t dare tell anyone about it or even less act upon it. At that point in my life I did not know any gay people. My family has no gay uncles or any lesbian cousins. Will and Grace would not be on television for several more years. I remember sitting in church and asking God just to take my feelings and thoughts away.

But I also wanted to join the ministry. Church was a very important part of my life. I attended Triennium, went on numerous youth group mission trips, and drove myself to church as soon as I got my license.

When I was twenty, during my sophomore year in college, I finally came out to myself. However, the year before the Presbyterian Church ratified G-6.0106b. I knew that as I was opening the door to being honest with myself it meant I would be closing the door on my desired profession. To be honest I became very angry with the church. I stopped attending church services, studying the Bible or even praying. If the church didn’t want anything to do with me, then I did not anything to do with it, or with God.

I moved to Sacramento and began working in public policy and politics. In my mid-twenties friends invited me to begin attending Westminster Presbyterian in Sacramento. By God’s grace I found a congregation that welcomed me and loved me; they frankly did not care about my sexual orientation, and they chose the leaders of their church based upon their gifts–in open defiance of the official policy of the PCUSA. When the church’s nominating committee called me to serve as an elder on session, I accepted.

It was an honor to serve the church again, and whether it was decorating the church for Easter and Christmas, helping plan, set up and tear down our annual fundraiser for a non-profit in Sacramento that helps homeless women find housing and employment, organizing communion servers, heading up the annual stewardship drive, playing in the bell choir, and serving as a scripture reader, church was a place where I could worship and be with amazing people as we worked to both grow in our understanding of God and improve our communities.

I served as one of our commissioners to presbytery, and in 2009 a retired minister in the church asked me if I would consider putting my name in to be a commissioner to General Assembly. After much prayer I decided to do it, knowing that the General Assembly would again be discussing allowing people like me to serve openly in their churches. After being selected by the presbytery I reached out to every church in the presbytery, offering myself up to meet with their sessions in order to listen and learn from them about their priorities.

In traveling to over twenty churches in the Sacramento Presbytery, I discovered that the churches are much more complex than the issue of the ordination of LGBT individuals. Presbyterian churches do not fit into neat categories, but are rather diverse and complex communities of people who are striving to discern the will of God and improve their communities. They did not fall into neat dichotomies of liberal and conservative, but were both as wonderful as God created them and frustrating as people who run them.

Of course at General Assembly we discussed passionately, and the media focused on, allowing LGBT individuals to serve their churches. But we also discussed investing in our youth missionary programs, our commitment to environmental stewardship in cleaning up the Gulf Coast, our dedication to providing assistance to people around the world following natural disasters, and how the church should best organize itself moving forward.

When I had the opportunity to address my fellow delegates, I spoke about how we should allow our brothers and sisters to serve their churches in the open–honestly. My heart lifted as I heard seminary students speak about how they longed to serve a church that was inclusive, and young people took the microphone to talk about their vision for a church that would be truly open. It impressed me that so many straight allies were spending their time and their own resources to advocate for my behalf, and if they had the courage to stick up for me, then I better put my time and energy into defending myself.

Although the General Assembly voted to allow for LGBT people to serve openly, the real test was going to be getting a majority of the presbyteries to approve the new rules. I talked to many elders and ministers about what it would mean to the church to allow people to serve the church openly, and that we as a church will be stronger the more inclusive we are, but the energy I put in was nothing compared to my straight allies who used their time to convince their fellow elders and ministers about what an inclusive church would mean.

The day that the Sacramento Presbytery voted on whether or not to accept the new ordination standards proved to me once again that the Holy Spirit truly exists. I woke up early to make the drive to Chico. I prayed that my fellow commissioners’ hearts would be open, and together we would move forward on the best course of action for the Presbyterian Church.

We discussed and debated, and in true Presbyterian fashion, we voted. To be honest, I did not think we were going to prevail, but when the moderator announced the results I think everyone in the room was stunned. The Sacramento Presbytery had flipped and had joined other presbyteries from around the United States to support changing the ordination standards.

I was in shock. After lots of hugging, handshaking, and pure joy, I made the drive back to Sacramento. Spring was just arriving in the Central Valley, and the mustard was blooming in the fields. After a long and dark winter, a new spring was arriving in the Presbyterian Church.

Of course the rest is history. A majority of presbyteries voted to support the change in ordination standards. And something happened the next day: the sun rose. Children went to school, people went to work, and life for the most part continued to go on just as it did before.

But life changes when you do not have to hide anymore. The energy that it takes to hide suddenly can be used to do God’s work. When we are honest with each other, it means we can love each other, and the more people who are allowed to participate in the church, the better we do at discerning God’s will. The church is still imperfect, and I know it always will be. But with each step towards inclusion–from taking a strong stance against slavery to allowing women to serve our church–our congregations only get stronger.

I am still working on how it is best for me to serve the church, but I know now that the Presbyterian Church is better for its decision towards inclusion, and I am more willing to commit my time, talents and treasure to it because the people in it love me for who I am–all of who I am.

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