Laurene Lafontaine

Teaching Elder, ordained 1987.

Laurene Lafontaine is the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Rochester, MN. 

It has been a long journey. It started twenty-six years ago when Laurene was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in 1987. But she didn’t receive a call to pastor a church–the implication was that no one wanted hire an out lesbian pastor. She labored as an interim pastor or stated supply and later worked outside of the Presbyterian Church. But something was missing, as she couldn’t do what she felt called to do.

During the first couple years of her ministry, Laurene kept her public church life separate from her private life. While working as an interim associate pastor, it was a hard experience to live as a public figure and yet hold part of herself back. Her partner at the time would come in after Sunday morning worship began and would leave during the last hymn. No one knew the two people had a connection. Her life was divided, and it was exhausting.

In 1991, Laurene went to the General Assembly in Baltimore. She wanted a first-hand look at how the church handled issues of sexuality, and was intending to leave the denomination due to its lack of support. But while there, she met the Rev. Janie Spahr, Virginia Davidson, Chris Glaser, along with many other LGBT clergy, lay people and heterosexual allies. Instead of leaving, she discovered a community of support and hope within the church.

On November 4, 1992, Laurene made herself and God a promise on the steps of the Capitol building in Denver. The voters of Colorado had just passed Amendment 2, which prohibited LGBT people from claiming discrimination in housing, employment and accommodations based on their sexuality, and several thousand people, Laurene included, had come to the Capitol to protest. As the amendment passed, Laurene knew she could never be silent again and felt an ethical responsibility to live her life as an out lesbian. The failure of justice on that day pushed Laurene to decide that she could no longer hide who she was.

However, being out had its struggles. After coming out at a presbytery meeting and being quoted on the front page of the Denver Post, Laurene worried she would lose her job coaching part-time at an all-girls Catholic high school. Instead, she was warmly affirmed. The school was looking for good role models for their students and Laurene fit the bill. Their acceptance restored Laurene’s faith, and would eventually lead to a full-time position.

Being unable to find a called position didn’t stop Laurene from working for an inclusive church and society. She served Presbyterians for Lesbian Gay Concerns (PLGC)/More Light Presbyterians (MLP) as co-moderator, and as the director of the Voices of Faith for Human Rights program of Equality Colorado, a statewide network working for LGBT civil rights. Her work with PLGC/MLP and Equality Colorado helped give voice to the reality that sexuality and spirituality cannot be separated, and the importance of being an out lesbian clergywoman despite the risks.

Laurene spent eight years working as a full-time high school teacher, but in many ways knew that she wasn’t doing what she felt called to do. She was a parish associate at Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church, a progressive and supportive church, but they struggled. Laurene found some support in her presbytery, but in many ways they wouldn’t go far enough. The economic impact of being out took its toll as Laurene was unable to even secure an interview for a called position. There was an overwhelming feeling that there was not a church willing to call an out lesbian or gay pastor, so in December 2012, Laurene was ready to give up and remove her name from the online database of ministers seeking positions.

But praise be to God, Laurene was unable to remove her name and received an email from the Community Presbyterian Church in Rochester, Minnesota, seeking a pastor. Through the interview process, Laurene was completely open about her sexuality and was relieved to find the church kept bringing her back for interviews because she was a right fit for the position. With the passage of Amendment 10-A, both Laurene and Community Presbyterian were able to move forward in this process with confidence.

Though Laurene has worked for full inclusion of the LGBT community in the church for years, she believed it would take a generation to pass before someone like herself would receive a call. It had been a long twenty-six years of waiting and hoping, and now that the reality was changing, Laurene was astounded.

Coming to a new church that was open to receiving all of who she is has changed how Laurene views the Church. The way she reads scripture and sings hymns are filled with joy. She has gone from feeling like an outsider to being one at the table, and she’s realized that though the process was long and difficult, her sense of call never left.

Now as a new pastor, Laurene is full of excitement. She finds herself doing what she was born to do, and living as the person she knows herself to be. The anger that she felt throughout her journey has been released and replaced with love and joy. And with her life fully integrated, Laurene can begin to live the life she put on hold for so long. It has been a long journey, but now a new one is just beginning.

–by Caroline Barnett

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