Lisa Larges serves as the Parish Associate for Congregational Care at Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The church’s website describes Lisa as working alongside the senior pastor “with wisdom and gentleness, humor and insight to help us all care for each other well.” Lisa describes her pastoral role as “tending and reflecting the beautiful heart” of Lake Nokomis. Lisa was ordained in 2016, after initially beginning the candidacy process under care of Knox Presbyterian, in Minneapolis in 1986. This 30- year journey to ordination for Lisa was larger than the affirmation of her own call to service. She and others travelled this road to ensure that LGBTQ Christians would be able to live out their faith and their call to serve in the Presbyterian Church(USA).
Lisa is the younger of two sisters, both born blind. The family lived in Wisconsin. When faced with the possibility of sending her young children to a residential school for the blind, their parents decided to move to the Twin Cities, where Lisa and her sister could get specialized education in the local public school.
In many ways, Lisa inherited her Presbyterianism. Her mother was confirmed as a Presbyterian and her parents were married in Knox Presbyterian, where Lisa attended services with her family throughout her childhood and youth. Lisa recalls the congregation as evangelical and conservative at that time. She embraced this tradition as a youth, describing herself as religious and earnest, engaging in practices of regular Bible reading, prayer and attending Bible study with several young women who mentored her.
Leaving the family home for college was an important step for Lisa, to prove to herself that she could live independently as a blind person. Lisa attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, earning a BA in English/Religion/Women’s Studies. . She continued to be engaged in conservative Christianity, including the charismatic movement for much of her time at St. Olaf. At the same time, she discovered her attraction to women which was in direct conflict with her religious beliefs. This first attraction was not reciprocated and led to depression, questioning self, and isolation from God. She made a call in her desperation to an “ex-gay” ministry, but her call was not returned. She began to find community with others who were on the margins or felt isolated who continue to be valued friends today. Her religion classes offered a counter-narrative to the Christian tradition of her youth, keeping the door open to continuing on her faith journey in new ways.
Preparing to leave college, she questioned what she wanted to do for work and felt the insecurities about being disabled and wondering about the job market for people who were blind. With no clear work options, still ambivalent about her Christian faith, but embracing her identity as a lesbian, she enrolled in San Francisco Theological Seminary in 1985. She lived on the Berkley campus where she found community and welcome, While in seminary, Lisa began the ordination process in the Presbyterian Church, through her home congregation in Minnesota, considering the possibility of becoming a chaplain. Her time in seminary did not resolve her questions about theology or offer a clear path to ministry. Lisa received the Master of Divinity degree, with honors and received the school’s preaching prize in 1989. Instead of seeking a pastoral call, Lisa became a massage therapist and “made life for herself” in California.
With many others, she volunteered with the Metropolitan Community Church in San Francisco as the AIDS crisis overwhelmed the gay community. Lisa was compelled to identify with the LGBT community and support those experiencing fear of illness, judgement, isolation, and loss. She found ways to help through a buddy program, massage, and activism.
While out and openly engaged in the LGBT community in San Francisco, Lisa was not open about her sexuality with the Knox Church in Minnesota, or the committee of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area which oversaw the ordination process. As other queer colleagues quietly dropped out of the ordination process, Lisa felt compelled to be open about her identity as a lesbian woman and to compel the committee to have to enforce the churche’s anti-lgbt rules in a real-life situation. At the time, the rules of the Presbyterian denomination stated that “self-avowed, non-repentant homosexuals” could not be ordained as ministers, Elders, or Deacons. Lisa knew that she was non-repentant and strongly believed that she did not need to repent. She wrote a letter to the Presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry in 1991 fully anticipating that her candidacy would be terminated. However, after conversation with Lisa and debate, the committee affirmed her continued candidacy. Their decision was approved by a vote of the Presbytery as a whole.
The joy of this affirmation was short-lived, however as the pastor of Knox Presbyterian and other church members filed a grievance, resulting in the first of multiple hearings, in Lisa’s case, in the Presbyterian judicial system. In November 1992, the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC), the highest court in the Presbyterian system, determined that Lisa could not pursue a call based on her sexuality and lack of “repentance.” The verdict launched her activism for LGBTQ rights in the Presbyterian Church.
Lisa continued to live in San Francisco, a member of the Noe Valley Ministry, an inclusive PC-USA congregation. Lisa joined “Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns,” attending the General Assembly of the denomination in 1993 to advocate for full inclusion for LGBTQ Christians. The General Assembly voted for three years of dialogue, rather than making any decision. In response, Lisa founded “The Travelling Reconciliation Show”, a company of readers and storytellers. Lisa and 10-12 others visited Presbyterian congregations in the Bay Area sharing their stories of being LGBTQ and Christian to open hearts and minds to expanding welcome to all.
The organization “That All May Freely Serve” began in 1993, focused on grassroots organizing for ordination of LGBTQ people in the Presbyterian church. The director of TAMFS, Janie Spahr, had received denial of her call to ministry by the PJC the same day that Lisa received her ruling in 1992. Lisa was brought on as the TAMFS regional coordinator in 2002 The two women worked with individuals and churches around the country to demand equal inclusion in all roles in the denomination regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Much of the work focused on creating challenges to the existing ordination standards. In 2006, Spahr retired and Larges continued to run the organization until 2011.
Larges, though unable to seek a call, continued her status as a candidate and transferred her candidacy to the San Francisco Presbytery in 1997. In 2002, TAMFS created a “called” position for Lisa to bring to the Committee for Preparation for Ministry. This was denied by the San Francisco Presbytery. Additional attempts continued resulting in multiple trials related to presbytery decision making regarding Lisa’s readiness for ministry, were made between 2002 and 2012. This was a very difficult process for Lisa, as the presbytery’s actions were the official focus of the trials, leaving Lisa with no voice or power. At the same time, the issues were about her life, her identity and her ministry.
In 2010, the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the PCUSA removed the church’s constitutional barrier to ordination for all who are called and qualified regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The assembly’s action, which was subsequently ratified by the majority of presbyteries took effect in July 2011. This was the decision that TAMFS had worked for. However, Lisa’s case remained, as it involved a filing of dispute (scrupling) related to the Presbyterian Book of Order, that she had filed in the midst of the other challenges. A second similar case remained for another person. She recalled that the PJC seemed to decide to “split the difference”, dismissing the other case and sending hers back to the presbytery for further action. Lisa recalls being exhausted and demoralized. The work of the organization was complete, but her own path to ordination had not been realized.
While this process was personally painful, Lisa also reflects that the pursuit of ordination was part of making organizational change within the denomination. She was able to do her work without being ordained and experienced significant connection and meaning in the work toward all being welcomed and all gifts recognized.
Larges returned to Minnesota to be close to her family in 2011. She was hired as Outreach Coordinator for Minnesota State Services for the Blind, where she continues to work today. She sees this as an important job that is less all-consuming than queer advocacy work in the church had been.
On her return to Minnesota, Lisa also found community at the Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church. The pastor found places for Lisa to share her gifts in the church – preaching on occasion, teaching, and caring for church members. Her pastor invited her to create a job description for her role in the church and become ordained. Lisa hesitated. She enjoyed her job that could be left at the office each day. It allowed her to live the life she wanted. She did not want a second job. Lisa’s primary call had been to change the church, not necessarily to be a pastor. She considered and eventually accepted the invitational call of her church to become their Parish Associate of Congregational Care. Lisa was ordained on October 30,2016. Her parents, both life-long Presbyterians in their late 80s, were able to witness this event, so long in the making.
Lisa reflects on staying in the Presbyterian Church through all the challenges. “It was my call. It was a place to make a change. I have a choice to walk away or stay. It is like waiting for the bus. If I walked away, I would have missed it.” She also reflects that the beauty of the people and community have far outweighed the hurtfulness of church politics over the years.
(This biographical statement written by Jocelyn Langholz for a Queer & Trans Theologies class at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities from these sources: an interview with Lisa Larges on 2/25/2023; an oral history interview with Lisa Larges (2019) for the Presbyterian Historical Society https://digital.history.pcusa.org/islandora/object/islandora:150251; and an article, "Lisa Larges Ordained as Teaching Elder" in The Layman. (11/3/2016) https://layman.org/lisa-larges-ordained-teaching-elder-pcusa/ and was reviewed by Lisa Larges,)
Biography Date: May 2023
“Rev. Lisa Larges | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed June 02, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/lisa-larges.