A Wisconsin man who left his Presbyterian ministry in California more than 20 years ago after telling his congregation that he is gay was welcomed back into the church leadership on Saturday as its first openly gay ordained minister.
In a quavering voice ripe with emotion, 56-year-old Scott Anderson told the hundreds of friends and backers who packed Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison for his ordination ceremony that he never thought the day would come.
"To the thousands of Presbyterians who have worked and prayed for almost 40 years for this day, I give thanks," Anderson said. "And I give thanks for those who disagree with what we're doing today yet who know that we are one in Jesus Christ."
When he was presented to the crowd, audience members gave him a thunderous standing ovation and began roaring with cheers.
"That was very atypical of Presbyterians," Doug Poland, an elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church, told the Wisconsin State Journal. "Usually our hands are in our laps."
Anderson was closeted when he served as a minister in Sacramento, Calif., from 1983 until 1990. When a couple threatened to reveal his sexual orientation, he came out to his congregation and resigned because the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) barred homosexuals from serving as ministers.
But things changed last year when the church's national assembly voted to remove the ban, clearing the way for Anderson's ordination.
Nancy Enderle, the interim executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, told The Associated Press the ordination was a glorious celebration that touched everyone, especially Anderson.
"He's a very dignified and poised person but you could tell he was deeply moved," she said.
Anderson currently serves as the executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches in Sun Prairie, which is near Madison, where he lives. His ordination means he'll be ordained to the specific job he already has. The only change is that he'll now be able to administer sacraments such as communion. He could also become a parish minister, a role he said he might consider in three or four years.
Anderson chose the Rev. Mark Achtemeier of Dubuque, Iowa, to deliver the sermon Saturday. Achtemeier used to be one of the most vocal opponents of gay ordination, but he announced a complete turnaround after friendships with gay Christians prompted him to re-evaluate scriptural teachings about homosexuality.
He told attendees Saturday he hopes Anderson's ministry will bring "healing good news" to all those who have felt "ostracized and alienated" from the church, the State Journal reported.
Supporter Bob Lorenz told WISC-TV the ordination was long overdue for someone of Anderson's talents.
"Ordaining him is just recognition of the gifts God already gave him," he said.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.