by Robert A. Rees
One Sunday morning a number of years ago when I lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains, before departing for church, I read on the internet a statement by a Church leader about gays and lesbians which I found disturbing. As I started driving to church, I inserted Emma Lou Harris’s Angel Band into the CD player to try and erase what I had just read before I got to sacrament service. The first song was “Where Should I Turn to the Lord?” with the refrain:
Where could I go, oh where could I go
Seeking a refuge for my soul
Needing a friend to help me in the end,
Where could I go to the Lord?
As I approached the San Lorenzo Valley Ward, I had an impulse to keep on driving, which I did-—past the chapel, down the mountain and on into to Santa Cruz and the First Congregational Church where I sometimes went to worship. There I found a Jazz communion service and a wonderful spirit of openness to Christ. The sermon was on Mark 9:34-37 where Jesus’ disciples are arguing about who among them “should be the greatest.” Hearing them, Jesus “Sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be the first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.”
The minister, Rev. Kyle Lovett, then said, “I don’t believe worship should be a spectator sport, so get into small groups and discuss among yourselves who you consider the greatest.” We all did so and then she asked for our candidates. Not surprisingly, they included corporate CEOs, rich white men, the politically powerful, famous athletes and entertainers. She then asked us to get into the same groups and name those we considered the least. Again the list is what one would expect: the poor, illegal aliens, the powerless, single poor women, prisoners, the elderly, the unloved, and sinners. She then asked, “With which group do you most closely identify and most easily relate to?” We agreed that we had more to do with those in the first group than in the second. She said, “Most of us are descendents of those in the first group, and yet it is those in the second group—the powerless, servants, children and those like them—-with whom Jesus most closely identified.”
She then said that those in our society who came to her mind when she thought of the least were transgender young people. She then told a story about a girl named Nicole who had been born with a male body and a female “brain”/identity and the challenges she faced. She spoke of how vulnerable such children and adolescents are in our society and then said, “Every day try to understand how Jesus’ message applies to them. In this scripture, Jesus’ radical role reversal (the Son of God identifying with the poor and powerless), challenges us to ask who is greatest and who is least.” I thought that if such an exercise were given to a Latter-day Saint congregation, undoubtedly prophets and church leaders would be listed among the greatest and gays, lesbians and transgender individuals among the least.
Following the sermon, the congregation surrounded the communion table in concentric circles and as we held hands, prayed, and partook of communion sang, “We are opening up in sweet surrender to the luminous light of the Lord.”
Following communion, we made a mutual covenant to:
Take up Christ’s mission around the world,
Striving for justice and peace;
to care for earth and for all her people,
reconciling ourselves to them in love;
for God gives immeasurable grace
into all life and every life. Amen!
The next Sunday I returned to the San Lorenzo Valley Ward, but on that Sunday I stopped thinking about the hateful message I had read earlier that morning because . . . for that hour, among other Christians, I found refuge for my soul.