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In June 2004 Rev. Dr. Norman Kansfield, then president of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, officiated at the wedding of his daughter Ann to her partner Jennifer Aull. As the event became more widely known, charges were brought against Dr. Kansfield, charges that were adjudicated at the RCA’s annual assembly, the General Synod, in June 2005.
Photo: Mary, Norm, and Ann Kansfield.
In the months leading up to Dr. Kansfield’s trial, Reformed Church in America members, ministers and friends realized the need to stand with him for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons within the life and ministry of the church. Though, in the end, Norm was found guilty of violating the peace, unity and purity of the church, a period of “don’t ask, don’t tell” had ended.
Through these events and others, the need was made clear for a voice of full inclusion, that a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach will not ultimately serve the church in communicating God’s love for all people. A small group continued to meet over the summer of 2005 to discern how best to move forward. In the fall a non-profit was incorporated in the state of New York under the name Room for All, in order to support, educate and advocate for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the RCA.
Room for All’s ministry began by engaging like-minded individuals in supportive conversations. As we grew we initiated regional chapters, cultivated more than a dozen welcoming and affirming churches, established an online presence, garnered financial support from private and corporate donors as well as RCA congregations, and offered information-sharing gatherings at annual General Synod meetings. Room for All reached a new high in 2009 when more than 140 people attended “Making Room for All,” our first national gathering. Lives were changed at that event; each person, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, experienced the fully inclusive love of God and found new vitality for ministry and service.
Built on the response and momentum experienced at that event, the Board focused our efforts on creating our first staff position. That effort came to fruition in September, 2010, when Marilyn Paarlberg began her work as Executive Director. Highlights of our efforts since 2010 include an increased public and media presence; visits to congregations, classis and synod meetings throughout the RCA; five national conferences; the initiation of a growing roster of Room for All churches in the RCA; and the hiring of a second full time staff member, Associate Director Cameron Van Kooten Laughead and part-time bookkeeper Rev. Debra Jameson. In 2019, Marilyn Paarlberg retired and Cameron was named our Executive Director. In 2022, Mitch Leet joined as the Program Coordinator bringing substantial experience in organizing and LGBTQIA+ training.
Room for All’s archivist Mary Kansfield wrote “The Founding of RfA,” originally written for James Hart Brumm’s “Yes! Well …” Exploring the Past, Present and Future of the Church: Essays in Honor of John W. Coakley,” and edited in 2020. This history examines the founding of our organization, building on the General Synod decisions of the 1970s. Read Mary’s piece here: FoundingofRfA