In a nutshell, Karl is stepping out of co-pastoring leadership at The Refuge. While it is not what we hoped, we are honoring his decision to step aside based on his theological convictions about same-sex marriages as a pastor.
As you know, The Refuge has always been an eclectic and inclusive community that held a wide range of theological differences in tension. Gay and straight people have always lived alongside each other in community.
Three years ago we hit a painful spot in our journey when we were confronted more clearly with the realities of differing theological views on gay marriage. At the end of a long community-wide conversation, we landed on being a place that held those differences in tension and each pastor and leader and community member had the freedom to marry or not marry. Out of that season our Invitation to Community also emerged, and we are so grateful for the ways it has helped shape our life together in this past season. One of the ways we made peace 3 years ago was to honor everyone’s individual freedom but with two compromises: (1) Pastors would share publicly that we are a community that has a lot of theological differences in tension and (2) There wouldn’t be any gay weddings in the Refuge facility (at that point, the Grange Hall, to keep the space neutral). It felt like a clear possibility to draw us back from the edge of a painful division; there are extremely few weddings in The Refuge buildings we have rented (5 total in 10 years). That decision was made with our Guidance Group and Ministry Team and communicated with the wider community at a family meeting but then never talked about again because we have never been confronted with it. Again, weddings are extremely rare in The Refuge facility.
What we failed to realize, though, was the impact this had on LGBQT friends and allies when it recently rose to the surface. It was blaringly clear that we needed to re-address this decision. Through many hours of hard, honest conversations and gut-wrenching prayer with all of our leadership teams, gay friends, and allies we considered all potential options--including no weddings at all in The Refuge facility. Karl withdrew that option when it felt clear to him the potential damage to our community and greater mission was at risk. We then made a decision to keep all of the same things in place related to freedom for individual convictions, but that weddings in the Refuge facility are open to all Refuge community members-gay or straight--moving forward.
This affected Karl’s ability to stay in a pastoral leadership role in the same way he has been. However, it doesn’t affect his ability or desire to be part of The Refuge community. A good way to consider this transition is that he will be a “Pastor-at-Large hubbed out of The Refuge” and a contributing member of our community. It is important to remember that Karl is not protesting anything and wants to stay so he can be part of healing story for the LGBQT community.
Everything at The Refuge will essentially be the same in that so much of our work has already been carried out by the wider community, and the majority of what we have in place is stable and secure. The biggest difference is that we will be taking the upcoming months as a community to re-structure and cultivate a more community-lead model that is consistent with our work as a mission center and Christian community. Kathy and Karl hope to still partner on special events, dignified dialogues, and Faith Circus.
We know this is a lot to digest.
At the same time, we hope your number one takeaway is that we are sincerely committed to walking this out together and telling a better story of unity and hope than so many others.
Please know we are an open book and glad to speak with any of you in any forum that works for you--online, in person, at The Refuge. Our biggest heart is to preserve all we have worked for all these years through openness and honesty.
If you are interested in reading more about the specific details of our process, we have a document explaining the steps we took and are glad to share that with you. Just let us know. Also, we recorded a special edition of Faith Circus that shares our hearts in a longer and more open format; listening might help gain greater insight.
In the upcoming weeks, Kathy and Mike will be opening up the opportunity for any Refuge community members to be part of 6 month "Transition Team" that will begin working together on some next steps for community listening, discernment, and recommendations for the kind of leadership and structures The Refuge needs. Meanwhile, the Guidance Group and Ministry Team will stay in place during this transition and remain closely involved; we are grateful to have a strong group of community members committed to walking this out together. Anyone who wants to be part will have a chance to be.
We have no need to rush and are going to take it slow, using the summer to get these next steps moving and the fall of 2016 to keep working toward this new chapter of our story. We will give you updates as they develop and appreciate your prayers for this process.
Most of all, we hope you hear this--while roles are changing, and new dreams will emerge, the mission of The Refuge is the same: to be a place where hurting and hungry people can find faith, hope, and dignity alongside each other.
We believe we have had a really great 10 years and a new good decade awaits.
While this has been so painful, we also know the path of transformation never comes through comfort.
We look forward to hearing your heart as you read and watch and hear ours.
With love and hope,
Kathy, Karl, and Mike along with the Guidance Group and Ministry Team at The Refuge