Beloved friends and family of the Flame!
I can’t believe today is my last day as your pastor, and this is my farewell sermon. Wow.
It is also surreal to be stepping away as pastor in the midst of the uprisings of outrage over violence towards our black siblings. There is so much in our city, in our nation, and on our hearts that is burning.
My last day falls in the middle of a global pandemic, and coincides with protests and curfews. It is also on the same day as the church holiday Pentecost. This is a day commonly celebrated as the birthday of the Christian church. Next week, with Pastor Matta, you will be celebrating the fourth birthday of the Flame. Between current events and our own church changes, there is so much transition, joy, grief, rage, celebration, and pain, all wrapped up in a complicated bundle that is this time. No matter where you are on this emotional journey, you have a place here.
I love that since we have formed the Flame, we have made a #queerchurch that seeks to be a healing community of faith. We have proclaimed to people who may not have felt at home in another church, who may be mad at God or not believe in God, who may be struggling, or who are strong in faith that “You have a place here.” I give thanks for the Flame, and all of the ways we lift up and celebrate the belovedness of each of us.
As we say in our Reconciling In Christ Welcome Statement: “Regardless of your age, income, health, housing status, relationship or family status, physical abilities, race, religion, HIV status, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation, You have a place here.” It brings me so much joy to think of the ways we have lived that out. And you meant it! You are incredible! We don’t get it right all of the time. Every one of us messes up sometimes. But we try, and God has used us in some pretty cool ways. And this important ministry will continue and thrive.
I think of that first Pentecost – of people on the margins being used by the Holy Spirit to start something new and something amazing. The Spirit is up to that mischievous work throughout the world and history, and it has been a privilege to be a part of the birth of the Flame. God is using me, you, all of us, to bring about something new.
I have wonderful memories of the way we meet people at Pride in Portland and Beaverton, and AIDS Walk, and other events, and tell them that they are beloved, and how excited they are to hear about a Queer Church. Those are Pentecost moments!
I also love that this community is outward facing. We love to laugh and play and support our own community, but we also long for justice in the world, and work to care for our neighbor. We show up for the immigrant, we show up to dismantle white supremacy, we care for the houseless, those living with HIV, and those who are poor. I love that as a church we sent a resolution to the floor at the Oregon Synod to support the Poor People’s Campaign – and it went all the way to the national church assembly!
I also want to remind you of this effort of the Poor People’s Campaign resolution to remind you that we are a part of something bigger. Even as we create something new, we are not alone in this. When we shared the resolution for the Poor People’s Campaign, we met and heard about people all over the country who were doing the work already. We helped the national conversation!
We are a part of a movement of love. We joined in with others around the country writing notes for the National Youth Gathering for ReconcilingWorks to hand out to teens – to let them know that they are beloved. We provided gifts to our queer elders at the SAGE Christmas parties and to an immigrant family. You are amazing!
I love that here at the Flame, we dare to dream. We think outside the box and don’t accept the status quo. Even when the Flame started as a gathering in my living room, we had big dreams for the future. I am so grateful for Pastor Matta and all of you here who are going to keep this fire going. And I love that it is ok that some of our big ideas work, and some of them don’t. I was looking through my files as I was passing along items to Pastor Matta, and found the draft order of service I had drawn up when we were planning a liturgical circus service for Christmas Eve, 2017. In our draft plan, the acts to different Christmas hymns were for Kate on silks or chains, Devynn on lyra, and Bentley and me each doing a piece on the trapeze. That would have been epic! But it didn’t come together, and that’s ok. We had other events with Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus – and my ordination circus!
Another big idea that didn’t happen was to facilitate an anti-racism training for the Portland Metro area last year. That’s ok too. We ran into roadblocks, and we are still doing the work. Other churches are doing a lot of good work too in their own book studies, movie groups and more. We never hosted that big event, but we co-hosted the Dear Church book tour at Central for Rev. Lenny Duncan. Over 300 people came. And we did our own book discussions of Dear Church, and Assata Shakur’s autobiography, and movie discussion of the Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, and a deep dive together into the ELCA documents on Women and Justice, and the Strategy for Authentic Diversity. Maybe we haven’t yet hosted the big event, but I am so proud of you, church, for continuing to engage in hard conversations on justice, and naming the sins of patriarchy and racism. Thank you.
Flame fam – I love your commitment to fighting racism. I love that you are one of the first nine churches nationally to participate in the Emmaus Collective, committing ourselves to dismantling white supremacy. I love that you have embraced lifting up the voices of people of color and queer people in our readings. I am so glad that we remember that Jesus was not a white man. You are a church that fervently accepts that work and takes on those hard conversations. We don’t get it right all the time, but you are incredible and I am so proud of you. Keep it up! I pledge to keep doing this work of dismantling white supremacy, and am glad to have you as co-conspirators.
I also love that at one point we had an Accessibility Team that looked into ways that we could be hospitable for the Deaf community. That ministry didn’t unfold how we dreamt it, but the heart and the work and talent are there. Thank you!
To borrow the expression, I love the audacious hope for the church that I see in the Flame. Keep on dreaming big. Keep on being willing to change, and fail, and try something new. Keep showing each other grace. Keep taking care of one another, and reaching out into the community. Keep on seeing visions, and dreaming dreams, and letting the Spirit invite you into her dance. The mischievous Divine is using you for some incredible healing and peace and justice making!
One of the amazing things about Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit births something new in this time of transition and the unknown. Our church is in transition between pastors, and the country is definitely in a time of the unknown with protests and a pandemic. But you are not being abandoned. At the Flame, things will be different, but they will also be the same. You have a new pastor, but the same core values, the same loving community. I trust God and give thanks in my heart that God brought us Pastor Matta to lead the community forward, and I have a deep faith in all of you, Flame family. God has an incredible adventure in store for the Flame! The world needs you to be the hands and feet of Christ – lit up by the Holy Spirit – caring for each other and those in the world who have been cast aside. The world needs you to flip tables and build relationships, to listen to, learn from, and honor the voices of our black and indigenous neighbors, our trans siblings, all people of color and queer people. The world needs you to feed the hungry, and welcome the stranger, and love the outcast.
Dear friends – I have so many good memories of our gatherings, of sassy Jesus, of wonderful music, zoo lights, and Mega Cookie Baking Day, Christmas Eve services, visits over coffee, or in McMenamins, or the hospital, Trans Days of Remembrance, and tabling for Trans resources day, game nights, craft nights, circus adventures, and pantomimed bible studies. Thank you for potlucks and picnics and so so so much more. Thank you for loving me in all my goofiness and joining in some good antics together. Thank you for so much laughter and love.
It has been an incredible privilege to be your pastor and co-dreamer these last four years. I have so much that I want to say in this farewell sermon, but I don’t want to take two hours. When I asked my mom for advice, she gave me a nice three-point sermon that is definitely true, so I’ll end with that. 1) I love you. 2) I’ll miss you. 3) Thank you.
The readings for the service were from
Reading 2 from “Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired” by Rev. Tiffany Chaney
Scritpure: Acts, Chapter 2, verses 1-4; 14-21