Tuesday, February 24, 2009


On Saturday I traveled out at 6 AM through mountains and fog (sudden, treacherous, curtainous fog that fell on my little car like a sudden and thorough blindness) with two elderly church-pillars in my car, to arrive at Tutuilla Presbyterian Church, which is at the end of a long road and on the top of a slight rise in the land that means you can see it for miles.
Tutuilla -- pronounce it Tutu, like the skirt, plus willa'. We ain't in Mexico no more. It's a small town on the Umatilla reservation. Likewise, yoo-ma-TILLa.

The mission to Native Americans there has a long history (tracing its origin back to the controversial character Marcus Whitman who was either martyred or massacred depending on whom you ask). The congregation was formed in 1882, just six years before my Lostine church.

But the RECENT history is more interesting, in my view. The congregation had dwindled to about 3 or 4 people and services were led monthly by the pastor of nearby Umatilla.
Now Jack Shut serves as Commissioned Lay Pastor there, and there are roughly 30 who regularly attend. He's apparently better accepted there because he's not quite white (he's Arab) but I think it all comes down to how friendly he is! Where there had been infighting among the native tribes, there is now harmony, and three of the chiefs regularly participate in the life of the church. The Cayuse chief welcomed us in the morning and the Walla Walla chief gave us an additional welcome in the afternoon. They fed us traditional salmon stew and "frybread" at lunch, along with huckleberry pie!

So. Presbytery.
For those of y'all who don't know (cough cough) (you should know)
The Presbyterians are now voting on a lovely little amendment to our constitution that was passed by a slim majority at GA, and now, if passed by most presbyteries and put into effect, would restore some wiggle room into LGBTQ ordination by replacing specific requirements for "fidelity in marriage or chastity in singleness" with general ordination requirements of "fidelity to all the standards of the church," to be administered on a local level rather than nationally.
After a morning of presentations and some time to pray and to eat, the Eastern Oregon Presbytery opened the floor for debate on this question.
Format: you alternate, speaking "pro" and "con," 3 minutes each, please introduce yourself by name, church, and stance.
The first "pro" gave a weepy testimony about her lesbian daughter who had come out and been accepted by her church. About how the pressure of staying "in the closet" had nearly killed this beloved daughter via anorexia. About how important it was that she could be herself at church.
The first "con" speaker carefully prefaced his remark with "I'm not necessarily saying to vote against this, but we should think about..." and my heart leapt up into my throat.
By the third time through the rotation there were no "cons" left to speak, although some of them were just bashful.
Secret Ballot.
22-6 for.
and in the most civil manner possible. No names were called. No threats of leaving the church. No threats of this killing the denomination.
I believe this can happen in other places too. I believe we are becoming more flexible, more open, more trusting of each other's discernment process, and less likely to clamp down and legislate our brothers and sisters in Christ.


  1. yeah - do you read heather's blog? http://holy-vignettes.blogspot.com/2009/02/central-alabama-west-texas.html - she's following the votes pretty closely and there's some good stuff! ; )

  2. Great post!! Like the history of the Tutwilla church and the story of the amendment vote. Our presbytery passed B last Saturday as well. We'll see how the Holy Spirit leads :-)

  3. Yeah! Byron, yours was one of the new ones if i remember correctly... how exciting! It really was an experience to go through that vote.