After the Sunday morning service on baptism, and the educational meeting on the environment the Sunday ended with an evening of “New Perspectives on Faith” gathering at College Mennonite Church.
The mission of New Perspectives is “to foster inter-congregational, inter-denominational, and inter-faith conversations that contribute to new perspectives on faith for a new millennium.” Its primary goal is to create a forum where serious seekers of truth can meet together to bring contemporary theological scholarship into the public arena; and respectfully discuss differing points of view as we discover truth and enrich the life of each person.”
The speaker of the evening was Ed Groff. His subject was “Sacred Humanism.” Simple humanists believe that people can live without religion. They use their intelligence and reason instead of depending on a personal god or religion. When asked why he chose to speak on sacred humanism, Groff acknowledged that while he did not feel a need for a god, he did believe that there was something sacred beyond humanism.
Groff is on the faculty of California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, CA, where he teaches critical studies courses in the School of Dance; and serves as Assistant Director of the MFA Program in Choreography. If I understood him, Groff sees spirituality in the dances of native peoples. But when asked, he could not define spirituality.
My contribution for the evening was to describe the Saturday evening session of the Indiana-Michigan Conference at Bethany Christian School. I tried to tell of the African-American dancing woman with fans, and the powerful demonstrative message of the African-American woman preacher of the evening.
Groff responded by saying that he was glad to learn that this kind of event had happened in a meeting sponsored by Mennonites. Groff is not a stranger to Mennonites. He is the son of Wayburn and the late Thelma Groff. His father was there with white hair and black suit seated in a wheel chair to hear his son speak.
The Groffs reared their son as a member of a missionary family in India. He attended Bethany Christian School when they returned from India. He told the New Perspectives that he is gay.
I learned afterward that when Groff became open about his sexual orientation, many of his family and his church rejected him and rejected his parents because they would not reject their son. He spoke several times of his appreciation and respect for his parents. I admire them. I assume that the younger Groff will leave a foot print on the Mennonite church through new perspectives.
I thought of another gay man who is leaving a large foot print on the church. Randall Spaulding was the chair of the committee that developed Sing the Story and Sing the Journey, two supplements of the Mennonite Worship Book. When he became transparent about his gay sexual orientation, the conference revoked his pastoral credentials. He is now preparing for further ministry.
When we sing from one of the supplements, I often turn to the page that reveals his role in its preparation and am grateful for the memories of the Randall Spaulding I knew and love.
Should we not rejoice that the church is beginning to honor men and women for their transparency, and the gifts they offer to the church they love.