At Broad Street Ministry, an openly gay minister is ordained

The laying of hands upon David Norse, during his ordination at the Broad Street Ministry on Sunday. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer
The laying of hands upon David Norse, during his ordination at the Broad Street Ministry on Sunday. DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer
Posted: January 07, 2014

PHILADELPHIA When David Norse first stepped into the Broad Street Ministry on Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts and spotted the art installation of a dozen tilting metal windmills and glimpsed the flocks of origami birds suspended from the ceiling, he felt a connection.

"This is the place," he recalled thinking a few years ago when he first visited the church across the street from the Kimmel Center. "I'm home."

On Sunday, Norse, 27, was ordained at Broad Street Ministry as Philadelphia's first openly gay male minister in a Presbyterian church.

Norse's proud parents, Rachel and Richard, flew in from Portland, Ore., along with the Rev. Ken Evers-Hood, Norse's hometown minister and mentor. The joyful service featured an eclectic musical mix, with sing-alongs of "This Little Light of Mine," an anthem from the civil rights movement, and a rousing rendition of Sister Sledge's pop classic "We are Family."

The Rev. Bill Golderer, Broad Street's pastor, said the ordination of Norse, who recently earned a master's degree from the Princeton Theological Seminary, marked "an unleashing of David's gifts to the world."

In an earlier interview, Golderer said Norse's ordination reflected the Center City ministry's commitment to serving a diverse Christian community. The ministry has a large outreach program for the homeless and strong ties with the local arts community.

"While David's sexual orientation is an important part of his identity, he sees himself first and foremost as someone called to pastor God's people," said Golderer, who was tapped in 2005 to establish the alternative church. "He is very much into this being a dimension of who he is, but not the sum total."

"Broad Street has always been a place that welcomes people," said Norse, who worshipped at the church while at Princeton and who has been a pastoral associate since September.

The ministry is part of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country. After long debate, it voted in 2011 to allow ordination of openly gay and lesbian members.

Golderer said Presbyterians do not ask about the sexual orientation of men and women seeking ordination. He said Norse said he was gay when he sought to be ordained at Broad Street.

"He wasn't interested in making some kind of political statement, but to be fully integrated from the first day of his ordination," Golderer said.

Courtenay Willcox, moderator of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, the church's regional body, presided over the ordination and joined with 16 other Presbyterian ministers and church leaders in a ceremonial laying of hands to welcome Norse to the ministry.

Norse, who grew up outside Portland, said in an interview that when middle school classmates bullied him with gay taunts, he always found support from the Presbyterian church his family attended. "The church was the safe place for me," he said. "It was the place that was welcoming and didn't ask if I was gay or not."

His mother suffered a heart attack when he was in eighth grade, and the congregation rallied around the family and brought meals for weeks. "This is what the church is about," he said. "When hard things happen in your life, you turn to God."

A graduate of Lewis and Clark College, Norse personally welcomes guests who dine on the 1,100 chef-prepared meals the Broad Street church serves weekly to the homeless. "It seems like a simple task, but I'm the first person that people see and talk with," Norse said.

He also leads Bible study, visits parishioners, and aims to start a fellowship group at Broad Street for members of the lesbian, gay, and transgender community.

"It's all the work of being a pastor," he said, "meeting with people, talking to people about their faith and their doubts."


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