Pastor’s call brings Ohio church ‘sense of peace’

Inclusive stance extends to its choice of a pastor

Oct 27, 2014 by and

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Members of Columbus (Ohio) Mennonite Church laid their hands on Mark Rupp Sept. 21 as they installed him as pastor of Christian formation.

Members of Columbus Mennonite Church lay their hands on Mark Rupp while Lois Johns Kaufmann prays during a service to install Rupp as pastor of Christian formation. Johns Kaufmann is the conference minister for Mennonite Church USA’s Central District. — Lois Maust

Members of Columbus Mennonite Church lay their hands on Mark Rupp while Lois Johns Kaufmann prays during a service to install Rupp as pastor of Christian formation. Johns Kaufmann is the conference minister for Mennonite Church USA’s Central District. — Lois Maust

“It hit me during that moment that rather than lots of individual hands on me, it really felt like a blanket of support, and that was really, really meaningful,” Rupp said in an Oct. 15 interview. “It wasn’t me out there alone. I had a lot of support.”

Rupp, who attended Columbus Mennonite for a year and a half before being called, is in a committed same-sex relationship.

After decades of theological study and spiritual discernment, in 2007 the congregation became one that accepts members regardless of sexual orientation. Now, Columbus Mennonite has begun to live its commitment to inclusion in a new way.

“The fact that he is gay is something some people see much more as an asset rather than a negative,” said Joel Miller, the lead pastor. “He brings a perspective of the church not being a safe place and helps guide us in asking, ‘How do we make the church more accepting?’ ”

Called to ministry

Rupp first felt called to Christian ministry as a senior in high school during a summer camp affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, the church he grew up in.

He attended Bluffton (Ohio) University as a music education major while he considered what this call would mean. After a year and a half, he switched to music ministry.

After college, where he got to know and feel at home in the Mennonite tradition, he took part in Mennonite Voluntary Service for three formative years.

“That was a time when I thought the only way to be expressive in ministry was to commit myself to celibacy,” he said.

It wasn’t an easy time.

“I knew that God was calling me to ministry,” he said. “At some point I accepted my sexuality, but the repression of that sexuality was not life-giving in a lot of really depressing and a lot of really hard ways.”

But through conversations, life circumstances and relationships, his idea about that began to shift.

“I started to realize that ministry as an openly gay man was not something that was completely off the table,” he said.

Beginning seminary at Meth­odist Theological School in Ohio, he assumed his ministry would have to be in another denomination or in a nonpastoral role.

“I started throwing myself into the idea of using education as a ministry,” he said. “It was a ministry that was more attainable in the world that we live in.”

He was still in this mindset when he heard a job was opening at Columbus Mennonite, where he had attended for a year and a half.

“I decided that I was not going to let fear keep me from putting myself forward as a candidate,” he said.

Miller said Rupp’s “gifts and sense of calling fit with exactly what we were looking for.” Before beginning the hiring process the congregation held discussions about whether their inclusive stance extended to pastors.

“There was strong affirmation,” Miller said.

Expecting reaction

Columbus Mennonite anticipates responses, both positive and negative, to the news of Rupp’s hiring. Reactions were heard across the wider church after the February licensing of Theda Good, also a pastor in a same-sex partnership, in Mountain States Conference.

Members intend to approach it with a biblical theme of “come and see,” a common phrase in the Gospel of John.

Rather than trying to win arguments, they want to invite others to come and see what Columbus is about — from vibrant worship to knotting comforters for Mennonite Central Committee to serving with the homeless and partnering with a racially diverse coalition of local congregations to address justice issues.

The congregation is prepared to hear from those who disagree.

“We’re being intentional about there being a small group of people that are attentive to hearing response,” Miller said.

He sees “an elevated sense of love” in his congregation.

“I see joy from people with gay family members for whom this is kind of a dream,” he said. “And there’s a sense of peace within the congregation.”

A member told Rupp that if he ever feels like a lightning rod to remember it was ultimately the congregation’s decision to affirm his call.

See also: “Another Conference to License Gay Pastor

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  • Bruce Leichty

    This reporting is very one-sided. Did Kelli Yoder make any attempt at all to contact those (either in the congregation or in the Conference) who do not favor Mark Rupp’s installation? I also note that The Mennonite reported on a curious statement adopted by the congregation that makes a more general proclamation that “sexual practice” is no longer to be considered relevant to church membership. Such antinomianism also deserves reporting in any balanced treatment of the acts and ethos of this congregation (and this Conference).

    • Charlie Kraybill

      Balance schmalance. I applaud MWR and Ms. Yoder for not falling into the media trap of false equivalency, pretending both sides have equal merit when in fact one side is clearly more righteous and true than the other. Should the church press have given equal treatment to both sides of the sexual equality debate decades ago? Well, they may have done so, but the arguments against allowing women in leadership seem pretty silly now. Should the church press have given equal treatment to both sides of the racial equality debate? Again, there were plenty of separatists in the Mennonite church 50 years ago, but their arguments seem downright ugly by today’s lights. Why should MWR feel obligated to contact and quote those who are opposed to Mark Rupp’s installation? I for one have no interest in hearing from those voices.

      • Conrad Hertzler

        This is quite an aggressive reply. I wonder if you realize how much your comments serve to marginalize a significant percentage of Anabaptists who thoughtfully disagree with the licensing of gay pastors. Not out of a heart of hate and bigotry as is often portrayed, but out of a sincere desire to be true to their God and His word. Perhaps you don’t care and don’t want to engage the other view point but please don’t paint us all as silly and ignorant. Thanks.

        • Charlie Kraybill

          Aggressive, you say?!? Was Martin Luther King, Jr., aggressive when he marched from Selma to Montgomery? Was Mahatma Gandhi aggressive when he marched to the Arabian Sea? Advocates for inclusion in the Mennonite church have been gently knocking at the door for over 30 years, asking politely for basic consideration. And they have always been told by church leaders: “Patience! Just be patient, for a little while longer.” Meanwhile, secular society has zoomed ahead on equality issues and is now doing the work of the Kingdom of God for us, while too many church members stand idly by, doing nothing. It’s an embarrassment that the church, including the Mennonite church, tends to be decades behind the secular world when it comes to striving for basic human and social progress. Conrad Hertzler, I’m pretty sure that you too, if you live long enough, will one day come to recognize that inclusion for gays and lesbians is the christian thing to do.

          • Conrad Hertzler

            Thanks for your vote of confidence:) However, I think it is safe to say that I will never arrive at your position. Do I believe the church has failed and has a lot of room for growth when it comes to social issues? Absolutely! To say that we have “arrived” regarding any issue is arrogant and completely false. I’m not sure what you mean by the secular world is doing the work of the Kingdom of God. According to what I just got done reading in Romans 8, the secular mind and the spiritual mind are diametrically opposed. The secular world can do things that look good and are right to a certain extent but to say that they are doing Kingdom work I believe is off base.

            I realize that this is a sensitive topic with a lot of emotion attached. The internet “chat” world isn’t the best forum for this discussion. You and James Regier (below) are at a different point than I am and we will never change each other’s opinion. I just wonder if we can have a discussion without making the person of the other viewpoint look like an uneducated. I am not, as James Regier indicates, trying to exclude people by couching my arguments in the most pious and theological terms. However, in a world where there is much confusion, I do find myself falling back on the Standard of God’s word and that’s where I will start any discussion on a topic like this.
            BTW, I think it would be fun to meet you and discuss with you in person.. Peace

        • James Regier

          Depends on the point of view. If you are a mouse being attacked by a cat, would you trifle with the cat’s motives? Whether it is for a game, or whether it is for food, you, as the mouse are under attack, and probably a goner.

          Although I hope I am a worthy ally, I am not gay; I cannot claim to be the brunt of the attacks. It pains me a great deal, though, to see our glbtq brothers and sisters portrayed as less by the opponents to full inclusion and acceptance. And frankly, I do not care if it is done out of silliness, ignorance, or if it is couched in the most eloquent and pious theological terms. Exclusion is exclusion.

          • Berry Friesen

            James, one of the most prominent themes in the Bible is righteousness/justice; it’s simply chock full of value judgments related to that. I recognize the gnostic preference to wash it all away, or to relativize it within a metaphysical categories of divine grace. But none of that is biblical.

            You do not sound gnostic; instead, you are making an urgent moral judgment that is relatively novel within our faith tradition. You are being a prophet, in other words. We need to take your value judgment/prophetic word seriously, to test it and discern whether it is the voice of YHWH.

            I don’t know what the result of that testing will be, but If we are faithful to what we have received, I’m pretty sure it will be embedded in a fabric of value judgments and relationships related to righteousness/justice. After all, we are a social movement that follows Messiah Jesus, the righteous/just one.

      • Bruce Leichty

        “Marginal Mennonite” Charlie proves my point. He likes editorializing masquerading as news reporting when it suits his agenda, but good journalists don’t like the two mixed at all. As a member of the MWR corporation and as a former journalist, I say that the responsibility of MWR reporters is to give space to all points of view when reporting on dramatic developments such as this, and this would be particularly true even if one were to impute MCUSA agenda to this reporting (remember how big the table is in MCUSA and how we are supposed to be dialoguing about this?) Is it OK for the New York Times to slant its reporting on Gaza because so many of its reporters have children in the Israeli Defense Forces and of course everyone knows that Israel has a righteous cause? Enough said on that. It is also a canard to compare the same-sex marriage agenda to race-based civil rights advocacy, and I hope some of our African American brothers and sisters speak up here. Race is an immutable characteristic, as is gender. Sexual orientation has not been proved to be. At least some homosexuality appears to be influenced if not determined by upbringing and trauma.

    • Will Friesen

      The point of the article was to tell Mark Rupp’s and his congregation’s stories and how they felt God’s leading to where they are today– not to explain how various groups of people feel Columbus MC’s decisions are contrary to the Bible. Anyone who has been following Mennonite journalism for the last few years should be well aware of how various conferences and churches feel about what’s going on by now. Maybe a good response to this article would be to genuinely listen to this church’s experience with the goal of understanding how God has been and is leading them.

  • Conrad Hertzler

    Pastor Joel Miller asks, “How do we make the Church more accepting?” This question strikes me as missing the mark. Should the question be what Pastor Miller has asked or would Jesus want us to ask, “How can we make the Church more holy?” I strongly believe that God’s Word is more concerned about holiness and less concerned about being accepting.

  • Elaine Fehr

    What a sad day in Mennonite history. A couple of things come to mind:

    Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
    Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
    Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
    Isaiah 5:20

    Also, Galatians 6:7:
    Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.

  • James Regier

    My parents attend First Mennonite in Hutchinson, KS. I know of the good work that Mark Rupp did as a VSer in Hutchinson, and of the very positive role he played in the congregation of First Mennonite. Unfortunately, there were a few loud voices who believed that the fact he is gay invalidated these contributions, although much of the congregation supported him.

    Mark is a strong individual: in his faith, in his character, and in his resolve that, despite the naysayers, he has a great deal to offer. I have no doubt that Columbus Mennonite has found a fine pastor in Mark. I am glad that Mark has found a very supporting congregation in Columbus Mennonite.

  • Delores and Dave Gorter

    Where is the church that is standing up and saying we are proud to have a practicing prostitute as our leader – what a great day this is? Where is the church that is standing up and saying we are proud to have a drunkard as our leader – what a great day this is? This is not about accepting gays and lesbians…its about accepting or denying Gods word. It doesn’t matter what the world says is correct…what does God say about it? His word is clear on this matter – so it there should be no discussion…we only discuss it because we want to feel ‘relevent’. But in case anyone has forgotten -this all about God and His holiness and has nothing to do with how we ‘feel’. The word says IF JESUS is lifted up He will draw all men….accepting the worlds standards is destroying the church and our country and that is why people are leaving the church in droves. It is not because we are not inclusive…it is because we have failed to lift up a standard…who wants to serve a whimpy, politically correct God? Not me!!

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