Why I Love Central Pres. and the Presbyterian Welcome LGBTQ Future Pastors Retreat

I am helping to run the online Indiegogo campaign for Presbyterian Welcome‘s LGBTQ Future Pastors Retreat. This morning, I gave a Minute for Mission at my church (Central Presbyterian, Austin, TX). It was the first time I have ever said aloud to a room full of people “I am an openly bisexual woman and a candidate for ordination in the PCUSA.” It was both terrifying and awesome – talk about fear and trembling. My congregation graciously received me and my truth with applause and cheers.

I did it because I wanted to share with my congregation this retreat that is so important to me. And I’m posting it here because I also want to share it with you. If you’re willing to donate, you can do so here. We’ve got 6 days left to reach our $15,000 goal.

Here are my words from this morning:

Good Morning.

If you don’t know me, my name is Layton Williams. I’m a member of Central and I’m a senior at Austin Seminary.

I’m also an openly bisexual woman and a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church USA. That can a terrifying truth to name, even in a church like this. 

I came out a couple of weeks into seminary and it has not been an easy road—it is, at times, lonely and difficult and scary—but I have been so lucky to have spent these past few years surrounded and lifted up by supportive communities. Central is one such community. And there is another community that has been absolutely essential to my journey that I want to tell you about this morning. 

Every July, dozens of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, and Queer future Presbyterian pastors come together to spend four days in community. Over the weekend, we worship together, we learn about leadership and advocacy and ministry, we laugh, we cry. We are a nerdy, Jesus-loving bunch and it is a life-giving, sacred time. In that place, there is such deep, holy, unbridled passion for the church. I wish you could see it. I hope you can see it in my face. 

This gathering is called the LGBTQ Future Pastors Retreat and it is put on annually by Presbyterian Welcome. Pres Welcome is a New York based organization, and its Minister for Advocacy and Education is the Rev. John Russell Stanger, who was nurtured by this congregation and just a few months ago in this sanctuary became the first openly gay man ordained in Mission Presbytery. Annanda Barclay, Central member and former intern, serves on the retreat planning committee. And I am helping run our current online fundraising campaign to help cover the cost of the 50 plus participants we expect at this year’s retreat. We’ve raised $9,400 so far and have 6 days left in our campaign. 

This church has deep ties to Presbyterian Welcome. There are others, besides John Russell, Annanda, and me who are cared for by this congregation and nurtured by the retreat. In fact, if you didn’t know it, you boast the single largest population of retreat participants of any church in the country. And this congregation has been a consistent financial and spiritual supporter of Presbyterian Welcome’s work. I encourage you to visit presbyterianwelcome.org to learn more about our work and the retreat. You can also find there the link to our fundraising page to see how it’s going and/or make a personal contribution.

Every year at the retreat, we each get a list of all the churches who have supported us. Our eyes hungrily take it in, each congregation name a shining light of hope that we are not alone. I am so proud to find my own church home’s name on that list year after year. Your embodiment of Christ’s radical love touches each and every one of us, and all the churches that we will one day serve. Thank you for supporting us, for loving us, and above all, for recognizing and celebrating that we are called. 

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