I was going to write the second installment of "the history of Scout, our dog," but instead...
I spent this weekend at my church's "Synod Assembly". Every year we get together to make decisions, vote on resolutions, vote on who will represent us on various boards and committees. Every once in awhile we elect a bishop. Usually we get higher attendance at these particular gatherings, because clergy and lay folk alike get the impression that this time their vote really does count.
For the past several years, one topic has come up again and again in church assemblies: sex. We (and other mainline denominations) have been trying to figure out what to do about the fact that there are gay and lesbian Christians worshiping in our churches -- and some who are serving as pastors. There are no magic answers to this, although it seems like there is a deep desire to have a study come out with a Definitive Answer once and for all: this is what the Bible says.
This year there are a couple of pastors who might be removed from the clergy roster and their congregations. Several people spoke on behalf of the pastors; others were opposed. The very first person to speak was a man who started by saying: "My name is J. I graduated from this college in 1979 and entered seminary...." he continued by saying that the realization that he was gay led to his exit from seminary. How he had struggled, and finally found a church home in the UCC. How he had met his partner of 17 years at church (of all places), when the man leaned over and said to him, after a hymn, "Nice harmony." How after his mother's death he wanted to return to the church of his youth, and had finally found a Lutheran church which was welcoming to him.
However, I was stuck at "My name is J." Because he was my friend from college. We graduated the same year. We belonged to the same religious group, called "Lutheran Youth Encounter." We travelled to different churches, did youth programs and worship services. We were on the same "team", so we knew each other pretty well. One time a group of us all went to "A Prairie Home Companion" together. This was at a time when you could stand in line on Saturday and get in for $3.00 During the monologue, Garrison Keillor said something about an election for mayor where a particular man didn't run, but he won on the write-in. J. started laughing hysterically. "That really happened in my town," he said.
During college, he was always clear that his plan was to go to seminary and be a pastor. So when I decided to go to Japan as a short-term missionary in 1981, of course I wanted him to be a part of the service -- J., another friend in seminary, and a woman I knew who grew up in Japan. I have a picture of all of us, August 31, 1981, all wearing albs, at my Commissioning service.
That was the last time I saw J. Until Friday. While in Japan, I heard that he quit seminary, had "issues". Someone thought he had even moved out of state. It seemed to me that he had dropped off the face of the earth.
I felt such a profound sense of loss, of grief. I tried to find him, to talk to him sometime during the weekend, but there were 500 people at the Assembly, and I couldn't locate him. I haven't spoken to him -- once my good friend -- in 25 years.
I hope that I will soon.