Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Look! It's a website!

After months and months of work, at last, the new improved church website has gone live. Eeeeee!

Check it out: http://www.presbyplatt.org/

The old website stopped working around the time I arrived at the church a year ago. (Coincidence?) It refused to let anyone go in and make updates. It was time for a change. We hired a consultant to help us with the technical stuff and develop a basic template, then it was off and running developing new content, especially photos that captured the essence of the building and the congregation.

I was quite surprised when I saw the stock image of a stained glass window on the old home page, when the church has such awesome stained glass windows of its own. So I spent some sunny afternoons last summer (and a couple in the winter) taking pictures of the windows. Not easy. If you're not a professional photographer and able to climb up on a scaffold, the perspective goes all wrong when you point upward with your camera from ground level. So I focused on sections of the stained glass rather than entire windows.

I don't know how old these windows are. The sanctuary dates from the 1870s, replacing a sanctuary that burned to the ground (a couple of years after major renovations) in 1867. I'm not sure if the windows were salvaged from the old church or were built for the new one, as some of the memorials date from the 1840s. But when you examine them closely, you can see that over time they have been repaired, and some repairs, shall we say, worked better than others. But the imperfections make the windows even more beautiful, in my opinion.

And then I started to learn how to edit photos with a program on my computer. I still have a lot to learn, but I was able to clean up some dark photos and crop others. I took more pictures, my husband did also, and others in the church did, too. I struggled to write copy. How do you capture the heart of a very diverse congregation in a few paragraphs? In the old days, I guess, I'd have typed a few lines, ripped the paper out of the typewriter, and tossed it in the wastebasket and reached for a fresh sheet. Today, of course, it's highlight and hit delete. And start over.

And then there was the learning curve for posting sermons and other videos on the Vimeo site and linking them to the website. More technical stuff to learn, and much more yet to learn.

Meanwhile, the youth director and church administrator were working on their own sections. There was much frustration and "Why won't it do what I want it to do?" The youth director summed it up well on her Facebook post, "Jesus saves, but this website won't."

And of course there were the queries and emails from the congregation and session of "When the heck are we going to get the new website up and running?" Guilt, guilt. It took the website consultant to give us the final push to get it all done. But yesterday afternoon, we told him, "Go live!" And here it is.

Still needs some tweaking. But now we can update it every week. And it looks great! In My Humble Opinion.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A new chapter

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) made headlines this week when the 87th of 173 presbyteries voted in favor of Amendment 10-A to the Constitution of the church, giving it the majority needed for passage. The new amendment replaces G-6.0106b, the so-called "fidelity and chastity" amendment adopted in 1997, which prohibited anyone from being ordained to office in the church who did not practice fidelity in a marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness. 10-A never mentions marriage or sexual orientation. Instead, it says that local governing bodies -- sessions in the case of elders and deacons, and presbyteries in the case of ministers -- shall examine candidates and determine their suitability for office. Which is what we have been doing all along, in fact. But by removing the fidelity and chastity wording, it leaves the decision whether to ordain someone who may not meet those criteria up to the local governing body.

Because I pastor the only Presbyterian church in my community, I figured someone from the local paper would call me for a quote, and they did. You can read the story here:

All the hoopla, lo these last fifteen years or more, has focused on the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians. "Fidelity and chastity" was much broader than that -- it prohibited straight people living with a partner outside of marriage from being ordained, too, and I suspect there are a lot more of them in our churches than gay couples. (Think of older widowed and divorced church members who, for any number of reasons, decided not to remarry but to live with someone.) And let's face it, over the years, there were probably a number of people ordained to office who were cheating on their spouses but never "self-acknowledged" that they were, so hey, they were off the hook. But the focus was on those who were openly gay.

Until a little over a year ago, I had never been married. During the years I was going through the arduous process that leads to ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA), I fully expected that someone, somewhere, in one of my innumerable meetings with committees on preparation for ministry, committees on ministry, and pastor search committees, would ask me about my sexual orientation. To my surprise, no one ever did. And I never brought it up. In the secular world, where I worked for twenty years, federal law prohibits an employer from asking questions about marital status, children, etc. In the church, it's no holds barred: you can be asked anything. But no one asked. Doesn't mean there wasn't some speculation raised or assumptions made when I was out of the room. But I never heard about it.

Attitudes toward gay people have been shifting in the United States since "fidelity and chastity" became part of our church's constitution in 1997. This became clear to me just after last Christmas, when Congress voted to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," a policy dating from around that same era, with hardly a whimper, and essentially with the blessing of military leaders. I suspect that as more and more people have come out in recent years, both public figures we see on television and people we know in our private lives, that being gay now has a face. It's no longer "those people." It's our neighbors, friends, and co-workers. And surprise! Gay people are not demons, after all. They are ordinary folk, going about their lives -- and their faith -- as best they can, day by day.

And in the church, I do think that some pastors who have been particularly vocal in opposing the ordination of gays and lesbians are starting to realize this too. It's not about "those people from outside" who are trying to "destroy" the church. We are talking about children we baptized, who went to Sunday school and Vacation Bible School and confirmation classes, who professed their faith in their youth, who suddenly were no longer welcome in their churches when they announced that they were gay. I think some of these pastors are slowly realizing that gay people have families. Maybe some of these family members have become brave enough to go to these pastors and say, "My child/grandchild/sibling is gay, and when you say they are categorically not fit for office in the church because they are gay, I find that I can no longer worship here."

Some large-church pastors have been rattling their sabers in the last few months, as it became more and more likely that G-6.0106b was going to be removed from the Constitution. Their latest missive suggests that they want to form a new denomination without leaving the old one (with its great health insurance and pension plan, but I'm being cynical here), where they can set their own ordination standards and do as they please with regard to funding the work of the PC(USA). I have no idea how that idea is going to fly with the rest of the denomination, but time will tell how it will all work out.

It's a new chapter in the life of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I don't think there will be radical change all at once; I mean, after all, we're the church. We don't move that fast. (A little bit more cynicism here.) But maybe, just maybe, after all these years of fighting, we can take a deep breath and say, "Okay, let's move on. Let's get back to doing the work that Christ has called us to do in the world." Not everyone is going to go along. But I do think that many hearts and minds have been changed over the years. The Holy Spirit is in our midst, still at work in people's lives. Amen!