Rev. Richard Tiggelaar
We all know the story we call “The Good Samaritan.” A man is assaulted on his way to Jericho. Two religious leaders leave him for dead on the side of the road but a Samaritan stops, bandages his wounds and takes him to town where he can recover from his injuries.
I can’t help but wonder what our wounded man thought about Samaritans after this happened. Did he treat them the way he always had? Or did he now see this man as his neighbor?
I had a lot of Samaritans in my life 30 years ago. Just about anyone who wasn’t white, Dutch, conservative and a member of the Reformed Church in America was a Samaritan. In terms of church leadership, women were Samaritans too. I was on a mission to help others view the world as God and I saw it when I entered Western Theological Seminary in 1975.
For a variety of reasons, I was feeling beat-up by early spring in 1977. The seminary faculty thought it would be best if I enrolled in a Clinical Pastoral Education program and I was accepted into the summer program at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center.
When I stepped into the room for the first time and saw the seminary colleagues I would be with that summer, I wanted to run the other way. I stepped into a room filled with Samaritans – Lutherans wearing clerical collars, an African-American Episcopalian, a Roman Catholic woman and so forth. All Samaritans!! Our supervisor was a Reformed Church pastor but he, too, was a liberal, originally from the evil Northeast. All Samaritans.
In the summer of 1977, I learned that my Samaritans were really my neighbors. My CPE colleagues and supervisor bandaged my wounds with grace and poured love on my hurting soul. I was born again.
When I returned to Western Theological Seminary, I was faced with a rather difficult choice. I could affirm what had happened in the summer as real, but that meant I would have to rethink much of what I believed. Many of my family and friends would never understand that. Or, I could go on living, thinking and believing as I did in the pre-CPE days. I wouldn’t have any family and friends issues but I would have to deny the reality of the summer. There never was a choice because I couldn’t deny the reality of grace, the reality of love, the reality of healing and being born again.
Since everyone who wasn’t white, Dutch, conservative and a member of the Reformed Church in America was a Samaritan (along with women who sought leadership roles in the church), I had a lot of Samaritans! So I began a long process, one that continues today, of seeing my former Samaritans as neighbors.
I sat in seminary classes with a handful of pioneer women who sought seminary education even before our denomination would ordain them. They were talented and gifted and, for the first time, they were now my neighbors.
At my first church, my colleagues to the north of me were almost all RCA or CRC, while my southern colleagues were almost all non-RCA/CRC. I was blessed to be befriended by a local Lutheran pastor who served as a wonderful mentor and friend for years. How poor I would have been if I had treated him as a Samaritan instead of as a neighbor.
I had so many other Samaritans to deal with that gay and lesbian ones weren’t even on my “to do” list! But that changed in the mid-1990s. As there were more news stories about sexual orientation issues, it was fairly clear that gays and lesbians at best were being treated like Samaritans and at worst, as if they weren’t even human. At first, I took the “hate the sin but love the sinner” approach, but that seemed rather empty after I had lunch with a colleague who shared with me that he is gay. Here was a guy who, too, was talented and gifted. He had given many years of service to his church. Now that he told me this, was I supposed to treat him differently? That didn’t make any sense. And then another colleague acknowledged his sexual orientation to his congregation and overnight went from being loved to being despised. This made no sense,either.
Ultimately, however, it was a worship service at First United Methodist Church (FUMC) in Omaha, Nebraska, that left me with no doubt that gays and lesbians are my neighbors, too.
I knew a little of the recent history of this congregation. Jimmy Creech, who had been their pastor in the mid 1990’s, made national news by conducting the marriage ceremony of two men. He was put on trial by the Nebraska Conference of the United Methodist Church and acquitted. Shortly thereafter he conducted a similar service for two women. This time, he was convicted and lost his ordination. This congregation — even though they lost their minister, hundreds of members, and thousands of dollars — remained committed to welcoming all of God’s children.
In May of 2000, my grandson Jack was to be baptized there. He had been born in late February of 2000 and had pneumonia at birth, which very quickly turned septic. For a few days, we weren’t sure if Jack was going to survive. But there was a community here, the folks from FUMC, that brought grace and love and prayers for a newborn baby and his family.
So there we sat on that Sunday in May – Jack and his parents, his grandparents and his great-grandparents. It was the Sunday following the United Methodist’s every-fourth-year denominational meeting. A retired pastor who had been at the meeting gave an oral report, sharing his disappointment (anger?) about how sexual orientation issues had been dealt with at the meeting. He mentioned that there had been a number of women from the church who had traveled to Cleveland to protest the actions of the United Methodist Church and to support those who welcomed all of God’s children.
I’m not sure how many of Jack’s grandparents and great grandparents were happy about their grandson being baptized in this congregation, but his mother’s parents, my wife and I, were thrilled. And as I held him and baptized him (the church graciously let me do this), I silently prayed that Jack would grow up with far fewer Samaritans than his grandfather did.
Rev. Richard Tiggelaar presently serves as pastor of the Craig Alder Grove Parish, which is made up of 2 small, rural United Methodist congregations and a Presbyterian Congregation in Craig, Nebraska. He grew up in Chicago and has been a member of the RCA for his entire life. He holds a BA from Trinity Christian College (1975), an M.Div. from Western Theological Seminary (1978) and a D. Min. from Chicago Theological Seminary (1985). He has served RCA churches in Michigan, New York and New Jersey.
Richard and his wife, Janice have been married for 31 years and they have 2 adult children, Marika and Peter. Marika is married to Damon Birkby and they have two boys, Jack, who is almost 6 and Seth who is 3. In addition to pastoring, Richard’s interests include travelling, wine buying, becoming a better reader and his grandsons.